I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan since dawn. Mostly in my head, seeing as my woman and I only have one set of working earphones between us. With the web of traveling restrictions tightening around the world, we are still stuck – as thumb-twiddling ESL teachers – in China. At times like these, one can not afford any undue luxuries. At times like these, one reaches for freewheeling Western comforts like howling harmonicas, poetic wisdom and prophetic wit. Within or without. Go figure.
In Subterranean Homesick Blues, Dylan muses: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” This morning, judging by the smog and the slight whiff of sulphur on the breeze, it’s coming from the direction of Beijing and Tianjin’s huge factory complexes in the north. For after a slumber of almost two months, under newfound blue-ish skies that would have made Sir Bob himself feel homesick as hell, the giant has awakened. Once again.
While the rest of the world has been forced into an uneasy sleep, it’s back to business as usual for the People’s Republic. Almost. Schools and (l)earning centres remain closed, but the local captains of industry are firmly back at the helm, steering their economy full speed ahead, in what appears to be a mad dash towards the finish line. The dazed hare is giving the tossing-and-turning tortoise the slip.
For the times they are a-changin’.
It’s with a mixture of fascination, horror and deja vu that we’ve been witnessing coronavirus chaos envelop the rest of the globe. Just like everyone else, we have no idea how and when all of this is going to end, and what the result of, quite possibly, a shift in world economy and global power may be. There are so many questions, and so few answers. Where exactly did the outbreak start? Is the virus an engineered bioweapon, designed to terrify, isolate and (finally) enslave humanity into technocratic zombiedom? Is Mother Earth taking a firm hand to her once loving children for turning into selfish brats? Is it all a ruse cooked up by mass media, vaccine companies and the shadow government, to finally have all of us beg them to inject us with whatever the hell they need for absolute mind and bodily control? Is it just sheer, shitty biological luck? Is toilet paper overrated? What the fuck is going on?
Beats me. It gets me hot and bothered just thinking about it. I just hope that when I pop down to the corner store in a few minutes for a gallon of drinking water, the friendly folks with the red armbands and temperature scanners at the building gate don’t get a reading higher than 37.3 degrees Celsius from my wrist. If that’s the case, I’ll be questioned (in Chinese), detained and taken to a designated state hospital for testing, observation and God knows what else. Such is life in the Orient. Embrace the mystery.
So it’s best to stay calm and just, quite literally, play it cool. Which is altogether not a bad approach during what is turning out to be a psychopathic surrealist’s wet dream.
Take it from me: if you’re fortunate enough to be home right now – whatever that means to you and wherever that may be – be grateful. Take a deep breath, and reap comfort from the close proximity of family and friends, even if they’re stuck elsewhere behind closed doors. They’re still there.
Be grateful for the fact that you can pick up the phone and talk to a fellow human being who are in the same rocky boat and knows what you’re going through, without a nagging time delay and connectivity issues. When they look out of their window, in solace or dismay, they are seeing the exact same block of blessed blue sky as you do.
Be grateful for having unchecked access to popular social media platforms without the endless, soul-destroying hassle of trying to scale a soaring internet firewall. There is warmth to be found in front of a screen easily ablaze with feeds, “facts”, whacky cat videos and deliciously tasteless memes.
Be grateful that you can see, hear and read local news reports every day, and fully comprehend what’s being said. You’d be surprised how much fun is taken out of your daily dose of fear by trying to decipher every single word with an already vexed translation app.
Be grateful for a place where you can understand, and be understood. Where a smile can be offered and returned, even over the rim of a mask.
Give thanks for the ability to be stupidly, lovingly and wholeheartedly human during a time when humanity as a whole is facing an absurd challenge. It is still a privilege, not a right, and Fate has not seen fit to bestow it upon us all. Indeed, as China moves closer to finally squishing the bug of all bugs under it’s totalitarian heel, it still remains so very far removed from everyone and everything else. Which, right now, has got me humming the homesick blues. I’m doing my square human best not to take this personally, however. As Lord Melchett from the BBC series Blackadder (another favourite from the internal, Western pop culture memory bank) once said: “Like private parts to the gods are we. They play with us for their sport.”
So. Looking ahead, with the very real possibility that the rest of the world will aim to copy China’s Orwellian control measures to flatten the curve, let us hope that basic human freedoms will not be flatlined indefinitely in the process. May civil obedience, tempered by reason and right, and inspired cooperation rise through the ranks everywhere to ease our path back to the light. May draconian restrictions – as seen over here – on travel and freedom of movement, constant tracking and screening of individuals via mobile devices and the phasing out of “unsanitary” cash and cards (in favour of tightly controlled Snapscan type payment apps) only be implemented for as long as it’s absolutely necessary. If not, we may well be plunged deeper down the rabbit-hole of darkness, where bigger and much more sinister bugs await.
But hey, we’re not there yet. Take a breath. Shine a light. Best to play it cool, remember.
For now, allow me to leave you with some illustrated reminders of what one can do to cope with these extraordinary times. From a country where nothing is ever what it seems, and wearing a mask – a polished, alien shell that aims to hide the unadulterated weirdness underneath – is a way of life. And it never comes off, no matter how many times a day you wash up.
Avoid gathering in crowded places.
Ensure proper ventilation and get lots of fresh air.
Eat a well-balanced diet, and use food delivery services whenever possible.
Remain rested, and get plenty of sleep.
Make time for regular exercise, as it promotes a healthy immune system.
Present quality educational activities for children at home.
Shower your pets with love, as they can’t contract the virus and can be a great comfort.
In the end, everything will be just fine.
All images © Jac Kritzinger 2020.
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