Covid Policy U turn

Those who have been following my blogs (or even just the news) will know that China has had some pretty restrictive Zero covid regulations in place for the past 3 years. Living here has meant that we have felt very safe from COVID-19 at a time when other countries have struggled with rising numbers of cases and fatalities. We watched from behind our bamboo curtain as the rest of the world has valiantly done battle and largely accepted covid into everyday life. Vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna have proved themselves to be 90% effective where vaccination programmes back in the UK, for instance, commenced with the elderly and most vulnerable. Even today most people have had a 4th ‘booster’ shot.

China, on the other hand took a different approach and used their own SinoPharm and SinoVac preparations (which have proved to be only 70% effective) and targetted the working population. Most of us have had 3 shots now. But children and the elderly remain largely unvaccinated. I am not sure exactly why but many old people have refused to get the vaccine. Perhaps they have had poor experiences of previous vaccinations. I know of at least three 70 year olds who claim that their underlying health conditions mean that if they have the vaccine they might have heart attacks. I have no idea how such mis-information is spread in this age-group but this is a very real fear (or an excuse?) I do find it strange because we are in the sort of country where if the government tells you to do something, then you just do it. China is known as the ‘country of good boys’. So clearly there has been no government directive or it WOULD have happened.

While the rest of the wold has accepted COVID and opened up, the strict Chinese Zero COVID policy has put us all under considerable pressure. Shanghai endured the 2+ month lockdown in the Spring and we taught most of the last semester online. Many cities around China have faced a same fate. International travel is still restricted, flights are easily canceled, quarantine facilities have sprung up like weeds, which can cater for 5000 people at a time, all equipped with heat sensors which can detect changes in your body temperature in case you start to develop a fever. Quarantine for travellers has ranged from 21 days to most commonly 10 days. Some quarantine camps are converted shipping containers with a bed, a sink and a toilet (no curtain). These are excessively hot in the summer humidity and freezing in winter. One of our teachers became a ‘close contact’ simply for being in the same restaurant as someone who later developed the virus. She spent a very uncomfortable week in one of these ‘cans’.

On the plus side we have been mask free at school for 3 years and I don’t think that until now, I knew anyone who actually had the virus. We were all trapped in a gilded cage. Safe but still stuck here. Life under zero tolerance became sort of ‘normal’ . Of course we heard about cases of sporadic compound lockdowns, horrific quarantine centres, chemical spraying of apartments of those infected etc but I personally wasn’t subjected to any of these things.

We were however very closely monitored. It was a true Big Brother move as we were all required to present a ‘green’ code to enter pretty much anywhere, the metro, shopping malls, school and even the local supermarket. To get a green code you needed to return a negative PCR test.

I have had so many of these and deleted them all. This is one preserved for posterity.

Mass testing has been happening since the summer and it has become almost a daily routine. Booths were set up around the city (often with very long lines)

Very patient, very orderly lines in all weathers

Our compound offered testing several times a week. School specially trained staff so that as we all entered the compound we washed our hands, had a throat swab and then went off to work. What this is costing the planet in terms of single use plastic I dread to think. Interestingly the testing company is owned by a relative of our esteemed leader here… so no vested interest there then!!!

I loved the translation on the sign above our testing station at school

Wherever we went, we scanned an access code on our phones so that if a case did appear everyone who had also been at that location was deemed a ‘close contact’. Going out anywhere was like playing Russian Roulette. You never knew what was going to happen. But, we got used to it and we scanned and scanned and scanned. It became the new normal and we did it automatically. Our local supermarket did close down at one point as a customer tested positive but fortunately I hadn’t shopped there that day, so I escaped.

Everywhere had QR codes like this.

Schools are actually under stronger restrictions than other places and we had to show a negative test withn 24 hours just to access the campus. Anyone else also had to prove from another tracker that they hadn’t left Shanghai in the previous 48 hours. Woe betide if your code turned red!!! The government swooped down and carted you off. They knew before you did. As covid has mutated the virus is less deadly and the majority of infected people were asymptomatic. I felt that the fear wasn’t so much of getting the virus but of what happens to you if you did. School advised us to have an emergency bag packed ready and they gave us a list of supplies to take with you.

The message from the government was that COVID was still deadly and they were imposing all these restrictions to protect the population and largely, people believed it.

Then came the fire in the locked down apartment building in Urumqi killing 10, when the rescue services could not get through the physical barriers surrounding the compound and were delayed for 3 hours. This event became a tipping point and it has been fascinating to watch events unfold. It was history in the making. Many, many people had been suffering the lockdown restrictions with insufficient food or medical supplies. Many more lost their jobs as the economic impacts of the restrictions hit home. Itinerant workers in lockdown were impacted particularly hard and there were instances of people scaling fences to escape from being locked in their factories. It was becoming more and more difficult to impose strict lockdown in some places.

What was interesting to me was the attitude of young people. When the protests started in Shanghai last month, it was among university students. These youngsters had never really experienced the harsh cruelties of an authoritian regieme, indeed they had lived peacefully during the economic boom time for China. But suddenly here was covid and the zero toldrance problems and their patience was wearing thin. I did hear from some of the older generation, that they believed the protests were organised by westerners because they didn’t think Chinese would know what to do. But the truth is simplier. Media here is censored and propaganda is tightly controlled. But with the modern growth in online social media reaching a global audience many young people nowadays do have access to news sources outside China. To access facebook, Google or anything else you need a VPN or Virtual Private Network. These are illegal here but all the foreigners have them and the government turns a blind eye to us as they recognise that we need to keep in touch with folks back home while we work here. What surprised me was how many young chinese nationals also have access. They were seeing the news about what was happening elsewhere in China from western media and it quickly became apparent that it was difficult to control.

I thought that the China had a few choices 1) clamp down hard as they had done in the past. Most of the senior government are older men who are accumstomed to managing political problems in this way. Maybe they could stamp the protests out with harsh measures and fear.

2) There could have been an upswell of feeling against the government. Rebellions often start when enough people feel desperate and we were maybe reaching that point.

Things began along the lines of option 1) In Shanghai youth were targetted by the police and they were asked to hand over their phones. If a VPN or a reference to Urmqi was found anywhere, the young person was carted off (who knows where to …) Police searched youngsters in the main city centre and even on the metro trains. I have a friend who’s son was sitting on a train when this happened. His view was ‘why should they ask for my phone?’ He hadn’t experienced the atrocities witnessed the older generations so his attitude (like others) was more brazen. He did have Facebook on his phone but he quickly deleted it. In the end the police didnt approach him as he was wearing his grandfather’s coat and he hunched himself down and they passed him by. He dodged a bullet there and his mother was greatly relieved.

A few days after this incident the complete U turn on covid policy was announced by the government. No more track and trace. No more scanning QR codes. No more mass testing. It was very swift and very surprising. They have gone for a 3rd option in this unexpected move. We seemed to have swung from one extreme to another almost overnight.

Now COVID is sweeping through the population like wildfire. Most people I know have got it and it is now more a question of when rather than if you will get it. Schools closed and local children are doing distance learning until January 17th which is when their Chinese New Year holidays begin. Our school managed to limp on to the end of term but teachers and students were dropping like proverbial flies. The rules are now that if you test positive then you need to stay home for a week and test on days 6 and 7 but even that is subject to doubt as I also read that symptomatic and mild cases can continue to work.!

Many people are very scared, especially after having COVID built up in their minds as such a big, bad monster. The streets and shops are eerily quiet. Partly because so many are indoors nursing their headaches and coughs but many others are just too scared to come out.

People are protecting themselves!!!!

