Life in Beijing During the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic: Return Part 3

142 Days and Counting

There was an attempt

Alas, after being back in the classroom since the end of May the Covid-19 predator reared it’s ugly head once again here in Beijing. The measures were going strong, but incrementally getting more and more lax. Indeed, around June 5 Beijing went to another phase that allowed much more openness. I even found a meetup to play some soccer with other foreigners nearby my apartment. Natalie found a new job and started it up only this week. I also signed a new contract to extend my stay, unexpectedly, for a half year longer. We’ll see how the world picture looks come winter and determine if an extension to make it a full year will be the right choice. Many of my other co-workers did the same or just went for a full year since it was the best option for them.

Outside these past weeks many have still been wearing masks even though in public it wasn’t required in most places. Even in the ‘lax’ phase I would wager things were still more stringent or cautious than most places in the US. My school kept up most of the measures outlined in my prior post and we were incrementally introducing lower level grades back to the campus each week. This past Monday the grade 3 kids were supposed to return.

Yeah, nah. The best-laid plans o’ mice and men oft get taken back behind the shed by this virus.

New Cluster at Xinfadi Market

Over this past weekend we started hear rumblings about the first new known cases in Beijing in about two months of nothing for local cases. The next few days revealed a new cluster of cases at a huge wholesale food market in southern Beijing called Xinfadi (新发地) Market. It’s nowhere near where I live and I haven’t really even been to that part of the city.

Just going through the linked article describing the complex will probably be mind-boggling for most Westerners. The complex supplies something like 80-90% of the megacity’s food and is the largest such facility in southeast Asia. It’s the size of 250 football fields or so.

Learning about this place was no surprise for me, it reminded me of the descriptions shown in this documentary on “The 24-hour Megacity”. Natalie and I had just watched this and especially the descriptions of the millions of eggs per day being distributed throughout the city reminded me of the massive coordination involved in a place like Xinfadi. The entire doc is worth the watch for anybody unfamiliar with lifestyle in one of these megacities. It focuses on Beijing and Shanghai and gives a behind-the-scenes view as well as a peak at daily life for those of us who live here.

Now there is speculation about food supply chains being severely interrupted. Right now I’m thanking my American-ness for buying up extra non-perishable foods back in late January because those are sitting pretty in our storage in case things get bad. A co-worker of mine said he saw one of our local grocery stores pulling produce from the shelves as a response since all of that food likely passed through Xinfadi.

It’s not known for sure the source of this new cluster. It could be domestic spread from people from outside Beijing but there are also theories about it coming in on imported goods. It doesn’t really matter though in the near term. So, they immediately shut down the market once the spread was revealed and started contact tracing.

This somewhat reached me I suppose. On Monday I came to work and found that my only other foreign co-worker in my office was absent. She messaged me that her fiance was being tested for covid. He works at a different international school and a student from there has a member of their family who was exposed at the market. So she planned to stay home until that test came back just in case. You can see how in just 5 degrees of separation or so that virus could easily jump just about anywhere if unimpeded. Maybe it has. It seems like they got to this cluster early, but we really won’t know until a couple weeks later.

Reverse! Reverse!

Okay, I’m done with the slap-happy gimmicks.

This morning I woke up to messages from the school that all the students were being sent home until further notice. Staff would still be expected to return and it was speculated that we might have a couple days in the office before being sent home. But no, around 5pm we found that we would all go back home for good and run classes online.

Campus and students carting their belongings to the front gate.

After all the careful preparations and measures and after things were seeming going so swimmingly, we all got the rug pulled out from under us.

This week I had been prepping some students for a speaking competition we were organizing in our department while having a fun movie week in-class. The prior week they all did individual presentations on the theme of ’21st Century Skills’ so this was their treat after that.

I had a whole cool plan going for showing them the movie “Ford vs Ferrari” as displaying so many themes about business, innovation, motivations, and different skills related to what we had been discussing. Then I was also relating that to discussion on American car culture, which is profoundly different than what they’re used to. Surprisingly a higher than usual portion of them were really into it. The racing scenes helped I suppose. Additionally, high school students here are always amazed and curious when I talk about having had a part-time job in high school to pay for my own car to commute to school. It’s so different for them here. Okay done with that, I’m just miffed because now I need to revamp a bunch of plans to fit this new online setup we’ll be going forward with…again.

The exodus restarts.

I’m glad the action was took, however miffed I am that our plans to finish out the semester on campus were all reshuffled once again. Our department is more prepared for this round of online classes though and I’ll now have an actual class schedule to keep up with online instead of the blackboard postings and feedback I had been doing before. They made sure I brought home my work laptop and that I had the app that would be our platform for giving online classes. For me it’s 3 groups of the same course. I’ll meet with each twice a week for 90 minute sessions.

Conclusion

All in all, this virus still deserves respect. Even after all the efforts and a generally impenetrable social attitude here, the virus once again got through like the honey badger it is. Comparing to the trends in many other countries, what’s popping up now in Beijing seems rather mild by the numbers. The ‘overkill’ response might indicate the ‘oh they’re hiding something there must be so many more actually infected and dead’ kind of thinking. I don’t see that though. The response is perfectly measured because they, more than anybody, know how a few clusters pop up and then BOOM you have an exponential spread like seen in Wuhan, Italy, New York and other places. The quick action to grind things to a halt, once again, is really the only option. So, I hope the resilience that got us this far will keep steady for whatever develops.

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