Beijing Diary: Heightened Alert

Beijing is under heightened restrictions these days. Most of my readers back home are probably already aware of this. I have only just found out the details. As of the time of this writing (though I am publishing this a few days later), there have been over three hundred cases diagnosed in Shijiazhuang and Xingtai, nearly half of which are asymptomatic. Fortunately for me, for now, the outbreak is about two 260 kilometers from me in Beijing’s Dongcheng District. From the AP posting I found online:

BEIJING — More than 360 people have tested positive in a growing coronavirus outbreak south of Beijing in neighboring Hebei province. China’s National Health Commission reported Sunday that 69 new cases had been confirmed, including 46 in Hebei. The outbreak has raised particular concern because of Hebei’s proximity to the nation’s capital. Travel between the two has been restricted, with workers from Hebei having to show proof of employment in Beijing to enter. Hebei has recorded 183 confirmed cases and an additional 181 asymptomatic cases over the last eight days. China does not include those who test positive but do not show symptoms in its official case count. Almost all of the cases are in Shijuazhuang, the provincial capital, which is 260 kilometers (160 miles) southwest of Beijing. A handful have also been found in Xingtai. Both cities have conducted mass testing of millions of residents, suspended public transportation and restricted residents to their communities or villages for one week.

So far, life has not changed much for me, except that the end of semester activities and exams at my school have been moved up. Ordinarily, the winter break would be set to occur with the onset of the Spring Festival– what most of us know as Chinese New Year. This week, however, my days have been packed with extra classes, in order to make sure I can see everyone before week’s end. I have (will have had) classes on Monday and Tuesday, and there will be no classes on Wednesday, though I will be in all day on Thursday to conduct the spoken English exams for the Year Two/Level Three classes. Friday, I will be marking (will have marked) the written English essay exams. After this week, I am not expected to return to class until March. By today, the 18th, I shall be submitting the grades to the school administration.

I was prepared to have a two or three week break only; but I think my school has decided to be cautious. Our schedule seems to have been truncated by at least two weeks.

I am afraid.

There really is no escaping this virus, no matter where we are in the world. Last year, I decided to stay on in China, when the news first came out. As a teacher, I felt that I couldn’t simply abandon my students. After all– they couldn’t run away. They had no escape. I felt it my responsibility to stay with them, there in Fangshan. Everything remained in lockdown until September, when I took up my new post in the heart of Beijing.

As it turned out, Beijing was probably the safest place in the world to be.

But “safest” is a relative term.

As humanity overpopulates the planet, strains its resources, and damages its biosphere, it seems only reasonable that some of organism would arise to take advantage of such an abundant resource. Eventually, we will all be exposed to CoVID-19/SARS II. All we can do is delay it as long as possible, and do what we can for personal health in order to mitigate the effects when we do get it. And of course, we must do our best to prevent our medical services from being overwhelmed, so that we will be able to receive more effective, more efficient, treatment.

But I worry. I worry about family, and friends, and loved ones. Though I know my anxiety cannot affect the situation, I worry. And I worry about dying alone in a foreign country, one that is politically adversarial to the country of my citizenship. And I worry about dying before I can complete the tasks I want to complete.

Of course, isn’t that just Life? But this ongoing crisis helps to keep things in perspective. In that sense, perhaps I should try to be grateful.

Memento Mori. Amor Fati.

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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