Xiamen, CHINA – It’s one thing to move from a western country to the east, facing the everyday challenges – the language barrier, the food and the ridiculous number of mopeds – but I never expected be faced with a new and deadly virus.
In October 2019 I made the switch from England to China to teach English as a foreign language. I was ready to explore a new part of the world and make it my home, embracing all the nuances and exciting, or sometimes irritating, changes to my life. There were many of them.
For instance, when you say China, a lot of people jump straight into the food – the sweet and sour chicken balls in batter, chow mein, Chinese chips or one of the other western takes on what is defined as Chinese cuisine.
I’ve had many experiences where the eyes of the animal I’m ready to tuck into are staring back at me. It’s a reality we love to hide in England through plastic and cling film. Your perspective does change when your meal is served complete with the head and all its features attached.
The sound of spitting has also become a common occurrence for me, hearing that deep and throaty collection of saliva. But despite this rather disgusting habit, the lack of toilet seats, and the constant bombardment of buses and scooters flying out from every crevice, I settled nicely into the largest community in the world; until the deadly coronavirus broke out in the city of Wuhan.
Since mid-January, my experience changed considerably. One week I was walking through the beautiful green mountains in the center of Xiamen Island and the next, I was witnessing a country completely shutting its doors.
All schools, businesses and restaurants shut down with the World Health Organisation announcing the coronavirus as a global health emergency. My new hometown went from a flourishing and vibrant Chinese city to a quarantine zone.
The process began slowly. Rumors of a virus spreading throughout the city, with the government advising everyone to wear masks and to ensure that they wash their hands regularly.
After speaking with colleagues, it seemed a growing concern, but nothing more than that.
In the following week, day by day, news unfolded, statistics were revealed and the virus captured the eyes of countries across the globe.
The virus accelerated in the week of Chinese New Year, a period of mass movement as Chinese citizens go home to their families to celebrate.
This movement on such a grand scale in one of the biggest countries in the world was catastrophic, and the perfect time for a highly contagious virus to spread.
All celebrations were halted and people shut themselves away through fear as the virus continued to grow worldwide.
The government advised the local population in Xiamen to leave their homes only once every two days. The supermarkets were the only stores open, with staff on hand to take your temperature as you entered, ensuring you didn’t have a high fever.
The walls of my apartment were looking increasingly familiar, as were my days. As such, I took the foreign office’s advice and came back to England two weeks ago to escape the virus, but news of the virus spreading worldwide with cases now reported in Brazil, Spain and across Europe means that nowhere is risk-free.
In all honesty I moved to China to face challenges. For the first three months these were cultural challenges and social challenges, but the coronavirus has been a new twist I could never have anticipated.
I still aim to return to China, but when remains unclear.
I traded the rural ends of Lincolnshire for the big city life of Xiamen and made it my home.
But the beauty of Xiamen – its beaches, mountains and vibrant street life – quickly turned into silent uncertainty which continues and is spreading quickly.
Tristan Simpson is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.