Shelter in Place Diary from a Chinese Working Mom living in the Silicon Valley— Week ONE
First-week “shelter in place” from the heart of Silicon Valley.
WFH, homeschooling our kids, having happy hours, virtual hangouts w/ friends and families, kids play dates & storytimes over zoom are the new reality of our lives. It’s been interesting to see the blurry of lines between our formal and informal beings.. when Steven Colbert and Jimmy Fallen start to do shows from their living rooms and backyard.
The growing inclusiveness of some of the conversations on zoom within our communities is striking. At Sunday church happy hours, more people stayed and participated — we see each other more up close in zoom windows. Our sleep deprivations, wrinkled home wears, messy tables behind us — it allows us to take a look into each other’s unedited lives. Somehow that was comforting.
We’ve (only) accidentally let my husband’s colleagues listened to our argument about if grocery shopping was an urgent task Once when social media feeds showed military vehicles spotted in our area — turned out it was the national guard on alert from the military base not far from us, not martial law or anything. The fear was there. It happened to be the same evening when I noticed multiple neighborhood Chinese SOS groups popped up instantly, mostly by zip code. This happened right after some video and wechat blogs from a Chinese man in NYC went viral last Tuesday, the man wore a baseball cap and looks like one of the newer Chinese restaurant owners in Flushing— a FOB mainland Chinese immigrant warning about hate crimes coming, stock up with guns and such. In all honesty, I have not encountered any direct attack yet — but I’ve also been Sheltering myself lately. The President’s comment unleashed some monsters for sure. We as a group is an easy target for all tHe frustrations and fears of losing jobs, of getting sick. Silicon Valley is supposedly a safe haven of global citizens. Will it continue to be? We’ll find out. I genuinely hope the neighborhood SOS WeChat groups are unnecessary, but I joined a few of them nevertheless. You never know.
This virus outbreak somehow boosted an online education boom. Also something a Chinese parent like myself had experienced online with ed-tech startups by the Chinese for a while. The enthusiasm from both supply and demand-side was impressive now that people are forced to seek learning online. In many cases, the democratizing of knowledge could be very powerful and the impact will be lasting. Already I saw an interesting American ed-tech startup called GoPeer by elite college students who are now back home and have extra time and energy on hand to make some extra income by online tutoring. I can see that’d be an appealing idea. I signed up to try for my daughter.
What the school closure does is that it gave busy parents a peek into the treasure trove of educational resources online — many of which are made free during school closure. I almost wish I were a homeschooling mum. When I realized how much my 7-year-old daughter could learn at her full capacity and at her own pace. Then I realized that this would mean both of us will have to work half time, or one of us (most likely me) becomes a fulltime parent.
In time we figured out some online classes and tutorials that could take over the energy-consuming task of homeschooling — we’d still need to be by her side, but at least browsing news on our phone is a possibility now. My daughter would read an hour straight before bed, to complete this challenge one friend initiated for kids in our community. And she was amazingly fast, faster than me when she’s entirely focused and when i am distracted with my phone. We had a challenge with Dick King Smith’s books, reading side by side last night. Shocking to me she completed first, considering only a few months ago she was just starting getting into chapter books.
STILL, the soundbites from my news podcasts on my morning walk/run sound increasingly like soundbites from a futuristic apocalyptic movie from Hollywood. Alas, even Hollywood is working from home now. Then again, we saw the apocalyptic scenes in Chinese cities just weeks ago. For some of us who are Chinese living in the US, we’ve lived in that future on social media for the past 2 months, and not for one minute thought it might happen here. Now it’s our turn to live it in real life.
But, to put things in perspective and if it makes you feel better — after the ~50-day lockdown, my hometown Hangzhou last Friday was back alive from hibernation, reopening the restaurants, movie theaters, and many other “nonessential businesses” after days of 0 new cases, people are back to the streets and workplaces. My mom reminded me that “don’t panic, this initial stage was the hardest but it will pass”, my seventy-year-old mom had been seeking refuge in calligraphy and reading during the lockdown period, she could only go out once every two days to get groceries. Not even in her compound. Many friends on WeChat checked in to see if I need masks and other supplies. They knew what it was like and what might be ahead. Compassion arises when we have a collective experience. We share the same enemy, the coronavirus, and we share the same mission of mending our relationships with nature, our planet, and God, after all.
