Category Archives: China

If I only had a Crystal Ball


‘When will you return to China?’

“Do you have to go back?’

 I’m asked these questions every day.  The answer is ‘I don’t know.’  

Yes, eventually I will have to return.

Maybe?

 I assume.

Who knows!

I have recently checked flights from Tulsa to Beijing, and it looks like it is possible to return to at least the Beijing Airport.

There is a flight from Tulsa to Dallas to Los Angeles with American Airlines, then on to Tokyo with United Airlines and from Tokyo to Beijing by way of Air China.

ugh.

There is also a flight from Tulsa to Chicago by way of American Airlines, Chicago to Seoul by way of Korean Air and Korean Air from Seoul to Beijing. 

ugh.

My normal route is Tulsa to Dallas to Beijing with American Airlines. 

The State Department has recently issued a Level 2 warning for travel to both Japan and South Korea, which means they are urging caution to travelers to those countries.  

This is how the warnings began while I was in China.  There were warnings not to travel to Wuhan, Level 2. Over several weeks, the level heightened and is now a level 4 for traveling in China.

The Coronavirus has spiked recently in South Korea. As of this writing it appears 5 have died and 500 are infected. 

Japan was criticized for their handling of the quarantined cruise ship docked at a Japanese port. 

So if my only way back is through either Japan or Korea, would I really be asked to return to school?

A recent message from school stated:

We received a message from the BDA Social Development Bureau this morning:

  1. Any staff currently who are outside of Beijing should not return to Beijing without notice from the school.

2.   Under very special circumstances, should a staff member need to return to Beijing, he/she may only return to Beijing upon school and BDA Social Development’s Bureau’s  approval.

So, as of now, I cannot return to my apartment in Beijing without permission. For how long? No need to even think about it. There is no answer.

Will I now miss my son’s graduation in June? I already have the ticket. How would the quarantine work?  Do I need to cancel the flight? So many things to consider. Good thing I have all day to ponder these things, I guess.

If I only had a crystal ball. 


The Journey Home, Part 3


I took a deep breath and said, “Excuse me sir, I have just returned from China and am wearing this mask for both of our protection, I just wanted you to know that. Feel free to get up and move if you would like. I won’t be offended.”

He looked at me, leaned forward with his arms on top of his thighs and said, “Nah, it’s ok. I will just stay here and talk to you, it’s ok”

“Ok, I just wanted you to be aware. I’m really surprised nobody is wearing a mask in here but me!”

By now the lady on the other side of him has become interested in the conversation but never says anything. I can tell she is listening as we make eye contact several times. She smiles.

At that moment, I had so many thoughts and feelings.

What a very kind man!
(I might have moved to another seat!)

Maybe this virus isn’t as bad as it was starting to sound! Neither of these people seem concerned about me sitting here.

Should I have stayed in China after all?

Isn’t anyone concerned about the virus, where are the masked faces?

People don’t mind if I sit amongst them, even with my mask covering my face and my visibly obvious bag of bleach wipes, disposable gloves and shoe covers?

What the heck? So then $$$ signs flashed through my head. If you remember, I had chosen to stay in China to save money over the holiday. Shoot! I guess I should have stayed there!

Then quickly shifting to “No, I needed to leave for my sanity.”

Then “How much is a one way ticket back to China going to cost?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m almost home”

I’ve had some pretty good discussions with myself over the past 5 weeks as I have sat in self-imposed and now mandated quarantine.

Well, back to the man who surprised me by staying and offering to talk with me. He lives in Dallas but grew up in Enid. He was going to see his wife in Tulsa who is taking care of her father while he is in the hospital. We had a great conversation until it was time to board. Other than the customs and immigration officers and the CDC workers, he was the first person to actually speak to me once I was “home.” I will always remember that act of kindness.

The next piece of good news was the American Airlines announcement, “Passengers, we have a very full flight, so if you would like to check your carry on, please come to the counter now and we will check it for free.”

I just about ran to the counter to get rid of that bag. I was so happy! The guy behind the counter placed the tag on the bag and bent to pick it up. He said, “Ohh…” and walked a little lopsidedly to put it with the others.

It was a full flight to Tulsa. I always choose to sit near the window. I feel it is “safer” in regards to catching fewer bugs on a flight. Fewer people can make contact as they pass by in the aisle. I know I bump into almost everybody when I board a plane as I am usually carrying a huge bag or two.

I wiped down my seat, arm rests, seatbelt and tray with my few remaining bleach wipes and buckled up.

trying to read this book on my inhales, as my glasses fogged over on the exhale

As it is not a long flight, I thought I would read a few more chapters of my book before I made it to Tulsa. This didn’t last long though. I could only read the pages on my “inhales,” as my glasses would fog over with every exhale, due to the  mask on my face. But it would clear when I inhaled. It didn’t matter how I adjusted my mask, I couldn’t clear my glasses, except for my inhale. Do you know how many pages you can read on an inhale? Not many, it is more like a paragraph and if I got to a really good part on the page, I held my breath so I could finish the paragraph before I exhaled again. I thought I might choke and then have a coughing fit and have all kinds of attention that I didn’t want.

I finally gave up on the book and just listened to the many people sneezing and coughing on this flight. I just cringed and tightened my mask every time they coughed. I didn’t come all this way to get sick now! Besides, I MUST stay healthy!

I wondered at that time, “If the flu kills more people in a year than the Coronavirus (up to now) why don’t people take more precautions? Where were their masks?” I just hunkered down in my seat and hoped the tall guy next to me didn’t start coughing or sneezing. He didn’t talk to me. I’m sure I was a sight. It had already been a 24 hour journey from China door to Tulsa, I traveled with my mask, goggles and gloves, and my hair was sticking up and out every which way, around my mask, over the straps that hold the mask in place, hair was everywhere. Mascara running down my face, eyeliner smudged.

