“What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.”
– Albus Camus, The Plague《鼠疫》
Our old square is empty, shops boarded up, and a red banner playfully blows from the upper reaches of a stone arch and inspires our town to pull together to fight off the virus.
A few local residents sit on wooden benches, all but their eyes covered in cloth. I do not recognize some of them and cannot tell if they are smiling or frowning under their veils. I tell myself that this cannot be my adopted home. Xizhou is usually alive with the commotion of merchants, farmers, and tourists. And yet today all is quiet.
Lunar New Year is the most raucous time of the year in rural China. The seeming discordance of firecrackers, joyous family reunions, and mischievous children together take on the form of comfort and harmony. It is a time of celebration and hope.
This year is different. Signs are posted everywhere encouraging us to wash our hands, wear masks, stay away from crowded spaces. The streets are regularly sprayed down with an ammonia mixture to drown out any remnants of the bread stands that closed a few weeks ago. Dogs and cats are often more visible than people.
I feel safe here, however. Even while we all struggle to respond to the impact of the coronavirus, I believe that everyone is trying their best to ensure that the virus is contained, and the sick are taken care of. I admire the thousands of doctors who have given up their family time (Lunar New Year is meant to be spent with one’s elders) and put themselves in harm’s way to help those who are suffering. I only wish that we could do more.
These past few weeks have unfolded in a surreal manner. Our hotels were filled with guests, but gradually reservations were canceled, visitors cut their stays short, and transportation links were curbed. We are already seeing cancellations extending to late summer and early autumn. And while we are sending out regular notices to our friends and followers, urging them to trust that this is only a speed bump, we are not sure how effective this is. Walking through the empty streets of our village makes last month’s zeal seem like a dream.
Fear is common during periods like this. But such concern should not lead to racial antipathy and hasty judgments. While this virus may have struck China this time, no country is immune to this type of outbreak (see statistics from America’s seasonal flu and H1N1). While many in China’s foreign community have sought refuge back in their host countries, my wife Jeanee and I are proud to be staying, standing alongside our Chinese friends and family during this period of crisis. The Chinese government, in the face of massive economic losses, has gone above and beyond to control this disease. We feel safe here.
And while there have been disruptions to our daily lives, this is also an opportunity to reflect and rebuild. I have taken the extra time to learn more about my neighbors, my staff, and the town that I’ve called home for over 15 years. I have tackled restoration and painting projects that were impossible to do while we were hosting guests. Though I return to my room each night exhausted, I am content in the fact that our complexes are weathering the crisis and proudly awaiting the return of our guests.
Camus wrote in his novel, The Plague, “This day. I thought it would be marked by terrible signs- lowering clouds, ominous winds, a crack of thunder…Yet, it is so ordinary a morning that I grow frightened.”
Life will return to normal here soon. I admire the solidarity of those around me as we all struggle with the unknowns of this virus. Many from the outside may look at us with concern. I wish to tell them (and you) that the government is doing everything it can to control the spread of this disease.
Here in Yunnan, sunshine warms the days under the shadow of the snow-capped Himalayas. The fields of rapeseed react to the glow and capriciously unfurl their golden boughs to the skies. Unlike Klaus in The Plague, with every ordinary morning, I grow less and less frightened.
“And indeed it could be said that once the faintest stirring of hope became possible, the dominion of plague was ended.”
– Albert Camus, The Plague《鼠疫》
The unnaturally empty streets of Xizhou Old Town.
Brian stops to pose wearing his mask with our beloved golden lab, Nala.
All businesses in Xizhou are marked with government-issued signs: “closed during virus period.”
One of our hardworking Linden Centre staff and her daughter returning from the supermarket.
The entrance to the Linden Commons, shut for the first time since our opening in 2018.
Only pharmacies and convenience stores are allowed to remain open.
Sign posted outside the Linden Centre on February 12: “Only residents can enter the village. No outsiders allowed.”
No business means horses spend their days resting in the field.
The swallows have returned to Xizhou – life will return to normal soon. Be well, friends!
Thank you for your friendship and support during these trying times.
The Linden Centre 喜林苑