#COVID19 Cat Lady Chronicles—Self Quarantine and a Half

As a Taiwanese person who’s lived and worked in Shanghai for over six years, the decision to return to Shanghai in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic was an easy one. My entire life is here in Shanghai, a city that took me 4 years to love. I have a great job here working for Shanghai Disney Resort as a digital copywriter, and I share a lovely one-bedroom apartment with two rescue cats. Of course I’m coming home.

My company required that everyone coming back to Shanghai complete 14 days of home stay/self quarantine/self isolation, for the safety of all of our Cast Members, so I braced myself for 14 days of boredom and loneliness. I began writing about my daily life on facebook, just for my friends, largely so that people would stop asking me, one after the other, “ARE YOU OKAY?” (Side note: several friends in Shanghai have admitted to copy-and-pasting the same response because they’re just bombarded with the same, over and over and over and over again.) I also felt that the alarmist headlines needed to be countered with some plain old everyday-ness.

Here is what started as the “Self Quarantine” diary, which later became #COVID19 Cat Lady Chronicles because of reasons, in chronological order. If you want to see the latest posts and/or photos and videos posted along with each update, my diary entries are public on Facebook (I might regret this).

February 8th, Day 1 of home quarantine in Shanghai (everyone returning to Shanghai must stay home for 14 days before returning to work):

My lunch was delivered to the neighborhood gate as opposed to my door (fair enough), with this extra “safety card” attached. Efficacy aside, it’s heartening to see how thoroughly Chinese people and businesses have responded to this outbreak.

I missed the worst of the emptiness in Shanghai. Since businesses are due to resume on Monday, February 10th, the city is slowing filling up. Most of us will still be working from home, and many of my expat friends have decided not to return, so I expect the quiet will continue for a while.

February 9th, Day 2 of self “quarantine”:

I went out. Hence the quotation marks around the word “quarantine.” Folks have asked me how the quarantine is enforced, if I’m allowed out at all etc. I’m allowed to go out, no one would actually stop me from grocery shopping (the supermarket shelves are full, by the way), as long as I sanitize properly and stay away from crowded places. And I suspect there are no crowded places in Shanghai at the moment.

Before I left my compound, I spotted two stray-ish cats. Stray-ish, because clearly they live on this compound and someone or many someone’s feed them. They are CHONK. It’s only neighborly to say hi. During this greeting I noticed an old lady upstairs watching me and the kitties, so I waved and smiled extra (making the smile squeeze up to my eyes because mask) and SHE WAVED BACK. It was all together delightful.

It was a chilly, sunny day in Shanghai and the streets were so quiet I could actually hear the birds chirping. I had my surgical mask on (as did everyone else on the streets), 75% alcohol in a spray bottle in my backpack, ready to sanitize my hands whenever I needed to.

I stopped in a favorite cafe after grocery shopping for a cup of coffee (spicy latte with oat milk), partly for their very sunny front step seating. The staff checked my temperature when I walked in. I ordered a coffee and sat outside. It felt rebellious to be out with my face uncovered, but I had a cup of coffee as my excuse.

I saw 4 separate motorcyclists zoom by. Must be a great time for them, the streets so unusually empty. I was reminded of Scandinavia, where you’d walk blocks without encountering another person.

My neighbor security guard checked my temperature when I got back. I proceeded to wash my hands, spray down/wipe down everything before and after unloading my groceries. I wondered to myself about how quickly I’d starve if food deliveries stopped because none of the items in my bag actually requires any cooking… I basically stocked up on snacks.

By dinner time, my favorite restaurant was delivering again after a 2-week hiatus. All in all a lovely chill Sunday with extra extra hand-washing.

February 10th, Day 3 of self quarantine:

First day “back to work” for most of Shanghai, so I spent it working from home and counting my blessings. I know might I seem calm about this outbreak, but that’s largely because of the privileged position I am in. I don’t dismiss the severity of the situation, and I don’t take my peace of mind for granted.

Here are a fair few blessings:

I don’t have anyone in my immediate family who is high risk. If my dad were still alive with his history of heart and kidney failure, my entire family would have been on high alert. I can easily imagine what a distressing time this is for many.

I was only an easy 2-hour flight away in Taipei when things started getting serious, and while I had to postpone my return to Shanghai, I was able to book a flight back without having to get creative. And I could afford the change fees and extra travel cost. (Many of my friends have/had been trapped and couldn’t get back to Shanghai because of unanticipated, ever-changing travel restrictions. Some one them have to travel much further and the changes cost them a fortune.)

I live and work in Shanghai, a first-tier city with impressive resources. If I seem to be very calm about this outbreak, it doesn’t in any way dismiss how distressing the situation is around China. And now that the city is back to work, they’re anticipating another wave of infections. Hence, working from home.

I had an excellent cat sitter caring for my cats while I was away, with twice-a-day video updates. I could afford to pay for the extra week of cat-sitting.

I have access to multiple sources of information in two languages, which helps put things in perspective.

I am a reasonably healthy and able-bodied person. If I had caught regular seasonal flu or even a cold about now… Things would get tricky, to say the least.

My work can be done remotely, and isn’t needed as much during this time. I have many friends and colleagues who have vital roles and had to work during this stressful time. Kudos to all who are making the world go round while hunkered down at home. I have other friends who own businesses and are losing money everyday they stay closed.

My employer and managers have been excellent about communicating guidelines and expectations clearly. By the time I’m back in the office, every precaution would have been taken to ensure the space is safe and welcoming for everyone.

