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COVID-19 Diary in Chongqing (Winter)

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Daily diary and notes inside China during the COVID-19 outbreak of 2019-2020, sharing the story and collecting notes for a book project tentatively called ‘Year of the Rat’.

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Jorah Kai Wood lives in Chongqing, a sprawling metropolis with 32 million people, only 800 KM West of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak of a novel coronavirus, dubbed 2019-nCoV or SARS-CoV2, or COVID-19.

Chongqing, Beijing, and Shanghai, in fact, most of China have been in a level-I emergency since Wuhan, a city of 11 million people and the surrounding province of Hubei (more than 50 million people) were locked down in an attempt to contain the spread of the epidemic. In Chongqing, public gatherings are banned, most shops are closed, and nonessential travel or outdoor activities are discouraged as people are being advised to self-quarantine in their homes to control the spread of infection.

Jorah Kai Wood is a writer and teacher who lives with his wife, Xiaolin Wang. Since the beginning of the lunar new year, 2020, the year of the rat, he has kept a diary. He shares his dairy with iChongqing, a division of the Chongqing Daily News Group which publishes portions in English and Chinese, and CTV News in Canada.

Friday, Feb. 28 – Sunshine

Day 35. I wake up and kiss my wife. She kisses me back, all traces of anger absent. Every fire runs out of fuel. 

My electric toothbrush finally died. It was a gift from my step-mom, in a care package from Costco as we prepared to return to China. It had been a wonderful, long summer. I have a new toothbrush. Life is like that. 

My former boss has promised me a nice reference letter for six great years of work, and today I’ll write one for the most promising student I had in all those years. I hope she will have a wonderful life in college and beyond. 

I’m loathed to mention it, but HK’s got an infected dog. There’s no evidence it will be sick or can pass this back to humans, but fear spreads faster than COVID, so keep your dogs inside. 

I go to pick up packages, and my winter coat isn’t going to cut it any longer. In moments, I’m so sweaty and hot I can’t draw a breath and start panicking. A guard passes his temperature gun to a passenger, as she’s rubbing her unmasked nose, she passes it to the driver, who shoots himself in the head, and they pass it back to the guard. That’s how easy you can get COVID-19.

I’m super stressed out, looking for our packages in a sea of boxes, and Xiaolin tells me to be calm, but I can’t get a grip. I find them, eventually, and now we have apples.

We’re lucky to have caught an avocado at that rare point of ripeness, so it’s avocado toast with boiled eggs for brunch. 

The sunbeam dance into our window, teasing us, so we suit up for fresh air. 

We go and sit out on the garage on some chairs and just breathe. It’s Xiaolin’s first time outside the apartment in a few weeks. I take off my jacket, gloves, and mask and put on some ray bans and soak up the vitamin D in a Tshirt. My skin tingles. 

Today Chongqing is 18 degrees and sunny with a chance of pneumonia. The sky is baby blue, and the clouds are fluffy. It feels like spring. 

All is well when you're in the sun.
All is well when you’re in the sun.

Over the past month, I’ve researched and learned, fanned the signal fires, and prepared. I’ve gone through at least five stages, and now I’m ready to get on with it. We will move forward, one foot in front of the other, and it will be hard. As Donald Trump said in his second White House briefing in 3 years as president, “you probably won’t die,” which is probably the most honest thing I’ve ever heard him say. We won’t all make it, but most of us will. I really believe that.

I feel good. I’ve had an incredible life thus far, and I, for one, didn’t survive the ’90s rave scene and two decades as a touring performer only to be taken out by a virus named after a light beer. I’ve got a fire in my belly.

Will I go back to work at my school, or take the video game job, or return to Canada and start over? Only time will tell when this is all over. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but it always gets better.

Dogs enjoy a lick of sunlight.
Dogs enjoy a lick of sunlight.

Today I say goodbye to CTV, who’s been following my journey (here: https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/coronavirus-diary-life-inside-china-during-the-outbreak-1.4794140) and wish them luck as they cover other angles and the emerging crisis on their shores. Thank you for all the encouragement and support, some of these days, my blog is all that got me out of bed, the chance to share my story and try to make it a good one. 

A final note to the readers: Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I’d love to hear all your stories, so please share them. 

Be alert, but not anxious. Nothing can pain you if you choose not to be pained, and in every struggle, there is an opportunity. 

Be kind to your neighbors. Within every problem lies an answer. Let your character define you. You know, I used to be the kind of guy that would crack a pop without washing the top, but now there are things I know that can’t be unknown. All the world’s a stage, full of cosmic horror. Buckle up, buttercup. 

Jorah Kai Wood 

Editor, iChongqing 

Twitter: @therealjorahkai 

Blog: www.jorahkai.com 

iChongqing’s COVID-19 special: https://www.ichongqing.info/special/fighting-against-2019-ncov/

Thursday, Feb. 27 – Braveheart Goes Shopping

Day 34. Bravery is not the absence of fear, but managing anxiety and holding steady when your body tells you to shut down or run. I’ve always felt like a brave person, I’m rattled. I’ve never endured this much constant existential stress without finding a way ‘out.’ I need a new approach.

I’ve been doing a lot of outreach on social media, trying to help get my friends and family ready for potential outbreaks near them. When my friends tell me they think I’m brave, I laugh. Putting one foot in front of the other doesn’t seem brave. We’re all staying safe and surviving, slowing down the virus long enough to give the rest of the world a chance. I’m scared for my family back in Canada walking around, exposed.

Last night I stayed up until dawn reading medical studies about potential medicines. Although China is stable, I have this paranoia, I have to prepare to handle everything on my own. I find a credible article about a respected Canadian scientist who’s had success with a supplement in treating similar diseases. I find a nearly sold-out shop online, and with the help of my dad, arrange to have the medicine sent to me in China. The whole thing’s a hail mary, but it’s something.

I wake up, exhausted and depleted. We eat our egg cake and drink coffee. I have a meeting with Liz in Toronto and volunteer to help Bernie win the Democrats Abroad primary. When young people react to a global pandemic with “good on you, mother nature,” I know in my bones it’s time for a green new deal.

Today marks the first day more new cases originate outside China than inside. I weigh myself, down another 2 KG. I’ll have a beach body by summer if I keep this up.

I’m watching Iran closely. Iran’s peculiarly high death rate for their confirmed cases either indicates a nasty mutation of the virus or, more likely, hundreds of more cases unreported. A sophisticated Canadian mathematical model predicts there’s actually 18,000 cases in Iran today. They aren’t canceling public gatherings. Instead, neighbors are closing borders and canceling flights.

Quiet streets in Jiulongpo District
Quiet streets in Jiulongpo District

We can’t order more rice, so I make the decision to suit up and go shopping. The streets are mostly empty. I pass a public toilet and hold my breath to avoid dangerous aerosols. I manage to arrange my goggles, so they don’t fog up in the first 5 minutes for once.

The supermarket is quiet today
The supermarket is quiet today

As shopping drags on, I start to feel exposed. I’m pushing my cart along with Xiaolin on a video chat, and an older man behind me starts to cough violently. I bolt away, shaken. Everything is taking too long. I slow my breathing, but it’s not easy. I keep moving and avoid close proximity to other shoppers.

The vegetables are quite well-stocked, but I still can’t buy mushrooms. The supermarket is sold out of bags of sugar, and when I find the bulk section, I end up scraping the bottom of the sugar barrel. I get a big bag of rice, four bags of Doritos, lots of vegetables, pasta, and other goodies. I get some meat for Xiaolin. Everything is expensive but worth it.

Expensive but worth it

On the way back, I struggle with four heavy bags and stop to catch my breath. The old men that used to shine shoes have their tent taken over by a half a dozen policemen. They’ve closed down my street for half a block, around where my tailor lives and works. It’s all cordoned off and they make me cross the street. I slow my breathing so I don’t fail the temperature test.

At home, I’m sweaty and out of breath. I toss my clothes in the washer and jump in the shower. The ice-cold water doesn’t warm up because I forgot to plug the water heater back in. My apartment isn’t heated, but at least today is warmer.

I do some laundry and make a tomato and cheese wasabi mayo sandwich. Later, I enjoy some shrimp wonton soup, but my throat’s icky. I eat a few fisherman’s friends, my mom sent me and have a nap. Later, I drink honey echinacea tea, and we watch some TV. Tomorrow I’m gonna make french toast and ignore the world.

Wednesday, Feb. 26 Piece of Cake


Day 33. I wake up at 11:11. Make a wish. Old friends I haven’t spoken to in years are reaching out. I have lots of fun things I want to do today but start with the news and some strong coffee.
I’m told I need to try to get more invoices from a tax office to keep getting paid. I ask them to hold my money. I’m surprised when a delivery guy is allowed to come to my building, and I pick up a package. Xiaolin tells me that things are almost back to normal, but I’m wary.
I work on a new song on my ukulele, and sign up for a course at MIT called “Principle and Practice of Human Pathology.” I download my textbook, known colloquially as “Big Robbins.” Know thy enemy, know thyself. To boost my productivity, I subscribe to a lecture series called Pathoma. Later, I take a break and continue my journey in a juicy SciFi novel.

I worry about people coming back and reinfecting us, after a month of quarantine. What’s China going to do? Restrict travel back in?

To relax, I listen to a stoic audiobook, and I paint. Stoicism’s most famous principle founded mindfulness meditation, and the AA mantra “serenity prayer.” I can only control myself. I must not panic over things beyond my control. Everything outside of my control, I dwell on diminishes my ability to focus on what I can control. Ok, so there’s a virus outside, I can’t stop it, but I can manage risks and boost my diet and health. I can’t control public policy, but I can learn and enjoy my days productively and happily, using 100% of my energy to focus on the 1% I can change to live the best life possible.

As I listen, I paint Dungeons & Dragons miniatures under the warm light coming through my window. My shoulders relax, and in the blink of an eye, I’m 12 years old, and my dad and I are shopping for miniature figures of heroes and monsters. I used to be good at painting. When I started up again, resisting the urge to glob paint and patiently dry brush practiced discipline and restraint. Being ok with making mistakes is a grounding technique that allows creativity and happiness to bloom.
Xiaolin tries to buy some vitamins, but they are all parked on the Yangtze at Wuhan. This summer we’ll go to Canada and stock up. Part of me wants to buy a little cottage and become an off the grid hermit, but once this passes, living in a high-tech supercity is pretty cool.
Iran’s deputy health minister is sweating buckets as he delivers a briefing about how COVID is under control. Hours later, he admits he is quite ill with the disease. Countries downplaying the risks are much more susceptible than countries that conduct thousands of tests. South Korea has administered over 12,000 tests, American only 450. When trying to evaluate the crisis, I use situational awareness and trust my gut. Actions speak louder than words.


I make pizza sticks with a wasabi hummus dip, a fun little invention so refreshing to eat it brings tears to my eyes. We have noodles for dinner, and Xiaolin is excited to try to make an egg cake. I’m enthusiastic in my support, and we work soundlessly together. She’s delighted with it. Sometimes when life cracks your eggs, you have to make a cake.

Dr. Bruce Alyward from Canada, who leads the WHO expert team, has plenty of sensible advice. He also praises China’s ability to curb the infectious spread much faster than models predicted with our historically unprecedented quarantine. The interesting thing about it is that at last outside of Hubei, it’s mainly precautionary. There are no zombies, very little infected, and everything still works. But now we’re returning to work and lowering our emergency state, and I worry about what will happen next. We still have no immunity, no vaccine, and a false sense of safety.
The last piece of news I get today is with the rate of infected coming under control, China plans to stop infections coming from abroad. “China’s containment strategy is shifting to an effort to stop the coronavirus from being imported back inside the country.” Wow, so that’s happening. Piece of cake.

Tuesday, Feb. 25 – Passion. Purpose. Progress.

Day 32. I stay up half the night, sending out hopeful messages and lists of emergency supplies to family and friends. COVID-19 is coming to their communities, and I hope people will take precautions. For many, it’s still not on their radar, even with the change in media messaging informing of a pandemic and possible draconian quarantine measures such as in Italy’s posh northern Lombardy region.

Xiaolin wakes up coughing, and I am quietly concerned. She’s been a bit quiet and grumpy since Sunday, but gets up and makes pancakes, and I enjoy them with yogurt and coffee. We binge the whole season of Joe Hill’s Locke & Key show while I alternate between work and exercise. The show is excellent, and he’s the spitting image of his dad.

The World Health Organization says it no longer uses the term pandemic, but we’re still in an emergency. I guess keeping people from panicking in the age of social media is the most critical priority.

In absolutely fantastic news, China enacts a ban on wild animal trade and consumption, thought to be behind the SARS and COVID-19 outbreaks, overnight, wow! Amazing, and about time. The world is slightly friendlier to animals today and tomorrow.

My dogs are misbehaving again, peeing and pooping on the floor in protest. I wish I could explain to them it’s not safe for them outside for multiple reasons, including possible infection, and targeted by concerned locals might see them as a health hazard.

My foreign colleagues in the UK and Germany ask me for information I don’t have. They wonder about our health insurance, with our countries warning us to return home, and whether we are going to be paid. There have been only three new cases in the past two days, but one is close to home for us. A man working in a butcher shop (one of the few open businesses around) about 5 minutes from my school is infected and hospitalized.

Chongqing’s rates of new infection are dropping daily – good news.

The Atlantic magazine is leading the charge to change public messaging with this provocative statement: 40-70% of the world will develop COVID-19 this year. I reached out to their expert, Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch on Twitter to ask what he thinks about a possible cytokine storm and reinfection. This wild theory is alarming to some experts.

Today I “blow” my one meal a day diet, trying to help Xiaolin cook her dinner. I end up joining her, and we eat a simple meal of greens and rice. I can’t justify not eating fresh green vegetables on offer.

Due to local hotels being full, China is sending seven cruise ships to Wuhan to accommodate health care workers being sent from all over China to help treat the infected and suspected infected at the epicenter.

As China downgrades our emergency levels in many provinces, this news we are winning the war on COVID-19 spreads, and the beautiful weather culminates in getting people outdoors again, often without masks. Some scenic areas are giving away free entrance to attract business back, until 5,000 tourists flood nearby Wulong (Fairy) Mountain, and online admission is suspended. Experts express a need for restraint and caution.

In another critical exercise of caution, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) is postponing the annual two sessions to protect leaders from all provinces and regions. It’s one thing to get factories rolling again, but the congress shall wait.

I steal an Oreo around 9 PM, because dieting is hard, and watch some of Apple’s “Mythic Quest” comedy, wondering what it would be like to go work for a Chongqing based video game company. I think I’d enjoy it, so am going to write them some great stories and see where it goes.

Xiaolin naps after dinner and I read, knowing it will be an early night for me too. This has been going on so long I’m no longer frantically trying to absorb all the breaking news, and I feel like I might be able to relax.

Monday, Feb 24 – Good housekeeping 

Day 31. A normalcy bias, aka the ostrich effect, is an inclination for people to believe things will always function the way they have. This causes them to underestimate the probability of disaster and potential outcomes. We often see this when talking about the environment, sustainability, animal rights, and infectious disease.

One big meal for the day.

 I prepare for online teaching with a strong coffee and some textbooks. I send a few friends pictures of gutted Italian supermarkets; now might be a good time to stock up on a few months of rice and medications. Being prepared is something we can do, given the right information. The first step to escaping normalcy bias is situational awareness; trust your instincts. 

 President Trump lands in India for a whirlwind promo tour to help secure him the Indian-American vote. This visit is a welcome distraction for President Modi, a world-famous hugger with an inspiring rags-to-riches story. Modi has a track record for improving sanitation (100 million toilets!), but he’s facing violent protests over his BJP party’s rewriting of Gandhi’s promise of secularism and open adoration of Hitler’s vision. Trump, who calls Modi the (new) ‘father of India,’ makes his first stop at the world’s largest cricket stadium. One hundred thousand people crowd around the friendly leaders, hoping for a handshake. Although India has repatriated more than 600 Indians from Wuhan, it only has three confirmed cases. Mounting worries over undetected infection cause many to stay home. 

