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Here in Beijing, where I teach English as a foreign language in a local high school, things are fairly quiet out on the streets. It was practically deserted about two or three weeks ago, like “I Am Legend.” These days, however, the traffic and commerce is there, but much lighter than normal. Banks have only just reopened for business (they were only open once a week immediately after the New Year holiday). However, there are long checklists: they record the name, address, and phone number of each person coming in, and they check your temperature, and make sure you’ve got a mask on. Even the hospitals are restricted; you have to make an appointment to go (excepting for the ER, obviously); and once in the hospital, there are numerous checkpoints, and people are kept strictly one to two meters apart, even in lines. Further, if you go to the hospital to refill prescriptions, they will give you an extra month’s worth of medication so that you needn’t return to the hospital too soon.

School has still not started again, but we send out brief video lessons and activities to the students to keep them sharp for our eventual return. So far, we’re planning on being back in the classroom in April. Some of us are even holding online office hours for any student who needs.

Every apartment complex/community has a gaggle of local cadres who check who goes out for any reason, and they challenge anyone coming in; Residents have to show a card proving their residence there, and temperature is checked (if someone ha a fever, an ambulance is called right away, and the feverish person is carted off to the hospital ASAP). No one who does not live there is prohibited from entering. Mail and food delivery leave their packages at the front gate and residents come out to pick up their things.

So far, the markets are still being supplied with food and water, so the distribution systems are still up and running. Very few restaurants are in business; and if they are, it’s takeout only. Many small shop keepers keep their doors shut– you tell them through the glass door what you want, they get it for you and put it outside, and you use your phone to scan the store’s Q code to pay them. No personal contact at all.

People here are nervous, a little afraid, but still confident and hopeful. In fact, from the news I can glean back West, it sounds like I’m safer here in China than I would be back home (Philadelphia, PA). Maybe I should be more worried; I am diabetic, and I take medication for high blood pressure, so I am automatically in a higher risk category. But, there’s not much to do except continue to take commonsense preventative measures. I have been holed up in my apartment for the majority of the time. I try not to come out unless I absolutely have to. It at least gives me more time to write.

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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