My mother was able to procure enough masks and other supplies. Many of her friends actually gifted her their stock, knowing that her daughter was returning to China (my mom is very popular). I am grateful to everyone of them! ❤️

I have two cats 🐱 at home which makes self quarantine far less lonely and never boring. My cat Tigger fell asleep on my stomach this afternoon and started doing that dream twitchy thing. It was adorable.

I rewatched Infinity War and Endgame and for good measure started back on the Avengers while I built an IKEA drawer set on wheels that I’ve been procrastinating on.

I plowed through 3 books in a week. And guess what? I’ve got more 📚😂

That’s all for today.

February 11th, Day 4 of self quarantine:

Just dropped my phone into a bowl of popcorn. Starting to think this little diary is a very helpful routine to keep me from becoming completely useless.

Again, I have it easy. Some of my friends in Shanghai have barely left their homes in 3–4 weeks, not to mention the healthcare professionals on the frontlines. The whole country is on a mission to battle the coronavirus and stay sane while doing it. Schools, gyms, and other organizations are doing live streams and teleconferencing, many offering free classes to keep people healthy and occupied while they’re stuck at home. Many companies are experimenting with remote work for the first time.

I went outside this morning to let my cleaning lady work in peace (she already has 2 cats to deal with, she doesn’t need me in the apartment, too). Yet another privilege, that I can afford a cleaning lady (who’s been with me 6 years) AND that she was permitted into my compound. Some of her clients haven’t returned, and some that are here, their buildings refused to let her in because she only got back to Shanghai 11 days ago instead of the required 14. There are stories of people who have been effectively evicted because of… Well, fear and discrimination.

Many cafes and restaurants are take-out only still. After a few tries, I found one tiny cafe with a solo barista who only “recommended” orders be to-go. On her wall was an award, “National Barista Goddess.” I ordered an oat milk latte (with a side of K-pop and Pokémon merch), removed my mask, sprayed my hands with my trusty bottle of 75% alcohol, and started staring out of the glass door.

Barely any cars went by, and the few pedestrians were all masked and stared at me, again, being a rebel with my coffee and no mask (only while I drank the coffee!!!) I myself have become unaccustomed to seeing people with their entire face exposed.

One of the quirks of being bilingual is that I consume news and information in 3 written languages: English, Traditional Chinese (used in Hong Kong and Taiwan), and Simplified Chinese. It’s been fascinating just witnessing 3 very distinct narratives on the coronavirus from the international, mainland, and Taiwanese media. Somebody should write a thesis about this (cause I ain’t doing it).

Some days it’s almost too much information, so managing my own mood and news intake have been two major efforts. Our world has become so intricately connected that it can feel like I’ll never know enough of and do enough for the world. I’ve had to learn to draw up new borders in my mind, learning to be informed on the world without investing my energy in every single issue. Learning what’s within my power of influence and doing my best within those boundaries… That’s the challenge today. Not every issue requires my opinion.

We’re not very good at this globalization thing yet. We’re not wired to know and care and feel like it’s on each of us to fix the whole world. It isn’t productive. Future generations will have to learn to be conscientious consumers of information as well as goods. How to distinguish facts from clickbait.

Like Maya Angelou said: When we know better, we do better.

By which I mean: I believe I am doing my best by my little corner of the world, lying on my sofa with a bowl of popcorn on my stomach 😂

February 12th, Day 5 of self quarantine:

Uneventful day, aside from my neighbor’s laundry debacle.

How many times have you looked at all the laundry hanging precariously outside apartment windows and thought, “what if someone dropped the thingy?”

This morning, a loud bang and shout came from outside my bedroom window, and I looked up to see a stick along with several pieces of clothing tumbling down the side of my building 😂

It finally happened. It only took 6.5 years of living in China but it finally happened. In other not-news I’m a little bored at home.

The day started out gray, though the trees outside my window (what a luxury eh? 🌳) were still shiny from yesterday’s heavy rain. By 11am the sun came out, so I told myself the shower can wait while I sat at my desk and scribbled in the sun.

I’ve been on social media a lot more lately. Boredom and lack of human contact makes me want to reach out more, but social media, like any tool, can be a double-edged sword. The fear and uncertainty surrounding what’s now called COVID-19 virus is brewing a lot of fear and othering. And the reporting focuses mostly on its spread and individual and public prevention.

It makes me wonder what the disease is actually like? Symptoms, prognosis, etc. What’s going on now for those 45,000 confirmed cases, and what’s life like for those 5,000 who’ve been discharged?

My best guess? Our lack of understanding is probably pushing them to the edge of society. (People from China/Hubei/Wuhan have already been seriously and quite inhumanly ostracized.)

Out of somewhat morbid curiosity, I started listening to Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphors on Audible. In it she argued that the meaning and judgment we ascribe to illnesses heavily stigmatize the ill. As if it’s a personal failing that this person is now sick, as if illness is somehow deserved.

I’ve said this several times in the past few weeks, IRL and online: No one deserves to be sick. I’ve seen posts saying this group or that group can all die. Or that the people of China brought this on themselves for eating wild animals or general poor hygiene. (None of these sentiments are unique to this epidemic, by the way. Ask Sontag)

I understand that this is a scary time for everyone, and of course there were many mistakes made and many who should be accountable for their incompetence, arrogance, and/or egocentric face-saving, but spare the ill. Please.

We’ve got at least a couple of more months of this to go. We, the people’s, earthling, humans, have got to stick together to get through this. Humans are far more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. (Except our backs. My goodness my lower back has been killing me. 33 hit me hard. Why did we become biped anyway?! Overrated.)