In some ways, it’s a rare opportunity for us to bond with our immediate family members, our inner beings. Seeking peace from solitude contemplating and introspecting; Reading masterpieces of human civilization (not just news) we don’t normally have time for; Being immersed in nature and appreciate its sheer beauty — for which we should feel lucky for compared to my friends and family members in China stuck in tiny apartments for 2 months under lockdown in major cities.
Fortunately, we still have lots of space in the nature that allows social distancing (6 ft apart) only 10 to 15 min drive from us. Maybe not Rancho San Antonio trails this Saturday morning. So many people made the same choice that at times it was hard to keep the 6 feet safe distance on some narrow trails. But look around! You see the beautiful clouds, green grass, and hills, all the way to the bay. There were moments when I think to myself. This wouldn’t be too bad if this moment stays like this forever. Stuck at home or in nature with my two cute kids and my good looking husband.
But it’s just hard to stop consuming news and feeling worried, hard not to read your social media feeds when you realize that it’s a historic moment in human history. A voice is whispering into my ears — It’s important to document what happened as an individual who straddles both worlds, living through the crisis with relatives and friends in China on social media and now living in the crisis in real life in the US. On top of everything, it is eventually a “stress test” for different systems and institutions, and cultures. The discussion we hosted in mid-Feburary at Stanford comparing the two systems (the US vs China) was relevant. The thoughts and conversations I shared are still valid. But there sure will be more to add when we, all of us come out of this crisis.
Talking about the US and China, the situation is getting more depressing each day amid all this craziness, given the escalating tension between the US and China. Leaderships of both countries deployed similar tactics — distracting their respective constituencies from mishandling the crisis by picking a fight with each other. Their plans worked. People on both sides start to vent their frustration verbally (or even physically) abuse each other. The sentiments got amplified by social media feeds (some motivated by specific agendas incl. Chinese wechat blog operators or facebook fake news manufacturers wanting more clicks) and instigated hate crimes and distrust that gets in the way for more knowledge and resource sharing much needed to fight the pandemic. I participated in a “close door” seminar organized by Tencent Research Institute last week, with a few Chinese intellectuals, university professors and executive editors of some news organization. I saw a spectrum of opinions on whether censoring free speech is justified in the pandemic. The only consensus discussants reached was that the online “conflicts” were only a reflection of the real-life polarization of opinions, similar to what happens in America. I was nevertheless quite shocked to see many of the discussants were defending censors, clearly, the intellectuals in China who are still speaking out today are on the quite far left (in China left and right dynamics are different from the US — far left in China supports Mao and authoritarian regime). I left the discussion disheartened and frustrated. The censorship and the GREAT Firewall (GFW) these years have created invisible walls among my peer Chinese. I see this happened in our highschool WeChat group on HK, I see this happened among our extended family group. You can’t even start many discussions without having a certain level of shared base knowledge and facts. The same thing happened in America but at least people have choices and there's a mechanism to counterbalance and correct.
In any case, Criticizing or denial of facts don’t help at this moment. On a more micro level, things like how do you protect yourself and your family from getting the virus, how to use masks, triage your delivery packages, wash your veggies, are more immediately important at this point. For hospital workers, how to disinfect wards and reuse disposable supplies when they have to. In these cases perhaps the Chinese have some experience to share. Every Chinese went through this; they may have something valuable and helpful for us.
There are things for individuals like us can do to help in facilitating knowledge exchange. This morning, I realized that I should connect friends in the US working with the government and a medical professional community to help foundations in China with the Covid -19 treatment and prevention knowledge transfer from China. The truth is that we need credible endorsements from medical professional organizations here in the US — doctor to doctor exchange facilitated by civil organizations in both countries will work better than just having volunteers translating and put resources out there on social media.
I put a bunch of people together and posted a thread on Linkedin and other social media sites seeking medical professionals’ help.
Hospital doctors we know are already losing sleep, and the insiders in the health system are on high alert that America’s health care system is not prepared for this at all. Our friend, who is an ER doctor in LA, is asking: should I adopt the dog we always wanted? We just got the notification that we can go ahead. The truth is she’s scared and so stressed coming home from hospital to her 3 kids and husband, and 2 pairs of aging parents living not far.
So much is happening around us while at home, so much needs to be done. It’s a race. But I have to set boundaries and get enough sleep. A lot of thoughts to share. From social distancing, distance learning, the US and China, how individuals and civil societies in both countries cope with coronavirus outbreak similarly and differently… I’ll take my time, one piece a time. While my kids are napping or binge on NetFlix…