Nicole Vilaca 4m 877 #covid19
The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
May 24, 2020, Nicole Vilaca
I’ll never forget the first time I heard about COVID-19. It was mid-December 2019, and I was sitting in my school’s staff lounge in Southern China. “There’s a disease going around up in Wuhan,” my friend informed myself and some colleagues, “an elderly man died from it. I think a few more people contracted it from him.” “Yeah, I think I saw that on WeChat,” came my reply. “If the virus comes down to the South, you better believe I will ditch this job and pack-up right on back to Canada.” Everyone in the room nodded in agreement. Looking back on that conversation from six long months ago, I never could have expected the outcome of today’s reality.
Around the time of that conversation, Chinese New Year was rapidly approaching. With three weeks off, every year tons of expats living in China are ready to escape to a beachy island or concrete jungle to further fill their passports. I wasn’t any different; I went prancing around Thailand, meeting new friends and soaking up the sun, however vaguely aware this new virus was following my travels. In Thailand in late January, there were four COVID-19 cases. Being my paranoid self, I started to worry. I cancelled my upcoming trip to the Philippines and decided it would be best to hop on a flight back home to Canada, at least until the hundreds of thousands of cases cleared up in China and I could go back peacefully to my second home. Returning to Canada, where COVID was just starting to slowly become a hot topic, I felt safe. I could visit friends and family, plan my days as I wished, and not have to worry about being locked inside my apartment in China for weeks on end, as was being forced upon many of my friends on the other side of the world.
In hindsight, it baffles me how I failed to see that the virus would make its way to Canada. COVID had already taken over Asia, how did I not foresee the same would happen here? As shops and restaurants slowly opened back up in China, my friends there warned me to “come back to China soon or prepare to be in your current location for the next while.” How I wish I had listened. One part of me was hoping that countries would take a page from China’s textbook and strictly enforce tracking and health codes upon entry into public spaces. However I knew that lack of privacy would never be accepted by citizens in Canada, making it impossible for the government to keep tabs on its people in the way that only a Communist country can.
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I saw Europe go into lockdown first. I laughed that my friends in Ireland and England were getting trapped at home. I never expected Canada to shortly follow suit. Sure enough, come mid-March, the Canadian government put in place strict orders to close shops, and for citizens to stay at home whenever necessary. The government urged all travelling Canadians to ‘come home’, but the only thing on my mind was ‘This isn’t my home!’ The fear of getting on a plane during a time of such crisis frightened me enough not to catch a flight ‘home’ to China, and before I knew it I was waking up to dozens of messages and articles proclaiming China was closing its borders. It was official. I was trapped in Canada, with no prospect as to when I would be able to return back to my life, my things, and my cat in China.
China closed its border to all foreign nationals two months ago, almost to the day. Since then I have been living in my childhood home with my family. When I left Canada for China almost three years ago, I vowed to myself that I would never again live in this house. I needed out of the small village I grew up in, where nothing ever changes. However here I am, quarantined in Canada, in my rural childhood home, with no idea as to when I will be able to return to my life in China. Plenty of my friends are in the same boat. Plenty of people I have never met are in the same boat. We just want to go home, to China.
I would consider myself one of the ‘lucky ones’ of those caught outside China. Although I am doing nothing to warrant it, my job in China still sends me a paycheque every month. Passing the days in Canada while housebound can prove difficult, so I have picked up some hobbies I always told myself I would do once I ‘had the time’. Playing sport, making jewelry, rediscovering my passion for writing, I try to think of this quarantine as a blessing in disguise to help me refocus my mind and reset my life. I know once I return to China, I will never again spend this much time in Canada or with my family, so maybe this is a blessing in disguise. One thought continues to haunt me: maybe my prayers were answered, in a roundabout way, when I wished for endless days of sleeping in.