Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Day Seven: Welcoming People Home from China

One more week to go of this "experience"...if I am not sick, and their is no evidence that I am. Temperature hovers around 98 degrees morning and night. I am arguing with everybody about everything. This a lot more stressful than I anticipated so get ready if you are reading this from China and planning to come home for a two-week isolated quarantine. Probably more manageable if you land with your whole family and you hole up together, but this is for the birds--even if I have the best Superhost ever, ever and his property is gorgeous. Not trying to sound ungrateful or like my situation is particularly rough. I am healthy after all! What do we have in life besides our health? Or something like that. Still and all, it is stressful.

It is increasingly clear that school, in my province of China (i.e., Guangdong), will extend beyond the expected mid-July end of the school year to the end of the first week of August, though no announcements have been made. In the education market, that may mean that there will be high attrition. Thus, next fall, if everything is back to a modicum of normality, it may be a good time to look for opportunities teaching in China. Already the various recruitment websites are noisy with places looking for new hires. If the various provincial education boards do make this decision to lengthen the school year due to the lower intensity of on-line teaching and stemming from a desire to make sure all content is covered, they need to think about what ramifications that will have on students, parents, Chinese and foreign teachers, and the economy.

It is not clear, when and if life returns to normal, what the Chinese government will do to insert a bit of juice into the economy after two or three months of its malingering workforce not making widgets. Already the biggest travel time of the year (Lunar New Year) and resultant economic activity world-wide has been devastated by the nearly national shut-in. Difficult times lie ahead for all businesses. The restaurant sector is likely to have been hit very hard as margins are thin to non-existent in good times. One friend of ours has 23 restaurants and over a thousand workers who he cannot pay. Imagine this story repeated, literally, millions of times over. If students had intended to attend a summer program in late July and early August, now they may not be able to do so.

I am starting to get to the place where I don't want to read the COVID-19 news updates any longer, even though it is germane to my family and my life as a teacher in China. I have been looking at The Guardian every day for a month now to get the best available health reporting and up-to-the-minute alerts about breaking news. Furthermore, I can hardly make sense of the world any more. The Internet and social media seem to be full of rumors and misleading propaganda, my distinction being that the latter are officially generated a type of rumor promulgated by governments or government actors. For instance, the various theories of spread based on bats, snakes, and pangolins have gotten a lot more play than they merit, maybe. Yesterday, I thought it was fecal spread because of the Chinese CDC article published a few days ago. Today a respected NH doctor, with whom I discussed this, re-sent me the US CDC stuff about how they think it is primarily spread through the air by coughing and sneezing. He agreed that it could be both. I joked that if I have this thing, I am like a perfect piece of evolutionary farm equipment--a spreader and a sprinkler. We must keep pursuing the truth and the martyrs, like the doctor in Hubei who died from this, were doing that, but there are others, like Mike Pompeo, with an axe to grind. Can we trust that this is not economic warfare?

I burst into tears today while talking to my Congressman's office about the difficulty of coming back when you cannot get straight answers from a) a chronically understaffed Department of State or b) a frighteningly understaffed US CDC about a) whether you "should return by commercial means" is still the current recommendation or if it was even ever the real recommendation and b) what will happen in terms of quarantine when you do arrive. As I believe I mentioned in an earlier post,  I had called both US CDC and the NY Dept of Health before arrival and I said please don't share my phone number unless absolutely necessary with the CDC worker in the airport. None of these parties explained that two nice RNs from the county health department would be out to see me and do an intake interview. That would have been nice to know for me and for my AirBnB Superhost before they called to announce that they would like to come out and see me.

I talked to a reporter that I have known for almost twenty years today for almost an hour relating much of what's happened and at the end, under pressure from his editor, he had to cut off my droning, detailed stories with the question that I remember from Project Laundry List days when a reporter did not think there was a story, "What do you want me to do with this info?" Let me try to answer that.

I want people to know that we cannot get straight answers from our own government about whether we are supposed to shelter in place or leave.

Aside: My friend in California, whose quarantine with wife and kids did not involve daily calls to report his temperature to public health officials or a visit from any state or county health officials, was speculating that when we return some people will resent that we were able to leave. Good Lord, there is a difference between solidarity and stupidity. 

Today's news from Italy and South Korea make me confident that I did the right thing, but I am conflicted because when will my girlfriend and the two kids we are raising together be able to leave? When will China let them leave and the US let them enter? We are lucky that they all have current visas (and Yaya and I both have a MasterCard), but I cannot imagine the Americans inside of China, who want to leave but don't have a visa or a line of credit. At current "market" rates they are facing a 12,000 RMB ($1,700) round-trip plane ticket, if they can even find an available one; two weeks in a hotel or friend's house where they should not share a toilet with other non-pariahs, etc. Some might be facing losing their job if they come home and don't go back when school's and work open.

There needs to be a support group to welcome people back from China. I would rather call it a relief committee so it does not sound so pathetic, but people need information and what is on the CDC website or what little clarity you can coax from the Department of State is not enough to help figure out where to stay, how to get groceries, etc. Then there is all the regular hassle of coming back and needing to get a working SIM card, etc. It's a lot to think through and people need checklists and guidance. Even hyper-educated, hyper-vigilant, hyper-responsible people like myself. Done tooting my horn.

That's enough stream-of-consciousness for one day. Good night.

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