sAfter three weeks of quarantine, locked in my studio in Shanghai while taking a single cucumber bite left over from the last pack of government supplies for dinner after scrolling through copious amounts of sad lockdown experiences online they “disappeared”. “Look, these four words of Steve Jobs flashed through my mind: Stay hungry, be stupid.
It is as if some invisible force is shouting those words in my ears, then shouting loudly and clearly in the sky above the 26 million souls in this city; This lonely, still, empty, sprawling city that has been glowing with everything in the last 30 years.
Through my narrow kitchen window, an empty street in pre-lockdown Shanghai somehow resonates with my deepest consciousness: the memories of those wonderful years before 2019 seem so real that they escape me like stories from my past lives. Goes.
To begin with, this is not my first quarantine, not my second, not even my third.
As one of many Chinese who returned to China after years abroad in 2020 amid the outbreak of COVID-19, I have already learned the art of sitting quietly in a room alone in a repetitive and religious manner over the past two years and Have practiced. I already have all the indoor fitness apps, audiobooks, streaming subscriptions, meditation apps, all kinds of remote meeting apps, and food delivery people I know well, and I felt like I was in the fourth quarantine of my life without I can dive in the blink of an eye, like a professional.
It started out as a slow train. In the first week of March, I knew that a new surge of Omicron-type infections had caused some compounds to be discontinued for several days here and there, but no one I know personally has yet to take the situation. was not affected by.
In the second week, everyone had a friend who was either locked in their office or locked in their premises. Memes and jokes started swirling on Chinese social media: “People who are at work spend days worrying about whether they can go back home tonight, those who are at home spend the night worrying about whether they’ll come back the next morning.” can go to work.”
By mid-March, everyone knew for a fact that there was going to be some sort of lockdown. Offices started closing and people were gradually asked to work from home. The number of cases was still not a part of the daily discussion, and no one was really worried because… come on: everyone outside China has a friend or friend who got covid, got cured and now has a lot of fun in their lives is coming. Not from the media, not from politics, not from scientific research, but from someone who has been there whom they trust.
In the last week of March, we finally realized that we were in deep water, and were going to be there for a long time. Restaurants are semi-closed to dine in, chaotic billboard scenes begin to become creative material for rap songs, and city officials have finally imposed a complete lockdown of sections for 10 days. I hoarded a reasonable amount of food for 10 days, started downloading spiritual books and Buddhism classics for my mental wellbeing, and jumped from Zoom calls to instant messaging apps while trying to focus on my writing. Wrote daily scheduling on whiteboard.
‘Things got worse’
The other day in complete lockdown, I tried to browse Meituan and Hema to buy coffee. Within a few clicks, my heart stopped beating. Couldn’t get anything anymore. From that point on, the rest is history.
The more I dive into Shanghai’s lockdown, the more I realize I’ve just dived into a black hole. The situation just got worse. I downloaded 30 more apps and added community service, woke up at 6 a.m. to clear my shopping list, but nothing helped. I had to realize that either the stock is running out or there is no one to deliver. It didn’t take me long to realize that everyone is in the same situation. Between friends, we reached a tacit consensus: behind every smiley on WeChat at 6 am, there is a desperate resident in Shanghai.
On the sixth day, the expected release was never fulfilled, but the real anxiety began. A neighbor knocked on the door asking for rice. He is 50 years old, lives alone in the building next to me, and ran out of grain to the last. I put half of my rice pack in the pot in his hands and turned it down when he insisted on paying me. As soon as I closed the door, I realized that the situation had reached a point where it became difficult to get the essentials.
As the days pass by, the food shortage is becoming more and more severe. Like those who weren’t able to buy groceries online and were provided with little to no government supplies, WeChat group purchases were the only way to go. Due to the limited circulation on the roads during the lockdown and the high risk to the delivery workers, only food orders above a certain price or amount can be given priority.
Group leader (团长) quickly became a trending term and the heroic role to play in lockdown Shanghai: the need to be resourceful, serviceable and organized all at the same time. They usually initiate an inquiry in the WeChat group, collect requests from neighbors, connect with food suppliers, pay in advance and deliver accordingly when supplies arrive.
I too got to know my neighbors better in a few days than I had in the past two years. I traded eggs with one neighbor for coffee with soja sauce and with another for milk. I also started planning a “small” celebration for the girl above who will celebrate her 30 year birthday during this lockdown with “no cake, no candles, no alcohol, no friends”, As he sarcastically described.
By the third week, the black market also begins to emerge: Coca-Cola, instant noodles, dried mango and chips are sold through a resident’s window from the same hallway for two or three times their original price. The girl who has a “little stand” has contact with a food supplier who keeps her supermarket closed to the public.
PCR testing is the only way out. We are asked to do this test every three or four days, sometimes at short notice or very late at night. Somehow most of us still feel lucky to be asked to get tested, because it’s the only way to get outside and breathe fresh air for a while.
We are very lucky that the entire compound has turned negative so far. Infected people who test positive during group PCR are requested to go to the mobile medical cabinet (方舱), where patients are grouped, isolated from the “negative” world in Shanghai.
‘It’s like packing a bikini for Siberia’
I later learned from the online WeChat diary of a friend who was obliged to go there after testing positive that they sleep in a huge open space with lights on 24/7, and 10 people to 2,000 people. is shared. “It’s like a night train with no destination” – I remember this line from his online diary.
The past few weeks have been quite disappointing as worries about food are slowly dragging people down, but the daily number of new infections continues to rise. The initial release date keeps increasing. Uncertainty begins to rule people’s minds: are we getting back to normal? Will Wuhan’s model work for Shanghai?
We are now in a country that is firmly adhering to zero tolerance, but cases are on the rise as a second wave begins in Europe. It’s like packing a bikini for Siberia, using chopsticks to eat steak, teaching an eagle to swim: When extreme conditions face each other, drama ensues.
Shanghai has always been the stage of drama in modern Chinese history, and will always be in its essence. The city is not only the economic center of the country but is also lauded for its dynamic middle class, diverse public life, open-minded intellectuals and active (by Chinese standards) civil society.
Retired medical workers start suggesting alternatives to drastic measures and question the validity of the zero-Covid policy; Journalists start collecting censored deaths because of inaccessible health care and strict PCR test results that prevent patients from emergency rooms; Citizens begin to question how their beloved city became hell on earth when people were starving and crying out for help. With articles and videos shared millions of times before being brutally censored or taken down, anger and frustration begin to dominate social media.
An article titled “Shanghai People Have Reached Their Maximum Tolerance Limit” was viewed 20m times and miraculously reappeared after being removed by authorities for the first time in Chinese Internet history, causing unprecedented attention from citizens .
I know I am witnessing and living a once in a lifetime experience: planned provision, barter economy, starvation, war anxiety and uncertainty.
I too slowly start to get more and more uncomfortable with the public narrative about “positive cases”: every building that knows a positive case will have 14 more days of lockdown and many new PCR tests will be added, In the mobile medical cabinet, not to mention the fear of being sent. This easily triggers public fear over “positive” cases and people.
Over the past few days, neighbors in our WeChat group have started slandering each other. Some days it was who didn’t get the PCR test done, other times it was who tried to step out for food. In my friend’s compound, neighbors also start calling the police when they see someone getting down or talking in a group.
I can see the uncanny resemblance between being “positive/skeptical” and being “intellectual/bourgeois” during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
To be honest, it bothers me more than hunger or COVID-19.