Stories from Quarantine

The experience of going through the COVID-19 epidemic is completely unprecedented for many of us who are living in Xi’an. We reached out to some of our readers who stayed through the epidemic and asked them to tell their stories about their experience of life under quarantine.

Holding Out

To be honest, I wasn’t much looking forward to the Chinese New Year this year anyways. Expected complications were going to keep us homebound throughout the holiday, with little in the way of rest or relaxation. There were things to clean, spruce, and take care of that promised to keep us busy throughout the scant few weeks that had been planned for a holiday. As news of a new virus began to spread around, there was not really that much concern. It was flu season after all.

As the cases stacked up, however, things began to become more worrisome. I’m the type of person that can see an apocalypse on a sunny day in the best of situations. My brain is uniquely tuned to predict all of the things that could go wrong at any moment and then funnel those worries in such a way as to ensure me that my fate is, in fact, sealed. Immediate concerns flitted back and forth to what might go wrong. Is there enough food? Should we stockpile water? What about medicine? What happens if…? This was certainly enough to keep my wheels spinning for days on end.

Things really started to seem bad when the annual spring festival activities with the Chinese in-laws were cancelled. The normally boisterous group had become worried about possible infection, despite their close proximity to each other. This was even before any of the restrictions had come into effect. It ended up being one of the quietest Chinese New Year’s I had ever experienced.
A day or two afterwards, I head to Metro, planning on stocking up for what might be a long haul ahead. I expected the place to be empty, what with this being what should be the height of spring festival wining and dining. What I encountered instead was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve encountered in China (and there have been a few). The places was completely packed, and yet still orderly. Everyone was simply going about their business at a normal pace, having normal conversations, all while wearing face masks, seemingly oblivious to the threat. There was no frantic races to gather all the supplies. No panicked rushing and screaming. It was like the world’s most boring horror movie.

The days and weeks that followed after that seemed to blur together into nothingness. Sleep schedules were tossed out the window, as there was no place to go; nothing really to do. There was little incentive to do much and few option even if the motivation had appeared. TV shows and movies were watched. Books were read. The only excitement came from the occasional trip to the supermarket, with its ever-growing lines. An hour waiting to weight vegetables. 30 minutes in line for the register. Such excitement.

It is amazing what people can adapt to given time and repetition. What might have seemed like a horrible torture, the constant feeling of imprisonment, became routine. I probably did more cooking and cleaning during this period than I had in months before that.

There was, at the back of my mind, a certain itch that was difficult to scratch, a mild irritation at the monotony of it all. I delved into some online classes, trying to make use of the surplus of time that I was suddenly afforded. But the itch remained.

As I write this now, things have finally started to relax ever so slightly. The first unrestricted step outside was like taking a breath after being underwater. Things are not quite back to normal, whatever that is, but it is something.

-Learning to Breath on Lockdown

Getting Better

By the time this is published, I have no doubt that the situation in Xi’an will have improved tenfold. Most are concerned about their physical health, but I’d like to shine a light on mental well-being. This will read a little bit like a Cosmo-hipster-eat-pray-love-finding-yourself piece, but I assure it’s not. Keep reading.

This year started off terribly, rocky at best. Leading up to now I’d gone through a lot of seismic changes (challenges) in a short (yet prolonged) period of time. I’ve been through much worse before, comparatively, but I was with friends and family back home. So, I pushed through like I did then. But It was somehow harder this time around.

Now if you’re a foreigner in Xi’an, you’d fall into one of two groups. The first, has their ducks in a row, know how long they plan to be here, what they want out of this experience, basically have a long-term plan. The second group however, has just a basic idea of what they want, no real plan, and is floating around from awesome experience to awesome experience, enjoying each hour as it comes. The problem with the second group (and possibly some of the first too) is that you’re relying on external factors to make you feel at peace, be happy.

Then Covid-19 hits and the rug is pulled out from under you. You are now without your random invitations to fun experiences, parties, drinks and games with friends. You don’t feel so good about being in large-scale solitary confinement. You’re bored, lethargic, not motivated to do much, and ultimately a bit unhappy. Depending totally on your personality and how you deal with things, your experience of the last few weeks/months was either a learning experience or a form of torture. I just learned yet again, that being happy shouldn’t rely so much on external factors, it’s more a mindset.

Being a healthy person (despite the drinking, smoking and lack of exercise), I would say that I’m a good 50/50 on the scale of introvert to extrovert. The beginning of this movie-like quarantine had my extrovert side pacing around like a caged tiger. That wore off. The other side stepped up to the plate and pushed me to learn, not just consume information, but use it. It pushed me to bust my favourite jams that I don’t tell people I listen to, while out for a solitary jog. It pushed me back towards my passion of photography. It made me think of a plan. As such, I never felt bored or exasperated. All my good friends were a video call away, in fact, I ended up shifting some acquaintances to being friends. I called family I hadn’t spoken to in a long, long time.

