This global historical event seems like it was in another lifetime, when it only “ended” a few months ago. Living through an entire city being locked down (and I mean locked down) was a wild experience that I feel like I can talk about now that it’s over (mostly). Mid-March during a staff meeting on a Friday, everyone’s phone started pinging with the news that all schools in Shanghai would close and move online starting the next week. No one could imagine the following few months…
The next day on Saturday, all the students came back to school where they were tested. I ran around printing worksheets for what I thought would be the next few weeks and distributed them to my students. I genuinely thought this would last for 2 weeks maximum. There was news of a few cases throughout the city, but the closing of schools just seemed abrupt. I didn’t feel like there were many signs that it would happen.
For the next two weeks we had online classes. The city still (mostly) operated with shops slowly starting to close, but things still available. Then at the end of March, at 8pm the governments social media account announced that Pudong would have a 4 day lockdown with massive testing. The city is divided by a river, with Pudong on one side and Puxi on the other. I live in Pudong. Puxi would have a 4 day lockdown after Pudong completed their 4 days. People immediately started going to the grocery stores. I walked with a neighbor and boyfriend to some local convenience store and grabbed some random things. Actually I got on a bike to be funny and beat them to the shop. We genuinely thought it would be 4 days. 4 days later it was April and Pudong was still in a lockdown and Puxi started as well.
Then things started to take a turn….a fence was put up around our overall neighborhood. A green metal fence that was drilled into the road. To be honest, my memory is a little fuzzy on when this happened. But, we were absolutely not allowed outside of our apartment and deliveries became extremely sparse. We would wake up at 6am to try to secure groceries as they was limited drivers that were allowed on the roads.
Then, the group grocery buying started. Any driver on the road had to get approval, which meant getting deliveries of anything was extremely hard. So “group buying started. Basically your apartment or compound needed a certain amount of orders for a company to deliver. Anywhere from 30-100 orders of something would secure a delivery depending on the companies requirement. Our apartment group ordered bread, vegetables, eggs, meats..etc. I was very lucky because most people in my apartment are young professionals or expats so our food/drink tastes were similar.
Having to do group ordering of bulk items created some interesting challenges. We would have excess amounts of random items but also lacking other ones. It was nice to share lots with neighbors. I was one of the luckiest ones in Shanghai to have an excess of certain items. It was really hard for families and also older people who aren’t as savvy or connected to technology for ordering. Shanghai has a huge elderly population.
Amidst group buying, the government also started sending rations. Vegetables, soy sauce, rice, noodles, and other items. I think we received 4 rounds of rations. I was also very lucky because my apartment gave us some items and my school sent me two different huge boxes of amazing food. Super fortunate to have a job that organized this as many of my friends didn’t get this. Meanwhile, lots of people in Shanghai were actually starving and had a huge challenge getting basic groceries. My apartment also had a filtered water system so we didn’t have the additional challenge of dealing with securing drinkable water.
There was no word of when this was going to end and everyday was a surprise. We either had a PCR test everyday or did an at home rapid-antigen test that we uploaded to a portal. The hardest part was not knowing when things would end, when would be able to walk around, when the fence would be taken down..etc. Sometimes we were allowed to walk around, sometimes we weren’t.
During this time, I spent the days teaching online, making food, preparing food, exercising, and doing art projects to stay busy. I also was able to continue and volunteer from home with Lifeline. I definitely saw a huge increase in people needing mental health support and I was happy to have the training to help them. I live in a serviced apartment and was also super fortunate to have a lobby area that has workspace, communal kitchen, lounge areas, and I was allowed to hang out with neighbors in my building. Most people in Shanghai weren’t allowed to interact with their neighbors in the same building or have that communal lobby space to hang out in. Another bonus is that I had a mini treadmill (best purchase I made having no idea when I purchased it I would be stuck in my apartment for so long). Such a blessing!
We got to know so many of our neighbors and we all really helped each other out! I had an excess of apples and made apple bundt cake for the building probably 4 times after receiving a 5kg bag of sugar and 5kg bag of flour. Our cooking habits really changed and we had excess amounts of random things like eggs.
Then one day, the small zip tie fence was taken down and we could walk freely within the larger fence. Then we were given 2 hour passes where we could leave the neighborhood fence. There was nowhere to go as no shops were open, but it was nice to be allowed to walk as far as we wanted. Then after one day the passes were taken away…guess that idea didn’t work.
Finally, things started to open more and more. I am lucky that I didn’t live in a compound and just a single apartment. The general rules were that if there were too many cases in a compound, they whole compound would be shutdown. Some compounds in the city have 80 apartment buildings in it.
Eventually, this little testing booth was installed outside our apartment and all around the city. Now, we all test at these booths as we need to have a green code (negative COVID test) to enter anywhere.
It’s weird now to reflect on the 3.5 months or so where a city of 28 million people was completely shutdown. To be fenced in my neighborhood, to not be allowed outside my apartment, and receive rations from the government.
Lots of acquaintances and friends left Shanghai during this period; some with plans to return and others leaving for good. I was fortunate to able to go home this summer for a whole month and make it back at the end of July (that experience is for a different post). It’s definitely been hard not being able to travel the past 2.5 years to see family and friends as before I was averaging going home twice a year. However, I would definitely say that I have made the most of the past two years and the lockdown this past spring! Fortunately my past life challenges prepared me for the ones I faced this spring and I strived to be a resource for my friends, neighbors, and community when I could. The million dollar question is…how much longer will I stay in Shanghai? The answer is that I really don’t know. I will at a minimum be doing another school year here and am excited and anxious to start next week! After a year, I’m not sure what’s next. Stay tuned 🙂
To end the post, some of the baked goods I made for my apartment! I’d like to think they lifted some spirits and also was fun for me.