By Xiuwen Chen
“New Normal” was a popular phrase in 2014. The government used it to describe the economy transition, from the fast-speed growth to the middle level, pushing for economic structure upgrade and innovation. In the shadow of COVID-19, new normal now has different meanings. I want to share some thoughts in this few months to also clear my puzzled mind.
At the late December in 2019, I remembered seeing a news popped up in my phone about some people who got infected in Wuhan. I didn’t pay much attention and there were only a few discussions about it online. At that time, I was busy with my dissertation and ready to go home for Chinese New Year gathering.
I went back home in January 20 and the news about the virus in Wuhan are heated online and the number of people who got affected surged. In January 23, Wuhan imposed a lockdown. I was shocked by the policy as it showed how severe the situations was. Since then, it became the main topic in our family, the society and the whole internet. Everyone was discussing about it and it caused panic. I was bombarded by various information – the Whistleblower heroes, the bad response of local officers in Wuhan, and the discussion about the origin of the virus.
Our lives were shrouded with anxiety and worry. But on the other side, we saw many brave doctors and nurses come to the front line to fight the virus. We saw volunteers taking care of people after the lockdown of the city. We saw the successful constructions of two hospitals in Wuhan within 10 days and the sacrifices of the workers who built it.
When we face the disaster, how to meet individual needs and how to balance personal freedom and other people’s lives are always questioned. But based on my observation, China chose the latter. The health and security of most people are top priority. The government arranged hundreds of cross-country teams to Wuhan for saving lives. We call it, “Provinces helps Cities in Wuhan” and its actions proved to be useful.
As a Chinese, I think I started re-thinking about Chinese people in a more vivid way. They obey rules, they work hard, they struggle to survive and they value family. But when it comes to group interests, they are willing to sacrifice.
In the darkest moment, the schools, the restaurants and all the stores were closed. Only the delivery service is available. It’s hard to go out for shopping because only one person in a family can go to the market once every two days and with necessary “tickets.”
Gradually, the business reopened again and people could go back to work with masks and temperature checking. Alibaba also created a health code which shows people’s healthy conditions and travel information. It helped track potential patients but of course, it also raised questions about privacy.
Meanwhile, we saw the outbreak of COVID-19 around the world and the number got crazy. I remember checking Twitter trends in January to see how people reacted about the virus but around that time, they didn’t post much. I guessed then that it was still very far away from everyone.
I don’t know whether the world became worse or it’s just my prejudice but I keep myself informed even with more depressing news such as the circuit breaker of US stock market, the locusts swarm in East Africa, America’s withdrawal from WHO, and a whole lot more. I learnt a new word called “Political Depression” and it seems that life is a bumpy road this 2020 and facing these changes and challenges is my “new normal.”
Job hunting is a hot topic in China after the slowdown of economy and schools are helping their graduates to find jobs. I always believe that looking for a job is a personal business but in China, schools and the government are eager to help whether you like it or not.
This year is tough and data shows the rate of employment has increased. Employment is considered vital to ensure a stable economy. I got some jobs offers from HUAWEI and JD.COM, but I’m still waiting for other interviews. However, I know that no matter which one I choose, work life balance is impossible here.
“Young people should grasp the chance to fight, to work 996.”
From 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week. That is my future “normal life.”
I will be back school soon to attend the graduation ceremony. Staying at home for almost five months is so strange but it also gave me enough time to think about myself, the society, and the world. Hesitated, worried, and sometimes lost. Are these feelings part of growing up or are these the attitudes we will continue to hold in facing the future? ∎
Xiuwen Chen is an Asia-Europe Foundation Education Department alumna from Xiamen, China. She graduated from Nanjing University, China where she studied international relations.