Monday, March 23, 2020

Chestnuts: The Chinese Quarantine Experience

Semi-Daily Mercury Thermometer Routine

Escalator in Beijing Airport.
My first "victory" since returning to quarantine in China was to get my able, assigned keeper to call her superiors in the government and ensure that I could take my own temperature twice daily instead of increasing exposure to other humans by allowing them to do it once per day. In a way, this was self-defeating, because now I will not necessarily see another human being every day, but, importantly, I have no way of knowing if the people the government might send to take my temperature are properly trained with personal protective equipment (PPE) or new trainees engaged only for this monumental effort of welcoming the diaspora and an odd waiguoren back to quarantine (or isolation) in Mother China. Based on everything else that I have observed here, I would assume that they are moderately well-trained for such duties, but why take the chance?

Real Quarantine, Oh My!

College student on aisle of my row in hazmat suit,
purple gloves, tight goggles, and expensive N95 mask.
I am waiting to read stories of Americans coming into JFK or the other ports of entry who are greeted in the same way that I was in China, instead of finding themselves in throngs of potentially ill travelers. While there were always lots of hungry people (it seemed like it took fifteen minutes for the worker to refill the Instant Noodles vending machine during my Beijing layover), we were never like sardines. It was always possible to social distance, but one has a false sense of security when nearly everybody has goggles, masks, gloves, and even full-body, white hazmat suits. The overkill, for which I was carefully coached by my partner, was extreme and obscene. There seems to be a frenzy of misplaced national pride here now that the disease is mostly under control; rather than patting each other on the back for staying home and social distancing as told, the Chinese public seems to be sure it was because of their masks, gloves, and gowns, not to mention the aerosol spraying in the street. This theme would make a great science fiction dystopian novel until the second round of COVID-19 ravages the country. Let's hope that is not how this story ends.

Rice with dofu ru, steamed snowpeas, past-its-prime pomegranate, and an apple to keep the doctors away.

Food is the first medicine and sleep, the second, so my only criticism of this whole journey back to China was the lack of nutritious options (Salty Potato Chips and Doritos, really, China Airlines?) and the interminable amount of time that everything took, which is sure to weaken immune systems, as well. Had I known this would be the case, I would have packed a breakfast, lunch, and dinner--especially necessary as a Forks Over Knives practitioner.

Health Insurance for All Public Employees?

The day before yesterday someone came to my door, though, because I was greeted back by my excellent employer--a public school--with a very generous offer of health insurance coverage and I need to sign the paperwork for that immediately. In fact, so generous was this offer, and so different than my experiences in the USA with healthcare, that I was not sure if my tears were those of joy and gratitude or absolute despair about my own nation, which is so ill-prepared for this onslaught. I have truly existential angst about my fellow countrymen and how they will face the pandemic. It is very concerning that the junior Senator from Kentucky has it and that white supremacists are seeing this as a tool of battle with the police among others.

Facemasks and other PPE Shortages from "Sea to Shining Sea"

The garage facility where I received my COVID-19 test.
I message almost daily with a doctor in Seattle who reports that modern-day Betsy Rosses are knitting face masks for the "war effort." The Deaconess in Boston has put a call out with this how-to. Meanwhile, while Jack Ma (aka Ma Yun) of Alibaba sends 20 million masks to Japan and a half million test kits with a million masks to the United States, the Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook Foundation has given $600 million dollars for the Bay Area COVID-19 relief and Bill and Melinda Gates have given $100 million to public health authorities around the world.

Close watchers of my Facebook presence will know that I have friends in the pro-mask-for-almost-everybody camp and the masks-are-not-for-the-asymptomatic camps. I hope to encourage a couple of those people to converse with me or with each other in this space, but the tenor of the conversation has been so pitched. Not sure if that will happen.

It is a such an important conversation, because I fear the mask fetish in China is so ingrained that they will not easily move to a more moderate stance. There are unconfirmed reports of under-delivery of face masks from China to the US over the last couple months. These stories come from an acquaintance who was on a supply-chain call (she thought such actions deserving of sanctions). In any case,  if there are going to be sufficient masks and gloves in the short-term to meet the quickly growing need, something needs to give. I am asymptomatic, but was asked to wear a mask by the worker (in full battle dress) who came to my door with a thermometer. Imagine this scenario playing out with thousands of people in quarantine here.

A Visit from the Family

Yesterday I had a visit from my girlfriend and kids. I got to be on the cellphone with them while they waved up at me on the 14th floor balcony. 丫丫 actually came to the outer door, which has glass windows. She delivered a replacement water filter and tomorrow may bring a new battery for my 8-second electric thermometer.

They were en route to visit our dear friend in his studio and seem to be having a good time.  Harry and I talked about LEGOs yesterday for him to practice his English and he played with them for hours.

Harry with the accomplished Hunanese sculptor, Shentao, in his studio.

Naomi (left) and her first cousin, also at the studio yesterday.
This lucky boy has more LEGOs than Carter has liver pills.

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