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LAST WORDS: Going back to China amidst THE virus?
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Going back to China amidst THE virus?
You must be joking….

(PART I was published in the Business Tianjin April 2020 issue)
By Leoni Botha

Passengers use mobile apps in a subway train in BeijingDay 5: It is Saturday, and normally I would do my week’s shopping and go for long walks, meet friends for lunch, or just browse through the shops. From the window, I watch people cautiously venturing outside. It is good to see families strolling along the river and hear the cheerful laughter of children again. Colourful kites dangle high up in the sky. Some get lost and disappear into the fluffy clouds, melting into the milky sky…. Just like the plans we made, and our daily routines from a while back.

Day 6: Sunday. I put the time at my disposal to good use and catch up on a lot of work. The apartment gets another cleaning. Furniture is rearranged. Everybody gets updated on how I’m doing. The day is too long…. Sundays are always a little melancholy, and being isolated just intensifies that feeling of longing for something or someone, but you don’t really know for what or for whom.

Day 7:
Monday, and the start of the second week. Preparation and teaching my classes take a few hours out of the day. I’m grateful for that; it helps to talk to my students and hear them, see them online. At this time, I have to go through my cupboards to find something to eat. I find a lot of chocolates from Christmas and savour each one. I know I have to make a plan to get food. My dear colleagues from work help me to order fresh vegetables and water. I have to let my community worker know I’m going to open the door to bring in the delivered food. Thinking about the confinement threatens to cloud my mind, but I decide not to think about the closed door and what it symbolizes, and rather focus my mind on more positive and constructive outcomes - like writing a diary!

Day 8:
Hallo Tuesday! Day 8, or the first day of the last week! Don’t be mistaken, I not only respect but welcome and appreciate these measures. For sure, I do not want to be responsible for infecting others, and I definitely do not want others to bring back the virus from other countries when China and its people have already sacrificed so much to get it under control. I keep myself updated on the situation worldwide and in my home country. It doesn’t look good, and from time to time, a cold fear for my family’s safety grips my heart.

Day 9:
I wake up to news from my home country that the whole country will go into a complete lockdown from Thursday night. The people are in a scramble to stock up on food and other supplies. They are totally frantic and do not know how to handle the situation. Everyone wants to know what the current situation is here––I am happy to tell them that most people in China not only survived more than two months of staying at home but came out stronger and more appreciative of life.

Day 10:
So far, I have not once experienced any feelings of depression or claustrophobia, though I expected I would. Obviously, being in quarantine, lockdown or isolation may have an impact on a person’s mental health, and the topic has been discussed globally. As the days pass one by one, I find myself thinking more deeply about the total effect of the virus, not only on people as individuals, but on our lives and our values. Of course, the financial and economic devastation is widely covered by the media. I ask my students what they have learnt from their own situations. Their answers: a deeper self-knowledge, their own strengths and weaknesses, how to build better relationships with their parents, appreciation of going to school.

Day 11:
I’m beginning to feel the lack of exercise. My body aches from sitting in front of the computer for long hours. Not good. I remember the skipping rope I bought a long time ago. The question is: can I still skip? The last time I did this was when I was at school. Skip, skip… not possible. The passage is not wide enough, and the furniture in the living area doesn’t allow for enough space. Skipping-rope gets abandoned. Jogging! Yes, it can be done. In and around every room, even the kitchen and bathroom. I’m afraid if I turn around too quickly I might run into myself.

Friday night, and normally something to look forward to. A night to relax after a week of work, watch a movie. But this Friday night is no different from any other night. I long to go back to school and be busy for a whole day.

Day 12:
Three days left. I think I’m still sane. I have not felt an overwhelming urge to hang upside-down from the light fittings or hang out the window. However, I have contemplated opening the door and dashing outside for a few seconds, or disabling the internet so they cannot see the door…

With complicated negotiations and translations, and with the help of a good Samaritan, I managed to have a pizza delivered - a delicious feast that was too soon just a memory. Another novel gets done and dusted, and still there is a long evening to while away. At this time, I even miss the people I don’t really like or talk to. I send real conversation messages to family and friends, not only some nice pictures that can be forwarded a thousand times. At last, time to sleep. I have become addicted to sleep.

Day 13:
Sunday. Today is a day for reflection, I decide. Think deeply about what is going on in the world, or should I rather say, what is not going on. Reports from all over the world draw a clear picture of people who are in a worse situation than I am. At least I know my isolation will be over tomorrow, while millions of other world citizens have no idea when they will be able to get back to normal life again. I also observe the ignorance and defiance people exhibit in some countries. I listen to the moans and groans about being in lockdown, and want to tell them all: hey, the people here have been in lockdown for two months now, and I have not heard them complaining! Instead, they are not only coping extremely well, but they are positive and using the time to develop themselves in all kinds of different ways. The world can learn a lesson or two from the Chinese.

Day 14:
Last day in quarantine! I get up with a spring in my step and smile when I take the last video of my temperature to send to my community worker. This I am happy to get over with. The fumbling with the video every morning before 9 a.m. and taking the reading simultaneously while I’m still half asleep did not sit well with me.

In all ways, it is just another normal day, with preparation, classes, cleaning, watching television. The community worker sends me a message to say it is the last day and good luck. What a nice gesture. From time to time, I eye the door and imagine myself opening it tomorrow. The end is in sight and I go to bed with quiet anticipation.


When I look back at the past two weeks, I realize that I have experienced different moods. Sometimes I was upbeat, and at other times maybe a little depressed. I suppose that is normal. Of course the one question everyone ponders is when all of this will be over.

My heart aches for my final year students who have worked so hard for so long and may not even have a final, normal school day to conclude the long years sitting behind their desks. No graduation ceremony for them. No last day of fun and goodbyes. No tying their friendship bonds tighter. They are facing a very uncertain future, not knowing if they will even be able to travel to and attend the universities abroad. They have spent countless sleepless nights slaving to get good grades for acceptance at these universities.

I dedicate this to them and all the other people here who carried me through a challenging time. The messages of encouragement and offers to help with food, transport and anything else, the positive outlook on a dire situation, and the welcoming smiles from the guards at the entrance. But most of all to my students: I came back because of you. Your appreciation was worth the trouble.

I know you will finish the race with accolades.

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