As I write this, it's been 58 days since the lockdown in Shanghai started on March 28 in Pudong, where I reside. On the day before the confinement, our family had a great time riding bikes around our neighborhood and looking at the cherry blossoms, which were in their last days of beauty.
We also stumbled upon a newish ramen joint that fed us delicious ramen served by a well-mannered chef/waiter, which had us planning to return the day after. But, of course, as with life itself, sometimes things don't work out as planned.
Things are slowly looking up as the city rouses itself from hibernation and inches its way to normalcy. As much as I look forward to my freedom, and hopefully no more PCR tests on weekend mornings, a part of me can't help but feel that I might miss this peaceful time when it's all over. When I glean and reflect, this lockdown period has many teachable moments for me.
Spoilt by China
I used to buy everything online without minimum purchase and it would arrive anywhere between half an hour to three days max. No matter how bulky an item is, everything was delivered to my doorstep by kuaidi (deliverymen). Every day felt like Christmas living in China.
My ayi (domestic helper) used to come to my house from Monday to Friday to take care of chores that I dislike, and we would both sit down to enjoy a hot lunch she made for us. For dinner, I simply strutted to my spotless kitchen to whip up a meal for my appreciative family, who probably had no idea that the ingredients were bought, washed, and chopped by ayi before she headed home.
When my toilets got stuck, light bulbs blew and drinking water ran low, all I needed to do was make a call to wuye (property management) and someone would sort it out for me.
Perhaps, this temporary halt is to teach me not to take all the backstage heroes, who run Shanghai and make my life so much easier here, for granted.
Ask and it shall be given to you
Ten days into the lockdown, I was left with only two eggs and low food supplies. I have lived in my compound for five years, but I hardly knew anyone or was in any compound's group chat. I am, admittedly, stubbornly independent, but now I was left with no choice.
Casting my pride aside, I asked to be invited into the compound group chat and the rest is history. From strangers to Samaritans, I could not have survived this lockdown without my neighbors' help.
My husband has always left all the cooking to me since we got married, which means I've been prepping his meals for 16 years. A gourmand lover and a fan of cooking shows, the idea of stepping into "my" kitchen has never occurred to him until ... I asked. You see, I had a selfish motive. I didn't want to cook seven days a week without a break, so I came up with a plan in my head and christened it "Believe and Let Go."
First, I asked my husband to take a break from his screen by helping me in the kitchen when I made dinner, so he is familiar with where things are. Next, I told him that, for someone who loves food so much, he has the potential to be a great cook. Why doesn't he google a simple recipe of his favorite food and give it a go this weekend, since he has nowhere to go anyway? – Believe. The final step, when he made it to the kitchen, was to step aside and allow Google to wifey him. Even if he messes up the kitchen, breaks stuff and burns his food – Let Go.
Thanks to the resourcefulness of our group-buying leader neighbors, my fridge is now stuffed like I am preparing for an impending famine. As for my husband, he has a few delectable dishes under his belt and is eager to try new recipes on the weekends.
Perhaps this lockdown is meant to teach me that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
Just do it
In our compound, 12 percent of expats left Shanghai in the last two months. Friends announcing their departures through texting is becoming a new normal for my teens, except that the reality is stalled behind screens for now. Some friends whom I made coffee plans with but never followed through with when we were leading busy social lives in Shanghai have relocated, and who knows if our paths will ever cross again.
As I mourn for my loss and come to terms with the transience of life, I am reminded that nothing stays forever, neither suffering nor celebration. Perhaps, this is meant to teach me that I shouldn't leave words unspoken, dreams stalled and coffee dates for another day, because sometimes we don't get another chance.
Before we left the ramen shop the night before lockdown kicked in, the chef/waiter stood at the entrance, bowed, and thanked us for coming. I paused and hesitated, but as an afterthought, decided to tell him that his ramen noodles were delicious and that our family would be back again. He beamed with pride and bowed deeper.
(The author is a Singaporean freelancer based in Shanghai.)