While descending, I looked out the window thinking, “I’m glad to be home.” I wondered why it took me so long to decide. But of course these are just thoughts that go back and forth in my head all the time. I quickly remembered it took a long time to make the decision to go home because I didn’t know if traveling on a plane was safer than staying on self imposed quarantine. I didn’t know what the reception would be like once I arrived. Plus, I was helping Heather with the baby.

Walking up the jet way seemed so free-ing. Mainly because I wasn’t dragging that dang bag behind me, but I was home. Fresh air. Water from the tap. Friends and family. Of course, I didn’t really know what would await once my luggage was in the car and I was home.

So who was brave enough to pick me up from the airport? Don’t worry! I didn’t ask anyone to pick me up. I wasn’t going to UBER or taxi and potentially expose anyone to what I knew I didn’t have, but I guess couldn’t be 100% certain. I was and continue to be very cautious and aware of people around me.

Remember my friend Shack who offered the words of encouragement during the snowstorm and my luggage fiasco? We had pre-arranged my transportation. He and his wife, Annie went to my house to pick up my car and drove it to the airport. My flight landed at 7:35 pm. They were gong to have my car at the curb about 7:45/8:00p.m.

The luggage took a little bit of time but I saw my car outside and went and tossed my 15 pound bag inside. I had to go back inside and retrieve the rest of the bags. Shack waited in the car, and Annie in their truck behind my car.

My 75 pound bag that I hauled all over the place was first to come out. The zipper had ripped open! There was a flip flop and a card from John 3:16 mission placed on top of my bag. It made me laugh for just a second. I can understand how someone might think the flip flop would have been mine since my bag was open, but just the way the flip flop was placed on top of my partially opened bag with the card placed on top of that, was funny to me.

At what point did it get placed on top of my bag? How did the flip flop and the card remain on top of my bag when it came flying out of the baggage claim chute and down the little ramp?

Anyway, I waited for the next two bags, hoping they made it in one piece on the long flight, too. They did. I gathered them up and started pushing them toward the revolving door. One of the wheels on one of the suitcases had come loose by now and it was hard to maneuver. I left the flip flop on the floor for its rightful owner to claim it.

A nice couple saw me kicking my 75 pound, ripped bag, and yelled at me,”Hey you lost something,” while holding the flip flop in his hand. I told him thanks but it wasn’t mine. He dropped it.

I rolled the good bag and dragged the broken one behind me, while kicking the other one to the revolving door. Again, I must have been a sight to see. I waited until the revolving door was void of people trying to exit then pushed, pulled, and kicked my way into the revolving door. I had to keep the bags moving with me. I got to the other side and the one with the loose wheel fell over. I quickly had to get the other two bags out of the revolving door and that one upright. I did it!

The nice couple said, “Bless your heart! Why don’t you ask one of the workers for help? I am sure they will help you.”

My bag that I dragged, pulled, and kicked thru two airports has seen its last airport, it has a hole in the bottom now

“Thanks, it’s ok.” I’m almost home now. I continued to push, pull and kick my way to the curb. It was nice to not have that 4th bag. At that point Shack yelled instructions from a distance about my key fob not working, he had left a Valentine’s gift at my house and yelled, “Welcome home!” He ran toward his truck! I don’t blame him a bit. I was so thankful that they took their Valentine’s evening to rescue me at the airport.
I hoisted the suitcases into the car. Climbed into the driver’s seat and rested my forehead on the steering wheel. It was over. I was home and Blake Shelton’s song, “God’s Country” was playing on my CD in the car. I didn’t remember what I left in the CD player two years ago. It truly is God’s Country. I then flipped it back to K95.5 Tulsa’s New Country Leader Radio station, which is what it was on when I got in the car. Cash and Bradley, the radio hosts gave me a shout out while I was in China.

I drove toward home and for a brief moment thought, “It’s over.”
By the time I reached my street, reality set back in and I thought back to what the CDC officer told me. Someone will be in touch if there is any problem.

By Sunday, I had contact with the local Health Department.


The Journey Home..Part 2



The Journey Home


 

“I’m going to go home,” said with more certainty than the previous couple of hundred times as Heather and I discussed staying in China or going home.  Heather is my friend upstairs on 18.  I’m on the 15th floor of the apartment building.  She is the one with the little boy who rides the little truck who comes to my door with his music playing from the steering wheel mentioned in a previous post

I had decided to stay in China and help her as long as she stayed.  She couldn’t take the baby outside and go to the store, walk the dogs, etc.  So when she did those things, I watched the baby.  So, this certainty in her voice this time sounded like it was a done deal.  I replied, “Ok, if you are definitely going, then I will get my ticket, too.  We can go together and I can help you on the plane.”

We had talked about flights. I found one to leave on Friday, February 14.  I finally, after much indecisiveness and turmoil, hit the submit payment button and selected my seats.  Done! No more debate.

I messaged Heather the next morning and told her I had my ticket.  Did she have hers?  No.  The baby had developed a fever.  And a rash.  Of course, it was a terrible situation. It was frightening to think where she would go, what would she do, and most importantly what did he have?

Once she got him to a hospital, one that did not accept virus patients, she learned he had roseola.  Much better than the virus!  He was covered in a rash by now. She wasn’t going to be on a flight anytime soon. I felt so bad for them.

The day I left, it began to rain. I love the rain and it so rarely rains in Beijing.  I wasn’t excited about hauling my luggage in the rain, though.  I kept gathering my things and putting it all by the door trying to debate when I should call a taxi.  I looked back out the window and it had begun to snow.  And snow. And snow. 

