What you’re seeing is a picture of a relatively empty street in Chengdu, China. This is the street outside of my apartment. It is usually filled with pedestrians, cars, and more pedestrians. But not today.
And no, not because of the coronavirus. It’s actually because of Spring Festival, also known as the Chinese New Year. For two days last week, it seemed everyone was carrying two pieces of luggage to the subway station and trying to get the fuck out. Sounds like a scene from a zombie movie. In actuality, everyone left to see their families because apparently families don’t live in Chengdu.
The difference in pedestrian and vehicle traffic is drastic. I’m used to traffic lightening up around the holidays. I legit get excited about going to work around Thanksgiving and the end of December. Not because work excites me. I never look forward to labor. But it is nice to earn about an extra hour of time away from the office simply because I can get to and from work 30 minutes faster.
I have never seen the streets empty out quite like this, though. Atlanta is never this desolate around the holidays. I know some of that is due to American holidays being shorter (certainly not four to seven days) and having both incoming and outgoing travelers. Regardless, seeing an otherwise busy city like Chengdu become so deserted is a shock to the system.
I actually got to sit down on the subway train. It was a wild experience, not having to stand and such. It made me uncomfortable, so I stood up anyway. People stared at me like they were offended. It’s not you, it’s just–I’m new here.
Even in the midst of a city going quiet, there is a silent panic over the coronavirus. It isn’t mayhem, akin to how Atlanta freaks out and buys every loaf of bread and gallon of milk in the city just because it may or may not snow within 24 hours. But the coronavirus’ presence is pervading.
I can’t claim to know a lot about how the virus started. I just know the death toll is rising. Information is hard to come by, and the ability to tap into a VPN seems more difficult. But I have noticed everyone wearing a mask (which they weren’t before). I know DiDi (China’s Uber or Lyft) and a growing number of public venues are now requiring people to wear masks. And security guards at certain locations are recording everyone’s temperature.
At my apartment, the security placed a thermometer gun at my head when I returned from Wal-Mart. And no, not because I’m black. They are doing it to everyone who tries to enter. I show no signs of illness, so I’m good. I’m genuinely curious to know what happens if someone is found to have a high temperature.
I’ve been relatively healthy through all of this despite coming off a cold. At this point, security doesn’t even bother checking me. They just let me in and tell everyone else to move out of my way. I like that. I enjoy feeling like a VIP to my own place.
There was an officer and medial staff member ringing doorbells to note information from people. They wanted to know if anyone had come to Chengdu from another city, if they had any symptoms, etc. My lack of Mandarin made their job much harder. But, on the plus side, at least I opened my door to them. No one else on my floor could say that.
So streets that are normally empty around this time (as I’ve been told) are simultaneously surrounded by residents who have been advised to stay indoors and businesses that are closed for the impending future. Ghost town. Cooped up in my apartment is not the way I expected to spend my second week in China.