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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: A Friend In China, And A Look At Our Future

Tommy Tomlinson

Today, we look into the future. About nine weeks into the future.

Our friend Ching-Ching Ni lives in Beijing, where she’s the editor for the Chinese website of The New York Times. Beijing is about 700 miles north of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected.

Ching-Ching, her husband and their two daughters have been on lockdown since late January. They thought the quarantine would last a week. Now it has been almost nine weeks, although like here, people have been able to leave their homes for essentials like food or medicine.

I emailed Ching-Ching for some thoughts on what life has been like there.

“Everything was hard in the beginning,” she said. “We were not prepared at all, not just for the long haul, but for our immediate needs, like extra food and masks. … The bigger challenge was mental, how to sort out what was really going on, when and how this was going to end. And holding it together for the family, so the kids don’t think the sky is falling.”

Ching-Ching’s Facebook and Instagram feeds show how her family has found ways to cope. Her daughters made a tent out of bedroom sheets. Her husband tried out some new recipes. The four of them celebrated the Chinese New Year, taking a family portrait in masks.

“We definitely went through various stages of denial and anger,” she said. “But once we resolved to accept our new reality, and make the most of a bad situation, we realized how we are able to stay home as a family, and create quality time together.” 

China’s authoritarian government has powers the United States government doesn’t. People have been more inclined to stay home and obey government orders. For that reason, and probably others, the number of cases per capita in China is lower than many other countries, including the U.S.

But the virus has still killed more than 3,000 people in China, part of the nearly 24,000 deaths worldwide.

Chinese officials are worried about a second wave of the virus. But for now, the number of new cases has dwindled – China, for the time being, has flattened the curve.

As a result, parts of the country are easing some restrictions. A few days ago, Ching-Ching went outside for the first time since the quarantine started. Kids were playing jump-rope. Couples were out on dates. It looked almost like normal, except that everyone was wearing masks.

I asked her what she wishes she had known before all this started, and what advice she would give us, nine weeks behind her.

“We had no advanced warning. So we had to make it up as we went,” she said. “Given what I know now, I would always prepare extra food, masks, emergency medicines and an exit strategy. Don’t wait for things to get worse before protecting yourself. The virus is something you can’t see. There is still so much we don’t know about it.  Don’t assume anything.”

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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