A worker hangs up a price tag for oranges as residents wearing masks line up to enter the supermarket which is controlling the numbers of shoppers in Beijing, China. Picture: Ng Han Guan/AP
A worker hangs up a price tag for oranges as residents wearing masks line up to enter the supermarket which is controlling the numbers of shoppers in Beijing, China. Picture: Ng Han Guan/AP

Living in Beijing during the coronavirus outbreak

By WESLEY SEALE Time of article published Feb 25, 2020

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“I’ll come, I’ll come”, as I try explaining to the man on the other side of the phone in broken Chinese. I’ll meet him at the university gate.

He was explaining, in Chinese that he had the food which I had ordered online and they would not let him on to the university campus.

Since my arrival back in Beijing in January from my Christmas and New Year’s holiday in Cape Town, our university has been under lockdown.

Only authorised persons may enter the university campus. We are not allowed to leave campus. We should get the necessary supplies from a small supermarket on campus and one can order vegetables online which will be delivered at the university’s gate every Tuesday and Friday morning.

Food is available at the university’s canteen but for a South African palate the variety is not great. So one has to rely on ordering online.

It’s still winter. So you have to dress warmly for the 300m walk to the gate for the delivery. Don’t forget the mask, you remind yourself. The mask is a scarce commodity in China these days.

On exiting the building, one has to sign out with university staff taking your details, your temperature and reasons for you leaving the building. I tell them it’s for food.

We are discouraged from meeting others and encouraged to stay indoors. A few nights ago, some students, who had been indoors and alone for more than two weeks, met up in the common area to chillax and chat. The gathering was soon broken up.

Every morning we are woken with a knock on the door. A staff member takes my temperature. She shows me the result.

It must be 37ºC or less. Everyone’s temperatures are then shared in a WeChat group so that all may monitor each other together, but in isolation. An infected one is an infection to all.

We receive updates every morning too, developments on how to make life a bit more comfortable. On our department’s group, we are asked whether we show signs of abnormality.

The South African students’ group also has some updates from students across China. We hear some news of the missing student and those in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak of coronavirus, complaining about wanting to go home.

Leaving the building, I get to the university gate and the delivery man is not there yet. The young security guard, who must be in his twenties, asks me something in Chinese. I hesitate and he whips out his phone using the translating app. “You didn’t go back to your country?” he asks using the phone. I respond using the same app: “No, I love China too much!”

“I have to do some study work here and I will not be able to do it at home”, I add. He nods. “Okay,” he responds in Chinese. It is a word we all know. “Okay,” I respond back in Chinese.

The food man comes. I get my food and thank him. “Okay” I say to the security guard again who has to sit on duty in the snow cold safeguarded only by a temporary marquee.

“Okay,” he responds. Yet directly translated from Chinese the word is not “Okay”, but simply “good”!

* Seale is a student currently finishing his PhD in Beijing. 

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

This article was first published on Voices360

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