After a bit of an (extra long) absence I’ve got a few things to catch you up on.
Life after quarantine has been good, we’ve gone out to a few restaurants and taken some mini vacations to Shanghai, and went to a coworker’s home town to see a different side of China. All in all the expat life in China isn’t half bad. We’re able to get almost any western food we want. I even found BellaVitano cheese. The hardest thing has been the language and cultural barriers.
China began to open up vaccinations to a larger audience a few months ago. At first it was only for citizens and foreigners needed special approval to get the shots. Our employer was able get the foreigner’s vaccination requests approved. So I am happy to say we have been vaccinated. It is certainly a relief. At this point the vaccinations have been opened up to non-Chinese, so more people are able to get them now.
In late April we took a trip to the Yunnan province in Western China. It was about as close as we could get to Tibet without needing a special visa. (Apparently travel has been extra restricted during the pandemic and for other reasons) To say that the trip was amazing is an understatement, and the pictures I took likewise do not do it any justice. Maybe it was the fact that it was the first real vacation we’ve been able to take since 2019, maybe it was that it was completely different scene than eastern China. Who knows, either way it was a once in a lifetime experience that we will never forget. Key highlights were touring the Tibetan temples and monasteries. One that was first built in 1679 (Garden Sumtseling monastery). Then there was the hike at an altitude of nearly 4,000 meters (over 13,000 feet)!! Both provided us with amazing views, and were moving in their own regards.
Against all this we’ve been struggling with a major decision. We haven’t exactly been over joyed with our time in China, but we’ve also had some amazing times. So we’ve been chanting the classic by The Clash (should I sat or should go). After months of trying to determine what the best option for our mental & physical health as well as our careers would be, we have arrived at a decision. I think it really boiled down to this realization: “While we could live in China for another couple of years the idea of returning to the US exciting.” And recent losses to our families and the seemingly never-ending pandemic have really highlighted for us that life is way too short to be less than happy. So we’ve informed our employer and have begun looking for jobs back in the US.
So we don’t have an actual exit date yet, and we are taking a bit of a leap into uncertainty. But I think it’s something we’ve gotten good at.
Wow, a lot of time has passed since my last update. The lockdown really limited new experiences, and when we had 4 months of Wednesdays it got pretty repetitive. So dear reader let’s get you caught up quickly. A few months ago, P accepted a position in China, due to the lockdown restrictions we needed to fly back to the US to apply for our Visas. We ended up getting our visas much sooner than we expected, so we were able to accelerate our US departure by a week. Being back the states felt pretty surreal at first, but it gave a chance to get our votes in. It was great to catch up with a few friends and family and I even got in a few fishing trips.
Watching the spike in Covid cases across the US while we were there was horrifying to say the least. We had to be sure we avoided it, well…like the plague. We had to get a negative Covid test no earlier than 3 days before we boarded the plane. This caused a bit of anxiety, but it went very smoothly.
Getting to China we took an interesting path. We flew from Minneapolis, to Seattle, to Seoul, and finally to Shanghai. The flights were uneventful, and we were able to get some sleep. I can’t say enough about how awesome the Delta flight crews were. I’ve never felt more welcome and appreciated than I did on those flights. They made me a customer for life.
We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Once we landed in Shanghai, we had to sit on the aircraft for a temperature check and verification that we had tested negative for Covid. After this was completed for everyone on board, we were allowed to disembark. We walked through several stations, collecting papers, a sample collection vial, and stamps for the paperwork, and temperature scans. To be honest, it’s a bit of a blur. The end result was that we were tested again for Covid, but this time it was both nostrils and a bit more invasive. All told this was probably only about 20-30 minutes, but it felt longer.
After that, it was just the normal passport control and customs stations. Then we sat in a holding area for about an hour until everyone from our flight was through the health check process. Along the way, all the airport and medical personnel were wearing full-body medical protective suits. This was a vast difference from what we experienced in the US. it’s been easy to see why cases in China have been kept low.
Once everyone from our flight was through, we boarded a bus to our quarantine hotel in Shanghai. The hotel was a bit basic but fully met our needs. We received 3 meals a day, the food was authentic but very good. On the morning of our 3rd day, we were shuttled to a different hotel in Suzhou. This hotel is much nicer and it’s easier to get things delivered. We will finish up our time here we’ll be free to explore Suzhou.
