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Jon Whitford is an American teaching English Literature in the city of Wuhan, China. These are his communiqués to all his fans back here in the States.

To see previous messages, visit the archives.

04.26.2003 - SARS & the CITY

SARS & the CITY.

Because of certain reasons, I am unable to fully tell you how I feel right now. So Iíll just stick to the physical facts:

SARS is in Wuhan. Officially 1 person has it, 7 people are suspected to have it. Of course you multiply this by 10, divide by 2, give it an exponent of 3, multiply that one by pi, add 10, subtract 30, divide by 1.3, then multilply by 4, and that is probably the actual number. That seems to be the formula for finding reality in the ďofficialĒ reporting.

Our May holiday has been completely cancelled so that no one can travel anywhere.

We have thermometers and we check ourselves twice a day. If we have a temperature, we cancel classes and notify the waiban office. Everybody has to clean and disinfect their rooms. In the cafeteria, all of the workers must wear masks.

On Wednesday I went by taxi to carrefour which on a non-busy day looks like wal-mart the day after thanksgiving. Today it was pretty much empty. The buses were pretty much empty too. Lots and lots of people are wearing masks. We'll probably have to wear them soon just so that our students don't worry about us. Becky found a "Moshimoro" mask. I'm looking for "Peekachu" or "Hello Kitty."

If we come down with SARS we have to go to one of the hospitals in Wuhan that has been set aside just for SARS. We'd have to stay there until we no longer show signs of being sick. Then we'd be quarantined in our homes for about a week or so.

Beijing has cancelled all primary and secondary schools for two weeks, but not the Universities. So we'll see what happens here later.

At the moment it seems that the authorities are taking this very serious. It's all on the news and their are posters up everywhere about how to prevent it and what to do if you get it. I'll mail you one sometime. Maybe it will be a collector's item.

And we are still avoiding buses, english corners, crowded places, and public toilets just like we have for the past two weeks. And my hands have never been cleaner.

The death rate has gone from 3 percent to 10 percent in Hong Kong. Officially I think the death rate for the world is under 6 percent.

On Thursday, Zhu (my Boss) and I had a very humble talk. He said that apparently he was misinformed when he said that China had the disease under control. ;)

So, we can no longer have visitors over to our apartments. No one. No students, no Americans, no friends, no parents. No one.

Our school is quarantined. Students have been asked not to go home, though most of them went home this weekend to collect viruses and bring them back to school on monday for show and tell, iím sure. But, hey, at least they aren't allowed to eat at the restaurants behind school. So that should stop it all!

At 2:30 Thursday afternoon about 5 scary chinese people wearing white lab coats, rubber gloves, surgical masks, and ugly red fishing hats came into my apartment and sprayed EVERYTHING with disinfectant. My stuff got soaked. I was running through my apartment holding up my books and computer and stuff hoping to save them from the spray. They sprayed me too. It was weird.

Today (friday) the school gave everybody masks. We are to wear them anytime we go to places with lots of people. We might have to wear them in classes next week. One of the most unromantic and god-awful creepy sights is to see college students geting all kissy face while wearing white surgical masks.

The entire campus has been bleached and disinfected. Itís never looked so clean, but it smells awful. All but one of our gates has been sealed off and you must show your ID in order to be allowed on campus.

The overall feeling when you walk around is that there is ďsomethingĒ out there that is waiting for you in the shadows and that at any minute you are going to be its next victim: like a horror movie. Like a Nightmare on Elmstreet or something. The students are terrified. Iím just stressed and annoyed right now. I have to make sure my students are following the regulatioins and I have to calm them down. The school has to make sure that I am following regulations and that I am calm.

There have been a few odd moments when Iím walking around outside and see hundreds of people walking by with white masks on, and I see the workers scrubbing down desks and chairs, I see the information posters up everywhere, I see the nurses sitting at tables answering questions and passing out masks, and I think to myself, ďthis just isnít much fun anymore.Ē And itís kind of chilling. Itís really overwhelming.

Today I even cried a little when I came back from lunch. Things have changed so much here in only 4 days. Itís like a culture shock of another kind. And it doesnít look like it will be getting any better soon. And to make things worse, Madonnaís new album has been getting horrible reviews and Sinead Oíconnor has decided to retire from her music career. OH THE MADNESS!!!!!

So now we are wating to see how our city fares in comparison to Hong Kong and Beijing. Here are some interesting links.

http://www.msnbc.com/news/904928.asp?0cv=CB10

http://slate.msn.com/id/2081976/

So how are you?


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