Thank you to everyone who’s been reading, liking, and commenting on these posts. You have no idea how much I need the dopamine hits right now 😂 But truly, I am grateful for all of it. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be useful in a time when I feel like quite literally the best thing I can do is stay home and do nothing, but the internet (for all its ills 😷) has enabled me to do this. And there’s nothing I love more right now then maybe bringing a bit of banality to this madness, and hopefully make a few people giggle while I do it.

February 13th, Day 6 of self quarantine:

Saw a squirrel 🐿 My first in Shanghai. I kid you not. If I wasn’t on my scooter with 10 second left at the stop light I would have taken a photo. This is how empty the city is now, that I can spot a squirrel on a power line in the corner of my eye.

Shanghai is usually a city of sensory overload. I normally never leave my apartment with my noise-canceling headphones. But with the emptiness, I’ve started to noticed things. Did that building always have pretty balcony with lovely railings? When did this sculpture show up at this corner, or have I just overlooked it? I found myself looking in all directions while I drove my scooter, and not because I was expecting someone to get me into an accident in the least expected way.

I’m serious. The only time (knock on wood) I got into an “accident” in Shanghai was when a lady walking on the road (because why use the perfectly good sidewalk) threw her purse over her shoulder and hit me. The roads are kinda hilariously wild in Shanghai. Normally.

Why was I on a scooter during “quarantine”? Well, for the most first world and girly reason possible: I needed a manicure and was on the hunt for a nail salon that was open. For those who indulge in manicures 💅🏼 (it’s a very affordable luxury in Shanghai) you’d know that gel polish can’t be removed at home, unlike normal polish which comes off with some acetone.

No luck. No biggie. I’ll just have to clip my festive Chinese New Year manicure at home ✂️ Not really surprised that salons aren’t open, considering the work requires prolonged, close proximity exposure.

During my search I actually saw more shops being sealed up than when I first got back. Shanghai really is taking the back to work week very seriously. The streets were very quiet, the only scooters on the road were delivery guys (so so grateful for every single one of them).

On another note: got confirmation from a couple of colleagues over a conference call: Extended holiday at home leads to back pain 😂

February 14th, Day 7 of self quarantine:

I don’t usually celebrate Valentine’s Day, but since this year (by default) I am my own date (not my cats. I’m not that level of crazy cat lady… Yet), I figured I might as well treat myself and contribute a little to local economy. I ordered myself a vase of red roses and broke into some amazing chocolate from Taiwan’s Fu Wan (Yes Taiwan makes its own amazing chocolates).

I left my apartment only twice today, and only went about 15 steps to pick up my lunch and flower deliveries. This is how it goes: When the delivery guy calls from the gate, I grab my keys and put on a mask, head out, and wash my hands thoroughly with soap once I’m back home. I also disinfect the counter I eat at regularly with Clorox wipes.

The compound has become stricter about access, anyone from “key areas” entering must register with their name, contact info, and recent travel history. The same info has been collected by my company and separately by my off-site (not Disneyland) office building, and upon entry at Shanghai Pudong Airport. This is in case anyone in these location is diagnosed with COVID-19, everyone who may have come in contact can be reached and tested.

I’ve heard of neighborhoods with much more restrictive policies. Some compounds are not allowing visitors at all, so cleaning ladies and pet sitters have essentially been banned from these buildings, which is HUGELY problematic for people who have been kept out of Shanghai due to the epidemic, with their pets left unattended at home. The WeChat community immediately came to the rescue, recruiting volunteers and negotiating with building management on people’s behalf.

One expat teacher friend’s compound is basically on lockdown. Each resident is given a card as proof that they live there, and the card allows each person 2 exits a week. I can only assume that happened because someone was recently diagnosed in their district. The friend soon booked a flight out of China.

It’s not an easy time for most people in China right now, and I can imagine these accounts would be really concerning for my friends outside of China. The rules aren’t perfect, and people are doing their best, making it up as they go.

I’ve heard all kind of complaints and concerns over the past few weeks.
“Masks don’t work!”
Yeah masks aren’t perfect if you’re not properly wearing them AND washing your hands regularly and thoroughly, but for me wearing surgical masks is more of a courtesy. A gesture of respect and solidarity. So many are working hard to keep people safe and healthy, the least I can do is cooperate and not make their jobs difficult.

I am also in a privileged situation in that I’m healthy. There are plenty of folks out there where every precaution is absolutely necessary. And there are plenty more whose quarantine do not involve skipping to the gate or off to a cafe.

“They’re underreporting!”
Well, I wouldn’t know. No one can know. But historically, yes, every epidemic is underreported. I’d say employ Hanlon’s razor in this: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. It’s impossible to be omniscient in the middle of an epidemic. There’s too much we don’t know. And I for one find it exhausting and unproductive to always assume the worst of people.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m reading news in 3 written languages and many many sources with varying attitudes and agendas. Out of all that, I do my best to triangulate for the known facts and weed out speculations and conspiracy theories.

One thing I was trained to do while doing my master’s in interpreting was how to cut out the fluff. The words that carry no information. Interpreting is so taxing on the brain, but once you learn to spot the fluff, you lighten your own workload. I’m putting that experience to work at the moment. I feel like that should be part of our education in this age of information overload: Editing. Curating the information you consume. Analyzing it with a critical eye. Knowing your own confirmation bias is at play and read against the grain.

And occasionally, treat yo self to flowers and chocolate. #LivingMyBestQuarantineLife

#COVID19Problems, the other day, someone at a cafe tried to take my forehead temperature, and smacked me right in the head with the thermometer.