To sum this all up, I’d say the world and the universe at large is so very unpredictable. You could at one moment be free, the next, in a cage, in a hospital bed, in court, at home in quarantine. Things change, but you can start to look inwards and get to know yourself, go through emotions but understand them as well. Everything and everyone is beautiful in their own way, you might have to change your angle to see it. Everything and everyone has a story, you’re just yet to discover it. It sounds crazy, but you can actually change the way you think, choose to be happier. Take it from this crazy guy.

-Madman on Lockdown

A Prepper’s Fantasy?

After I read Blackout by Marc Elsberg some years ago, I started prepping for a lockdown to come. At my place, there has always been food with a long expiry dates and supplies for a few weeks on hand. My wife has made jokes about this over the years. When the current epidemic finally hit, it was finally a time for an “I told you so‘.

What surprised us was how civilized everything went. This was not the apocalyptic scenario of my novel. People followed the government’s advice and mostly stayed inside their apartments or apartment complexes. I had never seen so many people in our complex doing exercises and playing table tennis and badminton. Only one of us being allowed to leave the complex every other day was a little challenging at the beginning. However, we adapted quickly to the new Situation and rediscovered old Hobbies, including playing board games. We tried to make the best of our private part-time prison, which was basically a five-star location with balcony, Internet, and a lot of food and drinks.

After few weeks, I changed my shopping trips into extended bike rides to check out area around Xi’an. Most villages and smaller roads were closed, but the main roads were still accessible. I enjoyed good air quality and empty roads. Our security guys know me well and gave me a big smile when my shopping trips took several hours and I only brought back some vegetables from around the corner.

-Prepper on Lockdown

In this particular period, I consider myself pretty lucky. After returning from a trip to Korea, my boyfriend and I returned to his parents’ house just outside Xi’an to endure our 14 day quarantine after going abroad. Really the best way to keep yourself in good spirits and health is to have some kind of routine. I sleep in till 11, eat lunch, then either exercise or have some free time to do what I never usually have time for. I have occupied my time studying for the Chinese drivers test, watching various movies I never had the chance to watch before, attempting to improve my Chinese by watching a Chinese drama, watching a ridiculous amount of documentaries about cats and serial killers (not in the same documentary), reading the few books I have here, and playing with my cats and the several week old puppies the bear of a dog my boyfriend’s parents’ own just had. In the evenings, we all sit down to dinner, chatting about the official news and argue about the non-official garbage. Then we sit down to play Mahjong. Then we stay up playing till an ungodly hour of the morning and then sleep. For me, I have managed to stay sane because I take this as a time to further bond with my soon to be mother and sister in law. I keep to my schedule with the occasional adventure up to the roof to run and soak in some sunshine. I have always been calm whenever something stressful happens, and this skill is really saving me this time. Stay calm and look at the good that can come from being stuck inside with lots of time on your hands. There are so many possibilities, just look at what Jack Ma did during the SARS epidemic. Be cautious, not fearful and stay strong.

-Kaylee 凯利

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are gonna get”. The wise words of Forest have been at the forefront of mind as of late. The coronavirus has turned our lives upside down and spread fear throughout our community, however life goes on. I am originally from Ireland and came to Asia in 2004. In my first year, I was in Sumatra when the tsunami hit and lived through Bird Flu in Vietnam, I believe it was in 2009. Now faced with another challenge, I have learned that normalcy is the best thing I can do for myself and those around me.

Though I came to Asia alone, I now have a family of five. During the first week of the outbreak we adopted our third daughter. It has been a blessing for our family to have this prolonged time together to get used to the new dynamic. The way we are coping with the virus is to maintain as much normalcy as possible in our lives. What this looks like is a regular sleep time, regular time to get up, schoolwork from Monday to Friday and keeping to other activities as much as possible. We usually go to church on the weekends but instead have a time of worship together in our home.

In order to keep sane, we are trying to eat as healthy as possible and to exercise regularly. Fortunately, there has been no shortage of fresh produce in our neighborhood. I am also a strong believer in the importance of extra Vitamin C intake during flu season, so we have been going through lemons like there is no tomorrow. Each day my wife and I take turns going out for a walk around our compound and are very grateful for the chin-up and dip bars in our compound. The girls have been given excellent PE lessons by their teachers that can be done inside.

We are very happy to be here during this difficult time as it has given us much more of a connection to our neighbors. The security in our complex have been extremely helpful and we feel very much connected to the foreigners who are here and locals. I have always believed that everybody in this world is of the same race, the human race. Through the current situation it has made me further realize, that we are all in this together.

-Brian Lalor

Do you have a story that you’d like to tell?
We are always looking for interesting perspectives on life in Xi’an. If you are interested, contact us through our official WeChat account or by emailing us a