This morning, we came back from the Taiji retreat and it felt like being in an episode from a dystopian movie. For starters all the staff in our hotel were sick (we were the only ones staying there) and the manageress had to serve breakfast. Then the roads were empty for way longer than we expected. It was eerily deserted.

Can the country manage? Well, it remains to be seen if the virus is weaker now and the population bounce back and begins to get herd immunity. Or the health system really will buckle and collapse as the unvaccinated elderly succumb to the virus. Another big change is that the daily statistics of cases are no longer published. So we may never really know what happens next.

What we do know is that you cannot buy paracetamol or cold remedies for love nor money at the moment. In the west the panic buying was toilet paper, here it’s strepsils!!!

We watch and wait.

The perils of renting

Back in 2017 when we departed the UK for our extended working adventure we packed up our house and put it on the rental market.

It was a mammoth job decluttering and the local charity shops did very well out of us. Even so we still seemed to have a massive amount to put into the lock up.

It was weird emptying the room and making the property ready for someone else; yet not having sold. But we knew that it was the best thing to do. We didn’t want to leave it empty for several years when it could deteriorate with no one living in it.

It took a few months and a rent reduction but we managed to get tenants in and all was well. The agent did annual inspections and the rent was paid on time. We were not worried at all about the house (which was a relief)

Time marched on and in 2019 the tenant moved on and in a short space of time a new one was found. Again all was well in the landed of rented property.

Then again in 2020 this family moved on and another family moved in. This time a single father of 5 children. It is a 5 bedroom property so ideal for them. Near their school and relatives. All was good.

But as with most things in this life, all good things must come to an end. In the summer of 2022 both Oliver and Hanifa got married and Kevin returned to the UK. Inigo got a job in Ecuador and I had signed on for another school year. Travel in and out of China was precarious so we decided that Kevin would return and open up the house. Do any jobs and make it ready for my return.

So we gave the tenant the 3 months notice that we were required to. Kevin flew home and stayed with my mother to attend the weddings. Then on the 30th June when he was preparing to get the keys the following day he was informed that the tenant would not be moving out because he had nowhere to go!

Now I do feel sorry for the guy, being a single father of 5 cannot be easy but even so, it is not his house. We worked many years to pay for it. It’s ours. And we wanted it back. We were always going to return at some point and need the house back. We were not career landlords who buy up property to rent out. It’s our home.

Kevin had to go to court. This took time and money and a hearing date was set for 1st September. All this time he had to stay living out of his suitcase at my mother’s place. Fortunately she was able to accommodate him otherwise we would have had extremely large hotel bills!

At the hearing the judge awarded in our favor and said that there was no legal reason why we couldn’t have the house back. Phew! That was one hurdle overcome. But the tenant was given the maximum amount of time to vacate (because of the children); 42 days. Kevin still stayed with my mother which was not at all part of the original plan.

Six weeks later and the tenant STILL had not vacated the premises. He wanted social housing and needed to be at the top of the waiting list. For that to happen the council needed bailiffs paperwork. So back to the court Kevin went. More time to process more paperwork but at least the council paid the legal fees. All this time we have also been paying storage fees when we shouldn’t have.

Eventually on 8th November, over 4 months after he should have moved back in, Kevin finally got the keys. It was such a relief. But what did he find inside…?

Given how difficult the guy had been we weren’t sure what to expect. You hear tales of tenants trashing places or stripping all the fittings. Our house has some original Victorian features which are irreplaceable and wouldn’t be covered by any deposit.

In actual fact the place had not been deliberately damaged, thankfully. But we have found a lot of water damage. The walls are extremely wet and there is damp in the ceilings and internal walls. It looks as though the heating system has been leaking. This is a big and expensive problem. Who knows, if we got the house back in July could we have saved some of the damage? We may still need to replace the heating system.

In addition to that the basement floor needs to be replaced, as do some of the utility room units. The decking outside is rotten and the Ivy at the front had had a growth spurt and is damaging the brickwork.

Having an ‘old’ house was always going to be expensive but this is more than we had anticipated. So, I have signed on for another year to help defray the costs!

Kevin is working hard to restore and revitalize the oak floors which while scuffed and worn were not damaged.
Finished result

I understand that there have been abusive landlords in the past who have taken advantage of their tenants and since we left the UK the law has changed to be more in favor of the tenant. As a result fewer people are putting properties on the rental market and some renters have used the Stamp Duty holiday to sell their properties. In addition many expats are returning home after covid and like us, wanting their property back. So this has resulted in few homes available to rent.

We were unfortunate with our experience but we will definitely not be renting our property again.

Shanghai summer: becoming a Shifu

With Kevin back at home this summer and travel severely curtailed, I decided to dedicate much of my free time in Shanghai to working on my Taiji. After all I had hours and hours to do it.

In this, my second year of learning Taiji, I have also been learning to teach the basic moves to others and since September 2021 I have taught a few of the teachers on campus after school. It is my retirement plan ambition to return to the UK and teach the skills that I am learning here. I believe that there is a growing interest in the west, in ,health benefits of Taiji but there are a limited number of good quality teachers. I regularly see requests on Taiji and QiGong Facebook sites for ‘in person’ teachers. My Shifu has students all over the world who would normally travel to see him but who now have to make do with zoom only classes. Many are based in Europe and would maybe come to see me for a lesson.

During the lockdown period I also taught a few online classes. My Ayi was lonely and cooped up in a one bedroom apartment and the lack of daylight was affecting her. I taught her some exercises and she very much appreciated the chance to get some good quality exercise in a confined space.

Since then she has practiced regularly and she is now very good.

Taiji was a sanity saver for me during the lockdown period as I was able to stretch out my shoulders between zoom sessions and do longer meditation in the afternoons (as I was not commuting). Once we were permitted outside in the compound I would practice in the grounds as often as I could and attracted quite a bit of attention.

Several of the Chinese ladies who live here saw me practicing and asked me to teach them (the irony of me teaching Taiji to the Chinese was not lost on me!) For a while at the beginning of the summer I had some quite large groups which gave me a different experience of teaching.

This is because teaching Taiji is not like teaching other exercise regimes such as Yoga or Pilates. Each person has their own bone structure and their own posture problems so each student is treated individually. After the group warm up exercises everyone progresses through the routine at their own speed and people manage some moves more easily than others. I discovered that groups of about 6 are ideal if you want to be able to give everyone some individual attention.

Students doing standing meditation

Teaching is an excellent way of consolidating your own learning and I have had so many health and well-being benefits that I want to share them with others. Doing Taiji and meditation has helped me to keep calm during some stressful times and helped me to cope with the stress of missing the family weddings.

In our modern, highly pressurized and over-stimulated society we have, in the most part, lost the ability to be still and calm and at peace with ourselves. We no longer commune with nature or regularly rest our minds in our busy world and this can contribute to anxiety disorders and depression. Meditation is a marvelous antidote to that and even if you are not depressed or anxious it helps you to keep your life in balance. But meditating can also help with a while range of healing. For instance digestive problems, migraines or painful muscles will all benefit from regular good quality meditation.

Bruce Lee put it very well. I am not at superpower level yet. Still a way to go, but working on it.

The school of Taiji that we follow is called Nei Gong which translates as ‘inner energy’. This includes the principles of Nei Dan which is all about using your inner energy for healing. It translates as ‘inner medicine’. When we have unblocked our meridians and can feel the qi moving inside us it is possible to use these balls of energy to help fix internal problems, even to rejuvenate cells and keep you looking and feeling younger. I would qualify this with the need to practice every day. As with any discipline the more you practice the more proficient you become. But the joy of practicing Taiji is that it feels SO good once you reach a high enough level.

