East vs West

Mad Chaos: February 4, 2020 – A Gloomy Public Encounter During The Epidemic

Today, is our thirteenth consecutive day of self-quarantine in Guangzhou (广州市) due to the coronavirus (冠状病毒).

As soon as I woke up I prepared to take my son to Pearl river so that my wife could teach Mandarin classes online.  I have to find something to do for those four hours that she needs a quiet environment.

Coronavirus Effects On The Chinese Workforce

China has been in lockdown for two weeks now, and the Chinese New Year has finished.  Normally in China, people would have flooded back to work in droves, clogged the roads with cars, and packed the metros like cans of sardines. Chinese government orders to stay home and avoid social contact have been largely obeyed by Chinese people for two weeks now.

While businesses remain shuttered and people remain locked down at home, the Chinese economy stops ticking.  Eventually Chinese people have to go to work to make money, otherwise they cannot pay the rent, the bills, or purchase food.  That would be a disaster.

Since the novel coronavirus outbreak, China has evolved from an on-site economy to an online economy.  These work-from-home arrangements will become the new normal for Chinese people to make a living during the coronavirus epidemic.

However, online work and on-site work both have unique drawbacks in this new coronavirus epidemic environment.

The Drawbacks For On-Site Chinese Workers

The drawbacks for Chinese workers in industries such as manufacturing for example, their choice is to either risk infection in their workplace, or stay home and lose income.

Further mandatory requirements to wear face masks in public compounds the problem for Chinese workers.  Currently, face masks can only be purchased by booking an appointment online, and then visiting a pharmacy for collection.  Each person is limited to 2 to 7 face masks per week.

What if a Chinese worker does not have any face masks in the first place?  For those people it would be illegal to go to the pharmacy to physically pick up new face masks.

The Drawbacks For Online Chinese Workers

The drawback for Chinese workers with work-from-home arrangements are all the distractions that an apartment crowded with relatives and crying babies would bring.

For families in the house that have children and have to work from home, noisy children in the background will be disruptive to businesses.

Our household is fortunate to only have two adults and one child.  I can take our child outdoors to play while my wife works, and vice versa.

However, in many cases, several Chinese relatives share one household.  If two or more members of the same household work from home, it would become far less practical.

Temperature Checks Become The New Normal

Today is the second day in the two weeks since the coronavirus outbreak that I have been able to take my son outside for some fun.  With an N95 face mask on and my son in his fully-protected pram, I stepped outside to begin our walk down to Pearl river.

Today in China, Guangzhou looks like another one of those high-fear low-participation-rate days.  Almost every shop along the walk was closed.

Riders Wearing Face Masks

The stroll led me to a local supermarket, where a staff member greeted me with a handheld temperature gun to check my temperature.  I purchased bananas, a drink, and food for the baby for a total of 35元.

There is a drag net around the citizens of the People’s Republic of China now.  Everywhere that you go that is essential to your life, there will be a temperature check.  Even the bank guards conduct temperature scans.

In Western society these measures would be considered a mass invasion of your privacy.  However, Chinese people seem more patriotic for the sake of the country when deprived of their basic human rights.  Chinese people just comply with whatever the government policy is.

The Public Face Of Chinese Society

We continued towards Pearl river, coming through a small district along the way.  Every few dozen meters I passed 1 to 2 people.

A bunch of old Chinese men were playing Mahjong (麻将) outside, with barely a face mask between them.  I heard reports that Chinese police officers are breaking the Mahjong tables of elderly people to force them indoors.

A Small District in Guangzhou Haizhu District

As I approached a laneway, people on the other side stopped and waited for me to pass through with the baby.  I also stopped and waited for people to come through.  People just wanted to keep distance from each other.  It was a very cooperative environment.

The Public Mood At Pearl River

When we arrived to Pearl river, a few joggers and the elderly were already on the promenade.

A fisherman with a face mask was hanging off the Pearl river wall.

Every bike rider was wearing a mask.

Some elderly people did not wear masks.

Then you had me with my face mask on, and my baby wrapped up in a waterproof plastic cover over his pram.

A Man Wearing A Face Mask Pushing A Bike

My son already looked sleepy in his pram.  I took him out of his plastic raincoat covering, and took him over to the railing so that he could look into the river.  He was very quiet and calm.  Moments later he pointed to plastic bags floating in the water.

Conscious not to expose my son in public too long, I placed him back into his pram to feed him seaweed snacks and cake.

A Lone Bus At Pearl River In Haizhu District

People on Pearl river today mostly came out of their house single file by themselves.  They are not bringing their family.

People still come outdoors to quietly mosey around, but they all carry a very palpable morose attitude.  It is just so sad to see people behave as if they are not allowed to have fun in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak.

There is a lot of fear, carefulness and suspicion floating around the air in China.  I just do not want to buy into all this hysteria in China.  I wanted to buck the trend.  I want to put some fun back into Chinese people’s perceptions.

Staying Positive In Gloomy Times

I was having a lot of fun with my child visibly making him laugh and playing around with him in front of people. We scared each other through his pram’s plastic raincoat covering, giggled together, played hide and seek, and ate lunch.  We entertained each other for 45 minutes until he looked tired.  He did not cry though.

One British female jogger gave us a friendly smile, as did a few middle-aged couples.

Some people who passed us – especially the elderly Chinese and Chinese mothers – would look down towards the pram and condescendingly scowl at me, as if to say, “Why are you bringing your baby out!”

I could feel the societal pressure.  I could feel the Chinese government policy blindly being followed from their stares.  However, there is nothing wrong with our behavior.  Nobody said that you cannot go out and have fun.

If that was the case then people would not come out.  Starbucks in Rock Square would not allow so many people to sit down and have a coffee.  No restaurants inside the mall would be open.  The fact that all these things are open means that people are allowed to go in there, sit down, and have something to eat.

From 4:30pm I decided to return home.  It started to sprinkle rain a bit, so I hurried to get home quicker.  My son fell asleep on the walk back home.  It was a refreshing day out for both of us.

Diary Of A Mad Chaos: Coronavirus In China
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