I first arrived in Beijing almost five years ago on a cloudy day after a 30-hour flight. I had been hired to teach at a summer camp while still an undergraduate. During the amazing month, I learned a lot about Chinese culture and made many Chinese friends, so I decided to return to China several years later to work on a master’s degree.
I fell in love with the beautiful country during my second stay. China has many contrasts: Next to a McDonald’s you might find a small Chinese restaurant selling chaofan (fried rice) or miantiao (noodles). By now I feel a little Chinese at heart after visiting all the beautiful places in China I imagined as a kid. I have tried almost every type of Chinese food across the country. My life in China has been great. I have all I need, and in China I have met many special people in my life including great friends and my partner Min.
For my Spring Festival this year, I had planned to visit Min’s parents, and we arranged everything. Unfortunately, the spread of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan disrupted our plan and left us separated, with her quarantined inside the city and me outside. I didn’t mind amending my holiday, but I worried about Min’s safety and wished I could spend this difficult time with her.
I waited for her until February 29. My heart remained anxious. I suspected she would encounter problems coming back to Beijing because she left as soon as the lockdown was lifted. Fortunately, she arrived near midnight. It was the first time I really felt like I could understand how Chinese people feel. I felt the country become part of my heart by living as Chinese people do. If they suffer, I suffer too. If they are happy, I can be happy too. It was a difficult Spring Festival for many families in China. All we have is each other, so I decided to take care of her and stay in China as long as possible.
We stayed at home for many days and nights. After collecting enough supplies, we passed the hours watching movies, cleaning the house and planning our future. We took our temperature almost every day. I made almost 50 cups of hot tea with lemon and honey and constantly pushed her to wear warmer clothes.
I set a personal goal of checking in with all of my friends every three days to make sure they were okay because I shared so many precious moments in China with them. Some offered me masks when I reported the drugstores were out of stock. Although I declined the offer, I felt the kindness and love of giving something so highly sought to others. I admire Chinese people because even when the situation worsened, they always remained willing to lend a helping hand to each other.
I was moved by optimism in a time of crisis. Everyone maintained hope that the situation would improve, the quarantine would end, and everyone would return to their normal lives. I admired everyone who volunteered to go to Wuhan and fight the virus. I suspect that many hid their suffering, but I am confident that after the long winter, everyone will greet spring with open arms and unmasked faces.
I was inspired by how people fought the situation, innovated ways to continue working and thus improved their lives forever. As a foreigner, my Western culture contrasts many aspects of China, but I respect the nation and people with all my heart and share their pain and struggles as I inhabit the country I have many reasons to love.
We still can’t predict the future, but I discovered as much about myself as anything about Chinese culture during my time here. Every smile, experience and friend I made here is stored forever in my heart. I fondly remember dinner invitation. I smile when I think back on every hot pot restaurant and how people enjoy eating with friends and family. I have preserved every Chinese word I learned alongside all the times that I got lost and someone helped me. My heart is full of Min and all the laughs and tears we have shared together. Recently, the situation has improved considerably. Many people are resuming work, and students are gearing up to return to school. I can only speak from my heart to them: Stay strong, China!
The author is an entrepreneur from Costa Rica.