Living in the Midst of COVID-19 in China

Apr 6, 2020 10:06:17 AM Sarah Rymer

Living in China during the rage of COVID-19 calls on our family to be thankful. From the epicenter of this pandemic, we’re thankful for the grace of perfect, sovereign-directed timing that allows us to now encourage you with how some of our Chinese friends have survived possibly the world’s strictest (so far) approach to controlling the spread of the virus.


First, the background information. The COVID-19 pandemic began to escalate in China during their biggest holiday, Chinese New Year. Feasting, visiting, traveling, ongoing traditions – these festivities should go on for 14 days! However,­ by the second day, most people felt the tremors ripple out from Wuhan. All activities were demanded to cease. Each housing development secured their borders with different sets of rules. The most common rule permitted only one family member per household to leave their apartment only once every three days with a two-hour time limit to buy groceries. People in China do not have yards where they can escape.

Some families quarantined with grandparents, as many as six people in one apartment (approximately 300 square feet). Each person still must carry around a proof-of-health app on their phone that, once scanned, shares their information. Each community installed barricades, where only those with entry-exit permit could cross. Every person was required to register their comings and goings and record their temperature.

How did Chinese folks carry on for six weeks like this without going crazy? I asked some Chinese friends this question.

Sharon, who is the ultimate Mandarin teacher, focused her time on enhancing her artistic skills. Although I personally cannot imagine her cooking improving any more (she’s a wok-star), she devoted special time daily to try her favorite recipes with new creative twists. She read books that she’s always wanted to read and also endeared the labors of practicing calligraphy – the art form of writing characters to the point where foreigners cannot read them. Sharon has always been creative, but I was inspired to hear how she captured her arts into a routine.

Brandon, one of my closest friends, is a solid introvert. In some ways the lockdown became the dream life. Yet I am impressed with how intentional he sought out friends via technological connections and listened to them, caring to ask the right questions to hear their inner thoughts. “It took time,” he said. “It took energy.” But he landed at deeper places in friendships than prior to the lockdown.

Sam and his wife, my neighbors, often feel it is their neighborly duty to instruct us on Chinese culture (someone’s got to!), and Sam did not miss his cue here. He approached his quarantine time with a sense of duty towards his country and acclaims that this alleviated the tensions of boredom. He emphasized the importance of a detailed routine but drew excitement in detailing that his family only ate healthy foods. They did everything as a family unit, father-mother-son. They walked in safe places, watched movies, and read books. All together! The crux for their survival – they enjoy each other and wanted more time together.

The tension relaxes here in China, while it ratchets up for those of you elsewhere on the globe. The country as a whole is still taking major precautions in order to prevent the return of the virus. Some people still have not returned to work, and only two grades in high school have reopened. The government encourages that no one gathers in large groups.

China indeed was the epicenter for COVID-19 and has experienced its cruelty and loneliness; therefore, my friends are thrilled for the opportunity to encourage you and to share their reflections on how they spent their “compulsory rest time.”

How are you living in the midst of COVID-19 in your part of the world?


About the Author: Jamie is an IDEAS Associate who has lived and taught in China with his wife, Bethany, for five years. He is accredited in using ropes courses to incorporate experiential-based learning and has a permaculture certificate. Read more about Jamie and his family here: 6 Tips to Travel Internationally with Kids.


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