I haven’t stepped out of my apartment for 24 days in a row. Thanks to online grocery shopping websites, I have been able to stay at home safely with a fully-stocked fridge (a huge shout-out to all essential workers who are still running around!).
Admittedly, it was challenging to build a new routine and stay focused while staying indoors all day long, mainly due to countless distracting news alerts. Days and nights seem to blend together more and more.
For me and many of my Chinese friends, we had to go through the outbreak twice. The first time worrying about our family and country back in January and February. The second time concerning our situation here in quarantined America. I was unable to fall asleep for the first few nights after the shelter-in-place order. I had to stop reading the news to take care of my mental health.
But I can’t complain about my current situation as I am not the only in it. Frankly, I consider myself among the lucky ones. I moved out from my college dorm last summer and now live off-campus. Unlike my peers who had to hastily move out of their dorms, I am sheltering in my apartment without worrying about finding a storage unit. One of my Chinese friends nervously asked me if I could let her stay in my apartment. She was hastily kicked out of her dorm and is now trying to get a ticket back home. I feel sad for what she has undergone, especially since she prepared so long for a semester exchange in the U.S.
International students have experienced uncertainty and frustration. Fortunately, my friend was able to get back to China safely and now is under a 14-day quarantine at a local hotel.
For those who stay in the U.S. like me, we must fend for ourselves. Obviously, practical issues such as preparing enough food to get through the quarantine, cooking, and checking our health insurance plans aren’t rocket science. Instead, discrimination and hate crimes are among some of my top concerns. I haven’t stepped out of my apartment for weeks since learning about the president explicitly calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” The number of news articles on anti-Asian hate crimes seems to have increased as well.
I came back to New York after spending the winter break in China- just a week before the U.S. banned Chinese travelers. Because the Chinese government had already encouraged us to wear masks at that time, I wore a mask during my entire flight. After I arrived at JFK, I kept my mask on. The, when the airport shuttle driver picked me up, seeing my covered face, he rudely asked, “Where are you from, China?”
That was before I could say a single word.
Sitting on that shuttle was probably one of the most awkward experiences ever. The moment I got on, the driver lowered his car window as much as he could. It was a 40°F windy day.
I know that my unpleasant shuttle experience might also be because Americans usually assume only sick people wear masks. I am not trying to say whether one should wear masks or not. However, I still don’t quite understand what exactly happened to me that day. Was it discrimination? Or was it merely a human being’s fear of an unknown disease? The only thing I can say is that the coronavirus is not an excuse for discrimination. I can only hope that when the coronavirus ends racial tensions will ease.
Maybe you are wondering why I don’t go back to China and stay with my family. As I am graduating in two months, I was advised not to leave the U.S. Indeed, taking a long-distance flight at this moment is probably riskier than simply staying at home.
But perhaps now is not a convenient time for Chinese students overseas to go back home either. On March 28, China announced a sudden plan to reduce international flights dramatically. Only one flight from each country per week is allowed to land in China. The move is meant to prevent imported cases from entering an overwhelmed local health system. At the same time, some Chinese netizens on Weibo are criticizing overseas Chinese people for “千里送毒” (qiān lǐ sòng dú): carrying back the virus when China is so close to getting the situation under control.
Unfortunately, I have to spend the last semester of my senior year in the least expected way. But each time I see news on China recovering slowly after a two-month shutdown, I become hopeful again. Perhaps five years from now, this nightmare will become a fun anecdote that connects everyone from the class of 2020.