Ugh. Will flights be delayed? or even cancelled?

I finally head downstairs having packed like I wasn’t going to return to China, though I still have quite a few things there. I had two 50 pound suitcases, a 75 pound carry on, and a 15 pound personal item.  I got them all on the elevator, down the elevator and out the door.  To get to the street, we must walk up a car ramp. It is the only way out right now as all other gates are locked.  By now, the rain had frozen and the snow was coming down in a very wet snow.  

From the parking garage I was able to push one suitcase up the ramp along with the carry on. 125 lbs.  I was slipping all over the place.  I left them sitting at the top of the ramp and walked back for the rest.  I pushed the next one up the ramp along with my bag that had two laptops and an iPad, chargers, a book, passport and everything else I could get inside the bag.  The wet snow was filling my bag with the laptops inside.  I stuffed a blanket over the top to keep them dry.

At the top of the ramp is a gate.  It is just short enough that my bags won’t go underneath it.  I can’t take them around it, either. Arrgghh… 

If I let go of the larger suitcase, it will fall over. Everything else is getting soaked. By now I was sweating and breathing heavily.  If someone comes and takes my temperature now, I’m doomed. 

Finally I was able to tilt the luggage under the gate, one by one and get it to the other side. But now, I had to lift them over a little one foot wall, or walk thru water that was quite high.  I chose to lift them. I got them to the other side. One 75 pound carry on is on one shoulder, my 15 pound bag is on the other and I’m lugging to suitcases behind me. There is now so much snow on the ground that as I pull the luggage along, the snow builds up under the wheels and I am pulling all the snow with me until I can not pull them any further.  

I have to stop and put my bags down. Anyone who knows me, knows I DO NOT put things on the ground or floor.  NO WAY!  So this was painful for me.

I kicked the snow off the wheels and move the luggages to a new path, pick up the other bags and start again.  Ten steps more. Repeat.  Ten steps more. Repeat.  I’m nowhere close yet. 

Finally, I stop and take one piece at a time, pulling the luggage with two hands while kicking the snow away.  I got it to the curb and walked back.  

I needed to call the taxi.  So I did that and it would arrive in 6 minutes.  Hopefully I could get the rest to the curb by then.  

Next piece of luggage wasn’t much easier. It  was still picking up snow. Finally a guard came over and pulled it to the curb making a new path. I was thankful. I Went back for number 3 and 4.  Finally, all were at the curb.

I mentioned it was a wet snow?  I’m drenched. My hair is soaked. My shirt is soaked and my jeans are well on their way to being soaked, too.

I hope the driver doesn’t turn into the McDonalds parking lot because if he does we won’t meet at the right spot, which would mean I would have to haul everything across the parking lot.  He turned into the McDonalds parking lot.By now,

I could not even think about pulling all of those bags over there.  I left all my things there and walked over and pointed to my luggage which had fallen over, so it was hard to see and gestured for him to drive around to the luggage.  Luckily, he gets my game of Charades and pulled around.  Finally, we got everything in his car. 

By now, I am at wits end and I’ve only just left the apartment. I got out my phone and messaged my friend, Shack who is dropping my car off at the airport upon my arrival.  “I’m about to lose my shit!”  And of course, Shack being Shack says, “Keep breathing, Cath. You got this. Think about your grandkids and Amy and Eric and all your friends. It’s worth it, keep your head up and keep moving toward Tulsa.”  Always a breath of fresh air. OK.  I can do this.

It was really snowing then.  The roads were so slick and we didn’t slow down.  There was accident after accident on the highway.  We were all over the place.  We finally made it in one piece. I went to get a cart for my luggage, but first wiped it down with bleach wipes and pushed it back to the taxi. I gathered my things and headed to the airport entry.  

Going inside they stopped me to take my temperature.  I’m wet and cold so I thought I would be ok.  I was.

Now the entry is a downhill ramp.  The cart and I were rolling quickly.  My feet just slid all the way down to the bottom.  The girl at the bottom of the ramp looked a bit nervous as I rolled toward her.  She was motioning me to go left.  I finally got the cart to slow down and turn.  I stopped for another temperature check. It was ok!

Ok, to the gate. I made it and got my boarding pass, unloaded two pieces of luggage and headed to security.  This was such a hassle this go round, as I had two laptops, an ipad, camera, phone, chargers, etc.  All of which need to be unpacked and placed into individual bins.  At least there was no one there, so I wasn’t rushed.  

Unpack, scan, repack. Lug that 75 pound carry on and 15 pound bag to the gate. I looked for my friend, Craig who was supposed to be at the gate near mine.  I could not find him. I called him and he said he had been kicked out.  Now he is a prankster, so I thought he was kidding, but…he wasn’t.  He had booked a flight to New Zealand where he is from by way of Australia.  Australia would not let him transfer through there because of the virus.   So he could not travel.  

I went and sat down to charge my phone.  I wandered around a bit after that. Then went back to my gate.  I sat down. There were quite a few people at the gate. waiting.  I heard “Flight CA 125 last call to Seoul.”   “What?”  Last call ! I never heard the first call.  I never saw anyone move.  Oh My Goodness!

I ran to the gate just in time.  Though it was not far to run as I was right there! How did that even happen?  Oh well, I’m on.  

I’m soaked, I can’t breathe in my mask, but I’m on.  A couple from Kansas and their two kids came on just after me.  They didn’t hear anything either until “Last Call.”  So bizarre.

We are given so many forms to fill out, all health related.  My pen didn’t  work. I tested it before I left, but nothing.  The Kansan gave me a pen from her bag.  I had to wipe it with bleach first.  She understood.  She had some interesting stories to tell, too.  Every region, it seemed had different scenarios playing out.  

