As the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths continue to climb in Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere in the world, “physical distancing,” “self-isolation,” and “flatten the curve” are among a few commonly heard phrases. Yes, right now we need to stay apart physically to contain the spread of the virus, but we also need to stay connected socially and emotionally more than ever.
I lived in China half of my life. The other half? I have lived in Canada. Despite the fact that I have lived outside China for nearly 30 years, my bond with my home country and people remains strong. It is even stronger during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in Wuhan, China, I have watched the news closely. When the coronavirus cases and death toll surged in Wuhan, I reached out to my long-lost friend, who originally came from Wuhan and now works as a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in downtown Toronto. On January 28, I emailed her, “How are your relatives in Wuhan? I hope they are all right.” One hour and nineteen minutes later, she replied, “They are ok. Thank you! Have a healthy and happy day!”
When the coronavirus spread to Beijing, my hometown, my brother-in-law sent us a video of the capital under the lockdown. It was surreal. All those empty streets at noon in a city of more than 21 million residents! He also shared a post from a nurse who was assigned to work
in Hubei, China’s worst affected province. It is an honest account of her scary, but rewarding, experience as a front line worker amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
My sister still lives in Beijing. She raised her only child as a single mother. Now her 28-year-old son lives in the United States. She has been alone for a long while and I always feel guilty that I haven’t kept in touch with her. During this extraordinary time, I started to chat with her frequently on WeChat, a Chinese app. I asked her how she was doing. She sent me a picture of her pass. She needs her pass when she goes out of her Hutong (alleyway), which reminds me of wartime—it is actually a war, a war against this invisible, but mighty virus. She showed me how to make face masks step by step. The shortage of masks doesn’t cause a problem to her since she is always resourceful. I check on my nephew too, who lives in New York, the epicentre of the U.S. outbreak. I worry about him, not only because of the coronavirus, but also because of the gun culture and bias against the Chinese since President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the outbreak as the “Chinese Virus.” My nephew is doing just fine. During the lockdown, he and his friend developed a computer game of making masks for the world’s seven billion inhabitants. He also created a computer program to model different scenarios during a widespread outbreak: no government intervention, total lockdown, restrictions and resurgence as well as the “Herd Immunity” (a strategy proposed by some). The video he posted on bilibili, a Chinese website, is used to educate elementary and high school students in China.
I am also in touch with my favourite cousin in Beijing. We recalled our happy times together, boating at the Summer Palace more than 40 years ago. He sent me three of his traditional Chinese paintings. The beautiful flowers remind me that spring is here! Have you heard birds? Have you seen buds in a tree? Have you noticed that sunlight is brighter and the sky is bluer?
As the coronavirus continues to spread all over the globe like never seen before, there is no bystander. We are all on the same boat, facing the same unprecedented challenges. But no matter how harsh reality is, we still have family and friends. That is a great comfort. I hope you are finding ways to stay socially connected while you remain physically distant. This fierce storm will pass sooner or later.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gu Zhenzhen has followed in her mother’s footsteps and become a teacher in Canada..
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2020 issue.