 Chinese lawmakers are deliberating a new law to ban wildlife trade and their sale for food at live markets. This news puts a spring in my step for the rest of the day. 

The first chartered train for 500 migrant workers from 30 districts in Chongqing leaves for Zhejiang Province. Today 77,269 of 79,707 people with COVID-19 are in China, and while the rate of daily infection here is decreasing daily, clusters in half a dozen other countries are exploding. 

 Chongqing has two new infections today, and 234 hospitalized, including 21 severe cases and ten critical cases. We’ve had six deaths, and 335 have recovered. 

 Thailand didn’t ban South Koreans from entry, but 6 other countries did. 

Another order of vegetables means healthy living.

 Today I’m working hard to convince Xiaolin to order another couple of bags of rice. Three packages arrive, so I put on my gear and crank up my rock cover of “My Corona,” and go. Two weeks of greens, milk, and yogurt, but no rice. She tells me her favorite ‘Thai Rice’ was out of stock. I’m not impressed. 

I’m pretty sure this will be over soon, but I still start boiling water to fill the two empty 18l bottles I have in the kitchen. At two liters a day per person, I can store a good month of water for peace of mind. 

 I’m going to start a new diet plan, one meal a day (OMAD). Fasting for 23 hours a day is shown to kill dead cells and strengthen my immune system. My huge lunch consists of three boiled eggs, refried beans, quinoa and toast with a side of hummus, salsa and hot sauce. It’s hard to finish, but by sundown, my belly is rumbling.

 My slippers are sticking to the floor. I miss our friendly, affordable, and familial ‘Ayi’ (Chinese for auntie, our housekeeper). For the past six years, she’s kept our place spotless. Now she’s in her village, so I take about 2 hours to mop. I almost slip half a dozen times. 

 After teaching and editing the news, I play the PS4 game I’m writing for. Not eating dinner gives me way more time to play with.

 I repurpose a magnetic strip to fix the fridge door. Old Benben poops all over the living room floor. Even as I banish him to the balcony, Hachoo, in solidarity, maintains eye contact with me as she pees a big puddle. I scream until my throat burns. I mop the floors all over again. That’s just good housekeeping.

My “WHAT ABOUT THE FLU?!” Rant. (Please excuse me for this)

The reason COVID-19 is scarier than the annual flu is that we fear what we don’t know, and not what we’re used to. If COVID-19 killed 100,000 people a year in 15 years, it would be old news too.

It’s a fact it’s ‘novel,’ it’s new, we have no herd immunity that scares people. That, and the fact we’ve had mass plagues about 100 years apart (1620,1720, 1820,1918-20…) and maybe it’s just time. I’ve seen newspaper articles that played down the Spanish flu (which actually was not from Spain but anyway), as “not as bad as annual influenza” and also it only had a 1% case fatality rate. Still, it was novel and so infectious it killed about 100,000,000 (100 million) people by current estimates, more than both WWI + WWII combined.

I think precautions here in China can help, but people are panicked too. If everyone wears masks, most of the spread will be slowed, just as quarantining 1 out of every 5 humans on earth is slowing the infection. If everyone has a mask, they will be less likely to spread it, and more likely to be protected, assuming they cover their eyes too (all mucous membranes, so shirt cockers better pants up this year! hah). Because of the fear of viruses in poop and aerosol, we are also covering our drains, a simple precaution. That cruise ship (Diamond Princess) was a sobering disaster in failed quarantine and might get the Tokyo 2020 Olympics canceled. Right now, my school is asking foreign teachers to fly back to China, but Canada, USA, and UK embassies say “if you can leave, leave,” and so they won’t return as their health insurance would be void if they get sick. All schools have been canceled indefinitely anyway.

I’m on day 30 of absolute quarantine in my house, like the other 1.5 billion people in China. Still, I see Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Iran, and Italy are quickly following suit… places like UK, France, Thailand, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and others are bracing for cluster explosion and preparing hospital camps on army bases. Ukrainians threw Molotov cocktails yesterday at police and their own citizens returning from Wuhan because they are so terrified of this and in Costa Mesa California, the mayor is suing the federal government and the CDC for trying to dump a cluster of infected patients 15 mins from Disneyworld and an hour from 100 million residents in a low tech facility not equipped for dangerous infectious disease.

Nobody believes it will arrive until it does (normalcy bias), and by then it’s too late. With an asymptomatic transmission of viral shedding and up to 27 days of incubation before symptoms show, it’s like a ninja, and SARS-like precautions will do little to stop it (if you were sick with SARS, you could just stay home). This may not be the world killer, but many experts can see clear as day this is gonna shake the world and global economy for years to come.

Take it easy, old friends. Wash your hands. Don’t touch weird stuff. Sneeze in your sleeves. If it comes in big numbers, wear your precautions to cut your spread and avoid other’s infections as much as you can. Do your best. See you on the other side.

 Sunday, Feb. 23 – Patience Prevails

Bean burrito

Day 30. The word “quarantine” comes from the Venetian form of the Italian quaranta giorni, meaning “forty days.” People made sailors dock for 40 days to prove they weren’t carrying a disease. I’ve got ten more days before a real quarantine. 

 I close my eyes and inhale those beautiful, endless lavender fields of Provence as I avoid the hungry, happy bees buzzing around my feet. We spent her birthday sailing around a volcano off the coast of Santorini and then marched those merciless ancient Roman cobblestones that broke Xiaolin’s suitcase and tore her shoulder. I saw an old woman faceplant that day, her nose exploding in a spray of blood.

Europe is still in our rearview mirror, but it was a lifetime ago. I don’t want to imagine a decade in quarantine, but it’s exciting to experience the largest quarantine in human history. One in every five humans on earth is hiding from COVID-19. Isn’t that something. 

I play some hockey with my dad and help Xiaolin with her shoulder treatment. I eat some oatmeal, boiled eggs, and bread with hummus. We teach 1-3 pm, and it’s ok. The next class, 3:30-5:30, is the problem. The last class of our weekend tends to stress us out in normal circumstances. Today I’m ready to cancel it. There’s massive audio lag. Usually, I’m asking students to take their earbuds out, and now I’m hassling them to wear them. These students are older and a bit slower to pick up the concepts. I let Xiaolin take the lead and mentally shut down. Xiaolin is convinced I’ve been cursing under my breath. Unless she can read minds, she’s mistaken, but good luck telling her that. 

This special time has shown me my passion is writing. My most valuable resource, time, drips away when I’m not engaged. I’m grateful to COVID-19 for this lesson (and if this lesson was the point, please go away now). Is it gone? Is it? 

Xiaolin stomps around the kitchen, banging pans. Arguing in a 

global pandemic is high stakes. You can’t just take a walk, so patience prevails. 

In a wild fantasy, I google an escape to Thailand, en route to Canada, one of the only direct flights out of Chongqing still running, but South Korea has put out a travel warning for Bangkok. Thailand might put one out for South Korea tomorrow. They’re expensive, anyway. Jeffy Spaghetti. 

Book title idea: How to Save Money in the Apocalypse: Retirement Planning for the Frugal Survivor. 

I revisit my writing community on Scribophile and make a new group for locals called Cyber Chongqing & the Hot Po(e)t Society. I hope we can publish more this year. I’m sure lawyers will be the last people alive, so no worries about getting a book deal. 

My buddy falls over and messes up his knee. He wants to go to the hospital, but he’s scared. He asks me for advice, and I recommend ice, heat, and prayer. 

I’m chasing the dying of the light, push a little harder to learn a little more.  

I refry refried beans in onions and garlic with a fried egg in a toasty burrito with hummus, salsa, and cheese and hot sauce. I’ll remember this burrito forever. 

Today it is cold! I’m excited for warmer weather on the horizon. I laugh until my gut hurts in a long call with my friend Andrea about the absurdity of life. And yeah, I’ve got a tough wife, you know who else did? Shakespeare. Lovecraft. 

I wish I had some beer.  

Saturday, Feb. 22 – We Rise Again

Kai Wood

Food bag

Day 29. I sleep well, get up, and get some coffee on. We teach a morning class and make our famous spicy Chongqing noodles. Xiaolin takes hers with ground pork, and I eat mine with quinoa and hummus, both of us use lots of local spice. One day, maybe we’ll move back to Canada and have a restaurant or a B&B by the water somewhere scenic. As I scan the news, some jarring images of our interconnected world stand out to me. Ukrainians clash with police as they attempt to stop a convey of passengers returning from Wuhan. The fear of disease and the panic of social media can be as dangerous as a virus. In Italy and Iran, people wear masks in public places as the infection spreads. South Korea leaps into the 400’s, and many Korean neighborhoods look as empty as Chinese streets today. Japan hopes their Tokyo 2020 Olympic dream doesn’t become one of their COVID-19 victims. Perhaps the most troubling case, or the most helpful, is in British Columbia. A Canadian woman who contracted COVID-19 while on vacation in Iran causes a ‘sentinel event’ to broaden Canada and the CDC’s criteria from “have you been to China or know someone that has” to reflect the current climate: people in nearly 30 countries are infecting each other, and potential cases could be coming from anywhere. Increased precautions must be made to slow the R0, and front line workers must prepare for the possibility of a global pandemic. 

In China, Xi Jinping says in a recent speech that the turning point hasn’t yet come about, and the situation in Hubei remains severe. This is actually comforting to me. We want it to be over, but this thing has to burn itself out before we pat ourselves on the back, or this quarantine was for nothing. As long as I see my grandma in Canada this summer, I can handle anything else life throws in my way. After lunch, I organize my digital life and read a bit. We teach another afternoon class, and make an early dinner; fried potatoes, fish, and green veggies. We teach a final lesson in the evening, and then it’s time to relax. Keeping busy, and six hours of tutoring is a lot, makes the day fly by in a comforting way. I’ve also decided to limit my COVID-19 news to daylight hours and wind down with some self-care in the evening. Packages of dog food, coffee, and avocados show up, and it’s comforting. I talk to a good friend Stu, and he gives me a real boost. The things we’ve seen since we were kids and to live through this. What a time to be alive. Think about it. I grew up when kids played outside. I was a kid in the ’80s, a great time to be alive. I saw the birth of cellphones from bricks to flip to smartphones. Video games turned from pixels on a screen to virtual reality, indistinguishable from life, and games where we created worlds and lorded over them. For 1000 years, the digital age will reign upon Earth, but I saw the beginning. I remember connecting to other computers directly on local bulletin boards before the internet was a thing. I stayed up all night in chat rooms for other countries and languages practicing my Swedish, Chinese, and Japanese. In my lifetime, globalization went from an idea to completely automated and controlled by AI. Instant, affordable, and reliable global transport became a reality for billions around the world. I remember when dance music was secret and happened in unpublished community centers at night, to giant televised stadium concerts to the soundtrack for shoes, socks, and cars. I got to see the height of the Western world, in terms of power and culture and influence, and move to China as they came to power to stand next to America in terms of prosperity and cultural significance. Automation and artificial intelligence revolutionalize the way the world operates. This flu may threaten our “quick supply” chain of globalized transportation. Still, it will make us stronger and more resilient in the future. We’ve gone through worse, and we will rise again. 

Friday, Feb. 21 – Creepy Violin

Diary

Day 28. I’m in a basement apartment, trying to dispose of a pile of dead bodies. We find a wood chipper under a tarp and fire it up. I choke back a scream as it chugs along. We’re about halfway through when the neighbors start banging on the door, so I yell to Xiaolin over the lumbering roar, “put the kettle on!” I wake up early, in a cold sweat. What kind of nightmare was that? 

A live COVID-19 Q&A starts with Dr. John Campbell. There’s more than 4000 of us tuned in, and despite his cough and cold, he patiently answers questions for hours. I make some coffee and tune in to my daily dose of my viral pathologist, Dr. Chris Martenson. I help Xiaolin put medicine on her sore shoulder. The new numbers inside China are low, and many companies in Chongqing are back to work, fantastic.

I am a little confused that we’ve changed counting criteria twice, once to allow for diagnostics, again to go back to PCA tests. I’m missing the black swan here, but like everyone, I am hopeful. Two of the most severe cases of Diamond Princess patients in Yokohama turn out to be Japanese government bureaucrats. BC has a new case, with some connection to Iran’s emerging cluster. 

My school asks my colleagues to return for 14 days of quarantine, while Canada, the US, and the UK’s embassies are still advising us to leave China. I want to teach online until we get rid of travel restrictions on public gatherings. If a beer at the pub and a movie at the mall aren’t safe, how can teaching be? 

The seal on the fridge is loose, and I have a strange cramp in my left leg, stress? I’ve been sleeping funny. I rub some Arnica and stretch. I used to press 300KG, and now my calves look small and flabby. I’m another KG lighter today. 

I suit up and find our number on a big white cooler wrapped in plastic by the gate. On the way back, I tear open the layering and rip the cut on my finger open. It’s fish, and Xiaolin spends two hours cleaning and preparing a beautiful dinner while I decontaminate. I try to imagine being blind as I navigate my shower. This practice has three features, removing the fear of losing my sight, making me grateful I can still see, and I don’t worry about any ‘virus’ getting in my eyes while I wash my hair. 

Later, I demo a PS4 game I might start writing for when Xiaolin comes in, wanting me to prepare for class. I hold up my controller and tell her I’m busy working. It’s one of those moments where we have a hard time understanding each other. 

I apply for a job on a remote island community in Ireland. They’re looking for a happy couple to live for free and handle their coffee shop. It’s fun to dream. I’m halfway between dying for a night out in the city and wanting to buy a little cottage in Quebec and live off the land. 

Close to midnight, a package text rolls in, so I suit up again. Xiaolin hasn’t been outside the flat in two weeks; I’m more comfortable with our protocols, and she’d rather stay inside. Through the foggy darkness past my goggles are flashes of light, and I hear creepy violin strings around me. No one is around. It’s terrifying… what a time to be alive. 

Thursday, Feb. 20 – A Grain of Salt

A Grain Of Salt

Day 27. The molecular structure of matter is decided by the chemical bonds between its atoms. Through an electron microscope, cubes appear as ancient monuments, concealing secrets in the recesses of its cubic rectangular prism. This is a grain of salt. 

 Instead of listening to the 99th COVID video of the day, I opt for a stoic video on Memento Mori and my anxiety slips away. Memento Mori is the ancient idea of reflecting on our own inevitable death. Time is precious, I won’t wring my hands. Instead, I’ve got to make each moment count. Am I afraid death might keep me from sitting on my couch and binging Netflix for another night? If I’m going to fear death, I should also worry about not living my best life. I slept well finally. 

I can’t escape being informed, so I listen to the news all day while I cook and clean and make notes and write my fantasy book. 

I make banana pancakes, and then I find some broken glass and slash open my finger. It bleeds a lot, and my inner mind screams out something absurd, “I wonder if hemophiliacs live 10 years longer on average” while I apply pressure. Finally, it clots so I don’t have to go Rambo with the stitches. 

A super spreader in South Korea infects dozens in Daegu, and now a city of 2.5 million looks as quiet as anywhere in China. 

 Dr. Iwata, a veteran of Ebola and SARS, clarifies the Diamond Princess fiasco, “(It’s a) COVID-19 factory…I was so scared.” Beaurocrats, not doctors, have been running the quarantine. Workers were eating while wearing contaminated gloves. He left for self-quarantine, while the passengers waltzed into Japan. This is going to affect the Olympics, I think, and by mid-afternoon, Japan is considering postponing or canceling. Finger on the pulse. If we can learn anything, it’s the importance of letting experts, not bureaucrats, handle infectious disease. 

 I check my teeth in the mirror and wonder when I’ll be able to see a dentist. What an unpleasant, high-risk form of punishment I’m craving. Speaking of saying ah, scientists are supporting aerosol transmission through ventilation is possible. 

 After dinner, a boy calls and asks for help with a big national pride 70-year Chinese speech contest. I correct his grammar and pronunciation and he’s a happy guy. 