An hour and a half later, Air China flight CA125, was about to land in Seoul, South Korea.  We made it out of China. What awaits us out there?  How will we be treated? We are all arriving from China, after all. The rest of the world isn’t accepting many passengers from China.  The nice Kansan husband helped me with my 75 pound carry on. He got it down from the overhead.  We disembarked.

We walk up the jetway and saw a person who could easily be headed toward Mars with his/her white space suit and helmet.  As we arrived to the top of the jetway, we were given a lanyard to wear around our necks identifying us as arrivals from China.  

Wait, who else wore this on their neck?  Ugh, too late, it was now on my neck.  I didn’t get to bleach it. We followed the arrow that read, “From China.”  Where would it take us?

The Journey Home, to be continued. 

I can barely keep my eyes open.


Dark Circles Go Away


 My friend Buster is teaching a class on the “Legal Aspects of Terrorism and Disaster Response” and looking at the legal issues that may arise relating to the Coronavirus outbreak. He has asked me to write about my feelings related to being right in the middle of this viral outbreak while living in Beijing.

I should begin with the first received  advisory from the US Embassy by email ,alerting US citizens of a pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan China,

I didn’t really think much about it. Pneumonia didn’t sound so intimidating. After all, this advisory was about Wuhan.  I’m nearly 1000 miles from Wuhan.

Bold dates below reflect an email message from the Embassy.

 

January 7

Health Alert Update – Novel Coronavirus in China

Location: Wuhan, Hankou area

Event: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Watch Level 1 Alert (be aware and practice usual precautions) for an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, preliminarily identified to be caused by a novel (new) coronavirus.

 

January 15

Health Alert Update: Level 1 Watch regarding pneumonia

Location: Wuhan,  Hankou area

 

January 17 

Health Alert Update: Level 1 Watch regarding pneumonia

Location: Wuhan,  Hankou area

 

I wasn’t traveling to Wuhan, so I didn’t think so much about it.

Our last day of school before Chinese New Year was January 17.

Many teachers were headed away and out of China for the holiday.  I chose to stay in China to save money this holiday due to some unforeseen expenses that occurred at home.  Hindsight reveals not the best holiday to stay in place.

We (remaining teachers) didn’t really do too much outdoors, really.  We had gone to see Chairman Mao’s body, (not sure why) went bike skating on the frozen lake and ate at a very delicious dumpling place for lunch.  I went twice for lunch because it was so good.

As the days went on over the holiday, we were starting to hear word about this pneumonia.  People were now dying.

Each day, more dead. Many infected. But what was causing it?

Bats and snakes.  People are eating bats and snakes?  Now, pangolins have been linked to the  spread of the virus. Some Chinese people believe the scales of the pangolins have healing powers.

We are starting to stay inside our apartments more.  We do however, walk the park that is across the street.  There are very few people there. After the walk, we retreat back to our apartments.

The death count is over 100.  WOW!  

Repeat. 

Eat, Sleep. Take a walk.

200 dead

Eat. Sleep. Take a walk

214 dead  

We see an ambulance driving down the street with its sirens on and lights flashing.  This is unusual. We never see an ambulance here.  

Eat. Sleep. Take a walk.

230 dead, thousands infected.

We now wear masks while we are outside.

I don’t remember the exact date, but our school said teachers didn’t have to return from holiday until later in February. So, the teachers who were on vacation, just got an extended stay.  The rest of us were left wondering if we should join them.

Nah, let’s save the money and stay here, we will be safe inside and “We have each other” was our mantra.

January 22 

Health Alert Update: Level 2 – referring to travelers to Wuhan

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Watch Level 2 Alert (Practice Enhanced Precautions) for an ongoing outbreak of pneumonia first identified in Wuhan, China, caused by a novel (new) coronavirus.In an effort to contain the novel coronavirus, the Chinese authorities have suspended air and rail travel in Wuhan.Be aware that planned travel within China may be disrupted.

 

 

Ok, still not going go travel to Wuhan.  I’m ok!

 

January 23

Health Alert Update:

Same as January 22-see above

 

January 24

Level 4: Do not travel to Hubei province, China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China:

There is an ongoing outbreak of pneumonia first identified in Wuhan, China, caused by a novel (new) coronavirus.In an effort to contain the novel coronavirus, the Chinese authorities have suspended air and rail travel in the area around Wuhan.On January 23, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. personnel and their family members. The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province.

Chinese authorities have imposed strict travel restrictions in the area around Wuhan.Travelers should be aware that the Chinese government could prevent them from entering or exiting parts of Hubei province.Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Warning Level 3 Alert (Avoid Nonessential Travel) due to an ongoing outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that can be spread from person to person.

 

Still doesn’t concern me. I’m not traveling to Wuhan and I am avoiding non-essential travel.

 

January 26

 Relocating Personnel from Wuhan:

The Department of State is making arrangements to relocate its personnel stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan to the United States.  We anticipate that there will be limited capacity to transport private U.S. citizens on a reimbursable basis on a single flight leaving Wuhan Tianhe International Airport on January 28, 2020 and proceeding directly to San Francisco.  Interested U.S. citizens in possession of valid passports should contact BeijingACS@state.gov with the information listed below.  This capacity is extremely limited and if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus.

 

The Department of State is evacuating their people from the Coronavirus epicenter. Interested US citizens can jump on but you have to travel to Wuhan to get to that airport.  Travel has been restricted. Couldn’t go if I wanted!

 

January 27

Reconsider travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.

 

 

Well, I’m not traveling TO China, I’m already here and I’m staying inside. I’m limiting non-essential travel as they advised. 

