Life in Beijing (now) 85 Days and Counting During the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Part 6

Been lovely weather and atmosphere here during Beijing springtime. Blossoms and flowers within my apartment community courtyard.

Today’s post has only a few updates, primarily I’ll discuss a trip I made to my local McDonald’s! First time going into a restaurant of any kind since January for me.

Schools Set to Return

First off, start dates for Beijing schools have been announced. My school informed us on Monday April 13 that May 10 is when Year 12 students would return. May 11 year 9 would return. It sounds like they’re going to incrementally return different classes. Since year 9 and year 12 are the two graduating classes (high school here is three years instead of four), those cohorts will be first up since there is many things necessary for them to do in preparation for the hugely important standardized tests they must do. We were told to await further announcement for other grades. I’m assuming that even if others go back to work on May 10/11 that I’ll still be teaching from home because all of my students are grades 10 and 11. Lastly, they informed all staff who are currently in China to make their return to Beijing so they can complete the two week required quarantine before coming back to work. For the foreign teachers stuck outside of China, they’re out of luck until China reopens foreign travel.

Additionally, we were asked to log out temperatures everyday for a 14 day period, note any symptoms, and send it to HR before returning.

Lag in Production

Another update has to do with a whole saga I’ve undergone with my electric motorcycle. In mid-January I sent off the battery for it to the factory for repairs. It had trouble charging and had become unusable. A co-worker from New Zealand helped me send it off through his resources, these electric motorcycles are kind of his hobby and has bought many during his time here.

Then the pandemic hit. I didn’t really have any need for using my bike anyhow so it sat in my apartment hallway collecting dust. I reached out to my co-worker in later March when things seemed to be picking back up. He informed me the factory it was sent to in Shanghai had such a huge backlog of orders and work that it was still going to be a while yet for them to catch up. Finally this week it was sent back repaired, so yesterday and today I took it out for a spin and checked out the area more

As a side note, my co-worker confirmed that all of the apartment community measures across the city are about the same as my own. Some small details are varied from community to community as authorities mostly let the community leaders

SOCO TS Pro, bought used. Fun to dart around on. Doesn’t go much past 70kph on a good day, but that’s plenty enough for my purposes. (pic taken last year, hence no facemask). Issues were with the battery and its intelligent charger not communicating correctly. Bike itself is a dream to ride and reliable.

I wanted to drive around anyhow, but needed to drain the battery and recharge it to see how everything is working. So I wandered aimlessly all afternoon today.

A noteworthy thing I witnessed was seeing fully decked out ‘hazmat’ suit workers. Not sure the terminology, but they had the full PPE setup, full white suits, goggles, a bunch of masks, gloves, taped off edges, etc. An outfit I would expect to see worn by frontline COVID caretakers or those in the ‘hot zone’ handling the most dangerous viruses. They were walking to their van outside of the entrance to an apartment community gate I was passing. It’s the first time I’ve witnessed that in person and it indicates some kind of suspicion of a potential COVID case, I would assume. Slightly unsettling, but at least my surroundings aren’t putting their guard down. If they take an obscure Beijing suburb apartment community this seriously, that’s a positive indication in my book.

A Stop at McDonald’s

The next block to my apartment community’s east has the nearest McDonald’s. I order delivery from there every so often. We have made a point not to dine out and I don’t think we’ll do so far a while yet. But curiosity and my stomach got the best of me so I decided to do carryout and check out how an average fast food joint is doing things here.

Upon entering I looked around for any signs indicating anything about foreigners being unwelcome. Quite a few anecdotal examples have popped up, and notably some specifically disallowing black people, but I haven’t personally witnessed any of that.

Upon entering, as I would’ve expected at this point, an employee with a temp gun checked anyone entering. It’s par for the course. Additionally, inside everybody, employees and customers alike, were wearing face masks. Only exceptions were the few people who decided to dine inside the establishment. Theirs were tucked down beneath their chins as they ate.

There wasn’t any social distancing indications, tape or whatever, to show how to line up. Regardless, people seemed to distance naturally just out of hand.

Immediately I noticed the touchscreens were all powered down. Almost every fast food joint in China has these and they are my godsend since they have an English language prompt. Otherwise I have to use my spotty Chinese and the cash register’s ratty laminated picture menu to show my order. These were certainly off due to concerns about transmission from touching surfaces. So, what to do?

I floated around analyzing my surroundings a bit. I noticed the registers they used to have up were no longer at the counter and nobody seems to be taking orders. I also noticed a cavalcade of QR codes and flashy signs. I was deducing that I had to figure out what to scan to make an order somehow when the temp check employee came to me and pointed out which to scan and to use the Wechat app. He pointed initially which prompts to click until he noticed I was on my way to figuring it out. I’ll have to check if there’s an English option for it, but now I know what to do.

Top right is a LCD monitor with order numbers.

Within the app you select the particular establishment based on location data. It asks how you would like to pickup your order, and when you expect to pick it up. You could apparently order ahead of time and arrive whenever you feel.

31rmb for a burger, fries, and coke. About 4 bucks.

Below is the translated version. I screenshot it, go to Wechat’s translation function, it takes words in the pic and automatically translates them, mostly accurately. It is an amazing crutch. It goes both ways and for many languages, not just from Chinese to English.

Then the order number was given. I checked on the LCD screen to see if it registered and it had within seconds. Then just wait and show the order number on your app receipt to the pickup counter employee.

This is the future folks, and I’m down with it. No need to handle gross dirty paper bills/coins. No need for any face to face interaction with people spreading their particles back and forth. Employees are able to focus on other tasks. Labor is saved overall. No waste of paper receipt rolls. No meaningless annoying small talk nor irritation experienced by cashiers from idiot customers. Just poke in the app and pick it up. Not to mention the ability to place the order before even entering the store. No lines needed. For the pandemic purposes at least, there was even an option to have it brought to you outside. Cash is so last century. Cards are so last decade.

William Gibson — ‘The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed’

Anyhow, I took my food outside since I had no intention of eating indoors without my mask on. I found an area away from foot traffic and people-watched as I munched down the comfort food of greasy disgusting fast food. Tomorrow I’ll go on another 5 mile run to offset it.

Oh, yeah, I also had gone for a distance run with Natalie following behind on a share bike. There’s a path and park north of us and wore a mask the whole time of course. After like 80 days of sitting around the next few days I paid for it with the worst leg/joint pain I’ve ever had. Felt great to get out though.

Watching the rush hour pedestrian traffic. I only counted two people not wearing masks, both were elderly men. This is also nearby a metro station so there was quite a bit of movement at this hour. I also noted all the toddlers and young children wearing masks properly. Getting the mask question down is not difficult at all. I would say people in public who are still choosing to ignore this baseline Pandemic 101 measure need to ‘grow up’. However, every young child/toddler I’ve noticed outdoors proves that ‘growing up’ is not even a prerequisite to reach that benchmark.


This is just another piece of the puzzle to defeating and keeping the collective foot down on the throat of the COVID threat. Take care everybody.

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