AFRO Exclusive: Updates From China Quarantine Days 2 – 6

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Quarantine Days 2 and 3:  Snow Day/Silent Retreat

The reality of the quarantine is beginning to hit me. All in one day, I experience a snow day and play the roles of Henry David Thoreau and Robinson Crusoe.

When I wake up, it’s like a snow day, because I’m home and cannot open my door.  But I can look outside my window, get online, goof off on social media, watch TV and talk on the phone. I can do my laundry, cook, clean and re-organize my apartment.  So, that means I catch up on household chores I have been putting off, like cleaning out my closet or re-organizing my bookshelf.

The sweet rolls I got from the HOA. (Photo by Devika Koppikar)

But as the day progresses, I realize that I’m in a similar boat (pun intended) as Robinson Crusoe, the shipwrecked character in Daniel Defoe’s novel who lives alone on a deserted island. That means I must make the best of the resources I have.  

When I asked the HOA for a loaf of bread, they instead brought me a bag of wrapped sweet rolls. It’s not my favorite, but it’s edible. So, I eat what I have before me, instead of throwing it out and buying something tastier like I would in my regular days. Later, as I’m making granola bars, I realize that I don’t have enough butter. It’s past 5 p.m. and I don’t want to bother the HOA. Besides, they have now asked that I condense my food/supply requests to one trip every three days to avoid the hassle of constantly running back and forth to the store. That makes sense and I realize I shouldn’t expect them to be at my beck and call.  It’s time to improvise.

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As the sun sets (which I leisurely watch), I become Mr. Thoreau, because I find myself alone with my thoughts and somewhat in a meditative flow. I haven’t used my voice all day, so it sounds hoarse.  Random thoughts also pop up in my mind: I think of friends from long ago, memories from childhood, songs from the 1990’s and what my desk looked like when I worked for Congressman Cummings. It’s like a 10-day silent prayer retreat. This will be good for me!  

Day 4:  Keeping up Grooming and Health

As I unpack my suitcase from my trip, I realize that for the next 10 days, I won’t need my coat, shoes, purse or keys.  Nor will I wear professional clothes, jewelry or makeup. I’ve always waddled between the debate as to whether makeup benefits or destroys the skin, so now I’ll find out since I won’t wear any nor will I expose it to the elements. 

iPhone judging me for doing less steps than last week. (Photo by Devika Koppikar)

I do, however, keep up with grooming:  to me this is a spiritual and mental practice of honoring myself and the precious life God gave me. 

Because I don’t have to rush off anywhere, I exercise for 40 minutes each morning.  Recently, I started a morning exercise regimen, where I exercise for 15 minutes on weekdays and 45 minutes on the weekend. My iPhone app reminds me that I’ve “walked less this week than the previous week,” but I’m doing my best.

I then realize that even though I’m keeping up with exercise and grooming, my nutrition is lacking. How am I supposed to stay healthy (and protect myself from the coronavirus) if I’m not getting my daily nutrients? Eating sweet bread for breakfast and Christmas candy for snack won’t do my health any favors! 

When the HOA came with the groceries the other day, I hesitated to ask for vegetables. The local stores often have “direct from the farm” veggies, which are not cut, washed or processed. So, I generally go to the international markets where these items are washed thoroughly and packaged to last. 

I am then saved when my Chinese neighbor Ann texts me and asks if I need anything. I tell her I need more fruits and vegetables. Because I have a rapport with her, I tell her exactly what I need. “Make sure they’re not wilted,” I tell her. Often, at the corner stores, you’ll find wilted vegetables unless you shop in the morning. Ann kindly buys them for me and gives them to the HOA, because they are the only people allowed at my door during this quarantine.  

Day 5:  Boomerang

During the last few days, I spoke to many people of color and warned them about how some companies might use this crisis to sneak in their racist policies. “Make sure your companies honor your contracts and make your best faith effort to do the job you were hired for,” I told them. Many smaller companies often prefer white candidates only and even advertise that way.  In fact, one company hired a white Russian man who barely speaks English over an African-American gentleman with a PhD in English literature. 

The vegetables I finally got through my friend Ann. (Photo by Devika Koppikar)

But God works in mysterious ways and shows you how and where you’re needed. About mid-afternoon, when I’m reading a WhatsApp group chat message, I am appalled when a relative of mine (Indian American), makes offensive comments about Chinese people and their dietary habits.

“They basically eat anything that moves,” he wrote, further alluding to people in China bringing this virus onto themselves.

I am livid!  How dare he!!

In the few past weeks, I had already seen many people (mostly outside China), post not-so-flattering comments about the coronavirus referencing stereotypes of Chinese people. Most of it alluded to hysteria encouraged by the country’s leaders and the number of underreported cases. I also read that Chinese/Asian American children were being bullied. My expat friends visiting home were told not to mention their China connection when they were out and about.    

Until I read my relative’s comments, I mostly ignored these micro-aggressions. However, my relative’s comments propelled me to act.  All these years I had sought to address racism targeted at me or African- American expats. But now, I realized that it was time to defend the people who have ably and kindly hosted me for the past four years. That is when I realize why God called me back to China at this critical time. Whether I am a writer, press secretary or teacher, one of my life’s callings is to dispell cultural and racial stereotypes. 

Day 6:  On the Ground 

For the first five days, I had kept silent about my whereabouts, at least on Social Media. I told my close friends and family about my return to China and the quarantine, but most the rest of the world thought I was still traveling Down Under. 

But now it was time to tell my story, where I am and what I’m experiencing. 

The quiet canal at the back of my house. With the outbreak, streets have been quiet. (Photo by Devika Koppikar)

As such, I posted a detailed account on my various social media accounts explaining my quarantine and complimenting how aptly my host country’s government was managing this.  

“It’s amazing how a nation with 1 billion citizens is managing this so well,” I wrote. “I shutter to think what would happen if such a virus came to the States and how we would manage without Medicare for All.”  

Sure, there have been missteps.  And every critique has a speck of truth.  

But my purpose at this moment in time and place is to give you a glimpse of what is going on right here on the ground.  

I’m at the halfway mark tomorrow and I thank you for walking with me so far.  Bear with me, it’s just a few more days.