Leading the warm up exercises

My visa at the school stipulates that I cannot have a second job. The government is quite strict about this and no teachers can do private tuition, for example. So I am in a position where I cannot accept any payment and all my lessons are currently free. This is probably a good thing whilst I am still a novice teacher.

Part of the 9 section Qi Gong Spine strengthening movements

It is very interesting though to see how some people value the free lessons and come as often as they can whilst others don’t bother. I have observed that people attend more if they are paying. Shifu says that it is human nature to be inherently lazy and to want good results with minimal effort. Modern society is certainly very fast-paced with lots of instant gratification. He says that a high percentage of people who try Taiji quit at the beginning. Another high percentage finish after 6 months and only a small number of people persist with learning for over a year. I am extremely fortunate that two of my students are long- stay and both can now feel the qi. I am very proud of them.

Most of the people in this picture have since quit. It means that I have a great deal of experience teaching the beginning of the routine but a lot less experience of teaching the middle or end.

In the summer months I taught outside every morning between 8-9am. Not too early as it was the holidays and people wanted a lie in but early enough to miss the heat of the day. It was extremely humid and we sweated buckets, but in actual fact sweating is an excellent way of getting rid of toxins from the body. Too much air conditioning, although comfortable, can actually damage your joints and lead to problems such as stiff or painful shoulders or knees.

Correct posture is fundamental to achieving health. Without good posture our meridians are blocked, our internal organs get squashed and our joints suffer. Many of us feel aches and pains as we get older when we get out of bed each morning. I used to, but now that I am standing, sitting and walking better I get up completely pain free. I don’t suffer from stiff joints at all. Another example of Taiji’s rejuvenative benefits.

Here Shifu joined us and is doing some adjustments to posture
Shifu demonstrating a move

Milun Summer Camp 2022

Given the travel restrictions in place, the annual summer camp in Chongming Island was greatly reduced. Not only were the international folks prevented from coming (again) but this year Shanghai quarantine rules made it impossible for even the Beijing people to attend.

Our hotel is built around traditional courtyards.

So it was just four of us Shanghai students plus Shifu’s family which made it a much more immersive experience. We did have some day visitors a couple of times, which was nice.

Annual group picture by the gate

This year we practiced a lot outside and learned some new morning exercises called ‘clapping’

Here we are Unblocking the Yang meridian on the top of the head
Practicing push hands in the rose garden
The lake is where we go each evening to meditate and then to lie back and look at the stars in the soft warm evening air

This highlight of the camp for me was learning some TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) techniques during the afternoons such as Maaxa treatments, qi massage and cupping.

Massaging the heart meridian
We apply the cups by rubbing alcohol inside, then using a flame to burn the oxygen to create a vacuum. The suction draws moisture out from the meridian points (if applied correctly)

I was also asked to give 4 talks which were zoomed to the students who were not able to join in person. I was talking to people of many different nationalities all over the world. I spoke about my Taiji journey, my meditation journey, a brief analysis of the similarities and differences between God and Dao and the study of some Chinese characters using picture imagery.

My first international teaching experience!

Shifu didn’t let up on the practical side though and we trained hard on the applications and the routine learning new movements and deepening our experiences of the qi.

Training session with Xiao P

You can find out more about the summer camp at

My life has changed. I no longer need caffeine to wake me up or to keep me going through the day. I no longer crave alcohol to help me relax and enjoy myself. I go to bed early, even if it means being a party pooper and I generally get good quality sleep, which is a huge bonus these days. I rise with the dawn (or earlier) and exercise to energize myself for the day ahead. I feel that my life is simpler and more balanced.

Being a Shifu has taught me a lot. Taiji is like an onion with many many layers. You cannot learn all the techniques, philosophy and wisdom from books alone. You need to feel and experience all the sensations and watch people around you in your daily life. And if I have realized one thing from being a (junior) Shifu, it’s how much that I still have to learn…

The respect salute

Summer 2022

With Kevin back in the UK, to attend significant family events, I spent my first summer alone in a foreign country.

At that time the UK was struggling under a heat wave for a couple of days but I can report that Shanghai too had unusual weather patterns. For a record 49 continuous days we had temperatures in excess of 30 degrees and very often they were in the high 30s. Factor in the humidity, and the ‘feels like’ was over 40 for all that time. It was very hot and sticky. Not at all comfortable but on the plus side we did at least have air conditioning, although I tried not to use it too much as an excess of cold in your joints can do damage. (Taiji tip)

The good weather back at home did mean favorable conditions for both weddings. Congratulations to Oliver and Steph, Hanifa and Alastair. I was extremely sad not to have been there with them but their special days went well.

How did I get on? Well, I stayed in Shanghai. Many colleagues took themselves off to Sanya to lie on the beach but I didn’t fancy that by myself. I didn’t go very far at all on my own. Just a solo bike ride to a nearby shopping mall was a big adventure for me. I bought a brilliant bike from one of the departing teachers (thank you Tory) and this has given me great joy (& exercise).

I joined a few bike rides around Shanghai with a group of staff from school. We would set off at 6am, largely to avoid the heat of the day and we’re back by 9am. We cycled along The Bund a couple of times

By the red bridge
Heading towards the red bridge

And even further afield we went to Dutch Town one day, a suburb of Shanghai with a very slight feel of the Netherlands

Well actually just some large clogs
And a windmill

Just these two things! This was nice though because it had been on my bucket list for a while. No need to go back. I’ve done it now.

My favorite stop was the Taiji art installation on The Bund.

The government here is still extremely cautious about covid. While the rest of the world has accepted living with the virus, China still has a zero tolerance policy. Now, though any outbreaks are tackled locally. What we still have in place however, is the mass testing. We have been tested every 2-3 days all through the summer and we have heard that this will extend to the end of Sept. You have to show your green code to get in anywhere, particularly the school campus but even the local corner shop! Testing has become a part of life.

I have had to cope with leaking in the kitchen and a cockroach infestation. Well two cockroaches but that is two more than I really wanted sharing the apartment with me. The complex management came and put down what they called insect killing medicine (which is an oxymoron if ever I heard one)

And a change of address. This one is interesting because old Chinese superstition means that they don’t like the number 4. The word for 4 is very similar to their word for death, so it is an unlucky number. In our building there was no 4th, 14th or even 13th floors (just to hedge their bets with western superstitions too) the government told them that they had to put all those numbers back in. So mid July I went from being in apartment 901 to 801 overnight. What was frustrating was that we were all required to go through police checks all over again because clearly I was a responsible citizen when I was living in 901 but dodgy once I became 801!!!!

Fortunately I have good friends here who let me join in with some of their family trips where we visited local parks and the zoo

Pandas are always a favorite
This is Xiaoma. He is 7

Xiaoma has adopted me as his grandma and calls me Nai Nai. I call him Sun zi which means grandson in mandarin. We had a great time in the summer and he even came over for a sleepover a couple of times. He was very good and read lots of superhero books in mandarin that I checked out from my library. It’s a useful collection to have access to!

We went to the Shanghai beach (which isn’t anything like beaches back home as it was all highly regulated where you could and couldn’t go). But the water was very warm. We invented a game of bucket frisbee!

And I played lots and lots of mahjong. I even started a mahjong group to show other teachers how to play.

There are about 12 of us who are beginners and who play sedately and carefully. We only do basic mahjong with no gambling as the rules for scoring are very complex. I didn’t realize but each city has their own rules and the game is played slightly differently in various parts of the country (just to add another layer of complexity!)