Ya know, between me bending down and her, um, adorably jumping, it just happened.

#WeWereBothDoingOurBestOKAY

February 15th, Self quarantine day 8:

Cats really do make staying at home a lot less boring.

Case in point, this morning I dropped my coin box. It took me until age 33.89 to figure out (OK, was explicitly instructed) that it might be good to keep all my coins in one place. Who still uses physical money anymore? This is China!?

Anyway, I dropped this box of multinational currencies because Shanghai doesn’t do IRL money and because I’m alone in this stupidity, I just laughed and got on the floor to start picking up all the coins while the cat roommates chase down the ones that were still rolling away with some momentum.

And just when I thought “oh good these kitties will actually pitch in and help me locate some of these coins. Not like they pay rent or anything but this is SOME contribution…” I touched a thing.

I thought it was a piece of wood, but on further inspection, it was way too shiny and didn’t match the box, which wasn’t broken. And then I realized… IT WAS A F%¥KING COCKROACH WING. I had just TOUCHED a piece of VERMIN CARCASS.

Screaming ensued. And then shouting. Because I know how I came to put my finger on bug bits. Tigger, and older tabby cat, had never been much of a hunter, but Nutella the tortoise shell. My baby. My Nutella Munchkin… Is a murderess. But a loving one. Therefore she dropped off a piece for me in my coin box, a container she clearly understood to be the appropriate graveyard for defunct play things. The only place to leave a present for the human roommate.

Good thing I had all the soap and water and Clorox wipes and alcohol spray a woman could ever need in such a horrid situation. The whole thing irked me so much I just started cleaning my whole apartment to restore my peace of mind.

Aren’t cats grand?

February 16th, Self quarantine day 9:

It snowed last night in Shanghai. No, you can’t tell from the photos because it’s mostly just leaves (very nice ones) with a teeny tiny bit of frost. After living in Minnesota and Sweden, I’m a bit of a snob about “snow” that doesn’t even stick.

A handheld steamer I purchased online arrived today, so I spent some time steaming my sofa, a few of my shirts, and my coat. That took up about 47 minutes. Still had the whole day to kill. Hmmm 🤔

I’ve made a concerted effort to wash my hair and put on makeup every day even though I’m in isolation. You can laugh, but a lot of those stuck at home have all but given up on shampoo 😂 But I had learned from my time freelancing/unemployed that it’s a slippery slope. Taking care of myself helps my mood, which is pretty blah today since I haven’t held a conversation with anyone that wasn’t over text in 3 whole days. So shower and makeup and hair drying took up maybe another hour.

By 11 o’clock it was blue skies and heavy winds. Temperature was still close to freezing but the sun looked so seductive I decided to venture out for a walk. I figured I’d hit up that one cafe that I found refuge in last week and give them some to-go business… But it was closed. Along with every single business on the street. And the street after that. And the one after that. I did a several loops around my neighborhood, and only found a handful of open businesses that weren’t convenience or grocery stores.

Yeah, depressing, I know. Thankfully a lot of places still deliver. Most restaurant chains have a few locations open for the delivery orders. These tend to be venues better rated in hygiene SOP. All of the cheap local offerings are closed.

I have no doubt Shanghai will bounce back, and bounce back with gusto. In the meantime, it’s a waiting game. Some of us are lucky enough to just wait it out. Some of us have been out of a job and barred from work and home based on our birthplace. And then there are the ones on the frontlines, the ill and the healers.

So I try to remind myself to be grateful for being one of the lucky ones who only have to wait. I also took a nap after I got home using one of my cats as a pillow. Woke up in a much better mood.

Aren’t cats grand?

February 17th, self quarantine day 10:

4:00, wallow in self-pity;
4:30, stare into the abyss;
5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one;
5:30, jazzercize;
6:30, dinner with me — I can’t cancel that again;
7:00, wrestle with my self-loathing… Oh wait no, I stole this from The Grinch.

OKAY 🗓

7:30, wake up, make coffee
7:45, drink coffee, journal, enjoy the sun outside my windows.
8:30, stare at cats while they wrestle. Shower.
9:00, open work laptop.
9:30, call company IT after spending the last half hour trying to reset my password. Was informed that I won’t be able to reset the password until I’m on company WiFi. I am not allowed in the office until after February 21st.
10:00–12:00, work through wechat and email.
12:00–13:00, scroll through ele.me (food delivery app) trying to decide what to eat for lunch.
13:30, put on mask and coat, pick up lunch and groceries at the gate, wash my hands, sanitize surfaces, eat.
14:00–15:30, nap with cats.
16:00 onwards, Grinch itinerary… Yeah it’s been a long day. And it’s only 7:30pm.

February 18th, Self quarantine day 11 (a.k.a. Cat Lady Chronicles?):

Yesterday an old friend half way across the world sent me a headline: Woman refused to evacuate without her cat.

He asked, “is this you?!”

First of all, I’m not in Wuhan, I don’t need to be evacuated. Second of all, I have two cats. Plural.

My cleaning lady came today, so I again left the apartment to get out of her way. But this Tuesday, things are a little more complicated. More places are shut down in Shanghai right now than ever before. I drove my scooter around the neighborhood, covering more ground this time on two wheels… No luck. Everything was either closed or delivery only. I parked my scooter next to a chain bakery (Bread etc. a bigger chain so I assumed it’d be open but nope) and walked into a mall.

