(Cover photo source: Jason Zheng)
On 7th February 2022, the spring 2022 semester started as usual. For me, it was even smoother than the previous semesters as I did not go through quarantine. I was busy studying for new courses and meeting new classmates when the lockdown started, and our activities were slowly restricted. The irony was that, at that point, I was still hoping all of these would end shortly and that I would soon be back in the classrooms.
Our usual activities were gradually restricted. In the beginning, the only change to our lives was the class setting, where we needed to attend classes on zoom and submit homework online. It was hard to concentrate on online classes, and even more challenging when I had to stay in dorms where other people around me had their own things to do. Then we were asked to pick up takeout from the front gate, which was sometimes quite annoying when the front door was a mess, and people could not find their food. I knew a little about cooking and it often took me a long time but choosing to order takeout meant that I had to be prepared to be interrupted by phone calls. Later on, we were forbidden from leaving the Jinqiao neighborhood and the “tomorrow meal” program was launched. It made me feel bored, and every day seemed to go on forever.
It was also when I became conscious that I was in low spirits. Classes were interrupted by PCR tests; there was bad news on the internet, which was later deleted; my friends who lived off-campus were complaining about a lack of food, and my friends on-campus complained about a lack of basic necessities. I was, to some extent, well protected by our school. I was not lacking food or necessities and had a place to live, but reading excessive messages containing negative information made me feel like the world was turning over. I was depressed and angry that people around me were having a hard time.
Apart from those depressing messages that I am now learning to handle, other things that happened during that time period also kept me down. The first was the disturbing COVID tests. While preparing to watch class recordings, I would often receive a WeChat notification that we should get ready to take a PCR test. However, I did not get used to being interrupted by those sporadic tests until I had completed half of my finals. The second was how I could not perform as well as before in my studies under these circumstances. I was spending twice the amount of time as before trying to understand the same type of concepts. The third was how people around me, like my floormates, behaved when snacks arrived in front of the elevators. Our fellow students are kind and generous people who were used to sharing our food and supplies with others. But in those scenarios, we either stood by the elevators and grabbed the snacks as soon as they arrived or failed to catch the message sent by our RA regarding the arrival of the snacks and got angry at the empty boxes. I even heard that people would lock their doors to prevent their snacks from getting stolen. I was sitting in the common room one time after picking up some snacks when I heard three floormates shouting angrily by the empty boxes, saying they did not get any chocolate cake. The only thing I could do was to return half of my cakes to the boxes, as I could not ask others to do the same. The fourth thing was regarding the group orders. I helped with the group orders and submitted refunds if there was a problem but students would sometimes put the blame on the group order leaders for not getting their orders on time or receiving rotten food. One time my friend, who was also a group order leader, was angry and speechless when some students blamed her for receiving rotten food. The fifth was the truth we learned from Chancellor Lehman’s email. Our neighbors who we share in the Jinqiao community were dissatisfied with our outdoor activities and wanted to report us to the Shanghai government to forbid us from going out. It made me feel like our school could only surrender and could not protect our benefits.
During one desperate phone call with my parents, my mom asked me to uninstall Zhihu and Weibo apps on my cell phone and unfollow some of the WeChat subscription accounts on WeChat. She also advised me to turn off the Moments tab on WeChat. Her instructions were helpful. I felt better after doing so. Isolated from those messages containing depressing information, I went on to prepare for my finals and waited patiently for the summer, anticipating when the lockdown would be lifted and I could finally leave all of this behind. Through all of this, I gradually learned to work normally when unexpected events and negative emotions bothered me.
Besides, focusing on the bright side can be helpful. I kept telling myself that I was well-protected, in the sense that I did not need to worry about food and necessities while living in Jinqiao. My floormates were also sharing their supplies with me. We put our pots and spoons in the kitchen and put laundry detergent and laundry cards on the washing machine for others to use. My experience in lockdown over the last three months is a part of my life journey, and I can certainly do better the next time something similar happens to me.
When I reflect on my experience during the last three months in Shanghai now, I think it is important to remind myself of those positive things in my life and learn to live with uncertainty. COVID-19 is far from ending and lockdowns will not be uncommon in the future, but we can still maintain a positive attitude and do what we can to improve the situation.