I was doing very well until the point when I found myself playing against our head of HR and he father when I went to e Taiji summer camp. Then the game became fast and furious and quite a different beast!!!! That was a night I won’t forget.

On one trip we visited a museum and I learned more about my (new) namesake Wu ZeTian

This formidable lady was China’s only legitimate female Empress. She lived between 624 and 705 which is the Tang Dynasty. She is described as being strong, charismatic, cunning and vengeful. Like many strong leaders she trampled on others to get to the top including, some say, her own children and husband. It is true though that China benefited from her leadership and effective governance and emerged at that time as a major world power.

I was around to help onboard the new teachers as they began to arrive in the city and that was nice, particularly as I had been a pen pal to one of them. And of course, I practiced my Taiji every day. But more of that in another blog.

For now, we are back at school and that has been another adventure because my colleague in the middle and high school library decided to return to the US at the end of the school year. She was worried that we would spend the bulk of this coming year in lockdown and she wanted her teenage son to have in-person schooling. The school decided not to take up her offer of running the library remotely and instead asked me to help cover. They used the opportunity to do a restructure and I am now Head Librarian. My work load has increased dramatically but we are recruiting and in the meantime I have some help from a new PE teacher (also called Lisa) who is working towards her library qualification and has been freed up a little to help me out. Between us I think we should just about manage… but it’s going to be a busy year!!! With the amount of work I have been bringing home it’s just as well that Kevin isn’t here.

And on the home front Kevin has had his own adventures. He was expecting to move back into our house in July but the tenant refused to go. He said that he didn’t have anywhere to move to! He is a single father with 5 children and while we did feel sorry for him, it’s still our house. After a bit of failed negotiations we have had to go down the legal route and go to court for an eviction notice. It is fortunate that Kevin has been able to stay living with my mother because if that wasn’t an option we would have some huge hotel bills!

We are told that it is very rare for this sort of thing to go to court but I have to say that it has put us off renting out property ever again.

All that and Inigo departed to begin his new job in Ecuador.

Enjoying being with the animals

My libraries are all ready (just about). The new books are cataloged, processed and out on display. We are good to go.

Summer in Shanghai

Whilst Shanghai slowly returns to normal it is still being extremely careful. Any resurgence of the virus and compounds are locked down again on a case by case basis. Mass testing still happens and it is fair to say that the whole city is being very cautious.

For us it is the summer vacation time but few teachers have left the country. Some intrepid folks have gone to other provinces, notably Sanya which is like the Costa Del Sol of China. They have to quarantine for 7 days on arrival but think it is worth it to then spend the rest of time there. A sunbed on my own is not for me. Instead Shifu and Leping were kind enough to invite me for a mini break in Songjiang

Just two nights and three days away in this Shanghai district which is an hour’s drive from where we live. Songjian is the place where Shanghai first began as a small fishing village which grew into the metropolis that we know today. It is the root of Shanghai and a fascinating place to visit to learn about local history and culture.

Fascinating fact: Shang means up and hai means ocean. The modern name that we know so well comes from ancient fishing terminology for returning from below the ocean to the land with your catch.

I had long wanted to visit this site just from the interesting shape of the buildings which I had seen in photographs.

The structure looks like sunken houses and is in fact Guangfulin an archeological site.

In 1958 workers were digging the area in preparation for a river diversion when they uncovered this archeological site of a Neolithic settlement. The museum recreates the dig

These are wax models

Well designed exhibits create a feel for life at that time from one of the early fishing boats which gave rise to the community

To the houses they constructed

Notice how cleverly the building reflects this shape

The bulk of the museum is underwater and the whole experience was fascinating. China is one of the places where early man first settled into communities and began farming/fishing. The museum then traced the development of civilization here up to the present day.

Quite unplanned we all had a white top on! Lol

Also at this location was a Buddhist Temple and a Taoist Temple.

The entrance to the Buddhist Temple which has a very Japanese Zen feel to it
The entrance to the Taoist Temple
This is the god of longevity with the peach symbolizing long life. Note his staff which is a zig zag shape at the top representing our life’s path in our youth as we dash about learning, working, raising a family etc but as we get older the staff straightens out as we calm down and become wiser I guess that’s the theory anyway.

We visited an ancient garden which once belonged to a government minister in the 1600s (Ming Dynasty). The centre of the garden is a beautiful lotus pond full of enormous flowers.

I particularly liked these unusual doorways shaped like a vase. The word for vase in Mandarin is ‘ping’ and the word for peace is also ‘ping’ (different character but the same sound) so this means that the homeowner wishes you peace as you enter.

Beyond the entrance is a fan shaped aperture because in Chinese culture you do not see everything immediately, some things remain hidden until you reach them.

The walkways resemble to spine in the human body and connect each area of the garden
I never did find out what else you got with your plain rice and noodles… what a cliffhanger of a sign!
It was certainly a very tranquil place with little bridges and surprise sheltered gardens and pools
The plum blossom reception room
It was just the right ambience for a spot of Taiji
Luca is my Taiji Shifu (master) he has better balance than me.

There was a covid case that day in Songjiang close by and the result was that most people stayed at home. No one wants to be sent to a quarantine facility! But we were already out so we soldiered on and had every attraction pretty much to ourselves which made for a much pleasanter experience. Normally these gardens would have been heaving. it was like having a private tour.

It was great fun and we got some cool photos.

No visit to Songjiang is complete without seeing Thames’s Town. This is the Chinese attempt at creating an ‘English’ zone. Well, I guess that we all have China Towns so why not.

Mock Tudor buildings surround flagged squares.
The Chinese characters on the shop signs somewhat spoil the effect…

There was even a church

Plasterboard over a steel structure but nevertheless a good effort. It wasn’t open…ce’st la vie!

It was such a cute effort but definitely not really like being in the UK because the humidity made the temperature feel like 44 degrees which is totally unrealistic for home.

The did have a pretty amazing bookshop though. I am always a sucker for a good bookshop

Loved the design

Even the restaurants were empty. This was where we had our evening meal. It was an old country house that had been brought to Shanghai, reconstructed and preserved. It was a beautiful and atmospheric setting.

You could just imagine the family who lived here walking along these courtyards swishing in their fine silks.
I bet they would turn in their graves if they knew it was a pizza place now!
It seemed hard to believe that we were only an hour away from the ultra modern skyscrapers of the city centre. It felt like being in a different province altogether

Any tourist can visit temples, gardens, museums and bookshops but for our next stop we did something completely different. Leping had booked Xiaoma and me in to make rice cakes.

And once again we were the only people there!
We are making indentations in our rice mold ready for the red bean paste filling.
Not bad if I say so myself! They were absolutely delicious and very very fresh!

We also did a spot of Crayfishing and to my surprise I actually caught one!!! Technically you could keep them but we didn’t have anywhere to put them so all ours were thrown back… well the ones that didn’t escape that is.

The Zhang Family having a good time
A rare sight indeed to see me fishing!

I feel I need to mention the hotel room. It was lovely. Spacious with a loft area for the beds

The view from the loft
The loft

It was very modern and high tech. There was a computer and you could voice activate the lights and curtains etc but naturally it only spoke mandarin. So I was thinking that I might have to sleep with either all the lights on full or the curtains open!!! My meager mandarin does not cover this necessary vocabulary.

I need not have worried. I had a confident 7 year old who happily operated everything for me (multiple times in fact…)

After all wearing white tops one day we all had red on the next. It felt like being in a family which meant a great deal to me now that I am on my own here. I so much appreciated being included.

