Corona tales from Dali countryside
The past 5 months has been weird to say the least. All our lives changed even before we knew what was happening. It started with the arrival of the Covid-19 in China at the beginning of the year, followed by the massive spread of it to the rest of the world. It's now still lingering around and worse still, threatening to come back again like a bad house guest inviting all his freeloader friends to come stay. You just want them all to leave. For good.
Here in Dali, China, we went under lockdown much earlier than the rest of the world, just after Chinese New Year. We didn't have any Prime Minister's nation address or official statements from newspapers t inform us of what was going on. It was implemented slowly on a grassroots level and we learnt of new regulations every couple of days in person, when we tried to go about our daily lives. At the strictest point, we had gantries at every entrance to all villages, you were not allowed to enter the village if you did not live there. One member of each household was allowed to go to out to purchase food once every 2 days. We had to scan a QR code at every gantry. One a few special days, we were not allowed to leave our own village as we would not be let in again. Why? I never found out the reason. All shops, restaurants, hotels, were closed. The touristic Dali Old Town was basically a ghost town. Local food markets were shut down too, every village had one aunty that set up shop selling really basic vegetables and fruits, catering to that village only. This went on for about 3 weeks.
During the 4th week, I heard that our local fresh food market was back in business. I went to check it out and to my surprise the guards were no longer at their usual posts, we didn't have to scan any codes and the market was indeed open! Oh how good it felt to just buy apples from my usual fruit lady again. Although 3 weeks was not very long on hindsight, I was already starting to miss human interaction in a big way. Our countryside lifestyle in Dali didn't see us often in shops, cinemas or bars, but we did have lots of house parties, bbqs and dinner gatherings. Not being able to share food with friends during these couple of weeks were tough. And I also missed going out to the occasional restaurant, I never thought I'd get sick of cooking but I was and I was starting to dread everything I cooked. I remember I ordered a cheap bowl of soup noodles at the market that day and it was the best tasting food I could remember having for a long time. It tasted like freedom!
From that day things started to relax and slowly life got back to normal for us. Tourism is still suffering though, guesthouses are empty, shops are struggling and restaurants too with only local clientele to support them. People were wearing masks and gloves everywhere at the beginning but after a month of reopening, I forget to wear my mask when I head out now too. But you are meant to have masks on in taxis and public transport. Maybe 50% of the people are wearing masks in crowded places these days. Temperatures are still taken as you enter supermarkets and shops, public sports arenas and pools are still closed. We didn't have that many cases to begin with, I think we had 14 cases at the beginning of Chinese New Year and didn't have any new ones after the lockdown measures were put in place. I believe just the lay of the land (not densely populated) and the lifestyles of the people (staying home mostly even before the virus), helped a lot in getting control of the situation.
We did have an unpleasant experience when Arthur and I together with a couple of Chinese friends took a road trip to a nearby town for the weekend. This was maybe 2 weeks after we had reopened. We went to Shaxi, a quaint old town about 2 hours drive from Dali. We found a cute guesthouse and checked in. We gave the owner our passports and he proceeded to register us in his system. As we settled into our rooms, we decided to have a bit of rest before deciding what to do for the rest of the day. We were awoken from our naps by some commotion in the lobby. I could hear a couple of male voices talking to my Chinese friend. Soon, my friend knocked on our door and let us know what was happening. Apparently foreigners were not allowed to stay in this guesthouse, or any other guesthouse for that matter, and the local security police had come to inform us of this. China had just announced around that time that they would not allow any foreigners into the country, even those with existing long term visas. I guess this eviction had something to do with that rule. We tried to explain that we were residents of Dali, that we had been in Dali this whole time and had not left the country at all. But it fell on deaf ears. We decided there was not much we could do so we packed up. They escorted us all the way to the car to make sure we left their little town. It was the first time I had experienced discrimination as a foreigner in China. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Over the next couple of weeks, I would hear from other foreigner friends that they were being verbally abused by locals, getting screamed at to leave the country, people would cross the road to get away from or put on their masks on, as soon as they spotted a non-Chinese person. Sigh. I just feel sad when I think about how humans are our own worst enemy.
The May Labour Day holidays came and went without anyone even realising. It's usually such a crazy time in Dali with half of China traveling here for a visit. We usually self quarantine at home every year during this time just to avoid the crowds! The Old Town is back to 70% capacity I would say. There were still some tourists but nothing compared to how it usually gets. May 1 weekend we had a friend's bakery opening party (Simple Stone), followed by another gathering at another friend's bar (King Cat) with live music and beers in the sun on Saturday. On Sunday we attended the 3rd year anniversary of the one and only legit cocktail bar in Dali (Woods and Weeds) There was food, fun and friends. For the first time in a long time we felt like things were back to normal. I think everyone felt this deep appreciation, which made the gatherings even more enjoyable.
So although life seems back to "normal" for us here in Dali, no man is an island. With friends and family spread all over the world, the global situation is still very much a concern for everyone. With China's ban on foreigners re-entering the country, we cannot go anywhere for fear of not being able to return. In any case, there's no where to go. I'm terribly homesick I haven't been back home to Singapore for a year now. Summer plans to visit family in France is also out of the question for the moment. It's so unfortunate I know of many couples that are separated because of these existing travel bans, and friends who are stuck outside not able to return home for months now. So I know there is a lot to be grateful for and I am grateful that I am "stuck" in Dali with the good air and beautiful mountains, abundant food, water, Arthur and good friends. And my beautiful home! We (Well, Arthur) has been very busy making use of this time to fix up our home. In my next post I will share the home improvements and present to you Indigo House 2.0. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, stay safe, stay home and let's hope that bad house guest and his freeloading friends never come back.
PS: I'm sorry I know I haven't written in ages. Nothing like a reminder email from Wix that my yearly website fee payment of 200USD is due very soon to get my off my butt.