 In the struggle to use technology to fight the disease we’re rushing to give up digital privacy, and, in the rush to get global supply lines going, robots are clearly better suited to work than fragile humans. These are dystopian solutions to human problems.

 Most of Chongqing’s key leading companies have resumed production, according to the Chongqing Economy and Informatization Commission. I have heard reports that hand sanitizers are springing up all over town. 

 As China recruits more health care workers to the front line, perks are offered, such as priority entrance for prestigious universities, and if they perish, martyr-status, family benefits, and big pensions. It’s a good offer.

 I’ve applied to test the new Cyberpunk 2077 game and might take a job writing for another one. I volunteer some time for my favorite progressive candidate’s campaign. These seem like good things to spend my time doing. We need a green new deal more than ever.

I have a song stuck in my head, I can’t figure out why. 

 I believe I can see the future

Cause I repeat the same routine 

I think I used to have a purpose 

Then again, that might have been a dream. – NIN, Every Day is Exactly the Same

Wednesday, Feb. 19 –  Water Under the Fridge

Coronavirus diary

Day 26. There’s water under the fridge, no, it’s not my flippant answer to your apology. My beautiful merino wool slippers are soaked. Without them, I can’t keep my toes toasty. Chongqing has a similar latitude to Miami (29° to 25°), which makes us the furnace of China for most of the year but no central heating and a bit chilly in the winter. Getting these puppies dried up is top priority work, innit. 

I’m cranky because I tossed and turned all night again, sleepless and anxious, but brunch makes it right. We make pancakes, and I crack open a bottle of ‘canneberges et pommes coulis’ I’ve been saving since we pulled over in Manseau, Quebec to bargain in a little roadside shop, stuffed to overflowing with all manner of squished, dried and candied cranberries. I close my eyes, and I’m sitting on a duffel bag full of cranberries, eating poutine under a maple tree as the lazy summer wind kisses my face and those plump cranberry bushes sway off into oblivion.

Today, 74,282 people in China have been infected, with 14,601 recovered, and 2009 have died. In my city of Chongqing, 296 are currently hospitalized, and 254 have been discharged from hospital, and five are dead. It’s been established that aerosol transmission is possible in a closed environment, so we are encouraged to keep our windows open. 

 I grow these amazing little bean sprouts, from seeds, They bring me joy. Next, I’ll try green onions, garlic, celery, or lettuce. 

A friend calls me to say our good buddy Simon and his girlfriend are aboard the Diamond Princess! I message Simon, but it’s old news – he’s been back for a while, but they’re in touch with friends aboard, and it’s a total gong show. Scientists are calling that Japanese quarantine aka virus incubator an utter failure but have no explanation of how 3700 people locked in their rooms are spreading infection. A charming retired couple from the UK vlogs that today men in hazmat suits are taping plastic sheets over air vents in the ship’s halls. Watch out for invisible cars. 

The water heater in our bathroom is slowly leaking, so I put a bucket under it. Xiaolin’s still worried. We’re not about to call a repairman over, so we unplug it.  

I love my wife. She is tough even by Chongqing standards. Imagine the spiritual tough love of Yoda, the chemistry of Wayne’s-World-era Tia Carrere and the comedic genius of Mr. Bean. She’s terrific, and I adore her. 

 I bake again today – I haz one bread!

 Chonqing Gov releases back to work protocols. They look reasonable but seem challenging for ordinary people. On the commute, we suggest keeping 1m distance from others, wearing a mask and gloves, avoiding rush hour, and driving your own car.  In the office, keep 1m away from others, wear a mask, work online, disinfect your office, take a temperature test when entering, use drink containers with a lid, take the stairs, keep windows open, and wash hands frequently. In the cafeteria: wash your hands before meals, dine separately, bring meals from home, and don’t share food. In the restroom: keep 1m apart to queue, close the lid before flushing, and wash hands well. Since most public toilets here don’t have a lid, I’m not sure how realistic all of this is, but like principles, maybe they’re meant to be worked towards rather than fully achieved.

Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 – Shopping Trip

Day 25. Human beings are wet. We’re made of 60% water. Earth is 72% water. We can live for weeks without food but only four days without water. It’s amazing we can’t breathe water, and more so how susceptible we are to pneumonia. 

The shocking news about 99 new infections on the Diamond Princess is grim. In Cambodia, the Prime Minister shook hands and gave roses as the Westerdam passengers disembarked. Let’s hope he washed them well after. 

Empty transfer station in Chongqing

Homemade bread with some Hainanese Honey-Kaya and boiled eggs make a delicious brunch. We get a package at the gate, so I suit up and head out the door as my friend Andrea calls. Worried about my cabin-fever, he’s taking me on a tour of CQ streets. Andrea leaves his compound, gets his “exit pass” stamped, and walks onto the deserted shopping district. He descends into the underground as I make it to my school gate, and notice my head of security give me a wide-eyed stare. Most people wear masks and leave it at that. Andrea laughs, but he gets me. It’s a numbers game. Some people walk out into a street without looking up from their phones. Most of the time they’re ok until they’re not. You increase your chances with a little situational awareness. Wearing a mask in China these days is like looking both ways before you cross the street. Wearing goggles and gloves is a bit like listening for invisible cars, but we don’t know what we don’t know. 

Empty subway train

The train pulls up, and we board, utterly alone. Andrea stands in the center, careful not to touch anything. I find a small envelope from my coworker, Michael. He’s sent his house keys so I can loot his flat and send him lesson plans. He’s offered snacks and water in exchange. At the transfer station, Andrea stops to take a panoramic shot. Not another person can be seen. We remark about how eerie it is. On the busier line three train, there are a few other people, standing far apart. I open Michael’s apartment. Inside, evidence of a hastily packed trip, and I see his laptop on the couch. Andrea leaves the station, walks past board up and abandoned Prada and Luis Vuitton shops. All traffic has been directed to a central entrance. Temperatures are checked, and masks are mandatory. At the Ole supermarket, they check again. I grab a big 18liter sealed bottle of spring water. In the kitchen, I pack a small box with some spices and snacks Michael’s encouraged me to use. 

Shopping at Ole supermarket

Inside Ole, workers are ready to assist shoppers and keep shelves stocked. Andrea stops at the well-stocked beer section and offers to send me a case of Corona. We share a laugh. A few shoppers use gloved hands to fill their carts, but the general vibe is relaxed aside from the perfunctory use of masks. I take my loot down to my flat and go through my decontamination procedures. Andrea catches a taxi home, and receives a temperature check, shows his ID, and keys to security before he is allowed back inside his residential compound. 

Temperature checks

Today, over 80 clinical trials are ongoing. So far, the winner is Chloroquine. The major annual Beijing Congress in March is likely going to be postponed, and Chongqing cancels our international marathon scheduled for March 22. Today my city has 323 COVID-19 patients hospitalized (36 severe cases and 13 critical cases). We’ve had five deaths, and 225 discharged patients have recovered. This is good news but we’re not out of the woods yet. Xiaolin says my Chinese is much better. I download books with titles like “Badass Survival Skills” and “Preppers Survival Medicine Handbook,” and read through the SAS Urban Survival Manual. It feels good to be prepared. 

(Photos courtesy of Andrea Cotte) 

Monday, Feb. 17 – Happy Day  

Chongqing

Day 24. This is all my fault. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I wished on a shooting star, for this Spring Festival to be relaxing, long, and productive. I wanted a break from the endless sore teacher’s throat and to spend more of my energy doing prolific writing. Now, look at this mess. 

A friend suggests I read a forty-year-old thriller by Dean Koontz called “The Eyes of Darkness.” In it, a novel coronavirus is released in Wuhan, China. Eerie, but I suppose if you search enough, you can find prescience anywhere, I mean, The Simpsons predicted Donald Trump as President. 

I smash up some guacamole and go from 0 to grill cheese in 60 seconds. My fresh-baked bread blows my mind. Why have I never done this before? Oh yeah, I had access to a bakery.

School hours are now further reduced to reduce stress and eye strain. After lunch, we have an online class, and my students are happy and relaxed. Some made me beautiful and creative short films about their “special time staycations.” I’m happy today and thinking of a stoic quote by Epictetus that says: “It is quite impossible to unite happiness with a yearning for what we don’t have. Happiness has all that it wants.” No regrets today, and as far as Mondays go, this one is pretty painless. 

I have some concerns about people going back to work, but the gas man shows up at the school gate to swap me a new canister. He gives me a paper receipt, and I hold it awkwardly in a gloved hand. I pass a tree and tuck it in a hole in the trunk, not wanting to bring anything ‘foreign’ inside. Back at the house, I try to install it into the stove, but can’t find the groove. Calm down, it’s just a weak flamethrower. Unless I screw up, then it’s a bomb. No pressure, eh. I try counterclockwise, and the rivets take hold. 

 Xiaolin asks if I have the receipt to give my school. I tell her I shoved it in a tree outside. It’s worth $20 when things get back to normal, and I decide to weigh in on hopeful optimism. When I go out later to pick up a food order from the gate, I find it folded up in the cranny of the tree. Twenty bucks is twenty bucks. 

Sunday, Feb. 16 – I haz one bread

Chongqing


Day 23 in quarantine. I might be in a simulation or the peripheral of some crazy rich historical-crisis-tourists from the future. I can imagine this package would be quite expensive.
I make honey water and coffee, and my Chinese stepmom in Ottawa sends me a story about how we’re all chickens in cages, trying to live our best life while we can.
In feel-good news, a man from Wuhan volunteers with an animal rescue group to care for nearly 300,000 pets who’s owners are locked out of the quarantine zone. Some give passcodes; others beg him to break in. He fills up the food and water and changes cat litter. My dogs are chasing sunbeams, and I put some cushions down by the window so they can sunbathe.
The school has opened the admin office for a few hours today to help residents avoid a blackout. I suit up for outside, drop off my power card, and some cash at the security gate. Stupidly, I didn’t bring my own pen and walk away after signing their form, wondering how many people have also used theirs. I have to come back at four to pick it up, “contact-free.”
Speaking of cash, China is burning money collected from hospitals and supermarkets, only issuing out new currency. China is already a cashless society, I haven’t touched the stuff in years.
I decide to take a walk to the street. The turnstiles are closed, and I don’t have a pass to go outside, but I can wiggle my way through the vehicle gates and walk towards the SF delivery truck parked out front. A young man is sorting through packages. I snap a photo or two. Two community leaders are walking towards me. They gawk at this hulking alien in a bug-eyed spacesuit taking pictures of them. I scuttle back inside the school compound before they start questioning me.

 I decontaminate and get my “inside onesie” back on. Dad is still up, and we play a game of NHL Hockey online. I’m Team Canada, and he’s “all-time all-stars.” Crosby versus Gretzky. When I was in college in Halifax, my best friend used to do Sidney’s manicures in Cole Harbor, around the time he won his “golden goal” for Team Canada in Vancouver. He really cared about his hand hygiene. That was the year a band I spent a decade touring with played the Yukon medal ceremony. A lifetime ago. 

I take my morning vitamins and eat my last “zinc immunity booster” pill. The gas runs out for our stove as we’re making pancakes, but I finish up on our hot plate.
A man on day 13 of his 14-day quarantine decides to go for a walk in the park and gets a phone call from his boss saying he’s got to go back home right away. Facial recognition flagged him, an AI called his boss and pressured them to send him back home. China uses AI and big data to combat the spread of the virus so efficiently. I wonder how a country without all this tech would handle this sort of outbreak.
I work online for four hours, write a little, read a little, and make a loaf of bread.
Millions of roses were destroyed this valentine’s day. The top three most popular gifts this year were face masks, eye goggles, and alcohol lathered cotton pads. Love in an age of no contact.

Saturday, Feb. 15 – Hard Day’s Work

Kai Wood

I wake up and drink instant coffee. Unsatisfied, I make a big pot of freshly ground beans to savor by the sunny window. We put in an order for more with an ETA of ‘?’ but, with things returning to ‘normal’ out there, it may arrive this month. 

Today we are doing six full hours of online teaching for Xiaolin’s private students, making Saturday my biggest workday of the week. The first class is ten to noon, and they’re a sweet bunch. The technology is iffy at times, but we make it work with a few breaks and a tasty ukulele session at the end. 

I make some guacamole on toast with boiled eggs for brunch. I’m going to have to make my own bread (a first) tomorrow. Exciting and strange. 

There’s something odd about being the only ones in an empty building, forgotten and alone, but at a time when contact is dangerous, there is safety in solitude. I’m trying hard not to panic, so I’ll limit my doom and gloom to one stream of consciousness. In good news, Chinese hospitals are using blood plasma from recovered patients to try to create an antibody response and boost immunity or resistance to COVID-19. Vaccine tests are proceeding well with antiviral drugs such as chloroquine and remdesivir, seeming to indicate a quick recovery from the virus. Monkeys that were re-exposed to the virus can create a cytokine storm, which is an overproduction of immune cells and their activating compounds (cytokines), meaning the body’s activated immune cells start attacking their own organs. Some experts fear the secondary infection could be more destructive than the first (ala Spanish Flu). I must sound so paranoid and hope a vaccine comes along before summer. I’m getting tired of feeling like I’m trapped in a sci-fi/horror video game. I hold my dog Benben, and we both breathe for a while until everything feels like it’s going to be ok. On the plus side, the virus epidemic has reduced my anxiety about climate catastrophe.

The second class today is another new one. It goes pretty smoothly. William Gibson’s new book, Agency, entertains me on a two-hour break. Our third class is good too. Today is exhausting, but I guess that’s why they call it work. 

Xiaolin gets a bit tired and headachy after too much screen time and my booming teacher voice, but I am smart enough to give her space to relax. We had a nice V-Day yesterday, so some quiet time is in order. By ten PM, we’re ready to chill out and let the day drift away.

Friday, Feb. 14 – Breakfast in Bed 

Valentine’s Day is day 21 in quarantine, but day 1 for anything I do today. Living is about managing risks and today feels like it’s full of them. 

Xiaolin gets breakfast in bed.

I make Xiaolin breakfast in bed: pancakes and coffee. Her shoulder is starting to feel better. It’s a sunny day, and we tidy up, take care of our plants on the balcony and move our trees around the living room to get more sun. I go outside three times, which is unprecedented. The first time, we go out with a couple of chairs to sit on the parking garage roof. We see some people leaving the school with a coupon, which we don’t have since no one seems to realize we are the only occupants of the “foreign teacher’s dormitory” building on campus. It’s ok, we don’t want to go anywhere, anyway. 

After a couple of hours of fresh air and sunshine, we go pick up Xiaolin’s shoulder medication in a tiny automatic mailbox on campus. We decide to order food, made by unvetted strangers, delivered to our house. It feels dangerous and romantic in a star-crossed lovers kind of way. Xiaolin wants to order KFC. I am a vegetarian; still, I suppose it’s more of a preference than a rule, after all, I’ve eaten giant spiders and scorpions in Asia in the past and I’m feeling sentimental. 

My dad used to call KFC “Champs Chicken’ when I was a boy in Ottawa. When I was 20, we flew to Winnipeg for his dad’s funeral, and I saw Grandpa’s garage full of curling trophies and newspaper articles. Grandpa Wood was a real sportsman. I remember a photo in the Winnipeg Tribute where he had won the Brier with his dad, Pappy Wood, in 1940. the four-man team looked so proud, standing in front of their four shiny new Hudsons. Everyone says I look a lot like my grandpa.

Grandpa Wood and Great Grandpa Pappy Wood, Canadian Sports Hall of Famer.

So I pick it up when it arrives at the gate, and later head out again because Xiaolin’s baba sends us another package as we are preparing for another online class; the first one with a new group for her tutoring school. He’s grown a duck, on his rooftop garden, baked it, and shipped it across town for us as a little gift. 

The new video class is just getting started, I’ve got my phone and laptop set up, and I sit down on the couch. It takes a minute to realize the sofa is wet. Without being weird, as six ten-year-olds and their families watch me introduce myself, I realize I’m sitting in dog pee because my old dog Ben Ben is angry I went out three times on a sunny day and can’t figure out why I’m not walking him anymore. I wish I could tell him it’s for his own safety. Stoicism is teaching screaming children in a puddle of dog pee without complaint until you can keep them busy enough to sneak away and change your clothes (and wash the couch cover on a break). I still give Benben a good rub after class, the boy is getting something old. 