 

January 29 

 Level 3 traveling to China

Level 4 traveling to Wuhan

 

January 30

Event: On January 29, 2020, the Department allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members of U.S. government employees.

January 30 issued a Level 3 Watch to travel to China.

 

February  2 

Level 4

Do not travel to China due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Travelers should be prepared for the possibility of travel restrictions with little or no advance notice. Most commercial air carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China.

 

Travel restrictions?  I’m not going anywhere.

February 3rd comes and goes. Teachers did not return but we began teaching online from numerous time zones around the world.  This means for us who stayed, we are inside all day. Focusing on our work but still taking breaks to read about the virus.

February 3-8

These days all conversations are based on what are you going to do?  Are you going to stay?  Are you going to go?

We are going to stay.  Too much money to leave. The virus will be gone soon. School will open. Let’s just stay. We’ve got each other, we will be ok.

February 4

Travel Alert from the US Embassy:

Do not travel to China due to the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined the rapidly spreading outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Travelers should be prepared for the possibility of travel restrictions with little or no advance notice. Most commercial air carriers have reduced or suspended routes to and from China.

Those currently in China should attempt to depart by commercial means. U.S. citizens remaining in China should follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Chinese health authorities’ guidance for prevention, signs and symptoms, and treatment. We strongly urge U.S. citizens remaining in China to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others, including large gatherings. Consider stocking up on food and other supplies to limit movement outside the home. In the event that¿the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates¿to provide assistance to U.S. nationals within China may be limited.

 

By now, I’m following the advice of staying home, limiting contact with others and stocking up on what food remained at the time. Several teachers have decided it might be safer to stay here rather than board a plane with everyone leaving right now. Who would we sit next to? Would they cough on us? Are they infected and don’t know it?  People were leaving as fast as they could. Too much of a risk!

“Limit contact with others.”  

Feb 9-10 

More than 900 dead. Many are infected on cruise ships, people have been evacuated from China and quarantined. The virus is spreading to many more countries.

Now what? Major cities are on lockdown. Travel is restricted. Flights are limited leaving from China to the USA.

February 11

So how do I feel?

Frustrated. Frustration manifests itself into so many more emotions such as sadness, anxiety, fear, exhaustion and so many more emotions. I looked in the mirror today and saw a very tired looking person, dark circles, tired eyes. It is mentally exhausting. I don’t like to wear my glasses but now I keep them on to cover the dark circles.

Frustrated with whom? Frustrated at what?

Frustrated with myself for not leaving? Frustrated with the messages and the advice to restrict travel to Wuhan? Frustrated that I (and others) were trying to do the safest thing? limit contact with others

Each day is a bad game of tennis in our heads with the back and forth of should we stay or should we go.  One of us decides we are leaving and the other says, now just wait a minute. It is going to be costly to get out of here and as long as we stay we still have each other. Plus it seems safer to stay in our apartments than it does to board a plane. The Embassy advised us to limit contact with others. Being on a plane does not follow that directive. Plus several of the other teachers were traveling with children and an infant. I don’t know how the infant would have or will keep a mask on his face during a flight. 

Recently, after weeks in the apartment, I noticed I was pacing back and forth. I must have looked like a caged lion walking back and forth looking for a way to get out. I sat down and looked at flights out of China. One Way!

Again, the next day we talked ourselves out of leaving.  Is it really worth spending the money and subjecting ourselves to what MIGHT happen on the flight? We would spend that money and might get sick, spending even more money, plus our insurance plan is good everywhere in the world EXCEPT the USA. If I get sick, THEN WHAT? I will be bankrupt! I will have spent the last two years in Beijing for nothing. I was trying to get ahead as I don’t see that ever happening as a teacher in Oklahoma, getting ahead that is.

Feb 12

This has been the worst day so far.  

Why?

Dark circles are worse!

I woke to many messages from home. What is happening? What do they know that I don’t? 

Three people have been investigated by the health department in Oklahoma due to the coronavirus.  This may be why people are contacting me since I am from Oklahoma. “Investigation” sounds kind of harsh and somewhat scary. But it is required now.

The author of the book, The Coming Plague, has stated the virus is out of control and is bigger than SARS and the HIV outbreak.

I probably shouldn’t have read that.

It is really difficult to know what to say or what to do. I tried to be safe by staying inside, not traveling and exposing myself to others on a plane, train, or vehicle. Should I have followed the first part of the directive of Feb 4 “leave by means of commercial flight” or the second part “limit contact with others?”

Wuhan was far away and I didn’t travel there. Did anyone on the flight I may have taken travel to Wuhan?  I guess they had to “sign a paper” stating they didn’t travel to Wuhan but anyone can lie. I’ve certainly learned that lesson in life. 

Will I die like so many others?  Will I not die? Either way, I have children in both places, Heaven and Earth. So I will get to see them wherever I end up.

I honestly don’t feel as though that is even remotely possible considering the precautions I have taken. These are just some of the thoughts that enter my head while being caged up inside day after day. I just wanted to share what it is like to feel so many emotions throughout a day when the unknown surrounds me.

If I fly home now, I would imagine there will be fewer people on the flights. (limit contact with others)

Friends who have left from Beijing Airport have described it as a “ghost town.” So maybe now is the time.

Did I make the right decision? 

 

(We recently received a message from our school stating that if we contract the illness and need to be treated, it would be covered under the plan.  I immediately replied, “Even in America?”  The response, “YES!”  )

Dark circles can start to go away now.


Will the Fear of the Unknown break us?


Will the 5 positive reasons for staying in Beijing that we mention every time we walk the park keep us here through the virus outbreak or will the virus eventually break us, due to the fear of the unknown? Riding this wave of the unknown is mentally exhausting.

