God, these days.

God, these days.

These days after days after days.

We’re way past 80 days here in China, and it’s starting to show.

Even with things opening up, we’re still locked in these days.

It’s the same. I wake up around 6:45 and take a shower. Then drink my coffee while doing my morning internet surfing, and then getting things ready for my six year old’s school work. Then we get him going with his online class around 10:30 and I go take the neighbor’s dog for a walk. Then I have a bit of time in another empty neighbor’s apartment trying to meditate before coming home. Then lunch, then I do my own online classes while trying to help our six year old with his online classes. And then dinner, and then watching whatever series we’re on lately and then bedtime.

And then tomorrow? Repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

And we’re ahead of the curve here in China, or so they tell us. Things are returning to normal. Or so they say.

But still, we’re repeating the days here.

I really hope that we get to a new normal soon. While the normal we’re currently enduring is certainly not physically taxing, it does take a toll on one’s emotions.

There’s something about the typical that is just so challenging. You’d think it was comforting, and in some ways it is, but in other ways it just feels unnatural.

Life is about more than predictability.

Life is about seeking out the newness every day.

Looking for new challenges and new vistas and new connections.

But this virus has reduced us to monotony. And that may be the most challenging thing of all.

My kingdom for some unpredictability. My kingdom for something different. My kingdom for a new day.

Here’s the thing about the Resurrection…

Here’s the thing about the Resurrection.

It signaled a difference between what had come before and what would come next.

To the ones who were there… the ones who had walked with Him for years before that specific Passover… it seemed pretty clear. Probably, to them, they remembered the things he had said to them in public and private. Things about the big changes that were coming. And then, when the nails were driven and the bleak reality was made clear, everything changed.

Suddenly, the lives they had been living before became irrelevant. Now they were living in a new time.

Everything changed.

The memory of the way things had been before was attractive. It was familiar. It was what we would have wanted.

But they couldn’t go back to that.

We can’t go back to that.

We’re experiencing something similar now.

We want things to be like they were. We want today to be like yesterday to be like last week to be like last year.

But it can’t be.

It won’t be.

Everything has changed. And we have to come to terms with that.

We aren’t going back to what was. We are moving forward to what will be.

We want things to return to normal, but they can’t. They won’t. What was normal has been relegated to our memory. What will be normal has become our future.

It’s not all bad. There’s a lot about our past that needed to be put to pasture. There’s so much pain and heartbreak and suffering and injustice that existed back then. It needs to be in our past. It needs to be a memory.

But our future… our who we will be…

That’s totally on us. And this weekend… this celebration of resurrection… this is when we need to start choosing who we will be. How will the “us” moving forward be different than the “us” a few weeks ago? How will the me moving forward be different than the me a few weeks ago?

Resurrection has not – in my lifetime – meant more than it means today.

Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’;
…..

Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.

Visiting IKEA during the Pandemic

Life in China during the outbreak, day 79.

We went to IKEA today.

This is something I don’t care to do on normal days, but during a pandemic?

In my experience, on normal days, IKEA China is packed. Wall to wall people. An introvert’s worst nightmare. People sleeping on the pretend beds in the pretend bedrooms, old people taking their sweet time strolling down the aisles pushing the enormous empty IKEA shopping carts, it’s like half the city descends on Sweden at the same exact moment.

It is hell.

But Koolyash wanted to go, and things are opening up here, so okay.

Thankfully, IKEA was mercifully uncrowded. There were still more people then I would hope for, but not so many that you couldn’t walk the aisles freely. Everyone was bemasked, and there were disinfectant stations regularly located. Even in the cafeteria, which is normally packed, people were social distancing. It was something of a relief.

And then we got on the bus to go home.

When this thing was at its worst here in China, the buses were empty. It was almost a pleasure to ride, because so few people were on public transport. But bus 70 went from a reasonable number of passengers to packed to the gills much more quickly than I was comfortable with.

And then there was the guy in the back who was coughing up a lung.

I was spritzing with hand sanitizer like a madman, like that would somehow help form a protective shield around my entire body.

So this guy gets on the bus and ends up standing right over me. Then, when he realized I was a foreigner, he moved away.

Yeah, like I’m the problem. The majority of new cases in China have been from Chinese people coming home. I’m clean, dude. You should be sitting on my lap. But, whatever. Move away. It definitely makes me feel better.

We’re home now, and hopefully fine. And lesson learned. Go to IKEA, but take a taxi home. Don’t want to be surfing on a second wave.

Stay at home.

I don’t get it.

Who are these people who are still congregating? Who are these people who are still going out and being with others? Who are they?

Do they just not get it?

Don’t they realize what is happening in the world?

Don’t they realize what is happening in their communities?

Yes. It sucks.

This isn’t what we’d planned for spring 2020.

But this is what we’ve been given. COVID2019. It’s what we have to experience and live with and deal with.

And the only option we have – which runs counter to everything we’ve learned about people a person – is getting away from other people.

If we get away, we don’t spread. If we don’t spread then then people live rather than die. It’s so simple. It’s hard, but it’s simple.

