studio apartment in chengdu

This isn’t jail, but it does feel like it

My manager told me he is having a hard time keeping up with the days. That’s the type of shit people say in jail. So for my manager, and let’s use some weak deductive reasoning, being stuck at home due to the coronavirus is like being in jail.

I spent eight hours in jail four years ago. Or maybe it was five. It’s hard to keep up with the years. Jail is a crappy experience. The food sucks, the people in jail are more helpful than the jail workers, and the fastest way out is through money you may or may not have. Being stuck in my apartment isn’t jail. The food is better.

My family wants me to take the first available flight back to the US. I don’t actually know if that’s possible right now. News is hard to come by. I keep reassuring them the coronavirus hasn’t had the same effect on Chengdu as the various places Americans are reading about. This doesn’t mean we aren’t immune to the panic and concern. It just means we don’t feel a sense of panic or concern.

Chengdu is roughly 720 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. That’s the distance between Atlanta and Chicago. Atlanta to Chicago is a far drive. But Chicago may feel too close for comfort if you knew there was an outbreak in the city. I guess it’s all about perspective.

I’m not quarantined. I can leave my apartment whenever I want. Sure, I have to flash my building card to prove my residence. And there is a guard ready to point a temperature gun at my head at every door. But I feel free enough. And yet, it still feels like jail.

I can walk where I want, but don’t have places to walk to. Most businesses are closed. KFC didn’t have chicken today. Same goes for Pizza Hut, only serving pasta. So I spend most of my time trying to stay busy in a small studio apartment. Being a hermit was easy in America. I guess because it was a choice. It can cause one to lose their mind in China. I guess because there aren’t many other choices available.

Before the outbreak, I left the apartment every day. Five days to teach in a classroom, the other two to hang out with coworkers or run errands. I was slowly getting used to socializing, doing trivia on Tuesday nights (or it may have been Wednesdays, I can’t remember), and developing a daily routine. I felt like each day had purpose and helped toward building a life in China.

I was starting to appreciate my home life boiling down to adulting, showering, and sleeping. It’s very unlike my life in Atlanta where I only left the front door for work, groceries, and exercise. Then everything changed.

Instead of exploring the city, I’m exploring the depths of a room that is feeling more and more like a box. My cooking is better. I have a routine for washing, drying, and ironing my clothes. I’m coming up with better ways to download movies. I’m doing a lot of push-ups and lunges.

There is only so long this mode of living can keep me engaged. My manager texts me once a day just to see where my head is at. Probably to connect on how we’re all struggling with this. Probably to try and gauge my interest in sticking around. If there were ever a time for the school to lose new teachers, this is it.

And yet, I know it’s a lot worse in a city that may or may not be that far away. At least I can walk outside. At least no one is talking down to me if I forget to put on my mask. At least the streets aren’t completely empty. At least I have some shred of normalcy. At least I feel like the day is coming when I can get back to the life I signed up for.

This is my life in the wake of outbreak: boredom. It is not the life you are reading about. It’s not what you are seeing in photos. There is no outrage. There is no fear. Just me chilling at the house, hoping everyone stays safe, waiting for things to change.

You don’t have to wear a mask everyday. And I don’t have to keep up with how many times I leave my apartment or for how long. But there are people less than 700 miles from me, thousands of miles from you, whose lives have been impacted in a way we can’t imagine and are not experiencing.

When my friends and family want details on what is going on, I can’t give them much. The most I can do is reassure them everything is fine. Because it is. For me. I don’t feel like I’m in danger. I’m just waiting to be released from this reality. It’s better than life miles away, and it sucks all the same. This isn’t jail, but it feels like it.

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