Are we living our lives to the fullest by being locked in our apartments day after day? We do take a stroll around the park once or twice a day, but then we retreat back inside to check the death toll and watch and read what we can about the virus. Healthy?

Friends are beginning to leave Beijing now, one by one, two by two….we aren’t going to be able to have our walks in the park any more and come up with our list of 5 daily positives about being here.

This is sad, but understandable.

We walked the park today and it is becoming more active with people as many are starting to filter back into the city of Beijing, though there were very few people wearing masks.

I dont understand. Ting bu dong (that is about the extent of my Chinese)

Maybe they haven’t heard the news?

I do know there is a shortage of masks world wide so maybe they don’t have masks. So why not stay inside? Perhaps they don’t think the masks really work. 

There are different types of masks that may be more effective than others.

N95 masks vs surgical masks

There is the N95 mask which is a three dimensional mask that is supposedly ideal for protecting against the coronavirus. 

Surgical masks are two dimensional and allow for air to get through, in and around the gaps since they don’t fit securely on your face, so maybe they deem them pointless. Ok.

Is covering one’s face and nose necessary if there is good ventilation? I don’t know.

The death rate is rising daily, as of this writing more than 900 have died and the infected are 37,000 worldwide. Most are dying here in China. This death toll exceeds the SARS outbreak of 2003.  

With so many dying and infected, why is there so minimal protection? Not only no masks, but no gloves or glasses are seen on the people at the park.  Some of these people are children.

When the foreign teachers go outside, we are protected up! We have our N95 masks, gloves and I even sported a pair of goggles on top of my glasses today to avoid any cough and spittle entering my eyes with the addition of so many people now in the park. Plus it is a practice for a potential plane ride. 

I do have two pieces of luggage packed to 50 pounds each, sitting by the front door. They have been in my living room for two weeks, just in case. I’ve packed and repacked. I put things in and take things out, replacing items with something else that might be more important. I have packed all my winter things as I’m not going to need those for much longer, but then I pull out all of the winter-wear  and pack all my better clothes in case I leave and don’t come back.  All electronics are packed along with anything of value.

On the other hand, I’ve washed the sheets on my bed so when I go to bed tonight they are nice, clean and smell fresh, or did I wash them so they will be clean upon my return to China should I  leave? It’s always nice to come home to clean sheets on a bed. 

I’ve sorted the cabinets, thrown things out, given stuff away and am ready to leave China, or is it just Spring Cleaning and I’m going to stay? 

 I went to the grocery store twice this week and stocked up. With 8 million people returning to the city of Beijing this week after their extended Chinese New Year,, I thought I should get a few things before the crowds descend upon the stores. With two trips to the store, maybe I am going to stay after all and I can unpack the luggage at the front door. I certainly have enough food to last a while.

I’ve put chicken in the fridge to thaw. It is a big package and it will take several days to eat it. So I have plenty of food for the week. Or, did I get the chicken out of the freezer because I’m cleaning it out before I leave?

It is a constant battle, and a continued conversation between the remaining few foreign teachers here.  More and more people are becoming infected. The WHO director is tweeting “we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg.” and they are sending their top experts to China to learn about the virus.

How many of you have masks, gloves, and alcohol wipes at your front door?

Is trying to save money a good reason to stay here with so many unknowns?  What would the flight be like on the way home? Will I be quarantined upon arrival? Is it still a self imposed quarantine of 14 days in my own home?

I have no fever, I have no cough, though I coughed several times on Saturday and panicked for a moment. But I was only cutting up a very strong, red pepper and some onions. I couldn’t help but think, “Oh no, I hope no one hears me cough!” I was doing everything I could to conceal my coughing spell.  I didn’t want the government to pound on my door again and ask, “Are you sick?”  There was no way I could hide my watery, red eyes and continued coughing spell should that happen again.  I would only be able to bring the pepper to the door and let them have a deep inhale and hope for the best. Difficult and costly decisions lie ahead. 

Stay Strong Wuhan-Stay Strong China (written on one of my student’s papers on Friday during online learning)


Should I Stay or Should I Go?


 

Stay in Beijing   VS    Fly home

Continual Debate in my head:

 

Go Home:

Expensive

No Internet

Work From 10pm-5am (online teaching 14 hour time difference)

14 day quarantine

It’s cold there

Who would I sit next to on the plane? Where have they been?

US Embassy says go home

No Medical Insurance

Stay Here:

Cheap

Can take the DK’S (daughter’s kids) on a fun trip (maybe Disney would be fun) with the money I save by not going home

Safe in the Apartment

Listen to the kid upstairs all day long

It’s cold here, but I don’t mind it

I have medical insurance

Help Heather with the baby

Daily walks in the park with friends

Risk temperature being high, becoming the first older, white female quarantined due to hot flashes and can’t explain otherwise : )

 

Back and forth everyday, it’s like a tennis match in my head.  It’s boring being cooped up all day, but is that any reason to fly home?  I chose not to go anywhere for the Chinese New Year Holiday this year to save money.  I was originally going to go home for this holiday, but those plans changed back in September, so I decided to go to Italy during this holiday, but those plans changed in December. So, here I sit.

 

It’s hard to explain the feelings and emotions of being in China right now.  Yes, it is a tragic turn of events for the thousands who have been infected and those who have died leaving their families behind. I understand the pain and suffering that goes along with being the bereaved.  Nothing compares to the anguish, desperation and sadness of losing a child, nothing!  So I wonder why I have this debate knocking around in my head?  I can do this.

I have a decent pay check each month and a gratuity at the end of my contract so I just need to keep my eye on the prize and stay put!  I only have 181,188 minutes to go!