This day was the walk up Sheshen Mountain or as I called it Sheshen small hill! Shanghai is gloriously flat (good for cycle rides) and at 100.8m this is the highest point. But when you have lived in the Lake District this is not high at all.

There is an observatory and a church on the top of the hill but both were closed. Interestingly before the nationalist revolution the old emperor realized that China needed to modernize and embrace science and technology so he ordered the building of the observatory and supported astronomers. His mother, The dowager empress held all the power and legend has it that she poisoned her son slowly. They ended up dying on the same day. He first of poison (heavy metal) and she a few hours later of old age, her triumph at getting rid of him was very short lived.

Finally we had a sumptuous afternoon in this exquisite hotel. Again, transferred from its original location this was the stunning house of a Ming Dynasty Prime Minister built with teak pillars and intricate carved beams this was a treasure to visit. So much history was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution that these old buildings are extremely rare. Without my friends I would never have known about this gem.

The tea was Puer tea which has numerous health benefits as it cleanses the digestive tract. It is also incredibly expensive and top quality harvests can sell for upwards of £2000
The food was adorable and it looked so good you almost didn’t want to eat it.
The Shimu pose!

I had an absolutely wonderful time. Luca and Leping really looked after me so well. We learned a lot, had a variety of experiences and even fitted in some relaxing Taiji

Lovely reflections

And finally home via the Huangpu river

We packed a lot into just three days and made some beautiful memories. Thank you.

Thanks to Leping for making this video

Good news/Bad news

First for the ‘bad’ news. Today was the day that Kevin departed. He has left China.

For a long time it had been our plan that we would return to the UK in the summer to attend the weddings of both Oliver (June) and Hanifa (July) but COVID has well and truely put paid to that. The impact of this virus is immeasurable.

Back in November, thinking that we would be able to return for the summer, I signed on for another year at Concordia. It was the right thing to do with the information that we had at the time but unfortunately China has since deleloped some extremely strict appraches to COVID. Basically a zero tolerance and isolationist policy as well as coping with a severe outbreak inside its borders.

We couldn’t try to book return flights until a couple of months ago. China has a rule that if a direct flight is available then you HAVE to use is for a return journey. This is so that should 5 cases of COVID come into the country on that route then China can suspend the flight for a fortnight. If there were 10 cases then the suspension is for a month. Multiple flights a week got affected by this policy and it makes flying extremely risky, particulalry returning when you have a deadline to be in school for the start of term. Three airlines were granted a direct route to London but then they were cancelled so it never got off the ground.

The other way of discouraging travellers from bringing COVID into the country is to make the prices extremely unattractive. When we looked (and indeed still now) a return ticket London-Shanghai costs £8000 which is just silly money. Especially considering that a single Shanghai – Manchester is only £700. So that was the deciding factor. As the world gets back on its feet and resumes travelling again, China is the odd one out.

So that, as they say, was that. We took the difficult decision that I would stay here for another year and Kevin would return alone. He will go to the weddings and escort my mother, I will attend virtually, by the miracle of modern technology. We are extremely thankful for that. Then Kevin will stay and open up our house, do any decorating or jobs that are needed after 5 years of being lived in by tenants. It should all be lovely by the time I get back next summer.

IF flights return to normal frequency and prices and IF China relaxes its stringent 3 week quarantine rules then maybe next year Kevin can return and help me pack up the apartment. However, so much at this stage is uncertain. He may end up having to stay in the UK for the whole year. We will have to play it by ear.

Throughout the lockdown we were hoping that restrictions would be lifted before Kevin’s flight and we are so thankful that they were. We heard horror stories from people who had enormous difficulty in even getting to the airport: a letter from your compound management agreeing to release you; a visit to a ‘special’ testing site for a PCR; using a specially registered taxi/driver at a cost of about £300 to do a 35 minute trip; long waits outside the airport (sometimes in excess of 7 hours) for the PCR test results to come through on your phone before they would let you enter the terminal; flights being cancelled. The big problem with that was that once you had exited your compound during the lockdown you could not re-enter. This meant that if your flight was cancelled you had to wait at the airport until you could get another which could be days…

Nothing was open at the airport, and it still isnt. There are no retail or food services available. Nowhere to get a coffee. Kevin has gone with a bag full of food including my special lockdown receipe ‘Mango cupcakes’ and an empty flask to fill with water.

The departure day all took a dramatic turn when Kevin, who is usually so calm and collected and prepared misread his airline email at 11:30 and thought that he had the wrong PCR test. He had a 48 hour one but he read that he needed a 24 hour one! With only 6 hours to go before check in he fled off into the city to find a hospital that could do rush results. We had visions of his results arriving late and him missing his flight. He got a new test done but then on re-reading his email saw that it was a 24 hour result IF you didn’t have an antigen test. Fortunately he did. So we could both relax. But the stress was real for a couple of hours!!!

There are very few international flights per day but even so the queues are extremely long and everything takes longer to process.

It is going to feel very strange rattling around the apartment on my own and I am convinced that if I go anywhere on my own that I am likely to get lost! We use a great app here for calling a car, it is similar to Uber but called Didi and its one bit of technology that I do know how to use but when we checked it yesterday my account has been suspended. Just what I don’t need right now. Getting it sorted is going to take a mandarin speaker I think and could be a challenge as new foreign accounts were forbidden last summer as part of a government crack down on the company. I am however, very fortunate to be part of a caring and suportive community at school. I have many friends here who have all promised to look out for me and several of them do speak mandarin.

We are extremely lucky that Shanghai began to open up on 1st June as it has meant that Kevin has had the opportunity to say goodbye to people in person.

Saying goodbye to Pastor Allan and Annie HP
Saying goodbye to Ginny
Church meal for those who are leaving

He didn’t see everyone but we did manage a fire pit party with the British crowd (it was a bit dark for photos) but the fire was great. And we had a wonderful Indian meal with Lavanya and Pranesh and another meal out with the Taiji crowd.

What will I do now that Kevin has gone? At the moment we can’t travel even within China so as we begin the school summer vacation tomorrow it looks as though I will just be in Shanghai! I am hoping for some bike rides, taiji sessions and a chance to catch up on some reading. It will be a quiet time.

And now for the ‘good’ news! The govenment has recenty issued a press statement saying that there was never a lockdown in Shanghai!!! It’s incredible. Apparently every single one of the compound managements all simultaneously decided to impose their own lockdowns on their residents. Its a miracle how that happened!!! All co-ordinated and everything.

It’s very funny though because I distinctly remember people asking questions about when lockdown would be lifted or when we could walk outside! Our compound management often had no idea and just told us to be patient. At the time it sure sounded like they were waiting to be told. But incredibly, the lockdown never happened. I must have imagined the whole 3 months… For those of you old enough to understand the reference, it is possibly a Bobby Ewing moment.

Freedom! Yay!!

Having just completed week#9 of what is one of the longest and strictest mass incarcerations in history we are hopeful that the end is near. Word on the street is that all of Shanghai will open up 1st June (Wednesday). Some people are already out in districts with no covid whatsoever, they are largely on the other side of the river.

Last week we had 2 ‘freedom’ passes which allowed one person per household out for 3 hours. It was all carefully monitored and we had to take an antigen test at the gate which needed to be negative to get back in!!

I went to school on the Wednesday and it was sad to see what happens when a campus is untended for over 2 months.

Weeds are so tough and resilient

Grass is also getting very long. it means that the insect life has thrived and we have seen way more butterflies than normal. The kids in our compound have had great fun trying to catch them.