Jing’an Kerry Center has two towers, one of those mixed used behemoths that takes up a whole city block with a metro station, hotel, luxury service apartments, shopping, dining, and office space. Nope. Delivery or take out only. A lot of the luxury retail shops are still open though and my goodness the employees looked ready to set their own hair on fire just for some excitement. There were significantly more employees working in the mall than there were shoppers.

But hey, Shake Shack was open! Once the restaurant staff took my temperature (gun to the wrist this time, not forehead. I think they’ve learned that forehead temperature is unreliable, especially when someone’s just walked in the door from near freezing temps) I was ushered into an empty line to order.

Since it’s take-out only, I went out searching for a place to dine al fresco. The whole city block was pretty empty… Except for security guards. And it was hard to tell if they would shoo me away if I set up a picnic on their pristine block. I feel like one of them might chase me away just for something to do, an honestly I would enjoy that, too. I could use the cardio.

Eventually I found a nice little parklet next to a closed restaurant, and set up shop. Unpack my food. Sanitize my hands. Remember to remove my mask before shoving a straw at it (I failed a few times in about an hour. You do get used to it).

And then cats happened. Yep. I’m not even trying to make these diary entries all about cats. Cats just sort of happen to me, ok?

My Shake Shack picnic was stationed on this lovely stone bench that wrapped around a small, manicured tree. It always makes me a little sad, trees in containment. I feel like they deserve more root space. And close companionship. Oh shit I’m identifying with tree loneliness now? My goodness. What a sap. (Get it? Sap? Cause trees have… Never mind.)

Anyway, back to the cats. The first little bugger, let’s call him Moo cause she’s black and white, can’t be more than 6 months old, smelled my SmokeStack burger and started asking for a bite. She received approximately 5% of the burger patty and rejected the crinkly fries. What a brat.

After the picnic, I relaxed on the stone bench with a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, moving around to stay under the sun. Nothing beats the winter sun. Nothing. Bundled up in coat and scarf, with the front wide open to take in the breeze and the warmth. Toasty yet not sweaty. It was bliss.

And while I was out, apparently my toilet clogged. The cleaning lady called a plumber on my behalf. 10 RMB. That’s 1.43 USD. Sorted. Amazing. Another thing I am grateful for in Shanghai, even when times are weird like now, affordable skilled labor to help the domestically challenged.

My mood today was significantly better, with the sun, some human interaction (but man everyone I greeted just looked so booooooored), and new cat friends. Hadn’t left the apartment for… 4 days before today? Well, 4 more to go.

Never thought I’d say this, but I almost miss the crowds in Shanghai. Almost.

February 19th, Self quarantine day 12:

I’m trying to remember what life was like after the earthquake that hit Taiwan in 1999. It was a massive quake and killed over 2,000 people. My parents and I ran out of our 9th floor apartment and spent the night in our Nissan Sentra with our dog. There were rolling blackouts throughout Taipei city for a few months afterward, not to mention lots of aftershocks.

But living in the aftermath of a natural disaster isn’t the same as living with the tension of an epidemic, which seems to be somewhat contained in Shanghai. No new confirmed cases and many more recovered and discharged. There was less blaming, except of faulty construction. There isn’t the drawn out tension of an epidemic, and when it’s the earth shaking it’s harder to call that a conspiracy theory.

People like to use heroic or military words to describe illnesses. Someone’s battling cancer. The frontlines of an epidemic. I guess those make easy shorthand in creating drama out of something that really, at the center of it, isn’t very exciting.

You ever been in an intensive care unit? Lots of beeping machines you have to worry about knocking over. Strict visiting hours. You gotta wear a gown and cover your hair and of course wash your hands before entering. But the heroics of the ill and their caretakers, professional or otherwise, aren’t… Exciting. It’s not supposed to be. It doesn’t have to be. Illness is a natural, given part of humanity. We are frail and therefore precious. We are frail and still we hold each other up, and that makes us human.

There’s been serious backlash over a very propaganda video that came out of one of the Chinese hospitals, where they shaved several women’s heads to “prepare them for the frontlines.” That all-too-familiar military lingo. Critics accused them of using women’s bodies as promotional tools, reducing medical professionals to just their feminine looks, as if that’s the only contribution they can make to society (you can read more about it on Sixth Tone).

But as Sontag said in AIDS as a Metaphor: the effect of the military imagery on thinking about sickness and health is far from inconsequential. It overmobilizes, it overdescribes, and it powerfully contributes to the excommunicating and stigmatizing of the ill.
[…]
We are not being invaded. The body is not a battlefield. The ill are neither unavoidable casualties nor the enemy. We — medicine, society — are not authorized to fight back by any means whatever.… About that metaphor, the military one, I would say, if I may paraphrase Lucretius: Give it back to the war-makers.

We — medicine, society — are not authorized to fight back by any means whatever…

February 20th, Self quarantine day 13:

Every time I walk out of my apartment complex, there are more posters. Notices and registration forms and pamphlets. This time I walked out and found multicolor shared bikes built into some sort of… Parameter, with signs stating anyone returning from outside Shanghai must register and no entrance without a mask.

I had to take one of my cats (Nutella, the younger female) to the vet today as she’s been spending way too much time in the litter box. Thankfully the clinic was open, although only one doctor was on duty, with 3 assistants. By the time the vet was ready to see us, she had finished 3 surgeries, and it was only noon. Nutella’s fine, mild infection, will have to force feed her meds for a couple of weeks which will surely ruin our relationship for a bit. Such is cat lady life.

