Two weeks into my 62-day Shanghai lockdown, I come to hate my second-floor neighbor.
To be fair, we’re all losing it, but this guy just ratted us out to the entire 200+ person compound WeChat group. All we did was walk across a lane (still in our compound, we’re locked in after all) to visit a friend who lives in the same building. None of us have been out for weeks. We have also been PCR-tested no less than eight times since the lockdown started. Paraphrasing that one horror movie, the COVID is not coming from inside the house.
Still, the second-floor rat (as I will call him the rest of the lockdown) says he overheard us saying we will walk to visit our neighbor (who I will also add lives alone and who hadn’t seen another soul the whole time, save for the dabai in full PPE suits). I see the message and my heart is pounding. At the same time that I realize the whole thing is incredibly stupid. I have been in China long enough to know there is no actual repercussion to this and I give too few cares to allow myself to be shamed by the 80-something ayis who live in my lane. But still.. I feel… betrayed? What happened to ‘we’re all in this together’?
I know he’s losing it too, but dude — this isn’t helping. We whisper about what to do and I sneak back into my apartment fifteen minutes later, like a teenager out past curfew. I flip the bird to second-floor rat’s closed door as I walk upstairs. Yes, it’s immature and petty and totally childish. But I just got ratted out like a child, I’m allowed this one.
He’s not even the worst one. Seriously, lockdown brings out the devil in some people. Case in point – our neighborhood Karen – Danny. Within the first week, Danny has already threatened to fight a woman in building three (“You think just because you are a woman I won’t hit you???”), told the foreigners to stop buying so much wine, and made a separate volunteer group, just for the Communist Party members. There is no transparency, no information about ongoing cases. When we ask our committee why there is so much secrecy, Danny tells the group – “this is China, deal with it”. He makes a long-winded metaphor about the Han people, the warlords in charge, but I don’t follow.
By Week 5 of lockdown, Danny alienates so many of my Shanghainese neighbors that he gets kicked out of our community WeChat group. That is also the week that we stage a coup. But that is a story for another day.
I cry in anger when I receive a ration of canned stewed pork. I’m numb when we receive rations of expired pork jerky and salted beef.
Halfway through the lockdown, we go through a ‘silence period’. It extends from 48 hours to 7 days.
During the silence period, we can’t leave the apartment at all. We are not allowed the twenty-foot daily walk to the trash bins. To be fully honest, I don’t know how this is different from the rest of the lockdown. A lower level of hell is still a level of hell, just read Dante’s Inferno. It’s all there.
At this point, I don’t care. I sneak out to pick up packages from our gate. During the 30-second interval where I am looking through the packages and doing my best to not get the bleach from the soaked cardboard onto my forearms and my black leggings, I sneak a few glances up and down my block.
As expected, it’s dead. There are a few errant waimai delivery men, a PPE-clad nurse on a share-bike, a single car. The sidewalks are empty, The streets are corded off with metal gates and police tape. It’s a crime scene. Rest in peace, Fumin road. I look wistfully at what remains of my street, not knowing what would happen if I take more than five steps out of the gate, make a run for it, not look back.
Would the baoan yell at me? Run after me? Call the police?
It would certainly destroy all the goodwill me and him have built up over the last year. And so I don’t risk it. There’s no point. At this moment, I feel like I’ve finally been broken down by the system.
At the same time it’s also not the baoan’s fault.
Like me, he is a semi-willing participant in this nonsense. Like me, he has a faceless neighborhood committee to answer to. Unlike me, if he has a mental breakdown and loses his marbles, he doesn’t have the option of booking a one-way ticket on United and getting the hell out of China. But this is all too much to think about. I pick up my grocery delivery and walk back inside, making sure to fully latch my compound’s iron gate behind me.