Living Under the “New Normal” in China

Stacey Zhang '22, Staff Writer

Masks, alcohol wipes, and constant hand-washing have become the elements of many people’s lives amidst the global pandemic. Flying back to China, where the lockdown has lifted, I feel compelled to share my sentiment living in the “new normal.”

In the city I live in, Zhengzhou, the number of new cases dropped to around zero at the beginning of March. The focus of the authority was then transferred to people flying in from overseas to prevent a second wave. After scrambling to fly back to China, many international students, myself included, were quarantined for two weeks and tested for COVID-19.

During my quarantine in late March, I witnessed the disparate scenes in China and the US: while US cases just started to surge and New York streets became more vacant than ever, people in my town were walking and talking like nothing had happened, except for the seemingly omnipresent sight of masks.

It was a surreal experience to live in the vortex of a historic event: waking up feeling overwhelmed by good and bad news simultaneously. I did not know whether to let myself feel fear of the virus, sadness for the rising casualties, or joy for finally return home.

With the stability of fewer new cases locally and nationally, a semblance of normality returned to people’s lives. Malls and schools gradually reopened, while grocery stores filled their shelves with masks and alcohol sprays. People began to visit family members and reconnect with friends.

Most people wear surgical masks in the public, especially in the workplace or at schools. Each person is required to scan his or her Health QR Code when going into stores or malls, which help track contacts of potentially infected patients.

After being overly cautious about washing hands and keeping distance between others, I have found myself more at ease in the public gradually this past month. Familiarized with this new reality, I built a sense of security, which was confirmed by the lessened requirements of the QR Code and the continued opening up of schools and stores. People seem to share my decreasing alertness about the disease, which continues to grow in some parts of the world. More people are seen without masks in public.

Returning to normality seems reasonable, yet frightening. After months of mental and financial distress, the current level of safety in the country makes a reasonable case for people to resume their normal lives.

Nonetheless, fear for a second outbreak of the disease remains prominent. In fact, new cases have appeared in Northeast China and Korea, adding to my and many others’ concerns. But the concerns are not the only special thing about the “new normal.”

I sensed that the “new normal” is not normal. The bookstore that I grew up next to is struggling financially, the grocery stores are either having sales or closing down, and many people have lost their loved ones. I bought a book at the bookstore, trying to hold on to the city I left, but it was no longer the same.

The underlying reality, beneath this “new normal,” is many lives are severely impacted and irreversibly changed. The surface level normality should not mask the impact the pandemic has made and is continuing to make in individuals’ lives. We ought to reflect on the tragedies and be ready for new challenges.