The New Normal

I know it’s been a long time since I told you about our adventures but honestly, what was the point? YOU were experiencing lockdowns of epic proportions. I doubt you wanted to hear about my new normal as you were living through your own chaos. But as we’ve turned a real corner in our lives, I just have to share.

Since January 23rd, our normal has been changing everyday. Once Wuhan was locked down, things started to change in Beijing. Here’s just a snapshot (in somewhat chronological order):

  • school activities cancelled just before Chinese New Year/Spring Festival
  • mandatory face-masks for everyone out in public or in a public space
  • employees who served the public wearing gloves and face masks (occasionally wearing face guards and/or hazmat suits)
  • plenty of food and toilet paper
  • during our holiday break we were informed that online school would commence
  • gyms, pools, public parks closed
  • streets/communities/residential areas fortressed
  • mandatory temp. checks to enter any building or gated area
  • forms filled out (read: tracking for possible contract tracing)
  • delivery guidelines (i.e. the temp. of your food preparer being attached to your packages or packages dropped off at centralized locations, no home delivery unless you are in mandatory quarantine, etc.)
  • 1m spacing marked at grocery stores/retail chains
  • plastic sheeting between the driver and passengers in taxis
  • some restaurants offered only to-go services
  • app tracking and/or verification of movement
  • residential areas closed to non-residents
  • security teams/volunteers set up outside every fortressed residential area/street to monitor residence cards, temperature checks, etc.
  • still plenty of food and toilet paper
  • 14-day in home quarantine for returnees (with delivery services, video monitoring, trash collection, etc. set up by your residential community group)
  • travelers in the vicinity of someone who tested positive immediately quarantined in hotels (paid for by government)
  • no more in home quarantine, 14-day hotel quarantine mandatory for all air-travelers, children under 12 with mother, all other family members in their own individual room (paid for by individuals)
  • my hair has gone grey… not by choice but by circumstance
  • and there is still an abundance of toilet paper

You get my drift, right? Things were changing on a weekly or daily basis but things were serious right out of the gates. The problem was, things were changing at such a rapid pace, it was hard to keep up. Even a restaurant that my “Brew Crew” returned to week after week through this pandemic changed their protocols regularly. In late January, after having our fevers checked and data recorded, 8 of us were sitting, drinking, eating, and laughing together. Two weeks after that, our group dwindled to 6 and we were only allowed to sit in couples, each table 1 meter apart (which made for some interesting food-sharing). And the last time we were there, 4 weeks ago, the 6 of us had to sit at 4 tables (hence the panoramic shot I tried to take).

But things are on the upswing here. Spring has sprung new life in to my temporary home. Wuhan is open, flowers are blooming, and 12th graders have been allowed to return to school in our province. Unfortunately this is a rather moot point as seniors are technically done with school, but returning to get their graduation jackets, take their awe-inspiring Great Wall photo, and just seeing each other (if from a meter away) is so good for everyone’s emotional well-being.

Though I wasn’t one of the 200+ staff and teachers that got the COVID-19 tests and were allowed back at school (because I don’t teach grade 12 students), this is the report that I pieced together from Rob and other lucky ones:

There are a lot of security/health measures in place. It’s not the same old WAB, but everyone is trying their best to show WAB spirit- Gong he! Marta [the Superintendent] and Melanie [the HS Principal] greeted the students and staff from live-streamed TVs near the entrances. They were beaming from ear-to-ear. I’m sure everyone else was too, but you couldn’t tell ’cause we were all wearing masks. Overall, everyone seemed happy to see one another but there is a thread of sadness too. Not everyone gets to be together and this isn’t the senior year they were hoping for. But we have to be grateful that they are healthy and together… ish. I bet things will be different when the 8th graders come back in a few weeks. But at least it gets us out of the house, out of a rut, and planning for the future. Now we have to reflect on what the future of education looks like because I think this is our “new normal.”

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball to envision our future, but I can surmise that the future looks different. Until we have a vaccine, I think life will take place behind a shield. Whether a mask, gloves, face guard, or app tracing, we will all be more mindful of one another’s personal space. I also think, and I’m not a doctor, so I’m just guessing here, quarantines and shutdowns will be part of the norm.

That said, I don’t see our future as sad or dire. We have learned so much. We connect with friends and family in different ways. We make an effort to smile with our eyes and be grateful to be alive. We have learned to appreciate the small things in life like taking a walk, (literally) smelling the roses, thanking others, playing a game, and the art of cooking. There have been bad times and it hasn’t been easy. But we are so much more resilient now.

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