Theses are our normally well manicured lawns

On Saturday I went to Carrefour and met up with my good friend Leping. It was so nice to see her after all this time but more importantly she was able to help me with shopping. Largely we struggle to know what is what inside packages. Or which yoghurt is with/without sugar etc. I now know a lot more. it was a rush though as we had to queue up for about 40 minutes to get in, shop and be back within our time slots. We also had to wear plastic gloves inside the shop which became extremely hot but I’m not complaining. It was great to be able to choose our own food again.

And look what we can now buy (if we so desire)

I am reading to 4 little girls in our compound every day. They are loving it and it is nice for me to be with children again and not just seeing them on a screen.

Story time

The parents wanted to pay me, like a private tutor but our contracts forbid that. I would be in breach of the Chinese visa regulations. I can however accept gifts of food at this time.

The parents have been SO generous and I am now extremely well stocked with fresh veg. So much so that I can’t fit any else in the fridge!

An example of the parents’ generosity

One of the little girls is not a Concordia student. She and her family were visiting Shanghai from Shenzhen when the lockdown happened. Our compound also has hotel suites. The poor family has been trapped here all this time. Dora’s school is meeting in person so she cannot attend online learning as our kids do. Her father is so grateful that she is at least getting something.

With all the fresh veg we have been having some unusual but healthy meals (which is good because the lack of decent exercise has resulted is a few lockdown pounds). Here are some of the dishes we have had.

Stir fried cucumber and sausage meat
Garlic chives, peppers and pork

It is also asparagus season so I have made some lovely soup.

The packaging does annoy me though. So much plastic. I though Thailand was bad but this is worse

All that just for a courgette!!!!

I was gifted these this week

Waxberries apparently. A new one on me!

After over 9 weeks confinement, many in extremely cramped accommodation people are in one of two places. Either like tightly coiled springs just waiting to burst forth and get some exercise. Or they have become fearful of the outside world. They are scared of getting covid and reluctant to return to normal life. This mental scarring will have repercussions long into the future.

I heard of one 70 year old lady who got covid (asymptomatic) but nevertheless she was taken to a quarantine facility. She lives alone with her beloved pet dog. In this case they let her take the dog and he was a great comfort to her during the two weeks of boredom. Then they were released home. Everyone who has had covid is subjected to ‘disinfecting’. Basically they come in and spray everything in your apartment, inside your wardrobes. Everything. 20 minutes later the dog was dead. Whatever chemicals they used were too strong for his little lungs.

This afternoon we got confirmation that a new testing system will be in place. We need to have a NAT test every 72 hours. We all have a Health code on our phones which must be shown to travel or get into places

Now the code counts down the hours since the last NAT test

Testing booths have been established all over the city. 9000 I believe and each one has 2 persons inside and 2 guards to manage the queues. Every one is within 15 minutes walk of a testing point. So as our codes only had 4 hours left on them we went out to find our local one.

We only had to queue for about 20 minutes.

Going forwards I can see this becoming part of our daily life.

On our little walk we saw a few places opening up. One was a hair salon. Obviously they are going to be in great demand. Kevin is lucky that I cut his hair and we have clippers at home. Some people had to resort to more creative solutions…

Still we were happy to be out together. Yay.

Of course, what happens if covid cases surge again remains to be seen. Watch this space. 

Going ‘silent’

Tomorrow, Thursday 12th May begins a new phase of the lockdown in Shanghai. We are entering a 4 day ‘silent’ period. Essentially this means that there will be a super strict enforcement of the lockdown where no one sets foot outside their apartment and there can be no deliveries whatsoever.

This feels very much like putting the clocks back as we had been getting quite used to being able to walk in our compound. People scoot, cycle, jog and stroll around a small circuit that probably totals 600 steps. Others do yoga, HIIT or play badminton. I do my Taiji outside and even teach classes to my colleagues. It has become quite a social bonding experience to take the air with our immediate neighbors.

The grass is getting quite long

And deliveries have been a real life saver. Our local fruit seller has been diligent in supplying us with fruit options on a regular basis. Hugely expensive but nevertheless we have paid just to get fruit in this situation!

Deliveries have been stepping up recently and people are able to get burgers and fries delivered. Alcohol and even fresh flowers. It has begun to feel as though things were returning to more normal.

There are groups in each compound who do bulk buying and then share things out. We have no idea how to do that (except with Mr Deng, the fruit seller who posts things to us in English). You need exceptional mandarin to be able to navigate the apps and delivery requirements. But some class teachers have been very well supported by parents and they have very kindly shared out the surplus with those of us in central services.

I have been very fortunate to have been asked to read every day to a 5 year old who lives opposite in return for food. Her mother is a dab hand at acquiring goods and she can get anything I need. She has managed to secure oats, lamb, vegetables, bread and even much needed stock. We have truly lucked out!

My little friend dresses as Belle for reading because Belle is smart because she reads.

Actually deliveries have proved to be a bit of a problem to the government. They suspect that the virus is being transmitted on packages. I heard of a driver who tested positive yesterday so all the people who had received packages were automatically put into a quarantine facility regardless of the fact that they never saw the guy. He just left the package at the gate and the person went down later to collect it. But not only that. If any of those customers who were taken away subsequently test positive then everyone who lives on their floor, the floor above and the floor below will also be taken into quarantine!!! This seems really harsh. We are just hoping that none of our neighbors order from any dodgy places…!

Friends in other compounds with positive cases during the last week went silent yesterday but we had 24 hours notice. Which meant that we have been in the fortunate position of having 24 hours notice. We teachers got together and did a panic buy of … grapes! Well. Fruit is all we know how to get. Other people here have gone all out with their contacts and the supplies have been rolling in. This is one of the guards (all the staff here are locked in with us) taking deliveries to the various towers.

Testing continues apace with tests daily and often twice a day. Yesterday it was 9pm and then again at 7am. We are getting REALLY good at doing them.

You have to respond quite quickly when calls for testing come. I heard of one lady who had tested positive and they called her at midnight then 3am to go to a quarantine facility. She was asleep and missed the messages. So she was labeled as ‘non-compliant’. You really don’t want that here! Our management send messages asking us to ‘please cooperate a lot’ which makes me laugh because either you cooperate or you don’t. It’s not something with degrees of.

Interestingly Dr Tadros, director of the WHO came out today saying that China’s approach is ‘unsustainable’. A video clip of his speech was circulating on our WeChat groups. I saw it but literally minutes later it was taken down by the government. Here’s a transcript which subsequently circulated and which they couldn’t take away quite so easily

The government did, however provide us with food ahead of going silent. Not bad this time

Non uniform carrots.

I have had further adventures with cooking and made tofu and mushroom soup today

The food parcel today was much better than the previous ones which contained all these bottles and I have no idea what is in them! I won’t be using any.

We very often play ‘Guess the vegetable’ here is an example of something green received by my friend. Can you guess what it is?

After research we discovered it was garlic chives

Word on the street is that the government wants to stamp covid out and get rid of it by the weekend!!! Cases are coming down

If we can do this final push and IF it works in eradicating covid then a reliable source says that Shanghai could open up completely on 27th May.

Watch this space….

Shanghai Lockdown

Many of you will have seen the recent news reports about lockdown in Shanghai. It’s all true. Here’s how it has been for the Toner tribe out here:

After the initial Wuhan outbreak in March 2020, China has sucessfully kept COVID at bay for two years through very strict border controls and quarantine processes. We were slightly smug as we sat in restaurants, theatres and bars watching the rest of the world in massive panic as COVID ripped through country after country, with the death tolls mounting. We were lucky, we told ourselves, that we were so safe here. It was a gilded cage as we couldn’t leave the country but for two summers we explored this vast country quite happily.