It almost felt like spring today. I had walked out of the door in my usual gear, parka, face mask, scarf, and was immediately toasty. All the neighborhood cats were out sunning, too. I’ve counted 6 of them so far, all chubby and mean looking, like a little gang. Maybe that’s why Nutella seemed extra terrified at the vet…

12 days in and this quarantine life now feels… Normal. Putting on a surgical mask before I step out is now second nature. Hand washing as well. Even the quiet city felt… Just how it is. On a good mood day, it’s easy to enjoy the quiet and the blue skies (factories around Shanghai are mostly still closed, so minimal air pollution), and working from home.

But I am very much looking forward to my first big rowdy group meal around a lazy Susan. Going to the gym. A concert. A movie. A comedy show. Ah well. This too shall pass.

February 21st, self quarantine day 14:

Spent most of the morning traumatizing one of my cats, trying to feed her her medication. Cats really cannot be forced into doing anything they don’t want. But they do cooperate occasionally if you ask reeeeeeeeally nicely… And surprise them when they’ve just been napping and too drowsy to react.

As I (might?) have mentioned before, since I’m not returning from a high risk area, I’m not legally required to self quarantine. I’m doing it based on my work requirements, and we’re continuing to work from home next week, too. So I take some cautious liberties. For examples, going to see the Bund today.

The Bund in Shanghai, with the magnificent row of historic buildings on the west of Huangpu river and skyscrapers on its east, is a place most locals try to avoid. There’s people mountain people sea, and then there’s the bund, which actually has an impressively wide promenade that is somehow still always packed with tourists. It’s like Time Square, except way more concentrated, and spanning 1.6 mile.

It’s amazing the architectural details you notice when you’re not navigating an obstacle course made up of human beings, each admiring the view and armed with selfie sticks waiting to stab your eye out.

February 22nd, Moving forward this will just be the Cat Lady Chronicles, documenting cat lady life in #COVID19 Shanghai, day 15 😃

Last thing first, I just walked home from dinner on near empty streets and I SAW A WEASEL. Ok the video is completely useless because I’m using a 4-year-old iPhone 6s but I swear (with very little expertise on the matter but a WHOLE lot of conviction) it was a weasel.

I had heard that there’s a weasel population in Shanghai for years and chalked it up to alligators-in-the-sewers-of-New-York urban legend. Okay maybe it was just a really stretched out, pale squirrel. But I’m pretty sure it’s a weasel.

I also met a pet mini pig today. Her name was either Tofu or Belly, both work. Jing’an district, where I live, has been particularly strict and shut down most shops and restaurants. But this cafe just east of the district border has been consistently open since I’ve been back in Shanghai, where the front steps get lovely light especially when the weather is uncharacteristically warm like today.

I was not alone in this. Everyone and their pet was out. By lunch time the cafe was packed, with 2 dogs, that pig, and a cat. It’s oddly exhilarating to see a space filled with people again, groups chattering away. A hint of normalcy.

When I was on my way back to Taipei for Chinese New Year, January 23, the news were just starting to really catch on with this virus. Most of the passengers on my flight back were already wearing masks, around 90%. During my layover in Hong Kong, I overheard a kid complaining to his mom how uncomfortable the mask was, and that he wanted to stop wearing it. She reasoned with him, and then said, “who knows, this might be the new normal now.”

During one-on-one conversations with a couple of friends today, there seems to be consensus that this “new normal,” once you settle into it, isn’t half bad. We’ve each got our unique challenges, and all in privileged enough to not have pressing health or financial concerns due to the outbreak. In Shanghai, it’s a waiting game that’s gifted us time and space to be on our own, slow down, fiddle with personal projects.

What a luxury, to have our time given back to us, with no deadline and no social obligations. Like someone punched a giant pause button. If you can learn to be in it instead of desperately trying to see an end or a way out, this is such a treat.

The city also slowed way down. Yesterday as I was walking on Nanjing East Road, it was so quiet I could heard the rustling of people’s sleeves rustling against the side of their coats. It reminds me of my time in Denmark or Stockholm, where population is thin and people give each other a loooooot of personal space. I don’t necessarily prefer that, long term.

The fast pace and intense density in Shanghai have been such constant sensory overwhelm, I sometimes didn’t even register it until I’ve landed somewhere else and was reminded what silence sounded like. It’s been fascinating to see this massive machine grind to a halt and then adjust to operating at “low.” Imagine New York with a curfew, 1% of the businesses, and no tourists. It’s not quite apocalyptic. It’s just on a very different gear.

Not gonna lie, I like this Shanghai. And while I look forward to that big group dinner and that first live show, I’m going to really enjoy being a little spoiled, having Shanghai almost to myself.

February 23rd, #COVID19 Cat Lady Chronicles, day 16:

I went out for BRUNCH today, which is almost a normal Shanghai weekend activity, except when I tried to put my “nice” clothes on, I found them all covered in cat hair. I’ve been wearing… Let’s call it leisurely outfits. Sweatshirts and comfy jeans. And for whatever reason, my pre-caffeinated brain thought an all-black outfit on a Sunday morning when everything black I own is covered in cat hair is the only option.

So the endless roller cat hair removal made me late, but the scooter ride to north bund was lovely. The restaurant is a new location of a chain that started out on my old street as just a sandwich and beer-in-fridge shop. Slowly they expanded two new locations on the same block, and now two new locations in a very different part of town. Except they’re both set in the same mall. Nothing like spending 10 minutes walking through a sleek and sterile mall with unhelpfully “minimalistic” signage when you’re late and un-caffeinated.

