#30 死成

Somewhere around January 28th, all the Fulbright scholars in China were told to leave the country. If we stayed, we would lose our Fulbright status, and our funding. (But as I tell my Introduction to Philosophy students, it is not as if the Catholic Church did not give Galileo a choice.) We were also told we were not coming back.

Many of us are very unwilling to go; some are trying to ride it out in Thailand, or South Korea; others are already back. I’m writing this on 02.07, and I return to the US, I hope, on the 10th. Unfortunately, a lot of flights are cancelled—some whole airlines have quit flying to China—so it should be, um, interesting to see what happens trying to get out of Shanghai.

It sort of reminds me of the old bartender’s last call: “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

In other words, I have to leave China, but it is not that easy to get out. My fellow Fulbrighters have shared various horror stories, including 3-day nightmares (3-night daymares?), 6-flight sequences, 3 hours in customs awaiting a health check that was then determined to be unnecessary. [(Overreaction leading to panic +  commercial interests) + (insurance companies + (n > 3 x government bureaucracies) {including the biggest country in the world})] = unpleasantness. We shall see. I’m pretty safe in Suzhou, I’m following standard precautions (although some suggestions have been a little conflicting: don’t leave your house, but get plenty of exercise). Instead, I now get to hang out in one of the busiest airports in the world for who-knows-how-long, then get in a very enclosed space for 14+ hours with who-knows-whom. Odd approach to preventing a communicable disease, to provide ideal conditions for communicability.

Mostly, I just feel very goddamn sad.

My colleague put it best: “I a little want to weep because of sad.”

I will miss my students, my colleagues, my friends, my Ayi (阿姨). I will miss Suzhou and the phenomenon that is China (not all positive, but always amazing). I will miss continuing to embarrass myself in Chinese—back to the more traditional self-embarrassment in my native tongue, I guess—and I will miss the chances to travel within China to Yunnan and Zhangjiajie. I will miss going to Berlin for a week on my way home (although it is not clear I will miss having to pay for a lot of that). I will miss the food, and the old ladies screaming on the bus, and drivers trying to kill me, and motorscooters trying to kill me, and taxis trying to kill me, and buses trying to kill me, and the chicken feet drying behind my apartment, and the pagodas, and the convenience stores, and the gardens, and the thousands of things to see here every day that are different, entertaining, intriguing, bizarre, or as quotidian as you can get. And while I am working on some things, it is not clear that I will ever get to return, other than as a tourist.

The virus—amazing how easily one begins to refer to “2019-nCoV”—is not something to dismiss. It is killing people. And the government here is doing a lot—some vital, some perhaps not—to mitigate its spread and effects. (To be sure, the government has its share of critics, many much better informed than me. And I have not addressed here the tragic situation of Dr. Li Wenliang.) It has also turned all of us into amateur epidemiologists (although some of my contacts on WeChat are closer to being professional epidemiologists), and there is a lot of information flying around, some very helpful, some not so helpful, some idiotic. (I heard from an American student that her co-worker thought she might get this virus by ordering food in a California Chinese restaurant, which is only slightly less absurd than those who think this virus has something to do with Corona beer. There is a lot wrong with Corona beer—”beer”—but this isn’t one of them.)

I have gotten my temperature taken at Costa Coffee, Starbucks (most are closed, but not all), a restaurant, getting on the subway, and getting on the bus. It is difficult to get in my apartment complex, and apparently I cannot leave after dark, or at least it gets quite difficult. Virtually everything is closed except places to get food and phones (the two Chinese essentials for life). I was in the biggest shopping mall the other day (pictures below), and two workers were playing football (soccer) in the hall. There is almost no one on the street, and virtually 100% of those who are are wearing masks; every place open that I saw requires one to wear a mask to enter.

So Suzhou is a ghost town, which is pretty creepy when a town of 10 million+ people looks like this. I’ve provided a number of pictures below from my jaunts (said jaunts being generally advised against). Everyone is waiting for things to get back to . . . normal.

Suzhou, how I hope to see you again.

Suzhou Center, weekday afternoon
Outside Suzhou Center [苏州中心], weekday evening
Traditionally busy street close to Suzhou Center
Suzhou Center
Ping Jiang Street, usually crowded with tourists
Ping Jiang Street
Suzhou Center
Like a bad science fiction movie. With dumplings.
Subway, 3pm [15]
My old neighborhood from China Institute days
Three people on this bus: the driver, me, and the guy taking temperatures.
For some reason, my entry #4, which is nothing but pictures of gelato, is by far my most popular. Especially in Russia. Consider it tradition.
Tony Bennett had San Francisco.

Published by Kurt's Fulbright

B.A (English, History, Philosophy), SMU (Dallas TX); MA, PhD (Philosophy), The University of Chicago. Author of "Necessity and Possibility: The Logical Strategy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason."

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  1. I am so sorry, Kurt. I hope the trip here is easier than expected and hope you find an opportunity to go back soonest. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

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