Life with Coronavirus in Chengdu: a Q&A

1. Who are you?

My name is Lawrence and I am originally from New Jersey, USA and have been living in Chengdu for the last five years.

I have worn many hats while working here in industries and roles such as: education, entrepreneurship, cryptocurrencies, and management. I am married to a lovely Sichuanese woman and we have an apartment here in Chengdu.

In my spare time I enjoy studying Chinese, writing, making podcasts and Youtube videos, and enjoying the vast array of Sichuan’s incredible cuisine.

2. When did you personally feel that the coronavirus situation in China was serious? Was there an event which alerted you to the seriousness of the situation?

It came in stages.

I rememberer around the middle of January I started hearing reports of a possible outbreak and was alarmed. At that time people didn’t seem to be taking it too seriously and I remember being laughed off as a hypochondriac by my in-laws when I was skeptical to go out to a restaurant to celebrate my birthday. I did go out, but I made sure to wear a mask to err on the side of caution.

The next stage was when I saw it covered on CNN and having my WeChat groups inundated with news about it — and it didn’t let up or fade away.

The final stage was when the American government issued a level 4 travel advisory coupled with a conversation I had with a contact of mine who is a mask distributor and he shared info with me that factories are turning down millions of dollars in cash from him because there were Chinese showing up with tens of millions of dollars to buy out all of the masks in Korea.

3. How scary has this event been for yourself, your family, or your friends in Chengdu?

It’s been quite an ordeal. My American friends and family are all worried about my wife and I and I get messages daily. This virus remains front and center of practically every single WeChat group and WeChat Moments post.

As for me, I don’t get scared, I get vigilant. I have been taking measures to ensure that no one in my home gets this virus and we have all been on lockdown here — seems extreme but we have to do it.

Public banner from a local propaganda department. This one directly from Xi Jinping himself.

4. You’ve spoken to many in Chengdu about this. What’s your feeling of their overall sentiment. Are they generally upbeat about the government response?

People are scared – it would be weird if they weren’t right? When Dr. Li passed away, things got quite dicey on my WeChat Moments and Weibo. I even read some dissenting criticism on the China Daily comment section — for anyone familiar with Chinese news, that’s a shocking development.

I have heard from a friend in Shanghai that his girlfriend isn’t too pleased with some things. I can’t really go into detail.

For the most part I think that the masses are overall pleased with how things are being run during these times — much more understanding and compliant than, say, Americans would be back at home. I personally feel that the Chinese government is doing a great job at handling this and share the sentiment of many Chinese that it was an amazing feat that a hospital could be built in mere days.

Do I wish that more measures and information was made public a bit sooner, of course, but do I respect and admire the measures being taken now.

5. In your opinion does nationalism tie deeply into the coronavirus epidemic? How important is it to people in Chengdu or China that they stick together as a nation?

Nationalism is very strong and alive here. A peculiar ethos which is felt and seen every day during normal times. During this outbreak I have seen some of the good and bad of hyper-nationalism. Amongst some of the bad, blaming foreign countries. But there is also plenty of good, such as the sense of community and uplifting encouragement heard when people chant 武汉加油, 中国加油!(“Go China, Go Wuhan!”)

This epidemic is felt hard by everyone here, and people are quite understanding of others and are working the best they can with great cohesion to mitigate the damage and lookout for each other.

6. What’s buying food like in Chengdu? Are there any shortages, rises in costs, feelings or urgency, or any other problems you’ve observed?

Many stores are closed. My favorite restaurant is closed for another month. You can still find some vegetable markets at minimarts open but it’s definitely a bit harder to get the plethora of amazing food selection which we are all accustomed to having here. I haven’t seen many rising costs, personally. I do know that the government is working hard to ensure that there isn’t any price-gouging.

I know my friends in Wuhan are stocking up and having some difficulties, but as for here in Chengdu I am not seeing a mass panic or a strong sense of urgency to stock up on food — masks however are out of stock and are in hot demand.

7. When you go outside, what do you wear and how do you protect yourself?

A stylish Italian sweater and fitted pants. That’s a joke.

Two masks, a surgical one as well as a N95 rated mask. I also have a heavy-duty respirator that can be used if I (heaven forbid) need to get on public transportation or an airplane. I could count on one hand how many time I have been outside this month as it is quite dangerous to do so, but when I do I make sure to mask up and carry tissues with me to touch things (doors, elevator buttons).

When I get home I immediately wash my hands with soap and water. I also have hand sanitizer which I use to spray on my electronics and hands periodically. I have never washed or sanitized my hands so much in my entire life! This is quite strange for me, as I would not consider myself to be a “germaphobe” in any sense, but am on heightened alert.

8. When do you you expect life to return to normal in Chengdu? Have you spoken to others who have offered predictions, and if so, what do they think?

No one really knows. I have no background in this at all but If I had to offer a guess I would say by the end of April or beginning of May things might be under control. I have heard from Chinese friends that things will be better by the end of February, but I have also read reports online saying it will go into the summer. I believe the government is taking this extremely seriously and will eradicate this as soon as possible.

As for the people, all we can do as is be vigilant, prepare for the worst, while also keeping a sense of optimistic hope that this will all be under control soon.

9. What restrictions has your apartment community instituted? Anything especially unusual? Are the restrictions easy to live with?

Several weeks ago every pedestrian entering the complex had to have their temperature taken before being let in. A week or so ago, all cars and pedestrians had this requirement and some gates were closed.

This week things are even more strict and only one person per household is allowed to leave — We are given a clock in/out card and can only leave once per day. What strikes me as a bit surreal is the constant announcements coming from the security’s megaphone in my housing community which loops a recording of how we shouldn’t leave, and if we must leave that we must wear our masks. It’s reminiscent of old WWII movies I’ve seen.

Entry and exit card for my apartment complex

Is this easy to live with? No. Is it a smart step, yes I think it is.

10. Is there anything you’d like to convey about life in Chengdu through this experience that you feel is not reported or understood by people outside of China?

Chinese, and Chengdunese in particular, are wonderful and warm people. We are going through a rough time right now, but things will be better soon. Many countries have faced their own sort of turmoil with national disasters and outbreaks, it just happens to be that this time it is happening in China.

I hope the world roots for us to win, rather than stigmatizing China and Chinese people or using this as a time to sensationalize the news or write hit-pieces excited about how everything is supposedly falling apart. The truth is that the Chinese government and Chinese people are handling this really well, and I am proud and honored to live here and have no plans to flee any time soon.


Links & Lawrence’s Youtube

Lawrence has a Youtube channel here. Below is a recent video on the coronavirus in Chengdu.

1 thought on “Life with Coronavirus in Chengdu: a Q&A”

  1. Thanks for the informative post Lawrence. It is pretty much what my wife has experienced although in our complex they are confined to baracks with one person per household allowed out only once every 2 days. She is on her own and probably starting to go stir crazy. But the apartment is as clean and shiny as a new pin and all the houseplants are still alive.

    Looking at the statistics and reports it would appear that the threat within Chengdu is not serious provided that the existing protocols are followed but could well have been so if they had not been put in place – a necessary evil. So yes, I also applaud the authorities.

    All this kicked off while I was in the UK but it now looks as if I will be stuck here in the for another 2 to 3 months before they start easing the restrictions. Hopefully it will happen earlier when the warmer weather arrives.

    Stay safe. Paranoia can be a good thing.


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