Life in Quarantine

Since it’s been six weeks now, I thought I’d start sharing what I’ve been doing to fill my time in quarantine. This is not my ideal list of tasks by any means, but rarely does life work in ideals.

My typical day includes working eight hours from home as I text my high school students and make sure that they’re on track to graduate or get into college. At lunch, I spend some time with my college friends, either practicing my Cantonese or Japanese with them (depending on which friend group’s Zoom call I join).

The new game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become popular among many of my friends, but since I don’t have a Nintendo Switch (which apparently costs $450 now???), I spend weekends playing Harvest Moon DS, an old video game from my middle school days. The games are similar in that they are meant to be relaxing games highlighting a virtual life in which we farm, fish, cook, tend to animals, and befriend neighbors. I suppose I could write extensively about how this suggests the presence of underlying desires to escape from our current fast-paced, socially-isolated reality (because really, who talks to their neighbors anymore?).

Before all of this virtual farming though, I had begun thinking of what I wanted to do to the backyard since I plan on being in Portland for at least another year. I begun by simply starting a compost pile, since there wouldn’t be much use planting seeds in inhospitable dirt. Late in the afternoons, I pulled weeds and rocks out of the ground, loosened the soil, and thought carefully about what I would plant in each section of the yard.

I decided that I would start with the preexisting raised bed. Our yard is large, and since neither of my parents are open to tending it after I leave, I would want something that could quietly die and I wouldn’t feel too bad about. Otherwise, I ‘d go absolutely unrestrained with planting maple, bamboo, persimmon, chrysanthemum, and camellia in the yard.

I never got a chance to actually decide what to plant though, because I went out one day to see a strange, unfamiliar leaf poking out of the ground. There was a piece of shell still attached, and I recognized it as the pumpkin seeds I had casually tossed out just a week or two prior. Nature had decided. I will be growing kabocha pumpkins in my raised bed.

While I was aware of what I was doing when I dropped those seeds onto the ground, I hadn’t expected them to germinate so quickly. In any case, now this gives me a bit more encouragement in gardening, and I hope to provide updates as they continue to grow!

COVID: Round Two

It never occurred to me that I would have the (mis)fortune of encountering this viral disease on two occasions within the span of three months. When I left my friends in Nanjing, it was in part due to pressure from Fulbright. Otherwise, I was quite happy and content with my life in the monastery. Between dishwashing and prayer sessions, I had access to nutritious vegetarian food and high-speed internet. Life was good.

But being back in the United States for a few months now, it seems like a lot of the criticisms Americans (I use this term generally, referring to my experiences interacting with anonymous “American” identities online) had towards China’s falsified death toll are happening again. This time though, the inaccurate counts are being recorded in the United States, with the number of patients tested positive for COVID being much lower than what’s predicted.

I don’t want to seem like I’m shifting the blame in an direction. As we try to grapple with something as dangerous as this virus, I think it’s simply helpful to keep in mind that this is a difficult situation, and I hope that rather than being entirely cynical, we can understand how difficult it is for governments to produce a competent response when things are happening so fast. This being said, I also do not want to excuse the misdeeds and inactions. The US knew that this issue was affecting China for months before it truly blew up in the US, but even as I flew into San Francisco International Airport on January 31, I was not subject to any tests or screening, but merely a simple questionnaire.

One major factor I blame for this incompetence is the blindness that Americans have regarding global citizenship. Despite sharing the same planet, it felt like the overall view (when coronavirus broke out across China in early January) was that this was a distant issue. It surely would not affect the US.

But the US doesn’t live in a vacuum. People travel, and people travel internationally. Even as cases began to appear in the US, our frames of reference became even more limited, thinking, “oh, but New York is so far away,” or “ah, but that’s Seattle,” not thinking of how the web of connections which ties us all together on this planet is both the key to recovery and the key to catastrophe.

As the trajectory in the US remains as dismal as ever, I am left wondering what things would be like if the US had a competent administration, one with the compassion to have reached out to aid China in mitigating the virus while it was still growing, one which would have thought of implementing screening procedures for vulnerable populations and boosting health care access at the first alarm. I am left disappointed, and as tribalism spreads online, violence towards Asians increases, and amygdalian reactions spread, I fear that the global population is moving farther and farther away from a universally beneficial solution.