As soon as I sat down, I took off my mask and reach out both of my hands to my friend, who was holding up her bottle of hand sanitizer for me. I noticed that her cheeks had red line, indentation from her heavier-duty mask.

Brunch was just as photogenic as ever, and conversation around the table included various effects of the virus. Loss of bonus. Anticipated events postponed. Canceled work or personal trips or both. Friends and dates fleeing the city en masse. Some guesstimating of the year ahead. The dwindling tinder/Grindr dating pool.

Yeah, we’re still dating in the time of #COVID19, or at least attempting to 😂 Like I said to a friend… Just in case this really is the apocalypse, somebody will have to repopulate the planet, right?

February 24th, #COVID19 Cat Lady Chronicles Day However Many:

I left the comforts and furry companionship of my home office today to go into my actual office for the first time in over a month. The rest of my team is still working from home, but I had to reset one of my work account’s password and apparently that can only be done on company WiFi. Boo.

“Are you here to work? Did you register?” asked a security guy when I entered the building, “if not you have to scan.” Ah, the oh-so-convenient health declaration wechat mini program… That requires facial recognition. No thanks, I had already logged my travel history and submitted my “health declaration” stating that I am not coughing and have no fever last week. But who knows, maybe today’s the day I start coughing?

A familiar makeshift “station” was set up outside the elevator of my 11th floor office. A sign in sheet, thermometer, hand sanitizer. The company offers us one free mask a day, but I already had my own on. Regardless, no building security would let me inside their doors without one.

The office was pretty empty, with just the receptionist and maybe 4–5 people in the office. I think a couple of them decided to take their WFH habits back to the office with them. What kind of barbarian puts her phone call on speaker (MAX VOLUME) in a silent, open-plan office? Why did she have to remind me that I don’t miss people at all?

The IT business ended up taking… 3 hours. About 5 rounds of “try turning it off and on again.” I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say that it’s still not entirely resolved but I’m too defeated to go for perfect. I curse the consultants that convinced Disney to outsource IT services.

The thing with IT people is… They have an aura. Sometimes if my computer is doing something stupid, it would snap back into shape as soon as the IT guy is at my desk. Computers KNOW. They’re not afraid of me. But they fear the IT guys. And apparently IT guys haven’t evolved into virtual energy healing like some Instagram witches. Alas.

February 25th, #COVID19 Cat Lady Chronicles Day 18:

I went on a tinder date 😂 (what else am I supposed to do with all this free time?!). It’s predictably weird to meet someone for the first time wearing medical masks. On the plus side, if his joke wasn’t funny, he couldn’t see my grimace. Although I occasionally forgot that I wasn’t wearing a full on gas mask and *maybe* rolled my eyes.

Other than the date (which was brief, seeing as I’m posting this at 9:20 and the date started at 7:30…), it was another reasonably pleasant day, working from home. I’m still having access issue so I’ll have to head into the office again tomorrow and battle it out with IT.

Allow me to share this wonderful story from a Wuhan courier who has been working everyday since before the city was locked down. We are so dependent on delivery drivers these days, I’m really grateful that Sixth Tone did such a wonderful piece, putting one of these guys front and center. Well worth a read.

There’s a popular saying among couriers: “Goddamn it, you’re already a driver: What do you care about some goddamn infectious disease?” The swearing makes it feel real to us, though I don’t know if nondrivers will get the self-mockery in the sentiment: the underlying “How much worse can life get?”

February 26th, #COVID19 Cat Lady Chronicles, Day 19

It’s a little weird, writing about the virus and its impact when I’m not /directly/ impacted. There’s this odd distance between those outside of key areas, between our fears and the actual source of the fear. And disease is such a nebulous fear. There’s nothing to hold on to, no obvious villain, so we blame anyone we can. People are critical of quarantine policies, or mask rations, or other people’s mask usage and hygiene habits. Lots of should’s and should not’s. The absence of a physical threat scatters us. In the face of this disruption, we’re channeling our anger and fear at anything and everything we can.

It was so easy for everyone to be united when it was the Notre Dame burning. The Australian Bushfires. The earthquake in Taiwan. The tornado in De Soto. That was another natural disaster I experienced. Between 2002–2003, I stayed with a lovely family in De Soto, Missouri. A couple of months before the school year ended, our town was hit by a tornado.

My boyfriend at the time was a “storm chaser.” I gotta say, no hobbies like Midwest hobbies. Storm chasing. Cow tipping. Whatever the boys called the game where they drove around country roads at night with their lights off (I’d call that suicide, personally). So he was out there, chasing the damn storm. My host family brought me to a neighbor’s home across the street for shelter, because theirs was a brick house and much safer. There was a lot of tension and eventually a dramatic reunion scene when the boyfriend finally showed up at the door, drenched from head to toe. Oh high school romance. He had found shelter by parking his car inside a car wash, which would not have been necessary if he had /stayed home/ during a tornado.

One person drowned. One house somehow ended up in the middle of the road. The roof of our high school gym was missing an entire corner. The scoreboard on the football field somehow ended up at the opposite end of the field, wrapped around the goal post. We joked that it was the longest touchdown De Soto’s ever had. I think they were poking fun at our team, but I never paid enough attention at the game to figure much out.

Phones were down. My cousin Jack was a reporter in St. Louis at the time, if I recall correctly, he or perhaps his colleague was in town reporting on the storm, and asked around for me. I have no clue how much my parents knew and can’t recall how long it took before I could contact them. No electricity. No hot water. Lots of fallen and broken trees. No wall-to-wall, 24–7 coverage for my parents to follow. No marking myself “safe” on Facebook.

