During our last year of studies, we have had the chance of spending 4 months in Shanghai, China. Our program was supposed to end in May 2020. For the Chinese New Year holidays, national holiday for the whole country, we decided to realize our childhood dream : travel to Japan. It was probably one of the best trips of our lives, but also one of the most disturbing because of a certain virus… 2019-nCoV or more commonly new as Coronavirus.
Tokyo, January 2020
The beginning of the crisis
January, 23rd, it has been almost a week since we arrived in Japan.
A couple of days ago, rumors started on social media about an unknown virus entering China. But this morning, we have the confirmation : the virus is real and officially named Coronavirus. Some important cities of China are being put in quarantine one by one. What is really concerning at this point, is that the Chinese New Year represents an important period of human flow in China. People travel from the big cities to the countryside. A virus in these conditions is like a giant shaker of germs and diseases…
Quickly, our school advises us to buy protective masks before our return to class in the coming weeks. Two models of masks are highly recommended : the N95, which filters 95% of particles, and surgical masks. Our classmates, still in Shanghai, tell us that pharmacies in Shanghai are already out of stock. Thus, we leave our hotel in order to find the famous N95 masks. First pharmacy, nothing. Second pharmacy, nothing. Third pharmacy : lucky strike ! There are five N95 masks left. We buy all of them. Despite how blurry the situation still is, we are relieved.
Last masks at the pharmacy in Tokyo
January, 24th, the situation seems to be getting worst.
Our relatives are texting us more and more about the Coronavirus, worried about us and wondering if everything is under control. At that point, we still don’t know if the situation is really bad or not.
Wandering in the streets of Tokyo
The day in Tokyo is beautiful and full of sunshine. A sunshine that we are not used to see and feel in the city of Shanghai, too often polluted. Nevertheless, there is tension in Tokyo. Almost everybody is wearing a mask and paranoia seems to invade the inhabitants.
Our flight for Shanghai is the next day. Our families invite us to stay one more week in Japan, in order to be safer. But we think that the most strategic move is to fly to Shanghai on the day of the Chinese New Year, as every Chinese will be celebrating and thus, the airports will be empty.
We got robbed in Japan?!
January 25th, it’s our last day.
We gather our belongings and prepare to leave our hotel in Tokyo. We finish packing and start looking for our brand new N95 masks, which were supposed to be in a closed bag. But something weird happens: the masks were gone. We feel a wave of stress and start to panic. Left without masks, with a flight in a couple of hours to the most risky place during the Coronavirus epidemic: the airport, and pharmacies are out of stock everywhere. Quickly, we understand that someone must have stolen the masks. But robbery? In Japan? How could this happen in a country with such a respectful culture? We then remember that, the day before, an old man came to clean the room at an unusual time, around 12:00pm (cleaning was usually done a 9:30am).
We decide to go talk to the receptionist, who could not care less about our situation. She almost looks amused and hands to us a note, which we signed at the beginning of the trip, stating that we had to be careful with our belongings and that the hotel was not accountable for any loss. After half an hour of negotiation and stress, we start raising our voice and threatening the direction. We improvise and make up a lie, saying that we are influencers with a big community and that we could destroy their reputation if they do not help us to find a mask in time. Our bluff seems to work, as an hour later, we leave the hotel with at least 20 new masks.
Our flight to Shanghai: 3h30 of turbulences
Have you ever felt like you were flying straight to hell? Imagine: an empty plane, in the dark, three long hours of turbulences, flying to an infected country that everyone is trying to escape from because of the Coronavirus. Admit it, it almost sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. The situation is so tense and atypical that we laugh nervously during the whole flight.
Video from the flight
Our arrival in China is very stressful. We have seen videos on social media of infected people at the Shanghai airport. We want to stay there the least possible time. When the plane lands, the rain combined with the airport lights make the sky look red and completely apocalyptic. We jump in a taxi and finally arrive home. We can hardly believe how empty Shanghai is, a city usually so crowded all the time.
View from our apartment in Shanghai, this street is usually crowded
January 26th, we learn that the city has decided to close every school for at least a month.
Our school confirms the information, and we understand that the Coronavirus situation is getting critical. At that point, we decide that the right thing to do is to go back to France the next day, and to not wait more, as the Chinese New Year holidays are coming to an end.
January 27th, we fly back to France.
Overnight, we pack all our belongings from our apartment, leave the keys on the table and slam the door. Covered from head to toe with masks, glasses and gloves, we leave to the airport.
In the taxi, going to the airport
And just like this, what has been one of the most incredible experiences of our lives ends. Between sadness and nostalgia, we leave a life that we cannot wait to live again.
So Shanghai, see you soon
Written by Anne d’Auvigny and Marina Simiaut