Thriving in a Corona Red Zone (Plus Other DIY Tips for 2020)

The 2020’s are off to an interesting start…

            As the roaring decade commences, several layers of life are stacking up like jenga bricks, creating a wobbly bobbly vibe to things. These jenga pieces I’ve divided up into 4 groups – 4 jolts to my sense of normalcy as the 20’s ignite.   

            We might as well start with coronavirus. An epidemic that, at first, I took the same way that I take US men’s soccer… very… very seriously.

            Let’s just say that circa late January I was completely undisturbed by the virus. There were no cases reported yet in my city (Guangzhou). I saw one or two people wearing masks, but it’s Asia – people do that here.

            Today in Guangzhou, almost all shops, restaurants, businesses, and establishments of any kind with a physical address are closed for business. The gates to my campus are shut, and people are not allowed to come and go without written permission.

            We have one dining hall that stays open, which you can enter only with a formal ID, body temperature scan, and surgical mask on your face. Helicopters… hovering all the time, I have no idea what they’re doing. At least I know when it comes time to get to the chopper I’ll be in luck.

            What makes the situation stranger is that the ban on campus entry began during the peak of Chinese New Years, when all of the students had just left to go home.

            I, however, did not leave campus to go home, because my home is 10,000 miles away. That is a long schlep… so I stayed.

            This means that since campus lockdown first began three weeks ago, I’ve been one of the only people here. If you’re thinking it might be strange being alone on a closed campus with helicopters and viruses hovering around wreaking paranoia … yeah.

            But, it’s been funny at times – the workers in the dining hall had to stay here too, and we all know each other by name now. They know the foods I like and don’t like, and they don’t even ask anymore what I want to eat for lunch, they just serve me exactly what I want.

At mealtime, we chat through our face masks, usually about the virus, but sometimes about life in general. Xiaoling, the mastermind lunch lady behind our scrumptious duck stew has a 10-year-old boy who is not studying hard enough… what a pity!

            More or less daily I receive distressed messages from family and friends overseas. Apparently, things look pretty bad from the outside.

            If you’re wondering, I am doing fine (honestly). The place I live is not at all bad. Campus is being great on prevention, but I am still taking all precautions.

            Ok… of the 4 wobbly layers of life I mentioned earlier, that was number one­; lethal contagion, city lockdown.

            Layer two is my hundred-page Master’s thesis due in one week, which as it stands, is more likely to kill me than coronavirus. However, nothing to fear –I employed a bold tactic circa late January that has been panning out just swimmingly – 1,000 words per day, no excuses.

            1,000 words of thesis takes me about 6 hours. So since late January, every day, I wake up, knock out 2 hours. Lunch (and chat with Xiaoling about her delinquent son). Thesis all afternoon. Finally, on a good day, I might finish just before sundown.

            When the juices are flowing boyyy nothing can stop me. On days when the flow isn’t… flowing… some strong caffeination and aimless pacing around my empty campus seems to work.

            Thus, layer two is the daily skirmish for 1,000 words that begins each day the moment I open my eyes.

            Layer three is a nice one…Springtime.

            My campus is a tourist destination for “flower-peepers.” We are an agricultural university, and we pride ourselves on our campus flora. Thousands of different plant species imported from all over the world, with an emphasis on flower-bearing trees. Flower bearing trees that beginning circa late January, have been slowly and steadily erupting into full bloom.

            Normally, in early March you could not even ride a bicycle to class on my campus – the crowds of tourists completely congest all sidewalks and streets. Last year, 100,000 people entered our campus in one day just to meander around and ogle at our picturesque quads.   

            This year, I am one of few oglers.

            So, if things weren’t abnormal enough, leaving the house now entails engulfment by eye-popping bloom and intoxicating floral aromas, together amidst a backdrop of deafening silence. It’s like a 5-gum commercial, but with undertones of Armageddon, and a side-plot of… scholarly pursuit?

            Layer three was sensory saturation. Now, finally, layer four.

            Circa late January, as life started to unravel into the circus it has become today, I threw one more kink into the works. A measure to help potentially alleviate some of the mayhem I foresaw heading my way.

            I downloaded a daily meditation app.

            So far, it’s been 33 days in a row of meditation (going for 100, of course). It’s not much – just 10 or 15 minutes per day of concentrating on the breath. I was astonished to discover that my mind in fact cannot focus on any one thing for more than about… 10 seconds. I believe by day 100, those numbers could be as high as… 12 seconds.

A newbie, I am… but the practice is rewarding. I’ve observed a slight calming effect on my mood (much needed), and maybe some subtle benefits to cognition, although that has more likely been the result of mainlining caffeinated tea throughout the day.

            So, there you have my DIY tips for 2020 – avoid virus, ogle flowers, battle writer’s block, and don’t forget to breathe.  

            I’ll wrap up on this note:

            Now is by all means a hectic moment, but it is a unique one. A weird, panic-invoking, but unspeakably beautiful time.

            A circadian cycle of struggle and success. Disorder and uncertainty amidst expanding awareness. Profound beauty …coupling disquieting silence…

            Day in, day out.

            Breathe in, breathe out.