The duck is fatty but delicious. We watch Tom Hanks in The Terminal and laugh at how outlandish his own quarantine is.

Thursday, Feb. 13 – Maintenance

Kai Wood


Today is day 20 of quarantine, which feels like a milestone. Xiaolin is feeling much better thank the mother, a huge relief. We’ve been getting good sleep. Doctors say the key to fighting and beating this kind of virus is a strong immune system, and around 7-9 hours of sleep a night can mean the difference between resting up at home and fighting for your life in the ICU. I feel for the 500 exhausted health care workers in Hubei that have become infected already, and I’m proud Chongqing and so many other cities can send so many resources at the epicenter. I’m aware if new clusters break out across China and lose that ability, it would be a scary situation, so I’m determined to do my part and stay home.
That said, many people are back to work here in Chongqing, and even some of the Daily News crew will be back in the office on Monday. People have an attitude of optimism that this is winding down and waning. I want to be carried away by it, but I will continue to work from home for a while longer. Schools are still on hold for at least another month. Despite the resumption, many people are still encouraged to stay home to avoid spreading the infection.

Publishing my diary daily on a(n) (inter)national platform makes me feel as vulnerable as a guy who crashed a van in the desert in Northern California, hitchhiked into burning man with no food or water and proceeded to DJ naked in a dust storm for a crowd of 1000’s of bunny rabbits. Oddly specific, I know.

We tidy up, air out the blankets in the sun.

A shocking twist in the news, we have 15,000 new cases in Hubei province because of a new testing criterion that involves diagnostic and CT scans. This is good, in that these patients can get the help they need, but it is a surprise to see the number of infections climb so high today. There’s now 219 infected on that cruise ship in Japan, the biggest cluster outside China.
My coworker is in another province without his laptop and has been trying to get me to help him get his lesson plans. We figured out that our school office has a set of keys for our flats, and he talks me into doing a little B&E (with permission) to get access to his apartment. Xiaolin tries to convince me to stay home, but I figure he would do it for me, so I get suited up and head over to the school. The guard comes out and waves me away. I call Xiaolin to help me get more information, but before I know it, the guard has grabbed my phone. The school has been decontaminated, and no one goes in.
I return home, remove my phone case, and leave it by the door. Wipe it and my phone down with alcohol and then do my own decontamination procedures.

Today we see a lot of videos of police busting citizens that are creating panic and spreading misinformation and rumors. During any crisis, some people will take advantage of the chaos for their own profit. Still, it’s important not to get caught up in that storm, and it makes me more reluctant to speak, or even do what I came here to do, use my expertise, critical thinking, and voice as a teacher and a writer to be an agent for good.

I start reading the new William Gibson book Agency, and Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague and realize that I’m juggling a lot of balls. Maintenance is always the hardest part for me, but it’s where I’m working the hardest to develop.
A few more friends leave today for Vancouver, and they’re lucky to get on one of the remaining flights out of Shanghai. I really hope a trip to Canada this summer is on the cards.
As we hope and pray that this thing is on the decline, the WHO and many other countries brace for more spread.

Wednesday, Feb. 12 –  The Negotiator 

Kai Wood

Day 19. Lots of friends send messages to stay strong. What they don’t understand is that solitary life is peaceful.

I haven’t had a sniffle for a month, but this morning Xiaolin is coughing; she’s got a headache, and she naps half the afternoon. I drink a strong coffee, and I teach another class online. 

The virus has an official name, thanks to the WHO: COVID-19. Designed to be forgettable. 

Xiaolin learns how to make pancakes, and I make a pickle pizza.

I outline, and I write, and when that mythic sweltering Chongqing sun lights me up, I sit on the balcony reading Stephen King until my face starts to burn. Later, I take former FBI negotiator Chris Voss’s masterclass. He gives me an idea. 

This virus has taken China hostage, and we need a negotiator. 

“Hey, virus, I’m going to call you COVID-19, you can call me Kai, and I’m here to find what you need?”

Gnashing teeth, blazing red eyes. “I’m a ferocious, virulent, coronavirus.”

I use the late-night DJ voice. “It seems like being taken seriously is valuable to you.” 

“I’m a world-class pandemic,” it roars, puffing out its chest. “I’m gonna dwarf the Spanish Flu.” 

“The Spanish Flu?” I mirror, inflecting my voice downward. 

“A century ago, you didn’t even have planes, today hopped around the world to 24 countries.”

I don’t ask why I ask what. “What about traveling the world is important to you? It sounds like you want to be a big deal, be remembered.” 

“That’s right, better sit up, pay attention,” it snarls, with jagged crows for teeth. 

I need to find a black swan. What most worries you?” That was it, and I could see the fear in its eyes. “Ah, I see. We’re all holed up in our houses, and we’re bored, but you can’t spread the way you want to.”

COVID shifted on its paws. 

“What are we trying to accomplish?”

“You quiver in fear, and I’m outside waiting for you.”

Tactical empathy. “How am I supposed to carry on with my life like this?” “Go outside. I dare you.”

Drop an anchor, Chris whispers. 

“So let’s say I go outside, what are we looking at? 20% complication rate? 2% fatality? The odds in pretty good for me.” 

The virus growls, chomping its fangs. 

It hits me. COVID is a ferocious young Sagittarius, terrified of being boring. “I want you to feel like you’re being treated fairly. We respect you, you’ve ground the world’s factory to a halt. We will never forget you.”

Bend their reality, anchor them in preparedness for a loss. “But let’s be honest here, you’re nasty, but you’re not the zombie plague. We can get over this. Keep this up, that universal vaccine gets to market all the faster. You’re bigger and badder than SARS, COVID, and we’re going to remember you. How about we use your memory to help us prepare for the next big one? You will be our textbook example of why we must remain vigilant. When we wash our hands, when we refuse to scratch our itchy noses, your name will be on our lips.”

It stopped gnashing and considered. 

Use leverage. “I can make you famous, but you’ve gotta calm down and let us get our factories up and running again.” 

90 minutes later, we’d made a deal.

Tuesday, Feb. 11 –  A Sunny Day

Kai and Xiaolin

It’s dark, and I’m feeling woozy, and I don’t know where I am. Xiaolin is telling me to get up and close all the windows. Trucks are spraying the city with disinfectant chemicals. I run around the house, slamming windows shut. Before I pass out, I send a few messages to my friend groups on WeChat.

Around 10 AM, I get up, check the news from inside the warmth of my pillow fort. Did it happen? A good friend is hacking on me for proof. I ask Xiaolin if she saw any pictures from her 5000 friends on WeChat. She’s seen videos but already deleted them. A lot of chat groups, our only socialization for weeks, have been fracturing, and tensions are high. 

I’ve lost 5KG since the quarantine started. 

Another broadcast warns the virus can travel through water pipes as SARS did in HK in 2003. People are covering sinks and drains. I’m caught between hard science that’s trying to catch up and helpful ideas that may not be accurate. 

A smashed avocado mixed with very garlicky hummus is a quick guacamole-hack and goes down well with a couple of boiled eggs and toast. A sizzling piece of raisin bread burns my hand, and I drop it on the floor. I hate wasting limited supplies.

Dr. Zhong, the Chinese epidemiologist who discovered SARS in 2003, releases a troubling study. The incubation of 2019-nCoV can last as long as 24 days, and half of the patients tested do not have a fever when they seek treatment. This has implications for testing standards in many countries. Big Bummer.

We’re sitting around bored when a mischievous sunbeam drops by. We jump up in excitement. Children chatter, and basketballs dribble against concrete. A booming voice on the loudspeaker yells in Chinese, “go inside, it’s not safe, go back inside your homes!” Soon it gets quieter. That precious sunbeam is so enticing! 

We grab two chairs and go sit on the upper parking garage, by ourselves. Xiaolin salsa dances in the sun, and I play Shadowrun on my phone with a professor from France. Some people walk by with a little grey cat, but they keep a respectful distance. On the street below, a man smokes a cigarette and then hands off a package of masks to a grateful woman through the gate.

We head home after a couple of hours, and I shower and put on clean clothes. I make a peanut butter, honey, and pickles sandwich. I’m not sure what took me 40 years, but it’s all kinds of crunchy goodness. 

Home grown sprouts make a nice dinner.

The bean sprouts I grew fry up nice with some spicy chilly peppers, alongside fried potatoes, rice, and lentil soup for dinner.

I’m looking at Canadian publishers. I enjoy spending my days writing and not sure if I’m ready to return to the hectic classroom. Will it feel safe? If factories are ok to open today, why are we looking at March for school? Will I be standing there with goggles and a mask teaching a bunch of students in bubbles? Xiaolin sees a mosquito in our bedroom and anxiety blooms.

Monday, Feb. 10 – Rock Show for Babies

Kai Wood

Day 17 of quarantine, and we wake to abrasive screaming over a broadcast system. A voice tells us not to go outside, the virus is not finished. Dr. Zhong posts a message: our first quarantine failed because too many stubborn people socialized, and we will need a better one to stop the spread. More cities go into total lockdown today. The drastic measures scare some, but most see them as necessary to combat this virus on a grand scale. Today is also the first day back to work for many people in China.

One of my favorite stoics and one of the last great Roman Emperors, Marcus Aurelius, wrote a helpful exercise. You should view your life from above, like a bird’s eye view on your home, your community, your city, your country, and the whole planet as a blip in the endless vastness of space. Your base emotions, such as anxiety, panic, fear, anger, frustration, and boredom, are not so important. We are but small players in the larger story. When seen from above, our feelings disappear. Together, we fight to extinguish the chains of transmission of this virulent virus.

More Canadians try to leave China, and Thailand is one of the few places still offering (cheap!) flights. I’m reminded of a biblical quote that says, “if I come to a land with the plague I do not enter, but if I’m in a land with a plague, I do not leave.” This is good advice. We are safer to stay put.

In a comforting reversal from yesterday’s reporting, experts are now saying there is no evidence for aerosol transmission, yet cities continue to spray public areas with powerful chemical disinfectants. If my day feels like it’s full of paradoxes, it might be. We can only wait.

High school starts today, online. My first English class is an audio call with glitches, echo, and delay, giggling voices. They’re busy with homework, some hardly noticed what’s going on outside. Others are angry. Angry at what, I ask? 

“Those people who ate bats and caused this.” 

I let them know we’re not sure bat soup is the cause, but they’ve heard what they heard, and they’re mad. 

My next class is IELTS writing, and we use a chat format. It goes much more smoothly. I assign homework, and they do it.

The delicious bouquet of fragrances of my lentil soup masks the spicy hotness. We eat well today.

I’m practicing my ukulele, and Xiaolin turns the camera on me. Next thing I know, we’ve got a good dozen family members watching our rock show for babies. Xiaolin is an ethereal singer, and I strum through a half dozen children’s classics, the best of the Beatles, Jammin’, and Somewhere Over The Rainbow x It’s a Wonderful World before my fingers swell up. 

These Avocado Grilled Cauliflower Sandwiches Will Make You Forget Grilled Cheese

“Everyone go to your room until you’re ready to stop destroying the planet!” Its like Mother Nature is giving us a time out 

Sunday, Feb. 9 – Life Finds A Way

Broccoli and burgers

Day 16 of quarantine and I’m quite bored. I don’t feel like writing anything. We do our morning rituals. I decide to drink instant coffee today and save my beans for a sweet treat once a week until I can order more. I can’t bear the thought of running out.

I sprinkle chia seeds on my salt and peppered boiled eggs and smashed avocado toast with fresh spicy hummus for brunch. I’ve lost three KG while getting minimal exercise, so I guess giving up fast food makes a difference.

The Canadians in WeChat are discussing two pieces of news released by Chinese media today. One is funny, and the other is bad. The bad news is that a girl came back from Wuhan and didn’t develop any sign of the infection for twenty days. If this is true, it could have global implications: don’t tell the stir-crazy Canadians on that cruise ship. 

Ok, they’re both bad. Aerosol, alongside droplets and contact, can now transmit the virus. That means if you walk into a sneeze cloud or a public bathroom where someone is using the toilet, you could become infected. Ok, they’re both terrible, butI might be the first person to put three pieces of the puzzle together: 1) nCov (aka NCP) can live in the intestines 2) and in fecal matter 3) it can be aerosolized. What does that mean? It means we have to watch out for virus farts that can give you pneumonia then kill you. This shouldn’t be funny, but I laugh really hard anyway.

My mom calls me crying because she read my diary, and it made her feel sad and worried. I cheer her up with horrible jokes, and she laughs until we’re ok again.

I burn my hand making toasted garlic broccoli and pickle pizza sandwich burgers. It’s not bad, but it might leave a scar.

I play some video games, watch some news, and listen to all my daily medical blogs. When I’m overcome by ennui, I tune my tenor ukulele and play until my fingers bleed. I cut my nails when I realize how long they’ve gotten. I’m getting pretty good at Danny Boy.

We eat some nacho cheese chips with salsa and hummus dip and watch Jojo Rabbit. Tomorrow my bean sprouts will be ready to harvest. Life finds a way.

Sat Feb. 8 – I’m an AsCan

Kai Wood

We are all astronauts, a motley crew, traveling through space at 268 KM per second on a planet ship equipped with gravity, a vast array of dining options, and Broadway entertainment. Unfortunately, we don’t work that well together. If we keep scrapping our life support system for imaginary money, we’re not gonna make it. We are clever monkeys, but we are not wise. 

The cruise ship situation off the coast of Japan looks scary. Xiaolin worries about recycled air, and the YouTube comments, if not the science, regurgitate that fear. 

Chris Hatfield teaches me astronauts don’t cross their fingers, they manage risk. Being afraid is a choice. A virus isn’t scary, but many people are scared. Why? The unknown. We can learn, take precautions, and manage the risk and choose not to be afraid? Of course, we can. So today, thanks to Chris Hatfield, I became an “AsCan” or honorary Astronaut Candidate. AsCan’s train for anything that could go wrong, because out there you’re on your own, and you have to be able to solve it or get to safety in one breath. This works for me. 

My dad calls, and we play a game of online hockey. I squeak out an overtime win. 

I dig up an old reference letter that got me to China and helps my former boss draft a reference letter for me. She’s left my school after recruiting me six years ago, and it seems like a good time to have all my ducks organized. The situation is fluid. 

Chinese scientists say nCoV can only live for 48 hours on surfaces, compared to five to 28 days for SARS. We tidy up the kitchen, and the red peppers, some carrots, two tomatoes, and an apple are moldy. It pains me. 

I send the “My Corona” rock cover to my cousin Marc-Andre Labrosse, the radio don of the Quebec airwaves. I’m not sure if he can play it, but I’m sure it’ll make him laugh. 

It’s day 15 of our quarantine today, lantern festival, the last day of Chinese New Year. The magic word is ‘pangolin.’ We call the family, and Baba is so happy he’s played MahJong every day for the past two weeks. Baby Ethan is doing great too. After all, it’s winter, anyway. 

 Lin makes hotpot for dinner. Around midnight we eat glutinous rice balls (tang yuan) filled with black sesame sugar.

A friend that’s been going out and eating in public blows up a group chat, ready to panic. While dining with a friend, he “learns” that nCoV has become airborne. After spending a good 100 hours researching this coronavirus, I was able to shut that down. There’s no evidence of that, likely, it’s a miscommunication due to bad translations. We’re good. 

Friday, Feb. 7 – Ass On Fire

Kai Wood

Our 14th day of quarantine is a day full of uncertainty. If we hadn’t gone outside for supplies, we would be confident we are healthy. Panic and rumors make us nervous. On the news, a man who removed his mask for 15 seconds with a cashier at a supermarket is now infected. I never took off my mask inside a store. Still, I can’t be sure my decontamination protocols for clothes and incoming supplies have been enough. Every cough, sniffle, and sneeze arouses concern.

