- Countries Visited: 11
- Travel Wishlist: Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, Kyrgyzstan
- Locked down in: Guangzhou, China
“Out of all the countries to live in, I chose the one with an epidemic.“
I love living in China. I have heard many heart-wrenching tales over the past year from family and friends, but my livelihood has remained relatively unchanged. I went to a Karaoke bar last weekend where 20 of my good friends were packed into a little room with copious amounts of booze. Mask wearing and social distancing, forget about it. At one point I kissed Laurence, the birthday boy, and we gulped down an icy cold beverage while the others had arms around each other singing Bohemian Rhapsody. Back in California, my brother is afraid to go to Trader Joes and here I am getting blasted without a care in the world. How the fuck did I get so lucky?
I’ve loved China from the moment I arrived in April 2017. I still remember the first meal I had after getting settled in my apartment. We went out for a classic Northern Chinese feast of meat filled steamed buns, dumplings, deep fried eggplant, potatoes, wood ear mushrooms, and of course mutton kebabs grilled over fire. I was hooked. A few weeks later my Chinese colleagues take me to a local park and we visited a temple that was over 400 years old, then walked two blocks north to a shopping mall with a Walmart and a Uniqlo store. It was fascinating to see ancient relics completely intertwined with rapid modernization. For a travel nut like me who likes to avoid touristy destinations, I was in heaven.
For 2 years I worked at English Kindergartens until eventually I landed a position at an International School in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou (my current post). Last school year in early January, Joshua one of my students, explained to me that he was upset he would not be able to return to his hometown for Spring Festival (Chinese New Year.) This is the largest human migration on Earth and the most important time of year for Chinese. He told me that his hometown of Wuhan had reported 20 cases of a strange virus that nobody seen before, and his parents did not want to take the risk. I thought it sounded a bit strange but didn’t think too much of it. I was too excited about my upcoming trip to India to worry about an unknown virus 2000 kilometers away. Two weeks later, when we arrived to Kolkata and started meeting some locals, many of them were asking about the virus situation. Suddenly we started to look at this with more serious eyes. Every day during that trip in late January, we checked the news and sure enough the cases began to skyrocket. On the final day we must have visited 30 pharmacies and all of them were completely sold out of masks. Then we watched Contagion and really freaked the fuck out.
On Feb 1st we returned to Guangzhou extremely paranoid. My school announced classes would now take place virtually via a platform called Zoom, and our principal had warned us only to leave the house for necessities. I remember using the elevator without my gloves one morning, and by the end of the day I was convinced I was going to die. Mask wearing was not a matter of debate. If you left the house it was mandatory. Luckily a friend bought a large amount and was able to loan us about 40. At every store and apartment complex your body temperature was taken by a security guard and if it was abnormal they had section for you to wait for the human sperm team (white hazmat suits). If you didn’t wear a mask in a public place a SWAT team would pounce like a lion and capture you with a human sized butterfly net. I’ve seen some wild videos.
February was by far the worst month. My colleagues began to, jump ship and head for the States to seek refuge. Out of all the countries to live in, I chose the one with an epidemic. My girlfriend and I were starting to feel restless at home so we chose to go to Malaysia and work remotely. The 3 weeks in Malaysia were unforgettable. The country was relatively safe from corona, and the scenery and cuisine are phenomenal. During that trip, my school had mandated that all the teachers who left China during late February and early March must return by March 15th, or they would lose their jobs.
By this time coronavirus had begun to spread quickly throughout the West. America and Europe were reporting record numbers while China managed to slowly contain the cases in its own borders. I knew when we returned to Guangzhou on March 15th it wasn’t going to be smooth. When we touched down and came to our arrival gate, an important looking man in a customs uniform swiftly entered the aircraft. I was one of two foreigners on that flight of about 200 people, and I instantly knew this guy wanted to speak to me. He promptly announced “Jacob Davis you need to come with me immediately, leave your bags.” He had my passport number and a copy of Chinese Work Permit. “You need to take a nucleic acid test right now and tell me when the last time you visited America was.” America was now at the center of the Pandemic with the highest number of daily new cases. I can speak a little Chinese and this saved my ass. I was able to articulate how I hadn’t left Asia and only went on a short visit to Malaysia. Once he saw the Malaysian stamp in my passport and I took nucleic acid test I got through the security line in about 15 minutes. My girlfriend was not so lucky. She had to carry all of our baggage through the airport then to her quarantine location at an undisclosed hotel. I was to complete a mandatory 2 week quarantine at my apartment.
We had to do a REAL quarantine. My school delivered three meals a day to my house and the hotel supplied my girlfriend with food. We were not allowed to leave our premises for 2 weeks. This was a hard time for my partner. She was in a random hotel, with a broken TV, and no booze, while I was at home doing yoga, watching Netflix, and drinking nightly.
Nonetheless, we got through it and she returned safe and sound. By March 29th, China had locked down its borders and was not letting any foreigners into the country. China had developed an excellent system built on rapid response and public compliance that managed to stop the spread of the virus. Chinese were now leaving their homes regularly and almost everyone returned to work. People’s lives were back to normal but there was a stigma against foreigners, whom many Chinese now viewed as harboring the virus. Multiple times when I got into the elevator (with my mask on) the locals would quickly jump out fearing that my germs were contaminated just like the rest of country. It was worse for my black friends. Some of them were not let into shopping malls, and even their own communities. Still occasionally people will walk away when I get a little too close, but it doesn’t really bother me anymore.
By May, we were back to in person classes at work, and public transit was running again. My friends and I started to frequent are favorite clubs and bars and life seemed normal. During the past 6 months I’ve travelled to several different Chinese provinces and now many locals don’t even wear masks. All in all, there were some tough moments but I feel incredible lucky to be here. The hardest part is wondering when I will be able to see my family. If I go back to the States I could run the risk of losing my job, the best one I have ever had. Without Facetime I don’t think I could manage. It allows me to keep in touch with them on a weekly basis, and it truly feels like we are sitting in a room together having a face to face conversation. I miss them dearly but I am currently ecstatic not to be in Trumpland.