While living first in Shenzhen and then in Shanghai for the past 8 months, I have always admired the vibrancy of public spaces in China. Every park burst with people young and old engaged in activities such as playing basketball and soccer, practicing Tai Chi, running, flying kites, and writing water calligraphy on the sidewalk with giant brushes. This energy rooted in communal activity is one of the most engaging aspects of life in China.
When we got to the square, my friend and I groaned in disbelief. In the middle of an expansive public square that in ordinary times would be packed with square dancers, just one elderly couple, wearing medical masks, was dancing to the music, with a few mask-clad onlookers nearby.
My friend and I continued to watch as the man tenderly twirled his wife around and around to the decades-old pop song. We were mesmerized by their defiant refusal to stop doing what they love, with the person that they love, even in these terrifying times. Finally, though, it was time for the music to stop. One of the onlookers turned off the speaker, placed it on the back of a nearby motorcycle, and whirred away, leaving the rest of us to fade back into silent reality.
The next day, I made an unexpected trip back home to Georgia. I decided last-second to relocate after hearing that airline companies were canceling flights in and out of China, and the White House was considering an outright ban. I’ve been living at my mom’s house in North Georgia, where we are staying in self-imposed quarantine for two weeks. It is highly unlikely that I have contracted the coronavirus, but I’m taking this precaution to prevent the catastrophic scenario of bringing it back to North Georgia.
My friend, who is Chinese, has remained in Shanghai. She says that she, like so many others during this crisis, feels claustrophobic and at times depressed after so much time indoors. Last week, I messaged her on WeChat, mentioning that I had just taken my mom’s dog Arthur for a walk around the neighboring cow pastures and woods. My friend replied, “The next time you take Arthur for a walk, can you videocall me? I miss going outside.” So the next day I took her around the hills of North Georgia, a world away from the country where she and millions upon millions of others continue to live life amid the uncertainty.
Will Morris IV grew up in Northeast Georgia and graduated from Harvard University. He works in education in China and is also a writer.