Lin and I debate stocking up now before Chongqing peaks. I let her win the argument, but low and behold, she orders three big bags of groceries anyway. That’s love. We’re gonna bar the door and wait 14 more days.
We are trying to make a plan for the food. I have a bottle of red wine I’ll save for Valentine’s Day next week and will make a nice dinner. We stay busy all day. If you strip away the fear, anxiety, and panic, it’s like hitting the jackpot for an introvert.

Last night while I’m falling asleep, I regret leaving two unpublished manuscripts in my drawer so long. It made me think of Hemingway’s wonderful short story ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro.’ I get up out of bed and outline my own ‘Snows’ — about the struggles of maintenance and unfinished dreams. That’s how a writer’s brain works, I guess.

Today’s a busy day working on local news. Lots of procedures for getting people back to work, and a protocol handbook on public health. I fight hard to amend one passage that’s confusing about coronavirus, but not nCoV, transmission, and household pets. There are already such tragic reports about people killing or abandoning their pets due to panic. Both the WHO and local experts say there is no evidence of infected pets carrying nCoV. We amend it, and our station chief passes my concerns up the chain to the health board to clarify their guidebook. I hope in some small way it can ease the suffering of our furry friends a little. It exhausted me, my empathy taxed to the extreme.

 Home-made paper rabbits entertain baby Ethan on Video chat.

Xiaolin makes little paper rabbit finger puppets and entertains baby Ethan on video chat. We play and laugh with him. I eat lentil soup and some potato salad with a couple of delicious German beers. I find myself thinking about dad’s fat red fresh tomatoes and the fragrant aroma of lavender in his Ottawa garden in the summertime.

I pick up and sanitize our load of delivered groceries and shower.
Later, I listen to the news. Quarantined cruise ships and the Wuhan plane touching down in Trenton are the talk of the current cycle. I can feel the patience waning as if the international media is hungry for something exciting to report.

I spend a few hours with Margaret Atwood’s creative writing class. Her voice is one of a kind. No matter how this goes, I promise myself to post and publish as much of my writing as I can this year. Nothing like the fear of death to get a fire under your ass.

Thursday, Feb. 6 – Jello To A Wall

Thirteen days inside. I stay in bed as long as I can, savoring the memory of normalcy. Current infected numbers in China are close to 30,000 today and 376 in Chongqing. A big jump nationally, a smaller one locally, but the infection is close to our home now. Xiaolin asks me not to leave the house anymore, we have enough food to last a while. My coffee is delicious.

The newest scary thing happens on a video call with family and friends. A restaurant worker close to our home drops dead, with no symptoms. Later, I debunk the rumor: the 61-year-old woman had hidden symptoms for eight days before she collapsed and was admitted to the hospital, where she passed away. Still a tragedy, but easier to process. Her coworkers and customers are being tracked. 

Today’s MasterClass is Neil DeGrasse-Tyson, one of my favorite science educators, on the scientific method. It’s medicine for anxiety and unsubstantiated rumors going around. It’s excellent.

In global news, Democrats can’t nail orange jello to a wall.

A local community wakes up to the sound of snoring over the broadcasting system. My friend sends me her video. It goes viral. A good laugh is healthy.

Andrew is making make sour cream and perogies from scratch. When “what’s for dinner” is the big question of the day, recipes are hot gossip.

Canada’s embassy requests that all Canadians should leave China. Not helpful when it seems more dangerous to fly than to stay in my home. I’m not going to abandon my pets and run.

The big news in treatment: Remdesivir and Chloroquine seem promising for novel coronavirus treatment, hopefully, available by April. Fingers crossed. I really want to be back in Canada for summer.

A friend left for Vancouver via HK today. Another left to go get groceries this morning and came back to find his building had been sealed. He’s in a hotel now.

Between my diary and journalism work, I’m busy. I start prepping to do video classes. Our new ETA for real classes is March 1. TBD.

We tidy the house. Xiaolin tries to put the mini vac back together and pulls her shoulder. I find her crying in the bathroom, but an hour later, she’s back in bed with ibuprofen and a hot pad on her arm. Gotta be careful; we’re on our own. 

For dinner, we share some are homemade fries, extra crispy, lentil soup, and steak for Lin. I exercise while we watch movies, and we go to bed.

Wed Feb 5

Kai Wood

Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Xiaolin sings to baby Ethan – it’s not his birthday but he’s loved the song ever since he turned one – via WeChat video and he claps his hands. Sometimes I join in for harmony, but today it’s background. I go wash my hands with soap and water, and count two happy birthdays – twenty seconds – that’s what the government is now recommending, to make sure we use enough soap and hot water to kill the virus. Today China reports 24,423 cases of the virus, 3949 more than yesterday. 23260 suspected cases are being examined, also a rise of 3971 from yesterday. 493 have died, and 950 have been treated and released with a clean bill of health. In my city of Chongqing, we have 376 confirmed cases. Two deaths so far, and 14 have been released from hospital.

  • Our good friend Chris who often looks after our dogs when we travel was called by police because she was shopping at Carrefoure supermarket  on Jan. 23 at the same time a person from Wuhan. This individual became infected with a serious case of coronavirus and pneumonia, and they used online payments to track her down. She feels fine, but they ask her to stay at home an extra couple of weeks and report any symptoms immediately.

The streets of Chongqing are further closing down as people prepare to return from holidays and back to work, the city braces for a rise in infection. Similar to what my Canadian friends have told me about Wuhan, now families are asked to only allow a single person to leave the house once every two days to buy produce and return. 

I’m going shopping again today so I won’t have to leave for this particularly infectious week ahead. I go down the escalator to the RenRenLe supermarket and the worker stationed at the bottom is baking the inside of an N95 mask to sterilize it.

She shoots me in the forehead with a temperature reading gun, but ti can’t register with all my gear. She asks me to take off my goggles. I politely decline. She tries my forehead, my ear and the side of my face before asking me to remove a glove. She scans my exposed hand. 36.4, no problem we say to each other and I carry on.

I brought two pairs of goggles this time so I can alternate when they get too foggy. I fill up my card with produce and flour so I can make a mushroom pizza tomorrow but they’re sold out of all kinds of mushrooms. They don’t know if or when they will get more. There’s lots of food though, and that’s good. I take a peek where they used to have live chickens for sale but they’re all gone, and the beef, pork and chicken section is all fish and squid now. In this time everyone is turning into vegetarians and pescatarians. It suits me just fine.

My administrative assistant from the school sends the foreign teachers a check-in. Have we been to any parties since Jan. 15? When did we leave Chongqing and where did we go exactly? When will we come back? Local community leaders are going door to door to check on all city residents, reporting any symptoms and providing medical treatment. Most people are very happy to comply with the rules to wear masks in public, limit our time outside and seek medical treatment when needed. People send around videos of the outliers, who refuse to comply with any of those measures and cause a public fuss, inevitably taken away by police. Some are angry, some are afraid. To me, being safe is smart and I don’t mind these rules. We need to break the chain of transmission, it’s everyone’s duty to do their best.

I read, we watch TV, I see a friend outside who picks up some face masks. We stay two meters apart, although we bump elbows when we say goodbye. He took the bus over, what seems like a shocking risk to Xiaolin but he said he was alone on the bus and it had just been disinfected by the smell of it.

My school sends me some information that regular classes are to start on Monday the 10th, but online. Then it comes out it might not work for the foreign teachers outside of China, and won’t work for the Mac users, and we may have to figure out how we will assign homework or run the classes as we go. There are so many unknowns. I wish I’d made it to Thailand for the break. I hope I can still come to Canada this summer. My grandma turned 90 this year and it’s important I see her. I’m going to try to give her a call.

Tuesday, Feb. 4 – The Stoic in The Pantry

I’m running low on coffee. I think I will go without it today. The Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome used to practice “going without” as a way to enhance gratitude and allay anxiety (I’m “ok” without coffee today, I’m doubly grateful for coffee tomorrow!). 

My masterclass account will expire in six days, and I’m not sure if I can renew it without going to the bank, which is closed. I’m going to binge on masterclasses for the next week in case I lose access. Today it’s a writing and comedy class with David Sedaris. He’s really funny, really witty. I learn the importance of asking smart questions and turning small talk into something meaningful. A precious gift. 

It’s amazing how many days I didn’t log in and wasted the chance when I didn’t see the end of the road ahead. Life is like that. We waste so much time until we know the end is near, and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to buy time like we can hold onto water in our hands.

Newest numbers for Chongqing are 337 cases of serious coronavirus with pneumonia. My district is second highest with 15 confirmed cases and 1 death. A student’s mother told me it was a restaurant worker near my Campus B campus. It’s scary. We’re glad we cook at home. On social media posts of compounds with infected people inside make the rounds. My good friend and his wife panic when they find out their compound has a dozen infected, and then realize it’s a building with the same name in Wuhan. We are on high alert.

 Canadians debate whether microwaving a cheeseburger would kill the virus if it was made by an infected person. People tell them to relax and enjoy their lives. One local restaurant worker was infected and got all his coworkers infected. We don’t know about the customers yet. 

We are all worried, but we are hopeful. The measures taken by China are unheard of and will have a huge impact in breaking the chain of transmission if people can be patient and wait in their homes. Official China figures today are 20,471 confirmed cases and 23,214 suspected cases. 2788 are severe, 426 deaths, and 657 cured and released. This is a big jump from a day or two ago.

I cave mid-afternoon and make a pot of coffee. It’s so savory, so aromatic and delicious. My headache goes away. Tomorrow I’ll try to wean off it and make it every second day maybe. Not today. 

Tomorrow I will switch it up with some black tea.

A dozen fancy nanofiber masks show up from Shenzen. We got the call from Wuhan and for a minute got freaked out — if they’re coming from Wuhan, never mind! We find out the admin worker is calling from Wuhan, but the masks came from Shenzhen. I send two more to Chengdu for my British friend and his pregnant girlfriend for their hospital trip this Friday. 

I’m making a big batch of lentil soup, with carrots and lots of spices, but realize we are out of onions. I debate going to the market but decide not to. I use a lot of garlic instead. I harvest my little set up of bean sprouts, wash them, and toss them in my soup. I start growing a new batch of seeds. 

Hours later, the soup is done. It smells so good. I toss in some crackers and feta cheese, and it’s delicious. I have leftovers for a couple of days too. Success.

We have lots more stories to edit — community leaders are going door to door on a grid to make sure to find and treat all symptomatic patients. People feel optimistic that we can isolate the infected patients and beat this. 

Zhongguo, Jaiyo! Go, China! 

Monday, Feb. 3 – Tension

Open my eyes around 9:30. Xiaolin is still asleep. Try not to bother her. She’s said she likes to wake up late so the day doesn’t feel so long. I check my email. At 4 AM my contact from CTV launched my first week of diary blog. Looks cool.  Shortly after, There’s another live TV interview request. I’ve already missed it. We’re gonna try tonight at 11 PM my time, 10 PM Toronto. I’ll see if I can get my vlog shopping trip up on YouTube and over to them.

I get out of bed, use the bathroom but was my hands well before and after. My hands have never been so clean, it feels like I wash them 100 times a day, before and after every task, so I can have the pleasure to scratch my nose if I choose and not worry it will make me sick or dead. That way when I have to go outside I can abstain from touching my face. I don’t go outside much. Yesterday the bakery closed down so I am not sure if I will be able to make bread anymore. If I can get my hands on some flour and more mushrooms today I might be able to make a mushroom pizza for dinner. I opened my last box of feta cheese so I need to make sure I use it well and in time. The balance between wanting food to last and not letting it go bad means everything is now a serious decision. I’m storing boiled water in containers in case I can’t order more spring water and in case I lose power or water for some time, although I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. But being prepared is the only antidote from feeling helpless.

My morning ritual is easy. I brush my teeth, wash my face, make Xiaolin honey water and cheerios with warm milk. Grind some beans, pour into the French press. While I wait I clean the balcony with hot water and soap. The news yesterday warned poop can spread the virus. My dogs aren’t sick, I put a little extra disinfectant in the water today. But not too much. Need to save it.

Back in my bedroom, Xiaolin is waking up. Things are tense from our argument last night but I hope if I give her time they will get better. I feed the dogs cookie treats, and they’re happy for some interaction. They miss going outside but enjoy having me home all day. My coffee is done, so I’m gonna go bring that back. I’m scared to run out of beans but don’t want to make it too runny.

I write and edit and edit the video and relax. Xiaolin is still grumpy. She’s watching a video about a young Chinese woman who goes to Santorini to take wedding photos but doesn’t have a boyfriend. Her driver is laughing at her. Xiaolin and I took wedding photos there last summer, and they’re beautiful but right now I can’t tell if she wishes she’d done it alone or not.  Two Leos together can be a dream power team or like a couple of angry pirates with teeth like knives. I’ve been married four years and that means I know when to be quiet and let time heal wounds. Some space, even quiet in the same space, isn’t gonna hurt us. No salsa class today. She’s not into it. Maybe we’ll try tomorrow.

I finished editing my shopping vlog. I put my little jingle into the beginning. Feels like a good day, quiet, boring, but I’m safe. I meant to get something to eat hours ago maybe I’ll grab a snack.

I missed dinner last night and tonight I realized. I feel a little hungry, but not enough to make anything. Maybe tomorrow. I never did make that mushroom soup.

Sunday, Feb. 2 – The Secret

Day 9. I talk to my dad. He’s worried but falling asleep on the phone, it’s not a great conversation and I’m impatient. I can feel in my bones it’s going to be a hard day.

I get suited up for a walk. My wife is craving Oreos, and I want some bread. I decided to vlog the adventure in case people want to see what it’s like for me. I’ll edit it later. Everything is closed on my street and the only bakery that was open closes as I walk by. I do find a little store about ten minutes away. I end up buying Apples and Oreos.  I have to take off a glove to use my cashless payment and it falls out of my pocket. I try to retrace my steps but it’s gone. Damn it.

My good friend Sean has moved up his flight because the USA is canceling flights from China. He’s in LA and going to make his way back to Toronto. I tell him to try the tacos, they’re great.

My wife and I feel a bit crazy, so I go to work in my office. Then I get into a flow state and write close to 10,000 words and that’s really good. She doesn’t see a word of my productivity. I open a dirty movie and she walks right in. I close my laptop guiltily. She wants to see what it is, but my laptop’s shut down and gets really jealous and we have a big argument. I don’t want to talk more about that, but we need some fresh air and sunlight soon.

Later I talk to my good friend Stu about healthy marriages and he’s full of positivity and good advice. Sometimes I feel like being a productive adult is just sacrificing yourself for your family, and being a good husband is just never giving up when you have a really hard day. I could be wrong but I’m hanging in there and hope tomorrow is a better day.

Saturday, Feb. 1 – Apocalyptic Produce Shopping before Salsa Class

Kai Wood shopping

It’s Saturday! What does the weekend mean when every day is lie in bed day? I do some pushups and weights and drink some coffee, stretch my muscles. I hope I can get back to the gym soon.  iChongqing has lots of stories for me to work on, but we lead with, “Chongqing Novel Coronavirus Update: Urgent Epidemic Prevention Methods in Effect in 9 districts of Downtown Chongqing.” There are more than 11,000 cases of coronavirus/pneumonia in China now and I can’t figure out from our translations if it’s the virus or if every case has pneumonia also, which would be much more serious. In Chongqing we have 238 cases and one local person has died. One has recovered and been released but I hope we see more of that soon. I get invited to write a blog for my Canadian people to get a window into my anxiety and isolation. Sure! It sounds like something to do and that’s welcome. Maybe if this goes on, there might be a book in it. That’d be cool.

I plan to pull out my ukulele all day but get distracted fiddling around and doing some work on my laptop, writing, and editing. I wish I was doing this from the beach, what a dream. I watch some YouTube live streams of my favorite beaches and feel happy and then a bit jealous.

My buddy Jay, an American is chartering a private plane to Mexico. We discuss his plan. I’m a bit jealous, even though it’s costing him a lot of money. He’s got 2 children, one a baby girl just 6 months old. It’s worth his savings to him for their safety. 