With a natural disaster, the damage is done, and the goal is normalcy again, preferably ASAP. We steadily progressed towards that. We cleaned up the broken branches in the yard. I’m sure someone got rid of that house that floated into the middle of the road. School was canceled for the rest of the year, but graduation and prom still happened.

An epidemic is different. Shanghai is slowly creeping towards normal. More shops and restaurants are reopening. More pedestrians on the streets. But people aren’t happy about it. Friends have expressed worries and concerns. Is it safe yet? What if everything went back to normal and THEN we have a huge outbreak? We’re held in a weird limbo by this virus. There are still too many unknowns.

I for one am not in a hurry for “normal.” This “new normal” has been fairly tolerable, sometimes even pleasant, (though I feel incredibly guilty admitting that), like a giant pause button for an entire city/country. And even with all the inconveniences, the new normal does feel safer, for now.

February 27th, #COVID19 Cat Lady Chronicles, Day 20

What did I do today? Yoga. Meditation. Conference call. Work emails. We still don’t know when we’re going back to normal office work yet, and no word on when Shanghai Disneyland will open. And it seems like now the threat of the virus is actually global. Filing that under “Things I Have No Control Over.”

In my abundant spare time, I’ve been re-reading Nonviolent Communication. It’s a book that came on my radar back in 2016. I even found a workshop in Shanghai and attended a couple of training sessions. It’s a book I refer back to and reread every year or so, because the attitude it teaches is… I don’t want to call it “unnatural,” let’s say we don’t have many models of it in daily life. It’s something I fail at repeatedly but still aspire to.

On paper, it’s deceivingly simple. You make an observation without evaluation. You state how you feel about it, an emotion. You explain the need or value that led to this feeling in you. Finally, you make a concrete request.

So instead of saying “you’re so irresponsible.” You say, “when you don’t do your work on time, I feel anxious, because it’s important to me that I can rely on you, so can you please make sure to complete the work?” Something like that. But even as I was creating this example, I was doubting myself. “Don’t do your work on time” isn’t specific enough, it has to provide context and a specific instance or instances, so on and so forth.

It’s so easy to make quick, moralistic judgment. We do it all the time. We see it done all the time. So and so is such a jerk. People from this country can’t be trusted. These people all deserve to rot in jail. But during this epidemic, I feel more strongly than ever that we need to learn to stop reducing people, whether to their nationality, health status, or skin color. The dehumanizing language we so casually employ have real consequences, however righteously satisfying it may be to “call someone out.”

“NVC is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions.”
— Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg

Well these are trying conditions, indeed. To my friends all over the planet bracing for this virus, I hope that what you’ll have to endure at most is just boredom, some isolation, dry hands from over-washing, and getting so used to wearing masks you accidentally stab it with a straw. And let’s try to be nice to ourselves and others. We’ll get through this.

February 28th, #COVID19 Cat Lady Chronicles, Day 21

Went back to the office again today in a second attempt to sort out my IT problems. There were enough vehicles on the road to trigger good old road rage again. I’d say about it 1/3 of normal traffic, which is plenty.

Had lunch in the Lebanese restaurant in my office building. The doors were wide open, the norm these days, to keep the space ventilated. Our normally stuffy office is also kept at ice box temperatures because they’re blasting the AC. My usual mansef came without a lid, so I’m assuming finger foods are a no-go for the foreseeable future.

I went hunting for a manicure *again* and was finally able to phone up a salon that was open. I was the only customer in the shop and finally had my pre-CNY festive red nail color removed.

As you can see, hand sanitizers and masks are back in stock. As are virus-chic protective gear… I’ve also been seeing a lot of festive, elaborate Chinese New Year themed decor in malls that barely attract any crowds, and can’t help but be reminded of all the copy I wrote for Shanghai Disneyland’s Chinese New Year “Year of the Mouse” campaign.

Alas. Bigger things to worry about these days.

February 29th (leap year! Woohoo!), #COVID19 Cat Lady Chronicles, Day 22

Saw friends posting a video of Wuhan residents screaming out their windows from what I can only imagine to be deep deep frustration and exhaustion, and it reminded me of this tradition we had at Stockholm University’s Lappis dormitories, where I had lived for a year between 2006–2007.

Every Tuesday night at 10pm, you scream out the nearest window. You’d hear the first scream off in the distance, joined by a cascade of screams and shouts. The first night this happened I thought someone was being murdered. But hell… Two months into winter, with near perpetual darkness, I’d happily scream out that window every night of the week.

The word is that the Lappis Scream started as a way to honor the suicide of a student in Uppsala, dating back to the 1970’s.

If you’ve been to Scandinavia, you’d know how empty it can be. In the winter, you barely get a couple of hours of gray sunlight. I once woke up at 4 o’clock after a night of the requisite foreign exchange student partying, and could not for the life of me figure out if it was 4am or 4pm. It was lonely and cold, and in those conditions you learn to take care of yourself, mentally and physically. It becomes survival.

The Danish concept of “hygge” isn’t just cute and cozy. Those of us living in dense metropolises adopt it mostly for the aesthetics, but I’m convinced the candles and the wool underwear are all about surviving and thriving.

The Scandinavian countries are regularly listed as being the happiest countries. I think it’s partly because they’re ritualized living and living well, and made it a priority.

In other news I spent most of today trying to unclog my toilet. It was not very hygge.

Did you actually read all the way to the bottom!? You must be in quarantine. Click here for March entries.

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Recovering writer. Made in Taiwan; based in Shanghai. www.vickiew.com

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