But tomorrow when I wake up, I will be looking at flights home again, and so the debate continues. 

life sucks if you let it, but I have options so it’s not all that bad!


Chairman Mao, Part 2


Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall is an hour from where we live in Beijing so Jayne, Simon and I decided to leave our place early to get in line at the Memorial by opening time, 8AM.

We tried this last year during Chinese New Year holiday but we were too cold, hungry, needed a restroom and it was snowing, so we decided to jump out of line and try again another time. Today was the time.

After our subway trip to Tiennamen Square to see the embalmed Chinese former leader, we lined up with thousands of others to wait for our turn to pass thru the mausoleum. This is a free tourist attraction in Beijing. I really don’t know why they call seeing a dead body a top “tourist attraction”, but it is one of the top things listed to do in Beijing. So, we too, joined the millions of people who stop by for a short, less than 60 second shuffle through the mausoleum peering inside the glass case of the embalmed former leader of China.

When we got to the area where people queue up, the guard motioned to Simon that he couldn’t take his backpack inside. He had to leave the line and take his backpack elsewhere. Jayne and I kept moving. Simon could push his way thru the line like the locals to catch up with us after he dropped off his bag.

The guard didn’t see my bag as it was quite small, but i decided to put it under my coat and cover it with my scarf and keep moving through the line.

The line circled around the mausoleum and came to a security checkpoint. Hmmm. I had my bag tucked under my coat. I decided to take it out so it didn’t look like I was trying to hide it. We put our phones, keys and my bag in the little bucket and went through security.

The security girl said “No,” and pointed to my bag. She took Jayne’s whistle and said “No.” She started to walk away with our things. Jayne’s whistle was attached to her keys and my bag had my passport, phone, book and hand warmers inside. We decided to follow her.

We followed her through the security checkpoint as we weren’t going to let her out of our sight. She went to a window ledge outside so she could search the bag. She said “No this” as she pointed to my bag again. She opened it and pulled things out. She took my book, (one that I picked up in Poland) and thumbed through it. I always take a book with me as it often takes hours on the subway. She handed it to me. The book passed the entry test. She looked at the heat activated hand warmers and said, “No this.” I just nodded and said, “Ok, no that.” I can live without the hand-warmers. She put my phone back inside the bag, rolled my bag up in a little ball and handed it back to me. I was truly surprised she returned the bag since it was forbidden and prior to us getting to security, they pulled a guy out of line and had a heated discussion about the things he was carrying inside.

I didn’t know whether to put the book back inside or just tuck it under my arm and keep walking. I chose the latter. Jayne was not so lucky with the whistle. She did however, get her keys back that were attached to the plastic whistle that she uses on the playground at school. We had visions of her blowing on that whistle inside the mausoleum and had a little chuckle.

The next step in line was to purchase a cheap flower for placement inside the mausoleum. Many people were purchasing their cheap, plastic wrapped yellow flower yellow to take inside. We chose not to purchase the flower.

For a year we have talked off and on about going back and lining up again. Well Jayne didn’t. She had no interest, but she was promised dumplings afterward so she decided to join us. Honestly, I wasn’t there to pay my respects, but was going out of curiosity. What does someone look like who has been embalmed and has been on display for more than 40 years?

Upon entry to the mausoleum, we saw a big statue of Chairman Mao seated in a 11.5 foot marble chair, similar to that of the Lincoln Memorial but not near as majestic. People placed their flowers at the foot of the statue. The line kept moving and divided into two lines to enter the next room.

Upon entry into the next hall, we had about 30 seconds to file by the body of Chairman Mao. He was in a glass enclosure. His face was illuminated and seemed to glow an orange color from the inside out. Aside from his face, he was covered with a red flag. There was not time to stop as the guards kept moving people along.

I don’t really know what to think about his glowing face. Some people say there is a plastic or wax coating over his deteriorating body, while others say it is his body and they have taken extreme precautions to preserve it for more than 40 years.

cheap, tacky souvenirs

Leaving the hall and Chairman Mao’s body behind, we immediately were led to an area outside filled with souvenirs with Chairman Mao’s face. Simon was in his element, eagerly choosing his cheap, tacky souvenir to remember his experience of viewing the body of Chairman Mao.

From what I understand, when the last person tours Chairman Mao’s body each day, he is removed to an earthquake proof chamber below ground, until the next day when thousands more come to pay reverence, satisfy a curiosity, or gawk at the body of the former Chinese leader.

And for Simon’s bag? He got it back!

Simon was happy to find his bag!


A Peaceful Visit, Ganden Sumtseling Monastery


 

A peaceful experience warms the heart and fills the soul. Who would have thought that I would ever be where I am in my life’s journey? After many years of just getting thru the day, after the death of my son, I finally have peace in my heart. I have seen and experienced so many things in the last couple of years, but one of the most peaceful experiences came when I visited the Sumtseling Monastery in China.

DSC07692

Songzanlin Monastery in Shangri-la China

At an altitude of nearly 11,000 feet, and housing close to 700 monks and lamas, the Monastery is a buddhist temple in Shangri-la China. It was chosen by the 5th Dalai Lama through divination in 1679. This Monastery was also given the nickname “Little Potala Palace” due to its unique cultural  layout, and because it resembles the Palace in Lhasa.During our visit, we were able to discover some of the Tibetan Buddhism traditions.

Upon arrival, I realized just how incredibly majestic this Monastery really is. As is everywhere in China, you come to expect a sea of stairs to climb to get to where you want to go…the top! And with the high altitude and steep set of stairs, it was a slow, breath taking (literally) ascent for some.

