If there’s one thing there’s plenty of time to do in lockdown, it’s think. Lots of things have been running through my mind about our current situation and I’m sure most of you will be able to relate to at least some of these, especially those that have been forced to leave university or a year abroad early. Some are rather specific to having had to come home from China but then that’s what this blog is all about isn’t it? These thoughts have been collected over the course of this lockdown so some are more related to things as they were a few weeks ago but I thought they were still worth reflecting on now.
Back in mid march, just as things were starting to get more serious here, I was looking over to China where cases were going down and things were looking up. I had a lot of comments from people along the lines of “If you had only stayed in China you’d be fine by now!” I don’t know if those people thought they were being helpful or just funny but they were neither. Yes, things were looking more encouraging and I want more than anything to be able to go back to China but the fact remains that there was still a reason I left. Added to that I would have been inside for two months instead of doing everything I wrote about in my last post. I didn’t even really have anywhere to stay – I was in the middle of travelling plus I was inbetween my host family and moving into the dorms.
Having left China in part to avoid lockdown, and to now be in lockdown is an interesting development. On one side of things it is frustrating as China is now starting to come out of its lockdown phase while we are still in the throes of ours. Added to that, foreigners are now no longer allowed into China, so even if it was safe to travel back, I wouldn’t be allowed in. But on the other side, it has encouraged me even more that it was the right decision to come home. Lockdown has honestly been hard enough here, in my own home with my family to lean on and the comforts of my own space and belongings.
This virus has been around since the start of December but became a concern in China towards the end of January. This is when it started ruling everything in my life. It drove me to come home from China, and then had me grasping at how to continue studying Chinese while in Edinburgh, all the while thinking and wondering about how and when I could go back to China. I was also worried about my friends, the ones that had decided to stay in China, the ones stranded in China when all they wanted was to go home, and the ones that had no choice but to stay because China is their home.
And then it came here and I’ve had all the same worries. People have had to decide whether to stay in Edinburgh, whether to go home and then trying to get the timing right and not waiting too long. I decided to go home to ride this out with my family (this also being the cheaper option!) but as well as moving me back home, it also put another spanner in my studies.
Since coming home and moving back to Edinburgh, I had been taking Chinese classes organised by the university through the Confucius Institute. These were going to run until the end of the semester and then I was planning on going to France to complete the second part of my year abroad. My friend was helping set me up with some family friends of hers that live in the south of France. Of course all of that stopped as the situation started to get worse in France at the same time as it did here. Eventually university classes in Edinburgh were cancelled and then moved online and all non-essential travel prohibited. This included all placements abroad. And there goes France.
After coming back early from China, I pinned all my hopes on to the silver lining that I would be able to spend more time in France than I had originally planned. Despite this very quickly going down the drain, I was pretty accepting of it. I don’t where this came from but honestly, maybe I just didn’t have the energy to be anything else. I know I’ll get there eventually, just not as planned and its not the end of the world.
My relationship with my two languages is a bit complicated at the minute. Even though I’ve been studying French since I was 11, my confidence is at an all time low. It has been almost a year since I studied it properly, having devoted almost all of my time in China to studying Chinese, thinking I would be able to devote some time to French all on its own. My reading and listening skills in French are still good but when I try and speak it, it feels like I have to physically drag the words out from the depth of my brain. And then with Chinese, my confidence is at an all time high as is my knowledge but I feel unfulfilled. I am working so hard at home even during this lockdown to improve, or at least keep up, with my Chinese because I’m frustrated that I didn’t get to reach my full potential with it this year.
Ironically I’m not worried about this affecting the Chinese side of my degree. We’ve already had reassurances from the Chinese department at Edinburgh that the effect of the situation on our Chinese level will be taken into consideration when it comes to our fourth year. Nobody is quite sure what this will look like, whether the level of work will change or the grade boundaries but allowances will be made. On the French side, I am worried. Its not just because of the aforementioned lack of confidence, though that is a worry of course, but because practically I don’t know what impact not having spent any time in France will have BECAUSE NO ONE WILL TELL ME. I understand there’s uncertainty for everyone at the moment and that people don’t have the answers that I’m looking for.
That doesn’t mean I’m not angry, sad, frustrated but all of this is magnified because I recognise there is no one in particular to be angry at, unless you want to be angry at the virus itself. And I am angry, for the things I have lost, the things my sisters have lost, I’m angry that people, including the government, didn’t and still aren’t taking this seriously enough, I’m angry that I only get to see my dad from 2m away on the days when he’s not working at the hospital.
This has been consuming my life for so much longer than it has been for most people here, the intensity is exhausting. It’s all encompassing, and has been for weeks. Every single conversation always came back to it and sometimes I just need to check out. The times I enjoyed the most in the weeks running up to lockdown were the ones where I was distracted from everything.
Most of the above are thoughts from before or the early days of lockdown but they’ve stayed with me. What follows are some thoughts from more recent times, the depths of monotony and isolation.
In comparison to before lockdown, when I was avidly following the news, now I actively avoid it. My mum likes to sit down and watch the news broadcasts throughout the day but I can’t watch for long. With the way social media works and how it is being used during this pandemic, the news is unavoidable. I ingest enough to know what is going on, to know what I have to but now that my life and everyone else’s is being run by these news updates, I don’t follow them as much as before.
It is one of the things I’ve been trying to do to look after myself. I’ve been fortunate enough to have good mental health but I’ve never been more aware of looking after it than now. This situation is a major adjustment for everyone, we’ve all had our lives put on pause and been confined to our houses. That can be hard for someone with the strongest hold on their mental wellbeing. I can only speak for myself on this subject but some things that have helped me have been keeping a sense of routine and keeping busy (which will surprise absolutely no one, I’m sure).
Another thing I’m fighting against, something I struggle with anyway, is the feeling that I must be productive. At university I am non stop moving, always doing something and then on to the next thing. The temptation right now is that this lockdown should be used to be as productive as possible, to write that novel, become a master chef, get fit and toned. Sure, some people, myself included, still have university work or are working from home and that stuff still needs done. But it’s ok if the best you can do is shower that day, or your spend all your time watching Netflix, or the only exercise you do is a walk outside or a boogie in your bedroom.
This is an unprecedented crisis and we are living in unprecedented times. There is no should at the minute. The only thing you have to do is wash your hands and stay inside. Everything else is a bonus. Do whatever works for you and be kind to yourself.