Joy and despair captured by diarists

By CHEN MEILING | China Daily
Updated: March 19, 2020
A highway in Wuhan near the Huanghelou tourist site is largely deserted at night. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chronicles offer glimpse of life amid lockdown

Nearly two months after a lockdown was imposed in Wuhan, Hubei province, two city residents are giving their accounts of losing a loved one, days spent in medical quarantine, help received, the joy of recovery and working during difficult times.

Yi Hongrui, a 20-year-old college student studying in Chongqing, returned home to Wuhan's Hanyang district for the Spring Festival holiday. His grandmother died from novel coronavirus pneumonia on Feb 5, while his mother was hospitalized but has since recovered.

In his diary, Yi tells of these stressful times.

Jan 23: Wuhan is locked down. We are all shocked. My grandfather says if family members had known about the lockdown earlier, they would not have made me return home. But they are very happy to see me, as I was last here in October. However, my grandmother, who has been to buy groceries five times to prepare for tomorrow's family reunion dinner, later develops a fever.

Jan 24: For Lunar New Year's Eve dinner, we eat Chinese cabbage, pickled chicken, lamb soup, fish and cake, and watch CCTV's Spring Festival Gala as usual. Grandma doesn't join us, lying in bed all night with a temperature of 39 C. She takes medicine, but says she doesn't want to go to a hospital, especially not on Lunar New Year's Eve.

Jan 25: As private cars will be banned in Wuhan from midnight tomorrow, I join my mother and uncle in buying daily necessities in case supplies run out. The streets are largely deserted, but the supermarket is crowded. Some shelves are empty and long lines form at the checkout. I can sense panic. A worker at a gas station tells us that five people have already died in our district.

Feb 5: Grandma dies at 10 am. We didn't know how bad her situation was until it was too late. On Jan 27, grandpa had also developed a fever, and mother took both of them to a hospital. A CT scan showed the infection on grandma's lungs was very bad, while grandpa's case was mild. Grandma was hospitalized three days later.

She never complained about the virus, about receiving heart bypass surgery in July, about doing housework day and night and taking care of the family all her life. I thought she would return home from the hospital after a few days. We talked on WeChat, and she said everything was fine. She also phoned us, saying the fever had gone. She asked for a bowl of porridge that morning.

When I close my eyes, I think of the person who picked me up after school, taught me how to write stories, and the days when we went to East Lake and Zhongshan Park. I didn't even get to say goodbye. If we had taken her illness more seriously, would there have been a different outcome?

Feb 6: Our community tells us to go to a hotel for 14 days' medical observation. Everybody joins a WeChat group to report their temperature twice a day. I can tell from the medics' voices that they are very young. They deliver meals and take away garbage. It is the first time I have met front-line workers during the outbreak. I prepare for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, computer tests and also download an app to practice yoga. My teachers and classmates call to cheer me up.

March 9: I have now undergone two 14-day quarantine periods. My mother developed a cough earlier. As her lungs were slightly infected, she was hospitalized. I am also given a CT scan, and the result is good. I am quarantined at another hotel. During this new 14-day period, I am given another two nucleic acid tests, which are both negative. Social workers from my community drive me home and give me a bag of vegetables. Our apartment has been empty for some time, but mice have left their droppings. I clean the apartment and cook myself a big meal. I think about my grandmother.

March 12: My mother comes home from the hospital, which has given her two bags of traditional Chinese medicine every day.

March 16: We are now expecting grandfather to return home. I am taking online courses and learning how to cook. The university asks all students to complete a questionnaire about their health status every day, in a preparation for classes to reopen. From time to time, grandfather posts on our WeChat group photos taken with grandma when they were both young. I propose a family trip after the outbreak, and he agrees.

Zou Jing, an English-language and literature teacher at a university in Wuhan, has also kept a diary. She has been holding lessons online and has volunteered to deliver goods to households.

Jan 22: My mother and I go shopping. The supermarket is full of people, loud music is playing and there is a festive atmosphere.

Jan 23: News of the lockdown is released at midnight and it is enforced at 10 am. I believe many people have left in a hurry. We rush out to buy drugs and food.

Earlier this month, we went to see a band play and spent the whole night among excitable crowds. I first heard about the virus on Jan 1, when the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was closed, but didn't take real notice of it until about Jan 20.

Jan 24: One of my friends working at a hospital in Wuhan says it has run out of medical supplies and the fever clinic is packed. She volunteers to cancel her Spring Festival holiday and return to work, saying she is terrified, but really loves her job. This almost moves me to tears. Although a little anxious, we have a happy family dinner. A wealth of information, most of it negative, is hitting cyberspace. I am unable to sleep, as I am angry with the lack of action taken by some Wuhan officials in the early stages of the outbreak.

The Yangtze River Bridge in Wuhan, Hubei province. CHEN LIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Jan 27: Forced to remain at home, I watch videos and bad news on Sina Weibo. My husband and son become interested in our cleaning robot, which has found it difficult to perform its duties because some of the furniture has been rearranged. We plan to go out every seven to 10 days. With plenty of food in stock, we are in no hurry to risk venturing outside.

Jan 30: The university tells us to prepare online courses. It feels good to return to working life. This semester, I'm teaching English reading to freshmen and literary translation to postgraduate students. All primary and middle schools, as well as private educational institutions, are moving to online activity.

Feb 12: I start my first livestreaming course. I've tried all the apps and experimented for it with my son in advance. At 8 am, the course begins. I speak slowly, share my notebook on screen and check students' responses in the instant messaging group. The feeling that I'm talking to myself soon disappears. Although there is one network interruption, the course goes much better than I expect. When it is over, we thank each other.

Our community tightens the regulation on going out. Supplies of pork, mutton, fish, vegetables and milk are snapped up through group purchases. I learn that more exhibition centers, stadiums and college dormitories are being turned into makeshift hospitals to offer beds for patients. It's good to know that things are going in the right direction.

March 9: After volunteering with my husband to help distribute goods to residents, I tell him I have helped 43 families in this way. Several days ago, he returned home after just 20 minutes, having visited only three households. I gleefully tell him I am more efficient. After two hours spent distributing goods outdoors, I am also keen to take a shower.

Cooperation is the key. My partner on the team and I carry vegetables into an elevator and take it to the highest floor of a building, working our way down according to a list of names. The streets are almost deserted, but magnolia and cherry blossom is starting to sprout.

March 14: It's my husband's birthday. I cook him a bowl of noodles for breakfast and plan to cook two more bowls for lunch and dinner. The reason is simple-we have too many noodles. We now also have supplies of strawberries and lobster. More companies are preparing to resume business, and my husband will return to work on March 21. I will continue to teach online for some time. The lockdown has its sad and touching moments, and I feel that we are witnessing history. Life goes on. Good luck, Wuhan! Good luck, China!

The entrance to Wuhan University. CHEN LIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY
The entrance to the tunnel under the Yangtze River in the city. CHEN LIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY
Yi Hongrui poses with his grandmother, who died of novel coronavirus pneumonia last month in Wuhan. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Yi and his mother, who has recovered from the disease, at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan. [Photo provided to China Daily]

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