I binge on podcasts and YouTube videos. We have hotpot again. We do a salsa class. It’s fun.

Friday, Jan. 31 – We’re on TV

It’s my seventh day of being locked at home with my wife. We try to pretend we’re on a nice vacation. It’s feeling a bit tired. I hope we get some good news soon. Today the local specialist Dr. Zhong says that the virus will peak in 5 – 10 days and to be vigilant, not to go outside even if it’s sunny. A few days ago it was really sunny and lots of people went outside without masks singing in the streets and the doctor told them to go home and stay strong. The only way we can reduce the infection is by staying inside. 

My American coworker defies a level 4 USA travel recommendation and flys back to China anyway to see his girlfriend. We talk about what will happen if we go back to school on the 17th and the virus is peaking. Maybe we will teach online for the month. We really don’t know anything, and our school has no idea either. We all just have to wait and see what happens. It feels like we’re in the eye of the storm and it’s hard to just be relaxed but I try my best to chill out.

I get an email and CTV liked my print interview, wants to do a live TV segment. I say ok, but it’s getting late and by the time we go to air I’m feeling exhausted, but it’s nice to talk to them and tell our story. 

I edit my fantasy story a bit. Eat a bunch of celery with hummus.

Today was a good day.

Thursday, Jan. 30 – My Corona

I sleep in late. It’s been six days of just hanging around the house and I feel a bit aimless. I go through my morning ritual, wash up, make coffee and breakfast for Lin and I. I’ve been watching “prepping” videos, and for all my friends make fun of me, actually, it goes deep and I really don’t have so much to prepare for 1 or 2 months or more at home without help from outside. The good news is, a few markets are still open and some basic things can be ordered but I want to prepare for 1-3 months without having to go outside, just in case it really comes to that. Hopefully, it won’t, but, if I know I can do it, I won’t have any anxiety about it.

My coworkers are starting to realize this is a serious thing as borders are closing and their plane tickets back are canceled and they make plans to go back to their countries.  My best friend tells me he’s going to fly out in a couple of days (Feb 3) to the USA and then Canada. I kind of envy him, but I’m not about to abandon my dogs into the streets just to run away, and my wife doesn’t want to leave her family. I’ve made roots here and I can’t just cut and run. So I buckle down and hope I have the grit to weather the storm.

News from Germany about asymptomatic transmission backs up what China has been saying! That is scary. But it makes me feel less crazy for taking these precautions.  My friends are freaking out that they can’t go outside because all the masks are sold out. I contact a buddy of mine who produced some high-end ones on Kickstarter. He’s got 200 left in Shenzen. By the time I get a dozen of my friends to confirm, he’s down to 40 but I buy lucky 13 of them. I could use an extra.

I’m 10 days since the shopping market activity and 7 and 9 days from the family dinners and no symptoms so I feel pretty good about that.

We relax. The day feels like it’s crawling by but before I know it, we have a little Chinese style hot pot (I eat mushrooms and potatoes) and help Xiaolin put her Salsa class on the big screen. The numbers are crazy big now, thousands dancing and over 10,000 tuned in to watch and chat.

I didn’t write much today. It’s hard to feel really focussed. I think I need to stop stressing but it’s hard when I’m hiding in my home. I sit by the window for a bit and try to get some sun but it’s cloudy and grey, and quiet, and we could be the only two people in the world.

I read something online and it makes me think of the song “My Sharona”, but “My Corona” instead, like a jingle stuck in my head. I laugh at first but it won’t go away. I download the karaoke version and make an edit for my Canadians in WeChat friends. They laugh, it feels good to chat with them, and I read for a while.

Wednesday, Jan. 29 – A Writer’s Life

My admin support worker, Nicole tells the foreign teachers at the high school that we should not come back to China.  Some of us are in Japan, South Korea, Thailand. One of us is back home in England.  They are confused, as flights are getting canceled and areas of being locked off. They say they’re running short of money and hoping to get back to work and paid soon— but that’s not happening. Lots of confusion abounds..

Today I write another chapter of my magic fantasy book. So far, so good. It’s hard to focus with so many ppl blowing up my social media.

Play some video games. Watch some TV. Have the rest of my falafels and veggies for dinner.

Toady’s Salsa class has 3000 people dancing and 15,000 watching. It’s amazing, it’s like a lifeline for people looking for some sense of purpose, balance, and structure.

I feel blasé, today. Maybe frustrated. Don’t feel like writing much about what’s going on.

A journalist joins our Canadian group and starts asking us questions. We ask for help to put some pressure on the Canadian embassy to help out our trapped Wuhan Canadians. I offer to go on record and answer some questions about what’s going on.

Tuesday, Jan. 28 – A Stoic Falafel, Sir

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I wake up feeling tired but know I have to calm the anxiety and stress of I’m just going to weaken my body and make myself sick. I read some Marcus Aurelius and post in my daily community online “Pocket-Sized Stoic Philosophy.” Now more than ever, we support each other and share coping tips and strategies to make it through this difficult time. I can’t change the conditions outside, but I can calm myself and do my best. Alert, but not Anxious, I tell myself and get out of bed.

It’s early enough that I catch my dad in Ottawa before bed and we play another NHL2020 hockey game online. I play like the devil is chasing me and beat him. 

Lots of people online are discussing safety precautions and what kind of mask can stop the virus moisture from infecting you. I mention I’m wearing goggles too as the virus can supposedly penetrate any mucus membrane, so sneezes, coughs and your dirty fingers touching your eye are all bad news. Most people think I’m being too much.

Some friends are going to our favorite American hamburger spot and invite me. I say I’ll attend via video conference. Between that and the goggles discussion, my friend Michael scolds me for being a hypochondriac and asks me to stop it with the health posts in our gaming club group.  I feel stung by the rejection and feel a bit like every scientist at the beginning of every disaster movie when everyone laughs at them. I wonder when I’m hiding on a mountain they’re going to come back asking for help. The idea is so ludicrous I laugh it off.

We decide to suit up and go to the big grocery store RenRenLe. I’m going to get some pasta sauce, more produce, lemons for a new batch of hummus, and see what else they’ve got. We walk down quiet streets. I run into my hairdresser, looking fashionable in a tailored blue suit jacket and pants and a fitted T. He looks at us like we’re aliens. I ask him where his mask is? Isn’t he scared?

No, he shakes his head, I’m not scared. He smiles and keeps walking. I wonder what will happen to him in a few weeks or a month. Or if I’ll ever feel safe to let him cut my hair again. He was really good though. Like the earbud, I lost in a taxi, and the glove that fell out of my pocket while paying for Apples and Oreos, I feel the loss of my hairdresser. It’s a siege of attrition but I keep a brave face to it all.

We are shopping around with a basket, and weighing produce, greens, mushrooms, fruit, and someone starts coughing very loud behind us. We just abandon the stalk of celery on the scale and take off, figuring we have to keep moving. I find some pasta sauce and then Xiaolin grabs my arm. She tells me she can’t see. I nod my head, and we’re holding each other’s arms and slowly walking as fog fills my swimming goggles. I tilt my head back and try to peer through an angle that is still visible. Soon that fogs up too and we’re blind as the bats that started all this trouble. Somehow we make it to the self-checkout machine and bag our stuff and pay. I’m dripping in sweat under all my layers and breathing heavily into my double masks. By the time we get outside the grocery store and into the breeze I have to pull off my hood and get some fresh air. We take our goggles off. No one is around. We avoid the few people that we see on the street on our way back as we walk home. At home, the decontamination process takes a good twenty minutes, with handwashing between every layer to avoid cross-contamination. I’m playing chess against billions of invisible, angry little viruses strong enough to have crossed from animals to humans and to other humans and I’m trying to stay sane and clean at the same time. 

I cook a nice dinner for us. I eat falafels with mushrooms and garlic broccoli. I cook a steak for Xiaolin. The kitchen is so smokey! And I start to wheeze a bit and feel nervous about that.

Tonight Xiaolin’s salsa class has over 1500 people dancing and 10,000 watching and cheering them on.  She is careful not to use her sore left shoulder, but we’re happy to have something to do.

Mon Jan. 27 – Pleasure and Pain

We sleep in late, no reason to rush up early with not much to do. It’s our third day of self-imposed full quarantine from other humans and staying in our flat. Our news headlines read, “Chongqing New Coronavirus Update: 35 Newly Confirmed Cases Reported, A Municipal Medical Team with 144 Staff Went to Hubei. Chongqing is Reducing and Restricting Unnecessary Public Gatherings.” It’s chugging along. My coworker, Mikkel from Denmark, makes a map of Chongqing’s downtown districts and rural areas, including the current number of infected in each area. My district has 1-5 people infected so far. It’s a huge area, though, possibly the world’s largest metropolitan area, so these are still relatively low numbers. But when you think, it could take two weeks for symptoms to exacerbate to the point they’re in the medical system, we can only infer and elaborate what each new day will bring, and as more and more go to get tested the hospitals will fill up and become a dangerous place themselves. It’s flu season, but you could go in with the flu and come out with pneumonia, taking that home to your parents or baby. It’s a scary thing.

We decide to go shopping at the local market on the street and get a few things. These days it feels like everyone would rather be a vegetarian since rumors are flying around the coronavirus came from bats and snakes but, more generally, from a meat market. I’m happy about this. Maybe I’m just dreaming. We get our coats and gloves, mask and goggles on, and head down to the campus gates and take a left. There are only a few people on the street, and we all keep our distance. 3 meters seems safe but is unheard of in China on a typical day, let alone Chinese New Year, but this is not a regular holiday. It’s easy to keep our personal space. Everyone is wearing masks and walking quickly, with something to do. Outside of the bakery that makes my baguettes a man is sneezing and coughing, sneezing with no mask on. We stop, look around. A couple of other people freeze too. I feel attacked. This is not cool behavior. We cross the street and take the long way.

At the market, where we can shop from the street, we feel comfortable, it’s not indoors, fresh air, and sunlight, but we keep our goggles and mask on. I’ve lent Xiaolin my clear safety goggles, so I’m wearing shaded rainbow swim goggles, but I don’t even feel a bit silly. Everyone else wears a mask, but most people have their eyes exposed. Xiaolin says she feels silly, a serious no-no for a respectable Chinese woman, but I encourage her to keep my goggles on. She nervously makes small chat with a few people that look at us strangely, making a joke out of my paranoia. She says we look like aliens. We buy three kinds of mushrooms.

I want to make a batch of mushroom soup, and she’s going to make some Chinese food and hotpot soon. We get some carrots, onions, and tomatoes. On the way back, the kneeling man is gone, who knows where. We go to the bakery, but they aren’t making French bread these days. I buy two small bagged sliced loaves, one whole wheat, and one raisin, and we head home. At home, we try to stand in place by the door. We keep the dogs back. We take off our gloves, our jackets, our hats, and our goggles. Then we wash our hands for a minute as hot as we can stand with lots of soap. Then we take off our masks and spray them down with alcohol, inside and out, and then put all that away and rewash our hands. I take a shower. And we’re back inside our safe bubble, hopefully no worse for wear.

Today Xiaolin is excited about her club, Salsa 5. They are going to broadcast a club with the two new instructors from Venezuela, from Kunming, for all members and friends to enjoy. The day passes quickly, writing and chatting with friends online. When her class starts, we set up her iPhone on the projector screen and move the couch. She’s happy to move around and dance, and I try a little bit, but my days as a DJ and raver don’t give me the skills to keep up with my wife’s lifetime of ballet and Latin dance. I’m just happy to get some exercise. Halfway through, I leave her to enjoy and do some weights in our bedroom. She comes in excitedly: over 500 people are dancing! And almost 1500 people are signed up to watch. It’s amazing but makes sense, people are going stir crazy already and need an outlet. I peak out, the screen is full of excited chatting, people sending “emoji gifts” and the numbers signed in races higher and higher. It’s a happy moment, and happy moments make people in crisis and fear feel normal. When we do things like that, it just feels like normal life.

That night, while I’m writing on the bed, Xiaolin just starts to scream. It’s frightening. Her arm is spasming in pain, but she can’t tell me what’s wrong. Tears are streaming down her face. She’s stuck in her sweater and turned her sore shoulder the wrong way. I help her get it off and then give her a shoulder and arm massage with tiger balm. We’re both a bit freaked out by how much she’s in pain. Hot tears run down her face, but the massage and the tiger balm seems to comfort her. She says it’s feeling warmer, calming down. The dancing, while beautiful, was too quick, and her shoulder, which had been feeling better this week, is acutely painful again. I worry about what would happen in a medical emergency where we are scared to call for help or to go to the hospital. It’s a weird paradox. Home is the safest, most comfortable place in the world, but not knowing if we could get help if we needed it, not knowing if the grocery store will have food next time we go shopping, that’s the dark anxiety that makes the mind run wild. I imagine what would happen if our family members got really sick, but we were scared to leave the house to tend to them. I imagine worse, but it’s bad like to say or write it down, Lin would hate it. I stay up all night listening to a WHO and CDC podcast, Canadian news, American news, European news, British news, podcasts from doctors and specialists and start listening to “city preppers,” those that discuss how to survive “grid down” situations when society can’t help you, and you’re on your own. The sun starts to peek through a break in our heavy curtains, and I turn my phone off. I get a couple of hours of restless sleep and terrible dreams.

Sun Jan. 26 – Creeping Understanding

Day 2. We wake up before noon on our second full day of isolation. Lin’s mom asks us to come over again. Lin wants to see the baby. I get a bad feeling about it and try to put it off a few hours, or until tomorrow. It would be nice, but it feels risky. Our headline update is “Chongqing New Coronavirus Update: 18 Newly Confirmed Cases Reported, Group Tours Suspended.” We publish a story about Chongqing’s emergency control measures. We list several foreigner-friendly hospitals. No one I know is sick yet. The government is discouraging travel (for those outside the Hubei province, they are mainly quarantined at this point), both around China and internationally, although I’m sure many have already left. Some come back, some stay outside and finish their trips. Thailand has it’s first few confirmed cases already, and a few other countries as well. 

I try to figure out how it can be spread. Online we are discussing lots of ideas. Is it an airborne virus? Probably not, it seems. Mucusborne — so coughs and sneezes and touching surfaces when your sick and temporarily infect the surfaces. It’s really tiny, some masks might be ok, but some will not stop it. The best thing to do is to stay away from other people. It feels like an attack on Chinese culture. It’s our biggest holiday where close proximity, where eating off shared dishes with our chopsticks shows we are together, a community, a family, and every city has traditional events like dragon dance, huge parties, and lots of cultural tourism that supports low-income rural communities. Now all of this is canceled. All tour groups, like the cheap, fun travel we often take after the week everyone in the country gets off, while I’m still on break before school starts again, are canceled and refunded. We haven’t bought anything, it’s best to wait until the night before and scroll through options. Thailand? Bali? Boracay? Vietnam? We just pick one, take a bag, and go. But this year we’ll be staying inside. Like really staying indoors. An open-ended staycation.

Later, Lin says she wants to go to the family house tomorrow. If I don’t want to go, she can stay a few days and come back. I don’t like the idea, not because I am afraid to be alone, but because this thing has a long incubation period, they say… 5-14 days, and if she gets something on the way, she could infect her parents and then me when she returns. It’s probably an overreaction. I say, let us think it over. I ask a friend on WeChat. He encourages me to talk her out of it, says it’s just really risky, so many things we don’t know, including a rumor about asymptomatic transmission — meaning healthy-looking people could pass on the virus. If we are healthy, stay home, stay safe. We have a video chat, that’s almost as good. Lin agrees to discuss it tomorrow over lunch.

It’s been five days since the shopping market adventure and two to three days since the family dinner. We feel fine. Every small cough or sore throat is faced with concern, every sneeze a raised eyebrow or worried glance, but when Lin cooks spicy hot pot, the air is full of peppers, and I can’t help a sneeze or two. I sneeze into my arm, go wash my hands, and spray my arm with a medical alcohol spray. At the same time, if I’m sick and sharing a bed with my wife, I know no measures will keep her safe, but I’m just trying to practice good habits. I deep dive into the “Wuhan coronavirus,” aka 2019-nCoV, and try to separate the facts from the rumors.

