Shelby's Demrie Alonzo and son are in China, and observing first-hand that nation's flu crisis.
My son and I came from Shelby to Shandong Province, China in August of 2019. This would be the experience of a lifetime for both of us. Having taught Chinese children English online for over two years, I wanted to go a step further and actually teach in China.
My son, age 15, graduated the eighth grade from the Richland School of Academic Arts, last year. He would do his first year of high school in China.
We knew it would be hard, but we had no idea just how hard it would get. The first four months were rough.
The school I worked for lied about our accommodations. They told us we would have a “two-bedroom apartment” which turned out to be dorm rooms down the hall from one another. The rooms were very small, with little space to move around, and no windows to look outside. There were students on our floor, so we had to be quiet all the time.
In early January, I paid for us to move to an apartment. We were only in it six days before our Chinese New Year vacation began on Jan. 18. We went to Beijing and got to see the major sights, such as The Great Wall, The Temple of Heaven, The Summer Palace, The Forbidden City, and much more.
Around Day Three of our trip we started hearing about this virus that was spreading in the lower part of China, over 800 miles away. I wasn’t worried.
On Day Four of our trip, my school sent out a message to all of the foreign teachers that we were to “remain in place and indoors.” Since we were staying in an AIRBNB, we could not stay there past our planned nine days. I was able to cancel our train tickets back to our province on Sunday and reschedule for Saturday, which was the earliest I could get tickets to go back.
We spent our last two days in Beijing in our holiday apartment as all of the major sights were now being closed just days after we visited. We took a train back to Weifang in Shandong Province and were met with fully suited medical teams taking everyone’s temperature before allowing us to leave the train station.
seemed normal back in our 1.7 million-population-city. Due to the
holiday, it was quiet anyway, but shops were open, and it was business
A few days after getting back, I went to the store and when I returned, a medical person at our apartment complex took my temperature before allowing me back into the complex.
A few days after that, the buses and taxis stopped running. In China they have a service like Uber that most foreigners use call DiDi. I was still able to take DiDi to get to and from the distant supermarket.
Two days later, DiDi stopped running. My Chinese co-teacher contacted me and said we needed to go to the grocery store and get two weeks’ worth of supplies. My son and I walked to the grocery store but there was no way we would carry our groceries back to our apartment, so my co-teacher and her husband picked us up in their car and took us back.
She told me that she and her family had been under a 14-day quarantine in their apartment because her husband had been to the epicenter of Wuhan. She looked tired and scared. At the gate to our complex, they were told they could not help us carry groceries to our apartment.
Two days later, I went downstairs to one of my favorite produce stores to discover that ALL shops were closed. Nothing was open. There were no people out. The Chinese New Year was officially over yet the normally crowded and loud streets remained completely silent.
Of course, we were watching the news, where the epicenter of the outbreak, in Wuhan, was over 500 miles from us, but the virus was spreading.
Our city went on complete lockdown two days ago as the virus is now here. We were told that we can only go out every third day, and only one of us can go.
school kept pushing out our start date for the second semester by each
week, but finally yesterday we were told that school would not start in
the month of February and to wait for further instructions regarding
We are going into our third week of being isolated in our apartment. We are getting lots of information and misinformation. Some of our foreign teachers, who went to their home countries for the holiday, have been unable to return. Others were able to leave to go back to their native countries before the flights were shut down.
My son and I are waiting it out, hoping things improve soon. I’ve talked to our American Embassy and they’ve told us they are only evacuating people from the epicenter at this time, but I am on an email list of updates.
The virus has killed over 1,000 people in just a few weeks. There are more than 50,000 infected. There are all sorts of conspiracy theories mixed in with facts, but it’s hard to decipher them sometimes.
With the unexpected death of the 34-year-old doctor who was the first whistleblower of the virus, and who was arrested and had to sign a document saying he was spreading rumors, China is restless.
The Chinese people are gracious and kind, but very secretive. I keep getting notices from the local government to “inform the local police” if I suspect a neighbor of being sick. People are avoiding one another. Everyone is terrified.
Today I begin teaching my 10th and 11th grade classes online, a last-minute decision that was ordered by the government. Between that and my online courses that I already do, I am plenty busy. My son has started his online academy classes again, so things feel a little bit back to normal, but now that we cannot even go for a walk outside, it’s suffocating.
I wanted to share this back home. Please be thinking of my son and I as we navigate a country where we are strangers, and a deadly virus that frightens us daily.