This isn’t a video game. It’s not a movie. It’s actual real life. And the choices we make today will impact the lives of the people around us.

We’re not in our normal reality. We’re in a new reality. And this is the reality. Stay home and save lives. Go out and risk lives.

It’s not difficult. We want to get out of this, and what needs to happen to help us get out of this is not difficult.

Well, it is difficult, but it needs to happen.

Just stay. home. Stay. Home. Stay. Home. Stay. Home.

Life in China is returning to normal

Took the family for a walk to the grocery store. Got some Subway for Noah and some tofu soup for Koolyash. My daughter went on a dinner date with a boy. She’s still out now, and I’m readying my shotgun.

And social distancing seems to be a thing of the past, if this restaurant we passed on our walk is any indication.

Maybe it’s some form of PTSD, but I still can’t compute that things could be returning to an actual normal, but that does seem to be what’s going on here. If not for the ever-present masks and the constant temperature checks, nothing would be out of the ordinary on the streets of Shenzhen.

And I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but I do want to remind you that it took us two months of strict social distancing, staying at home, and quarantine to get us to this point.

We did it. You can do it.

Onward!IMG_7090

Podcasts and COVID19 and living in an outbreak

For the last few weeks, before COVID19 made its grand appearance on the American shores, I’d spend my days on the streets of Shenzhen, walking (to boost my immunity) and listening to podcasts. The hosts would talk about the mundane things that podcast hosts talk about, and it was such a relief. It took me out of the world of COVID19 and into the world of the mundane. It was one of the things that kept me sane.

Today I went for a walk, listening to the latest editions of my favorite podcasts. They were all podcasting about being in the heart of the outbreak.

Every. Single. One.

It transported me back to several weeks ago when I was feeling what they are talking about now. What you are experiencing now.

I didn’t like that feeling.

Things are getting better here. They’re talking about schools reopening. The streets are crowded. Crowded with masked people, but they are crowded. I went to the grocery today and rode the bus home. The entire busride home I had to cough, but I suppressed it, because everyone still has the virus in the backs of their minds. But there were lots of people on the bus. That wasn’t the case a few weeks ago.

And the whole time, the podcasts in my headphones were talking about just entering the just-stay-home lifestyle and keeping six feet distance and a lack of toilet paper.

A few weeks ago I talked about things being surreal. We’ve just entered Surreal 2.0.

It’s like I’m a time traveller. I’m from the future. I’m experiencing your present while living in the future, which is your future if you play your cards the right way.

I’m really not sure where this post is going, except to tell you to stay the course. If you stay the course, you’ll be emerging from this thing a few weeks from now, just like we are. You’ll see life returning to normal, just like we are. The only difference is that the podcasts you listen to will be returning to normal at the same time and not be on some time-travel delay.

Trust me. That will be a good day.

Stay the course.

Just stay the course.

Some Thoughts from One Expat to Another

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When I first moved to Kazakhstan back in 1999, I’d been there for about half a year when I noticed a couple of interesting things. First, if I was talking to someone back home about Kazakhstan, I had plenty to say, as if I knew what I was talking about. Second, when I would talk to other expats about our experiences living in Central Asia, we would often spend a great deal of time complaining about the different way people did everything.

Now it’s many years later and I live in China, but I was reminded of my early Kazakhstan experiences when I recently overheard a conversation in a coffee shop between a couple of expats discussing their separate experiences in yet another country.

I couldn’t help but listen.

Both of these expats talked about their experiences as if they were experts on their former country, as if they’d really understood the people and the place where they’d lived, and they also spent a great deal of time complaining about that experience. It was almost as if they were trying to one-up each other on who could tell the most horrifying expat story.

“The taxi drivers there are horrible! As soon as they realize you’re a foreigner, they’ll charge you double!”

“You think the taxi drivers are bad, you should try and do business with them! It’s all about nepotism and how much you can pay to get something done!”

“Don’t get me started on corruption! There was one time when I was just trying to get my visa renewed…”

As I was reflecting on both my attitude and the attitudes shown by a couple of random expats in a coffee shop, I was struck by a few things, and I offer these thoughts to any expatriates who might be interested.

Simply living in a country for a limited amount of time does not make us experts on the culture, people and problems of a country. Especially when we haven’t even taken the time to learn the language and primarily hang out with other expats. We may have some insights into that country, but not very much.

We are really only long-term tourists, and should keep that in mind before being tempted to share our deep and insightful thoughts about our host country. When asked, we should just talk about the food we like, the interesting historical sights we’ve seen, reflect on the truth that we still have much to learn about the place, and stress how kindly the people there treat us in spite of our ignorance.

This last part is key – when you’re talking to your friends back home, don’t focus on the horror stories, even though conflict makes for good storytelling. Instead, let them know how well you were treated as a stranger in a strange land. Let them know how much it meant for you when someone went out their way to help you or guide you. Let them know that many of the things that they’ve heard about the place are misconceptions or flat out false.

Especially these days, it’s vital that we learn the value of being good hosts as well as guests, and it’s even more vital that we share that knowledge with others who may have never gone far from home.

This might be the most valuable souvenir we can bring home from our short time living in another country.