I write a chapter for my new book, Amos the Amazing. It’s his last day at school. I think it’s pretty good, and try to keep it simple and tasty at 1100 words. I’m aiming for a weird intersection where middle grade or young adult could enjoy it, it could be a second language learner’s first novel, and yet have enough appeal that an adult fantasy fan wouldn’t feel like they were watching paint dry to read it. I think about Hemingway’s iceberg theory, how he writes in simple sentences, and still has excellent gravitas and think, yes, this can be possible. You don’t need big words to be profound, think of Alice in Wonderland. But Carroll did invent his own words, it might not be an easy read to everyone. The context will carry the reader along, I hope. I send it to my good friend Andrea, a French citizen and Game Master for our bi-weekly roleplaying group. He gives me very positive feedback, great characterization of the main character, he says, and I feel gratified. He does say, as a French man, he finds a few phrases a bit difficult, and highlights them. I read it to Lin, and she says it’s way too complicated. I translate it to Chinese, but it comes out weird. I need to find a voice that straddles my love of poetry with elegance and simplicity. I will try again tomorrow. I stay up really late listening to YouTube videos.

Some are official news broadcasts, others are doctors and you tubers with Ph.D.’s in virology and pathology and the try to give it some context. Some of it sounds pretty bad, some of it ok. It only affects the elderly, mainly, mainly men, and those with a compromised immune system. We’re not the main at-risk group, but having pneumonia when the hospitals are full is still a nightmare. Xiaolin’s shoulder is still sore from those beautiful narrow cobblestoned streets of Rome, Italy, and a suitcase so packed with gifts and clothes and face creams that a wheel broke off. We’ve been to the hospital for an MRI recently, and her medicine to control the inflammation and settle it down will run out soon. What will we do?

Saturday, Jan. 25 – The Year of the Rat

Day 1. We sleep in until noon. Benben has peed in front of the screen door. Ok, he pooped there too, but I was going to save his pride. On second thought, Hemingway told me once to scrub away everything but the truth. He’s an 11-year-old brown poodle with lousy hearing and cataracts and can’t figure out screen doors. I mop it up, using a disinfectant. Everything has to be clean now. Our lives depend on it. Hachoo, our tiny black poodle, is about 4 but has good eyes and a quick mind. She can zip outside and will use a puppy pad out there too. Xiaolin tells me people are worried animals can get infected and pass on the virus, so we say we will keep the dogs inside until it’s over. Lin’s mom asks us to come over, but we tell her it’s too dangerous to go outside and risk the taxi. Mama says it’s not too bad, I mean, we’re all healthy, we don’t know any sick people. We try to explain it could be a severe health risk, and we’re trying to be careful. There is a tradition, a superstition, that if you work on this day, you’ll be exhausted all year. I try to avoid checking my phone and computer.

I make a mushroom omelet, fried potatoes, and avocado toast for brunch. Lin says the omelet is a bit oily but otherwise loves everything, and we feel happy and relaxed. I grind some beans, make some coffee with my French press, and it’s delicious. Life finds a way. I get a call from Jenny, the newsroom chief, “pending stories, please edit!” I check the news. “Chongqing New Coronavirus Update: 57 Cases in Total, Medical Team Headed to Wuhan.” A medical crew and army support from all areas of China are organizing to go support Wuhan’s seizing hospital system. I guess the ancestors would forgive me for working today if it helps the public access essential health care news. I’ve been exhausted since I got back from Italy at the end of August anyway, what’s another year?

A bright ray of sun shines in from outside, and we get suited up with protective “outdoor clothes,” including gloves, goggles, and masks. We grab a couple of stools and head to the parking garage where we can sit outside and get some sunshine for an hour or two. It feels amazing. Poor dogs looked so disappointed when we left them alone. I’m gonna get some more dog treats as soon as I can.

My friends and I in Canadians in Chongqing decide to make a “Canadians in China” group, and I meet Terry and Patterson, two Canadians inside the Wuhan quarantine zone, although they tell me there are a couple hundred more that aren’t in our group. We talk about the lack of contact with the Canadian consulates and embassy. I guess they’re on holiday. Most of us aren’t registered, although I did it last year and have gotten a few emails, basically “don’t go to Wuhan.” Helpful.  There’s talk about an American plane coming to rescue the Americans. We’re not sure if that means consular officials only or all American citizens stranded inside the quarantine zone. We wonder if Canada will come to help us, at least those of us in the quarantine zone, and how the people will make it to the airport with roads closed off.  Those of us outside but in China wonder when the virus will come to us and if we will be quarantined too if Canada will help us if we are.  Terry says he won’t leave Wuhan unless he can bring his cat, too. Too many people are abandoning their pets for fear of contagion.

 Today we are really lazy, just watch tv and relax. I start to think this would be a great time to finish a novel, but the mess of my 150,000-word manuscript haunts me. I had so much going on, so I think let’s take this back to the beginning. What is the first story I can tell?

My idea, in a nutshell, is a Chinese protagonist from my city Chongqing, a boy about 10, who goes through some family trauma and uses his imagination to turn a trip into rural CQ into a magical adventure that gives the space and time to cope with his reality. Kind of … Alice in Wonderland meets Harry Potter meets Narnia, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, you know, no big deal. What if he starts at the outset of this virus, like me, is quarantined inside, and has to find a creative escape? It could be a twofer, an escape for me too. I outline a simple story, twenty chapters, some beats. I step back. I squint. It could work. What have I been writing the past year or two? Probably book two and three or something like that. Oh well, live, and learn.

I write a lot of ideas. We watch a lot of Criminal Minds. We want to go to the gym, maybe tomorrow we can do some of that Korean dance aerobics on our projection screen in the living room. We stay up late. By season four of Criminal Minds, we’re getting a bit burnt out on all the psychos and murders and think we should probably switch it up a bit tomorrow.

Friday, Jan. 24 – Lunar New Years Eve Family Dinner

I wake up around 11, pack a book bag with my laptop, PlayStation 4 portable HDMI screen, two controllers, as Panzi will be there, and he loves to play fighting games with me, and a couple of power strips. I boil 4 eggs, 3 for me, and 1 for Lin, and she has some cheerios with warm milk, and I have some avocado toast with salt and pepper and chia seeds. It’s comfy, life is normal. Our Ayi cleaned our place the day before, so everything is spotless, but she will take 2-3 weeks off for Spring Festival, so I try to keep everything really clean.

It sounds like the Wuhan quarantine has grown. A total of 60 million people are affected by travel restrictions in Wuhan and neighboring cities. The WHO is saying the virus is not a public health emergency of international concern. They admit it’s an emergency here in China. Canadian news says masks don’t help too much and play down the risks, “it’s not like we’re in China.” Thanks, guys. 

I can’t access and understand the Chinese state media. Still, our news organization is producing a few articles and updates a day. More cases are popping up around China, and iChongqing decides we won’t take the week off. Instead, we will be reporting daily updates on the spread of the virus.

 I make a big thermos of coffee. We decide the subway is too crowded and too risky, and we take a taxi over.  

Wuhan is placed on lockdown, with movement halted in or out of the city. A total of 60 million people are affected by travel restrictions in Wuhan and neighboring cities. WHO says the virus is not yet a public health emergency of international concern.  

I use my gloves in the taxi. I’m wearing two professional masks. Both I bought last year, one from Sweden with a 4 stage HEPA filter that cost about 600 RMB ( $120 Canadian). The other is a nanofiber air filter scarf that retails for 250 RMB ($50 Canadian). It’s been 8 years since I’ve been to Burning Man and 4 years since I quit touring and producing dance music to focus on teaching and writing and being a good family man. That said, I always have a pair of goggles and respirator handy. My friends say I’m a shopaholic that spends too much on gadgets, but when they come in handy, they sure come in handy. I’ve been telling myself I’m on a solo “China Burn” since 2014. It’s often helped me to cope with the challenges, and there have been many.

We arrive at the family house bearing some gifts and relax. Baba and Mama are cooking in the kitchen. Eden is home studying. She’s Gao San (Senior 3, or grade 12). In four months, she’ll take the gaokao, the biggest test of her life that determines if she gets into a top national level university or a small state college. I unpack my laptop, drink some coffee, and edit some stories. Our newest headline says we have 27 Cases in Total, 18 More Confirmed (coronavirus patients) in a Day. Still a pretty small number, and none in the downtown area.

I finish the editing and set up the PS4. I play some Star Wars for a few hours, taking breaks to play with baby Ethan and play some Mahjong with Lin’s parents. Lin’s got a little “flying UFO” drone for Ethan, and we are all amazed playing with it inside the living room. The day passes quickly, and we have a nice dinner. 

I ask where Panzi is, as his wife and daughter show up. He got stuck in Xinjiang due to snow, Lin tells me. That’s sad, it’s a big family day today. He must be so disappointed. I send him a message. At the table, there is an assortment of meat and vegetables. I dive into a vast mountain of spring rolls. Baba didn’t put pork in them this year, for me, and I think they’re delicious. On WeChat, we set up a Chongqing Canadians group to keep in touch about the virus and other news. It’s long overdue, and it’s nice to have that space. We watch the gala and take a cab home after midnight. Watch some TV and go to bed. Tomorrow we have absolutely no plans at all and want to really relax.

Thursday, Jan. 23 – Dinner and An Air Marsall

Today we wake up around 10:30. I get ahold of my dad Bruce, and he’s winding down 9:30 PM Wednesday night – he wakes up at 4:30 AM nowadays to get to the gym before work at DND. D&D is a totally different thing that I’m into, mind the difference. After the 30 minute game, where my dad whups me 7-5 as the “all-time all-stars” versus the “all-time grits,” we make Lin’s famous CQ spicy noodles. Hers has a ground meat sauce, I substitute quinoa and my spicy garlic and turmeric hummus. Afterward, while I’m editing the news, we both discuss Wuhan. A city roughly the size of London, UK or New York City is going into quarantine mode at the end of the day. We hear there is a rush to the highways and airports for Wuhanians hoping to travel for Spring Festival. It is the most important holiday of the year in China and the largest human migration on earth, and it starts tomorrow night officially at midnight. In Chongqing, our headline is “Chongqing Reports 9 Confirmed Cases of New Coronavirus Pneumonia.” Nine cases in a city of 8 million downtown and 32 plus million metro area doesn’t sound like a lot. I wonder what it must be like to be in Wuhan right now. I feel an empathic pain for them in my gut. Sometimes it’s the panic and fear that is worse than any real pain.

We have only two family dinners this year, and Lin has a big extended family in Chongqing. We took the big family out for her mother’s 70th birthday, and 60 people came to the hotel buffet. I imagine the buffets around town are pretty quiet this year and these days. Lin offers that I can stay at home if I’m worried about travel, but my mind does the math, and there’s no difference if I stay or go. If she comes back sick, I’ll catch it. I might as well go and remind her to take precautions on the way there and back. Plus, I like spending time with family, even if my Chinese isn’t very good. Still, after 6 years, its’ definitely getting better.

We just relax all day, happy to be home and free. This year has been the busiest of my life, with 3 basically full-time jobs plus the books I’m trying to write. I’ve been a teacher in China since the fall of 2014, but we also tutor on the weekends. Since June of 2019, I replaced a good friend who moved to Shanghai as an editor at iChongqing, the English language news division of Chongqing Daily Newsgroup. So with work every day and a few hours of editing and writing every night, just doing nothing feels like a dream to me. I hope to transition from teaching full time to writing within 5 years, so now with a foot in each profession, as tired as I’ve been, it feels like progress.

After a lazy day of TV and video games, we get suited up to take the subway to my cousin’s place. Almost everyone wears a mask. The few that don’t look around puzzled. Not everyone could be sick, they seem to be thinking. We take a taxi from the closest subway and keep our mask on. I get the door handles for Lin with my gloved hands. We are trying to take severe precautions at this point.

We get to Panzi’s place – a nickname meaning “fat guy” in a loving, kind of way. He is actually the husband of Lin’s cousin, and he’s a pretty impressive guy. He doesn’t speak more than 10 words of English, and my Chinese is not yet conversational on the topics we like to discuss. We use digital dictionaries, and apps like Google Translate with speech to text and speech to speech translations to bridge the gap. He’s a bit chubby, it’s true, and loves to smoke and have a few drinks, but used to be a serious Kung Fu champion and now he’s an Air Marshal for a major airline. We discuss a few things, such as the quarantine expanding to nearby cities and 20 million people altogether in that part of the Hubei province. Hubei borders the Chongqing municipality, which was previously part of Sichuan province until the government made it an independent region in 1999. Panze has to fly to XinJiung the following day. He’s nervous, he wishes he didn’t have to. We predict it’ll be over in a couple of months but should stay safe until then. 

At the dinner table, it’s local CQ fare: spicy food, lots of pork, and meat, but a few dishes are vegetarian, green veggies, and carrots, and I pig out on them. All the men sit at one table, the ladies at another, and the children have their own, as is tradition. Unlike Beijing, an international super hub or Shanghai, a very westernized city, Chongqing is an ancient mountain and rivers city steeped in preserved traditions. We pour the Baiju, a bit like bathtub gin, and cheer, “gambe,” meaning, empty your bowl, bottoms up. I toast each man individually, my father in law, my uncle, my cousins and my nephew, who’s drinking cola. Then I move to the ladies’ table and cheers with them too. Mama comes over and salutes the men. We have a few glasses of liquor, and it warms my belly. The kids eat fast and go sit on the couch to play on their phones quickly while the adults linger.

After dinner, Lin tells me they’re debating canceling the dinner at our parent’s house tomorrow. Her sister is all for being safe, with old people and a 1-year-old staying in the house, but Mama is stubborn and doesn’t think it’s a big deal, and she worries she mightn’t have too many Chinese New Years dinners left. So we say we’ll be careful and come over for lunch and stay until after the gala is finished at midnight. We take a subway home at about 10 PM, getting back just as the line is finishing. It’s not so busy on the subway, but everyone is wearing a mask. This will be the last time I step on the subway …. for who knows how long. We go home, watch some Criminal Minds, and go to bed. I stay up too late, one earbud in my ear, listening to the news.

Wednesday, Jan. 22 – A Stranger in a Strange Land

Today we slept in until almost noon. My dad wanted to play some NHL 2020 hockey with me but was already sleeping by the time I checked my phone. We are gloriously free of any plan until about 6 PM for dinner. I worked on editing and proofing a few iChongqing articles. We had a simple brunch: boiled eggs and avocado toast, coffee, and honey water for Lin. 

I fired up my PS4 and played the new Star Wars game for a bit., I checked the news and did some more editing. I opened my mater class and listened to some lectures on writing. I stretch my body a bit. It got sunny for a few minutes, and we took the dogs to the parking garage with two chairs and sat in the sun for a bit.

Around 5:30 PM, we got ready to head to Raffles City, the new mall in Chongqing, to meet our son and his girlfriend for dinner. His girlfriend, Cici, was treating us. She’s a real sweetheart. Lin really likes her. Good thing, I’ve been temporarily unliked by my wife, and it’s sure not fun.

On the subway, Xiaolin agreed to wear a mask, and luckily, I have a bunch to spare. This time we noticed more like 1 out of 3 people on the subway were also wearing masks, and we moved to stand next to some masked people rather than unmasked ones.

We got off the subway in Jiefangbei, the original downtown center. We walked to a place I haven’t been before, Raffles City mall. I’ve heard the name and frankly, didn’t like it, but it was pretty spectacular. Designed by Moshe Safdie, the architect of the famous Singapore buildings, Raffles City Chongqing is a $4.8 billion horizontal skyscraper on top of an enormous shopping plaza. It’s very modern inside. Everything is very modern and fancy inside, and I can smell a strong disinfectant spray there. By this time, many people, over half, are wearing masks outside, and I think almost everyone inside is. We walk around for a few minutes before Lin gets a call, and we go to a Vietnamese restaurant. We see Jin and Cici seated. They aren’t wearing masks, and we self consciously take ours off. They have an amazing, colorful, fragrant, massive spread of soups, curry, rice, and seafood in front of them. It’s all really delicious and clean, and it was a really relaxing experience.