Well, South Africa has been on a pretty severe lockdown since March 27th. The original lockdown was extended by two weeks, the government then announced the easing of restrictions and outlined what would be allowed under 5 stages. Stage 5 is the most stringent which is what we were under initially for 6 weeks. We were only allowed to leave our homes for 3 reasons: 1) buy groceries, 2) seek medical care, or 3) collect social grants. During this time no sales of cigarettes or alcohol were permitted. The military and police were deployed to enforce the rules. While these rules were frustratingly harsh, they kept people from getting sick, and ultimately that is what matters.
Lockdown Stage 4 which we have been under since May 1st permits some restaurants to offer delivery service and shops are allowed to sell winter clothes. We are required to wear a mask when out in public. We are now allowed to exercise (run, walk, cycle) within a 5K radius from our home between 0600 and 0900. The first day of the relaxed restrictions was a bit of a mess with people flooding the waterfront area and not wearing masks. So much so in fact that a government minister issued a statement essentially stating that it was really easy to go back to stage 5 if people couldn’t follow the rules. The following day there were additional police in the area to ensure compliance.
In addition to the restrictions the government has announced several initiatives aimed at helping individuals and small businesses survive this pandemic. While one could argue that it’s not enough it is certainly more than other nations are doing and more coordinated.
At some point, the government will declare we can now move to stage 3. This will allow for the sales of alcohol, tobacco, and other non-essential items. Stage 2 will allow for the resumption of domestic flights. The kicker is that the levels set at a national level. Provincial or even metro level may differ. Since Cape Town has seen a spike in cases recently, I expect we may be under stricter restrictions than less populated or rural areas. For more details on what is allowed at each level click here. At this point, we don’t know when international flights will resume. I’m not expecting anything until late 2020 or early 2021.
Ok, but how are you?
On a personal level we are doing fine. We are able to get groceries delivered and have been improving our culinary skills. We’ve been having video calls with friends and family both locally and abroad, so we have a sense of connection. We were on one such call with friends when someone sent me this article… Talk about a harsh reality check. So, after I checked my privilege, I can honestly say that we are pretty lucky.
The last few weeks have been a bit hectic and chaotic for us. We were initially leaning towards heading back to the states after several conversations with our families in the US and powers that be at P’s employer. The more we thought about it the more sense it made to stay in SA. By traveling we would be going through 3 airports, two airplanes, and need to drive through IL to northern WI. If we ended up needing to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, there was an additional risk of exposure. So, in the end, we decided to stay. Which was the right move because while we would have been able to fly out on March 28th, the President of SA announced a near-total shut down of the country beginning on the 27th. This ultimately meant no passenger flights would be leaving.
The lockdown means no restaurants, bars, or coffee shops are open. You are allowed to leave your home to go to the grocery store, the pharmacy, or the doctor. You can’t go for a jog or walk your dog. All alcohol and cigarette sales have been suspended. Basically, the only things you can buy at the moment are food, medicine, and gasoline. The police and Army have been deployed to maintain checkpoints and patrol to ensure compliance. The SA government is taking this VERY seriously. Which given the amount of vulnerable people living in SA I think this is the correct response. I read a report last night that Khayelitsha became the first township to have a confirmed case. Sadly, some of the folks in the townships weren’t complying with the lockdown rules and now the entire township is at a major risk. This is heartbreaking because the lockdown order was meant to protect these very people.
As for our personal safety; we are a short drive to a smaller grocery store. When we need to venture out that is where we will likely go to restock. We also have the option of using grocery delivery services. We are trying one out that specializes in fresh meat. (I’m really craving a steak). Our main concern at this point is social unrest or rioting. I expect that any riots or protests that occur will start in the townships and work their way to the city center (or Central Business District) before they get to us. We are away from the city center and at the top of a very steep hill. That being said the US embassy is sending us twice daily emails on the status of evacuations and P’s employer is keeping an eye on the situation as well. If the situation turns, we have a couple of contingency plans in place to remain safe (I guess all that post-apocalyptic fiction I read a while ago has been useful).