Things started to go pear shaped in October 2021 when cases popped up in various towns and cities and we were advised not to travel for Golden week or Christmas or again for Chinese New Year in 2022. We were confined to Shanghai, but still it is a massive city of 25 million people so there was plenty to explore. We weren’t worried.

Then the cases in Hong Kong began to rise dramatically and that’s when the problems began for us. It all started to go very badly wrong at this hotel

Once the pride of Shanghai’s tourist industry, it was the first 5 star hotel to be built in the city. Opened in the 1980s it had 1000 guest rooms and a world class luxury service. In February this year it was closed for a much needed refurbishment, so when the passengers from Hong Kong began pouring into the city and more quarantine space was needed this was the ideal empty venue. What was not known was that the air conditioning and ventillation system was slightly faulty (due to age) and as passengers in quarantine from Hong Kong began to test positive during their 14 day stay the virus was actually being blown out into the community instead of being contained in the building. Quarantine facility staff and other workers quickly took the new Omicrom variant home at the end of their shifts and the rest, as they say is history…

Covid cases began to spring up in various places around the city which became known as ‘hotspots’. On Wednesday 9th March one of my library assistants told me that there was a case in her compound and she was going into a 14 day lockdown.

By Friday 11th we were informed that all schools should close and every student right up to Higher Education level would switch to Distance Learning. We were surprised at the short notice but we were better prepared than we had been in 2020. Faculty were allowed on campus, with their children but all lessons were on zoom. The PRC (People’s Republic of China) staff were asked to stay at home, largely because they used public transport to get to school whereas we all live relatively near by and could walk in. My second assistant was in that boat. So began two weeks of me running the school ibrary alone, zooming into classes for read alouds and responding to requests from parents for books via our Click and Collect scheme. I did a lot of walking during that time!

We were discouraged from ‘gathering’ and in an abundance of caution many social events were cancelled but little did we know how bad it was going to get…

It was 9pm on Sunday 25th March when we received the notification that the whole of our side of the city, Pudong, was going into a 4 day lockdown. Several (lots) of us rushed out to Carrefour to have our first taste of panic buying. Kevin and I felt very pleased with ourselves as we managed to secure milk, bread and some veg that would last us to the end of the week. During the week we were tested every other day and fully expected to be let out before long. It was quite nice not having to get up so early or do a commute. Then we were told that we needed to stay in for a further day as the test results had not been delivered. The lockdown was being extended.

Now when I say lockdown, really I mean prison! We have to stay in our apartment. We cannot go outside at all, unless we are being called for a Nucleaic Acid Test (NAT) and even then we are encouraged not to ‘mingle’ with each other. Even Kevin and I had to stand 1m apart and we live together!!!

The first week passed very gently, we did Distance Learning but from home which for me is largely preparing and reading stories. Without my books there was a limit to what I could do, but I found little online jobs to keep me occupied. It was all good.

My new office!

After a week, though, some of the folks began to get a little ansty. They wanted to be able to walk outside even just in our compound but the answer was a very firm NO. The PE teachers took to running up and down the internal emergency staircase!

Food supplies began to dwindle, but unlike in outher countries where trips to the shops were permitted, we couldn’t leave our apartment and neither could the shop owners or delivery drivers! The situation was beginning to get a little worrying. I had a store cupboard with pasta and rice etc and stuff in the freezer but the fresh things like bread, milk and eggs were running out. I was also hearing about friends and colleagues who were very short of food. Our ayi lives in a single room with a shared kitchen and very little storage space. She was getting desperate and I felt dreadful as there was nothing I could do to help.There were people who were literally starving!

Worry began to set in and people began to seek sources of food. Some wholesale food was sometimes available in large quantities so people have been clubbing together in compounds to buy between them. You end up with LOTS of something and nothing of other things. I was lucky and managed to get 20 mangoes and a huge bunch of bananas on one occasion. And we were particularly delighted by the washing up bowl full of strawberries!

Then the government stepped up and rather belatedly sent out some emergency food parcels. Basically this was vegetables, and more than that, it was in season local vegetables so not things that I was necessarily familiar with or knew how to cook! Fortunately, my ayi who cooks for us has been tutoring me from her apartment and giving me meal suggestions. We have had some very weird and wonderful meals. It feels a little like a war-time situation where you have to eat what you can get rather than what you want. I am now adept at a dish called ‘strange vegetable soup’. I just bung in all the things that I dont know what to do with. We were even given a tin of Spam! Gosh, I haven’t eaten that for decades. Lockdown is not great for picky eaters!

Looks suspiciously like grass
But I made this… eggs, tomatoes and grass!

From all the chat in our social media groups, I feel that those of us with some cooking skills have fared rather better than those who previously relied on take aways or visits to restaurants. We are the ones with good old fashioned survival skills.

I was inordinately proud of myself for making this WITHOUT a bread maker

Concordia is a Christian School and one of the really great things about working in such a community is the care and support that we all give and receive. This was evident in the suprise parcel that we all received from the parents Goodness knows who had to pull what strings to get these boxes to us, but we were blessed with sausages, steak, toilet rolls, detergent, tissues, biscuits and eggs. It was a real life line. We are so fortunate and it was incredibly helpful.

Our goodies

And so passed another week. Social media got very very active as people sourced products which would sell out within minutes. Literally you turn your back on your phone and bam! You’ve missed 100 messages… We have developed a barter system as people got mixed bags of stuff but didn’t want it all. We leave food outside our doors and other teachers creep stealthily around the corridors and pick it up. Kevin has literally just come back from picking up some unwanted milk and mushrooms from the floor below us.

We have a LOT of instant noodles now.

Testing is now daily and it could be either the NAT tests or the self administered antigen ones (lateral flow). We even get tested twice some days!!! Oh joy! What this must be costing the city I dread to think. Actually the NAT tests at least allow us the opportunity of a walk downstairs.

We have now been given some medicine which we are supposed to take if we develop covid symptoms. I have no idea what it is but we all have plenty of it!!!

One of the problems that we have is the scare stories we hear about quarantine facilities. Shanghai has converted its massive EXPO centre and other huge spaces to house thousands upon thousands of beds. People who test positive but who are asymptomatic are being sent there and from what we understand conditions are terrible. Worse than having the disease itself! The toilet facilities are dreadful. There are no showers. It is very noisy with people snoring and they don’t dim the lights at night. This would be an absolute nightmare. We have all be advised what to pack should we test positive.

There is/has been much concern about the fact that children and parents get deprecated during this quarantine confinement, even very young children. Also people with pets. It’s hard enough not being able to take your dog for a walk, but who would look after your animals if you are whisked away? There have been some reported cases of the animals being put down.

The government here are saying that the fact the rest of the world is living with the virus doesn’t mean that China has to drop its standards. They still have 17% of the population unvaccinated, mainly the very old and the very young and they say that even if those people got sick then their facilities would be swamped and it would mean too many deaths.

The zero tolerance policy, however is not without its own casulties. I have heard about a toddler who could not get to hospital and died, her mother committed suicide after that. Also patients are being sent home from hospital as medical staff are redeployed to conduct the mass testing, and they are dying from lack of proper care. It is a very risky time to be here.

I have heard of riots in certain parts of the city, walkouts from compounds, grocery stores being raided and lots of disgruntled people. The government is walking a fine line here and it will be fascinating to see what happens next. Will they continue to stick to these draconian measures despite the logistical problems of keeping a city of 25 million fed and watered; Or will they accept that the disease is no longer a killer and is something that they can now never eradicate.