Later, we walk around a bit and buy Jin and Cici some N95 masks. Most shops are sold out, but we eventually find a 3 pack. A boy about 30 meters away is running, and he stops to violently sneeze into the air. He’s not wearing a mask. I feel like he’s a terrorist. His father grabs his hand and marches him off. People have stopped to stare but continue on. Collectively people are becoming a bit more paranoid or, more like me. Careful.

We take the subway home around 10, with our masks on, and most people have them on. A few don’t. Our eyes meet. Who is normal, them or us?

Tuesday, Jan. 21 – Spring Festival Shopping Market

We wake up around 10 AM, and I have some coffee. My wife has warm honey water, a traditional beverage for good skincare, and to promote health here. I remember to share a daily mantra with my stoic philosophy group online. It’s by Marcus Aurelius. We have a good little discussion and continue with our day.

We get in touch with my journalist colleague Sasha and our cameraman Deng. We agree to meet at high noon.

I wear a mask, but I notice I am the only one. It’s the “nanofiber” washable mask I got on Kickstarter a year ago, for reducing the PM2.5 and PM10 of daily pollution in modern urban cities but supposedly small enough to protect from bacteria and viruses also. I feel comfortable even though I feel the weight of stares. Normally people in China only wear masks when they are sick, as a kindness to others. I’m used to stares on the Subway, I’m a big guy here, and there aren’t that many foreigners, but I try not to otherwise stand out. My wife doesn’t want to wear a mask (she thinks it’s weird) and together, we make our way from Line 1 to Line 3, an even busier hub station where people are packed together and take the subway another 20 minutes until we get to the Nanping Convention Center. 

I see Sasha waiting for me as the big glass doors open up. She’s wearing a mask, and I wonder if she’s sick or if she’s nervous. She points to some live chickens and says they scare her. I wonder if she means she’s scared of chickens or getting sick from being near chickens, as that wasn’t one of my many neurotic precautions. I make a mental note to deep dive into it late at night. Deng arrives and sets up his camera and we discuss our plan. We just want to give a “taste of the pre-Chinese New Year excitement,” so we start rolling and walk around.

We come to a sausage vendor, surrounded by old ladies brandishing tiny swords. The crew encourages me to try a bite. I try to get my wife to eat it for me, but she’s not so interested. I cave and say I’ll do it for the media, but they better be rolling. I take a toothpick and wait. The guy is cutting slow, and the moment a piece of sausage is on the cutting board, an old lady or man reaches out and stabs it up. I’m reminded of trips to Costco in Ottawa with my dad, and the casual way the samples people prep food so slowly, enticing large crowds to gather and jostle around for the chance at a bite of a pepperoni pizza pretzel. The butcher looks up, “Waiguoren,” he says, meaning foreigner. An old man and a couple of old ladies smile, “waiguoren, che, che,” come eat, they say, and they ease back a bit to invite me in. I slip my mask down off my face and agree to take this for the team, for the vlog.

I stab at an offered slice of pork sausage, and I whisper a platitude under my breath, “thank you for giving your life for us.” I take a bite, and it’s sweet. “What do you think of the flavor?” Asks Sasha. 

“Sweet,” I say. I try not to think of it as the body of an animal. “Guangdong?” I ask.

“Yeah, try the spicy one.”

They give me another slice, and it’s not sweet, it’s got a dry, spicy taste to it. “Yeah, that’s the Sichuan stuff,” I say. I chew and swallow. I could eat meat, I realize, I just prefer not to now, don’t need to, and generally don’t. I do sometimes get down on fish, but I cite the Kurt Cobain ruling of 1993, “it’s ok to eat fish, ‘cuz they don’t have any feelings,” from Something in The Way. I think that’s generally accepted among the ethically conscious circles, anyway, nobody is perfect.

We pass some live chickens, and Sasha puts her mask on right away. I follow suit, not really knowing why but on some level, humans are group animals. It’s why we yawn together, we take these silent cues from the herd. We pass quickly, and she relaxes, and I do the same.

We find a wild honey stand. It looks good. We’re always careful to buy real, natural, wild honey as my wife said some vendors just mix sugar and water and call it honey. Still, this stuff is real honeycomb material and looks legit. I try a spoonful of the creamy one, holding it out to the camera. It’s delicious, and we take a big bottle full. My wife bargains from 120 RM a pound to 80 RMB a pound. The bottle is 3 pounds, for 240 kuai or about $50 Canadian. Anyway, it’s a treat, and we’ll enjoy it. We continue on.

We find some tapestries from Nepal that look nice. I think my mom would enjoy a scarf, but Xiaolin tells me the prices are too high and the quality not so good — she would know, having run an imported art and home decorations business for a decade. She is attracted by the traditional wooden carvings and artwork, but again, the price is too high, and we plan to visit the family downtown after this, so don’t want to walk around with too much stuff all day. We try and buy some homemade Sichuan kimchi, and it’s good, and now I’ve got a big heavy bag of honey and oily pickled produce to manage. This is a disaster waiting to happen but I remain stoic. It may not seem like it, for all the complaining I do but Seneca and Marcus (Aurellias) have been instrumental in my current piece of mind. Mindfulness meditation, CBT, all of it has helped a lot. Anxiety used to be much worse. On the way back to the front doors Xiaolin taps me on the shoulder and points to a giant poster of a camel. I’ve been talking about wanting to ride a camel in the desert as a holiday idea. Xin Jiang or Inner Mongolia might work some have told me, or go to Arabia. I try a glass of their camel milk. I’m surprised how sweet it is. They say no sugar added, camels are just sweet milk makers. I imagine them spitting and kicking and think they are about as cantankerous as I am.

We record an introduction and sign off outside (I’ve never understood why we don’t do the intro at the beginning, for veracity, but there is a method to this, and I trust them), and then we say our goodbyes.

We get back on the subway, and I get my mask back on. I wonder, briefly, if I’d been too relaxed on camera, but no one seemed ill around me. On the way to GuanYinQiao, the newer of the two sides of the downtown that hug the Jialiang River, I am the only one who is wearing a mask. I listen to a podcast in one ear and look at out the window as we pass over the Yangtze River. It becomes a Skytrain similar to Vancouver’s for a few minutes. It’s a nice view. Xiaolin always likes to watch and talk about growing up on the river bed, with her three sisters, and the simple games they’d play in the water. My dad always told me I was happiest with a leaf and a stick. I smile, lost in thought, and feeling relaxed.

We make it to downtown and spend some time with Lin’s parents and our grandson. In China, relations are both more precise: we have words for the mother’s mother and father’s mother, instead of just grandmother, but also, more relaxed. Cousins are called brothers and sisters, and she’s the third sister, so San Mama (third mama). When her eldest sister’s niece had a baby boy, she became #3 grandma, and I became “#3 grandpa”, at 40 years old, I might be Chongqing’s youngest foreigner grandpa. In a city of 32 million people, that’s something. We get coffee, walk around and play. It’s very casual. Someone on the periphery sneezes and my lizard brain spins around, calculates distance and wind velocity. They’re 15 meters away in an outdoor square, but I still hurry the family along the other way and pull my mask up. My father is a germaphobe, and I take after him. Most people find it charming and a bit silly.

We go visit Eden and her sister (cousin) and do the zombie apocalypse game.

My 17-year-old niece invites me to join her. Is it VR, I ask? No. Live-action escape house of zombie horrors. I mulled it over, but I usually try to say yes when adventure calls. 130 RMB later, we are suited up in camp fatigues, and we get a laser gun with 49 charges. They push us into a dark hallway and tell us to close our eyes and count to ten, so they adjust. We’re with three other teenage boys, and Eden’s cousin is so scared she just clings to one of us in terror, and I feel already like we’re drowning in pitch blackness. Slowly, a faint blue glow emerges and the sound of dripping water and creepy moaning comes from the end of the hallway. We make our way, stumbling, through a broken wooden frame, into a room with a bathtub and a flickering screen. It’s still almost pitch black. Eden moves purposefully, looking for keys and clues by the small red glow of the number 49 on her gun. We see a dead body, a stuffed dummy, lying on a rocking chair. Speakers pump scary music and creepy sounds, breathing, scuffling, and moaning creaks and cracks. It’s quite unnerving.

We make it through a few more rooms before the sound of howling and two actors dressed as zombies leap up, screaming and charge at us. I’m at the back and fire off my pistol in rapid succession before they fall. 35. I used 14 shots to bring the two of them down. This was a rough start. I knew it was a game, but the fear and anxiety was real. I moved closer to the middle of the group, keeping my eyes on corners and doors, points of entry. We make it through a few more rooms and have a few more scares but none as terrifying as that first one. My eyes don’t adjust to the almost total dark so well, so I’m counting on the others to guide me.

In the sixth room, an old rotary phone rings on a desk full of messy papers. Eden answers it, and they speak in Chinese. I understand very little, but she says there’s a doctor hiding nearby, and if we rescue him, he has some critical information for us. We follow along, past a few more jump scares. The ones we down are slowly coming back to life and start to moan and pound behind us. I know it’s just a game, but the anxiety and fear are real.

We find the doctor, and he says the ones in front of us won’t go down easily, so we have to run. We ready ourselves. There are two in the corners of a large room and we bottleneck down the middle as we try to reach the other side before they can get to us. The effect is creepy, as one with a machete and the other holds an axe and they swarm towards us. The shots don’t slow them down. We get to another room and hold the door closed behind us. They bang and moan, but I put my back into it, and they can’t push it open. The doctor looks around and says, we’re going to need to get something from another room. The doctor uses the phone to distract them, and Eden and two boys go. I hold the door for the four of us as the zombies come banging again. Her cousin is yelling something funny at them, and I chuckle, and the laugh helps warm things up a bit.

The three return with a map, scared and shaking. We find a ventilator shaft and crawl through. It’s dark and dirty, and eventually, make it to another wide-open room. It’s almost pitch black, and I hear the sound of a chainsaw running. We run to the end of a hallway, and I’m up against the wall. I can smell the gasoline filling my nose and the engine is so loud in the darkness. Three of them are close now and I push a small desk in between us. The boys yell, “go, go, go,” but I have my back to two walls and can’t figure it out. With one hand I hold the desk, with the other I feel around until I find a small hole in the wall. I dive into it. Bang bang bang as my knees pound against another ventilator shaft and the sound of the chainsaw echos close behind me. Something grabs my foot and I kick it away. I know they’re only actors, but they are good, and I am scared. We reach a staircase going up, and the zombies are crawling behind me. The cousin grabs my arm again, and now I feel I am drowning, and she’s pulling me down, and I say, “let’s go!” And jump up the stairs, pushing through the confused bottleneck. I may have pushed my niece against the wall in the chaos and confusion, I’m just not sure my heart is pumping, and I’m covered in sweat. We make it to another room, and then Eden’s cousin cries out, “I lost my glasses, I can’t see,” and a side door opens, and a young lady leads us into the light. And just like that, our horror show is over.

My dress pants are covered in dirt and grime, and my wife uses paper towels to dry my back and shoulders off. Eventually, I calm down. The ironic social media posts of us holding guns in camo the caption, “Spring Festival trip going great so far,” gets some questions, but it’s just a joke. I can’t believe how scary that experience actually was.

We walk around, tasting street food, and relaxing. The family, about nine of us, includes father, mother, me, my wife, her sister, and two nieces, and our grandson baby Ethan and his other grandmother. We discuss the virus and notice more people on the streetwear masks, maybe 20%. They go for pork dumplings, and I sit and wait, later I get a fillet o fish from McD’s and some fries. They don’t push meat on me, which I like. We take a subway home at night and I notice a few more masks on the subway home. Maybe one in ten people. We make eye contact and look away. We go home. I try to get my suede wheat Air Force Ones cleaned, but the man on the street asks for double what he usually charges “for the spring festival.” I politely shake my head, maybe next week, when things are back to normal. 

We go home, watch some Criminal Minds, as my wife loves these crime procedural shows, and go to bed. The zombie attack room sends us a few 10-second clips of our jump scares and I post to social media. My friends in Canada are concerned but laugh when I tell them about the activity. I’m a bit of a brat sometimes. We stay up late – maybe 2 AM, and then go to bed. I slip an earbud into my ear and listen to some YouTube news coverage. First cases are discovered in Beijing and Shenzen and there is an ominous tone to the coverage. It’s the not knowing that creates panic.

Monday, Jan. 20 – Goodbye to the Pig

We are preparing to say goodbye to 2019, the year of the pig. I find it a little bit ironic that this is the year I’ve become (returned to?) vegetarianism. Pork is a staple food of the Chinese people, in fact, the character for home is literally a pig under a roof, and the word meat refers to pork. Any other meat (beef, chicken, lamb) has to specify that it is a different type of animal. That’s why the African swine fever that decimated half of the world’s largest stockpile of pork in China was so scary. Thinking of the slaughter, incineration, and burial of all those animals makes me sad. For a while, the price of pork was double or higher. However, I believe that’s not stabilized with the help of the Chinese government and their use of private emergency pork supplies. I try to imagine under what situation Canada might have to tap into its emergency supply of maple syrup. It sounds both comical and dire, but that could perhaps be my dark sense of humor and the desire to laugh away anxiety and fear. There’s a lot of that laughter fuel around these days.

We’re preparing to enter the year of the rat, a beginning of a new 60-year cycle, as the new animal cycle beginning with rat coincides with a new decade, I’ve heard it occurs every 60 years but haven’t done the math. I’m just happy to have submitted all my student’s marks and have shelved a stupendous pile of essays and final exam papers. Today nothing is on the agenda. It feels good. New is going around about a bad cold or virus in Wuhan, but that feels worlds away from me.

I drink a strong pot of coffee and stare out the window. It’s been a tough few months health-wise since I returned from a summer trip to Europe. I jumped back into the gym and work at a few jobs after a 40 day holiday and came down with stress-based shingles. I’ve had a few bad colds and flu since then, it seems as soon as I beat one, another lovely student comes over and sneezes on me, and I’m fighting another one. At least I’ve got a month break from teaching and minimal writing duties for the Chongqing Daily News. The sun creeps into my flat, and it feels nice and warm.

My wife and I take a little walk in the sun. We walk down to Star Bucks. She has a hot caramel macchiato, and I take a slow brew ice coffee, and we go and sit in an outdoor amphitheater. Children and grandmothers play together. A small girl, dressed in bright colors and with her hair in cute pigtails hops next to me, and I move my coffee quickly. She giggles, hops away, and back again. I take a long sip. My wife tells me to slow down. That’s the plan.

I make a big batch of hummus hoping to “kill the virus with extra garlic,” in case it comes this way. I offer some to my friends, but they’re busy except for Ian, a colleague from London, UK who takes a small container and vows to try to eat it before his flight on Wednesday back to the UK.

Later, I hit the gym, and it feels good to sweat. I’m not a strong swimmer, but ten laps in the pool feel good, then some walking cardio and an hour pumping iron. Today’s chest, arms, and shoulder day. Maybe tomorrow I’ll make it back for my legs. A week ago, I overdid it a bit, trying my interval training and taking it a bit easy on my knees.

Xiaolin is practicing salsa dance in the open class area. Her salsa club and singing classes are on break for the lunar new year holiday. We hope after all the family dinners to find a nice cheap travel deal to somewhere warm. Bali Island, Thailand, or the Philippines would be nice to return to for me, or somewhere new like Vietnam or Cambodia.

Tomorrow iChongqing, part of the Chongqing Daily News Group, where I function as an editor, has asked me to go on assignment and shoot a segment about a Chinese New Years shopping gala, with vendors from all over China and Asia selling traditional cultural items, produce, and other goods. I wonder if anyone from Wuhan will be there and consider a few excuses I could use to try to cancel, but decide to make the call tomorrow. We watch a movie and go to sleep.

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