The top, where we wanted to go, is where the main scripture hall is located, which is in the center of the compound. The hall can hold up to 1600 lamas. While we were there, llamas gathered in the hall chanting a long, deep chant that went on for hours. It was so peaceful listening to the chants while the smell of incense lingered in the air, while gazing out over the Monastery at the mountaintops across the lake.

DSC07663

Monk donned in his red robe climbing the stairs

 

We stopped along the way to peak in doorways and crevices, seeing the monks living quarters on either side of the stairs. Monks were scurrying about, cleaning, offering blessings, studying and chanting, all donned in their red robes.

I received some beads with a blessing of “peace and happiness” to me and to all who hold the beads. I would like to share this

blessing of Peace in Happiness

blessing of Peace in Happiness

blessing with you. I have disassembled the beads

Chinese character wine charms; second from the left is a TIbetan bead blessed by the Monk

Chinese character wine charms; second from the left is a Tibetan bead blessed by the Monk

and made them into wine glass charms. If you are interested in a special Tibetan Monk blessing, message me and I will give you the details.

Wishing you all peace in your hearts and a blessed, happy life.

 


Tour de Bund, Charity Ride 2012


The September Tour de Bund, Charity Bike Ride is nothing like I have ever seen before on any bike ride in America. It was however, a great fundraiser for an organization called Raleigh.

Peninsula Hotel, Shanghai provided water and snacks at the rest stop

I had registered for the ride but it was already full before I got my registration in. Apparently,  a rule in China states that if more than 99 people congregate in the same area, it is against the law.   So, they had to limit registrants.  Several of us who ride frequently with the SISU bike club in Shanghai were asked to be guides for the ride instead.

A guide?  Hmmmm, as I chuckled knowing I get lost pretty easily over here trying to read Chinese signs with their arrows pointing everywhere but the right way.  Guides for this ride were going to be responsible for 7.5 people each as we were told.  Each group would have 15 people and two guides, one lead and one sweeper.  I opted to be the sweeper thinking that might be safer for my 7.5 people.  However, the leader of my group was a colleague who had only been in China for 4 weeks.  So I wasn’t really certain I chose the correct guide position. But what the heck, it is always an adventure in China, no matter what you choose to do. If we get lost, we will eventually find our way to the finish line, courtesy of google maps on our I-phones, well I can’t  figure out the dots, but he will be able to guide us.

The guides met at a local coffee shop on our side of town on a beautiful Saturday morning to get an escort to the start line, which was a good thing because I did not remember how to get to the start line. WHEW, One less thing to have to think about, I can just follow the group. With about two miles to the start, my co-guide had a flat tire on his road bike. Did we have a tube or tire pump to fix it? NO. Was there anyone near who could help? NO.  So he ran along side his bike for the next couple of miles until we reached the start line where the TREK Bicycle employees were setting up their tents and providing support to riders along the route. I think they were surprised they had a flat to change so early in the morning before the ride even started.

As we waited for everyone to get registered Dale and I went to study the map.  I figured we ought to know where to go since we were the guides. There was a huge 3×6 foot map of the route.

We ARE the guides!!

We bent down and tried to remember the route from the pre-ride the week before, but not too much was coming back to either one of us.  We remembered we turned right at the chickens, and we passed the guy scooping eels in a bucket as we rode through the village, but that was about it.

One of the registrants noticed us looking at and studying the map. She was trying to reassure us that “everything was going to be ok and she wasn’t worried about it because after all, they are supplying guides for the ride.” We looked at each other and couldn’t help but laugh as we told her, “We ARE the guides!” Her mouth fell open and her eyes grew as big as baseballs!  We kept studying the map!

It was time for group 5 to start, which was us, 7 groups altogether.  Each group started a few minutes apart. We had about 24 people in our group, hmmmm, that’s a lot more than 7.5 people, and there was about a total of 180 people riding in all. So now not only do we not know the route, we are breaking the law with more than 100 people assembled in a group.  Of the 24 people in our group, two of them were children under the age of 12, which is another law breaker, as kids under 12 are not allowed to ride bicycles except for in their own compound.  Aye Yi Yi….what have i gotten myself into.

Well, the good news is that we lost our group of 22 adults and two kids, so it didn’t really look like we had more than 100

Cyclists waiting for van/motorcyle wreck to clear up. Using my expert guiding skills, I navigated the group around the van and continued on the ride.

people anyway. Dale had taken off with the faster group, while I was in the back with the slower ones. Some of the slower ones were not registered riders, so I did not have to wait on them so I continued on trying to catch up with the rest of group 5.  I stopped and helped a girl who was having problems with her brakes. Yes, my time at Lee’s/TREK Bicycles in Tulsa helped me get this girl back on the rode rolling freely.

This girl eventually joined group 6 so I kept rolling, finally passing the chickens and the eels, and catching up with Dale at the ferry. I asked him where our people were? He said he didn’t know.  I thought he had them, and he thought I had them. Neither of us had our people. We got on the ferry and hoped they were on the other side. We did find a couple of riders from group 5, so we gathered them up and continued on.

We made our way through the oncoming traffic of buses, motorcycles, taxis and so on along side the Bund, which is also a NO-NO in China. Bicycles are not allowed in this area. Finally arriving at the finish line with two people in our group, Dale and myself, we park our bikes with the valet and strolled into the Peninsula Hotel for nothing less than a feast!  There was so much delicious food, fruits, pastries, chocolates, salads, pastas, beef kabobs, pork, you name it,  and it was being served on real china, (I guess that is what they call their good dishes in China)  with real silverware,

Chefs serving delicious foods after the ride

no chopsticks!  The spread was amazing! As we strolled around sampling everything they had  to eat and drink, we saw the  final group leader come in and we figured all of our lost souls in group 5 had made it in as well, we hoped so anyway!

I wonder if they will want us as guides next year?


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