Many people are choosing to leave early but even that isn’t easy. You need to get a special test done (by a hospital) and then get permission from your compound management to leave, There are no taxis and no public transport. If you do make it to the airport many flight are being cancelled at the last minute. If that happens to you then you are stuck because once you have left you are not permitted back into your compound! Its a real difficult situation. We have a friend was was due to return to the UK but a positive case was identified and she was locked in and missed her flight…

Our compound has been fortunate not to have any positve cases in the last 3 weeks so we have now been allowed to walk outside in the gardens. It is a real treat to be able to do some taiji in the fresh air and feel the sunshine on my face. We are HOPING that things will ease up but who knows when that will be.

Until then we continue to get intermittant parcels from the government. We play this game!

Yesterday I got salted eggs (yerk!), salt and a life times supply of soy sauce! Oh and some bread rolls. Actually they are very sweet and more like maderia cake than bread. We won’t starve but we do have a strange diet.

We were a bit worried about repeat prescriptions but our insurance company has been amazing and got us a supply. We now have disinfectant and have to spray every thing we receive from outside.

In all this humor has kept us going. Dark humor at times but if you don’t laugh…

We look at the war in Ukraine and know that these problems that we are facing are inconveniences and not nearly as bad as being in a war zone. And on the bright side, we still have hot water and Netflix…

We are living through Shanghai history.

Shanghai and the virus

After two years of keeping Covid-19 at bay, China has recently experienced a surge in Omicrom cases. Until now, the strict immigration policies of three weeks in quarantine on arrival in the country has proven effective in isolating and dealing with any imported cases. China even constructed 3 huge 5000 bed quarantine facilities to deal with all the air passengers arriving in country. Everyone is isolated, robots deliver meals and cameras in each room monitor body temperatures constantly to see if a person develops a fever. If they do, they are whisked away to a treament centre for a month or more.

The net result has been that mainland China has escaped many of the surges that have impacted the rest of the world and life for us has continued relatively normally. Schools are in person, we wear masks only on public transport and we can travel fairly easily. We meet, mingle and party while watching other countries struggling to cope. It is though a gilded cage, becuase although we can travel within the country and the city we cannot leave.

SInce Christmas, however the numbers of imported cases have been on the increase, particularly from chinese businessmen travelling back from Bangladesh and Pakistan and bringing cases with them (all of which were trapped at the airports). As a consequnce, we have been restricted to our cities and have not able to leave Shanghai. Shanghai is huge though, with a population of 23 million so it didn’t really feel as though we were grounded. Folks just coulnd’t fly to the beach resorts in Sanya for their Christmas holidays. We weren’t planning to do that anyway so we didnt really feel the pinch.

Vaccinations were happening and most of the population has two shots of either SinoPharm or SinoVac and in January boosters were offered to foreigners too. In all some 87% of the population is vaccinated.

This was all going along fine UNTIL the upsurge of cases in Hong Kong. We know that the increase there was due to the large numbers of elderly who had felt so safe that they didnt bother getting vaccinated. Even with that crisis, mainland China was still fairly unscathed. Then disaster struck. Even with the best laid plans and the most enormous quanantine processes they couldn’t guard against the virus getting out into the population. It happened here in Shanghai where many people flying in form Hong Kong were being held in quarantine. As well as the facilities they were using hotels. In one case it was an old hotel that was due to be repurposed but was taken over for quarantine use. There was an imported positive case identified but most unfortunately the ventilation system was faulty. Instead of containing the virus in the quarantine rooms, it blew it out. Quarantine facility workers became infected, took the virus home and voila! It was in the population. Being the insidious Omicrom varient most of the infected were asymptomatic and had no idea that they were infected.

China’s zero-tolerance policy is under pressure. For the last month cases have been mounting daily and as of today 69 cities have the infection. Shanghai is no exception. Currently the numbers are low in comparision with the west and most cases are not serious. The vast majority are asymptomatic, but given the size of the population and the fact that the 13% who are unvacinated are elderly or very young, they are in the vulnerable category and with a populatin of 1.4 billion. those numbers are so huge that they could swamp the local hospitals.

SO, they country is facing a crisis. The reponse of Shanghai has been interesting. The city has opted not to go into a massive city-wide lockdown interestingly, becuase of the impact not only on the local economy but on the global one. What they are doing instead in targets lockdowns in local areas of ‘hotspots’.

China has an incredible effective track and trace system. We all use mobile phone for pretty much everything and one app contains our health code. We have needed to present a green code from time to time to access various things such as an art gallery, theatre of big events.

You can see the brown button third one along. That has a syringe icon on and gives I for about out test results. It’s very handy, all in one place.

My negative results. It has to be translated for me!!!

If we were found to be a close contact of a positive person then our code would immediately change to red. If we were a close contact of a close contact the same happens. In addition residential componds have been placed under 14 day lockdowns if they have a close contact of a close contact and schools, shopping centres and office blocks have all been subjected to mass testing if there was even one person who was a close contact of a close contact.

This has put everyone on high alert. Several schools that we know of were tested and officials swooped in and kept all the children there until testing was completed, in some cases until 11pm. Some schools had this happen multiple times. The school next door to us, a Chinese school was locked in for 48 hours. Children has to sleep in their classrooms!. Concordia, fortunately escaped that although we had contingency plans in place and everyone was issued with a sleeping bag and blanket!

Two weeks ago all schools and Universities were told to go to Distance Learning. It was a surprise but we were better prepared than two years ago!! This time staff were permitting to work on campus at Concordia (this isnt the case in other schools) and faculty children could also come on campus and do their zooming supervised by teaching assistants. Most of us live very close to the school but PRC (local) staff who have to travel on public transport were asked to staf at home. My two library assistants could not come in to work so I have kept the library service going by myself.

The city used a grid system to mass test the population of 23 million. What that cost I dread to think! Last saturday we were all required to have a throat swab and the test results appeared on our health app within 24 hours (very efficient I must say). The rules change here with the wind, so for all of last week we had to present the negative test results to the guards in order to get on campus. This week we were all asked to do self adminsitered antigen tests. We were told at 9am to wait in for the tests to arrive, They came at 10pm!!! Nasal swabs this time and we again need to show the negative test results at the school gate to gain access.

The person power needed to make the mass testing happen was phenomenal. Whole armies of volunteers were recruited, equipped and trained. it was a sight to behold.

There has even been a case in the news of a 90 year old who has been volunteering!!!!

Being out in the suburbs we have been very fortunate to have been away from the hotpots. Friends have not been so fortunate. Some we know have been in 14 day lock downs, Others 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 … Its a very fluid situation. And they have been tested 5 times in two weeks!!!

Unlike the first mass lockdon some shops are closed, online deliveries are disrupted and some people have found it very difficult to get food. We have been lucky that our local shop has stayed open and so far there has been no panic buying of toilet rolls!

Now, in an effort to discourage movement around the city people are being required to show a negative test result current within 48 hours. Our Ayi cannot go to work unless she has a current test and she has to queue up for hours at a local testing centre or else she doesn’t earn her money. It’s a very difficult situation for some, especially in the cold weather.

Unlike the rest of the world who has moved on with the virus and accepted that it is now an endemic rather than a pandemic, China has a different approach. Even if a small percentage of this vast population gets very ill the health system would be swamped. While this is good in the big cities the same cannot the said for the rest of the country.

China is taking a very different approach to that of countries in the west. How sustainable it is remains to be seen. We will wait and see what happens next.

PS. Literally a couple of hours after posting this we heard that we will ALL go into a 4 day lockdown + testing from tomorrow morning.