I teach English to Chinese kids on the computer. Each day, I get to peek into their homes and talk to the kids.
|Me teaching at a friend's house at the end of January. |
Some of them have very limited English skills and others can elaborate on what is going on since they have been quarantined in their apartments at the end of January. Not just students in WuHan, the starting point of the Coronavirus, but people all over China have been hunkered down, required to shelter in place since their winter holidays, before Chinese New Year.
Think about that! Many of the children, who live in apartments, have not stepped outside for nearly six weeks.
As I waited for Sam, a regular student of mine, I saw a note that his 11th birthday was approaching.
"Sam, is it your birthday?" I asked when he appeared.
"Tomorrow," he said grinning.
I knew I had to tread carefully. I couldn't ask about a party because he was isolated from all his friends.
"Will you celebrate with your mom and dad?" I asked. "Will mom bake you a cake?"
He blinked a few times then said, looking down, "My mom is a doctor."
And I realized that Sam's mom would not be there for his birthday because she is out on the front lines, unable to return to her family and risk bringing the virus home to them.
About four weeks into the isolation period, I noticed a string of male students trying to hide hair cuts. Apparently four weeks is the amount of time that parents can stand to let their sons' hair grow before taking matters into their own hands.
Kevin tugged on bangs that rose high above his eyebrows. "My mom cut my hair," he whined.
"It's okay," I assured him.
At the time, he didn't know that it would have weeks to grow before anyone in China would see it.
Another regular student, Patrick, who had sported a bowl cut of thick black hair, arrived in class with his hands clasped in front of his face and forehead.
"Did your mom cut your hair?" I asked gently to the boy who was obviously upset.
He moved his hands and revealed a bald head.
"My dad shaved it," he said. Patrick is often an annoying student and I had determined to be firm with him about staying on track, but instead I tiptoed around him that day, feeling his wounds.
Some of the students are lucky.
Helen had traveled to the countryside to stay with her grandmother for the winter holidays when the travel ban went into effect. She explained that her grandmother lived on a farm, she had chickens and lots of vegetables canned and stored. Helen could go outside and play, alone, but outside, nevertheless. Until one day when it snowed and her Mom wouldn't let her go outside in the snow because there could be germs in the snow, Helen said.
Other students who traveled for the holidays were not so lucky.
Ethan, a loquacious 6-year-old, lives in Macau, a tropical area in southern China, kind of a Chinese Florida.
When I saw Ethan after the schools had been closed, I asked whether schools were closed in Macau.
"I'm not in Macau," Ethan said. "We came to Beijing for Chinese New Year."
Now he and his family are stuck in Beijing, unable to travel to their home in Macau.
I talked to Ethan earlier this week with more than six weeks isolated in Beijing. "When can you return to Macau?" I asked him.
"Maybe April," he said. "I think I should be able to go to Macau now!"
"I wish you could," I agreed with him.
"At least you're healthy," I said to Ethan, and I say that to each child I teach when we talk about the quarantines that they are under.
I wonder how this quarantine will change their lives. Will the school systems change? Will the parents change what is expected of their children each day? They are all overachievers who rarely find time to play or watch TV, instead focusing on academic pursuits.
For six weeks, they've had abbreviated studies. They've drawn pictures and played games with their siblings or parents. They've watched some TV or played video games.
This virus may change their entire outlook.
Or, they might work harder than ever, cancelling summer vacation to catch up.