36.5 Degrees Celsius, A Fate-Determining Number

Our Immediate Future Rested on a Five-Dollar E-Thermometer

“Hold still, please.” Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) — No Country for Old Men (2007)

It has been one year since our initial self-isolation began in Shanghai, China, January 31st, 2020, when judgement was passed 10,000 feet up.

It has been one year since our initial self-isolation began in Shanghai, China, January 31st, 2020, when judgement was passed 10,000 feet up. At the moment, with little understanding of the virus, or its potential, we were returning to a country that would be the first on the planet to lockdown.

Clay keepsake gifted on the banks of the Irrawaddy River

And down the line they went, row after row, the levels of anxiety visible in wide, darting eyes above the sky-blue 3-ply masks.

The e-thermometer asked. Its gauge answered. “36.5 degrees Celsius” (97.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Faces masked, leaving them as expressionless as the Cohen Brother’s cold-blooded killer, a China Southern Airlines flight attendant read the verdict. Her partner scribbled it down. Another passenger had earned their reprieve. And down the line they went, row after row, the levels of anxiety visible in wide, darting eyes above the sky-blue 3-ply masks. Our flight had passed a group sentencing.

Empty Streets, February 1st, Wukang Mansions, Shanghai, China.

Chinese have a word for perseverance, 忍, pronounced as ‘ren’. It is tattooed on the forearms of day laborer and taxi drivers, a reminder to accept what cannot be changed.

If we had elected to return to my wife’s hometown to celebrate the Spring Festival, a three day visit would have stretched to a forced three month ‘house arrest’. Located in a rural village, hours outside of Wuhan, roads were blocked with rubble, preventing villagers from exiting or entering. While draconian in nature, we felt it was unfair to judge as with most, we had no idea at the time what the virus could do or how people would react. For several months, her sister was forbidden to leave or return to Shanghai. When she eventually did, she was shunned, unwanted by the community. Without internet access — my parent-in-laws lifestyle not requiring it, or the freedom to leave the home for a stroll across the farmland, I questioned how I would have survived. The surface of their beds were plywood, blankets stacked on top for a touch of comfort. Heating units were in a single room, none of which included the one I would have. According to local custom, my wife having been ‘married off’, returning home, we were considered ‘outsiders’, thus not allowed to share a bedroom. I would have had to sacrifice not only modern warmth-giving devices, but one as traditional as time itself, your partner. Three pairs of pants and an even larger number of shirts, sweaters and coats were the norm. Heating and wi-fi were unnecessary luxuries. I was considered city-soft.

Father-in-law’s crawfish pond
忍,pronounced ‘ren’, a character that represents the ability to endure
The sun rises on a new day as life returns to normal, Wukang Mansions, Shanghai, China

An American half-pat “half foreign, half domestic” writer living in Shanghai, China, who tries to say how it is with a side of whimsical to keep it light.

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