by Helen Fong
Covid-19 tales from Vancouver, Canada
In December 2019, my family of four travelled to China for my mother’s eightieth birthday. We also planned to visit our extended families in Hunan and Hubei provinces. We hadn’t had a chance to travel together since our elder son graduated from high school in 2014 due to our conflicting schedules. This time around, the boys showed their love and gratitude for their Grandma and arranged time to attend the family reunion.
After a short stay in the beautiful coastal city of Xiamen, we arrived in Changsha, Hunan on December 30th. We stayed in a serviced apartment adjacent to a five-star hotel, where we could watch news channels from other countries. We spent New Year’s Eve with my parents, who lived nearby.
My husband’s hometown is in Hubei. While we were planning our trip, CNN and other non-Chinese news channels began reporting a suspicious outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei. The town we were planning to visit was Xiaogan, about 150 km north of Wuhan. My husband’s relatives all live in Xiaogan. Visiting them became a controversial issue. Our family had to sit down to talk about our different opinions in our hotel living room.
We finally decided on a one-day trip from Changsha to Xiaogan. We would bring hand sanitizer and wear face masks the whole way. On January 6th, we got up early to catch the first train from Changsha to Xiaogan and got there in time to have lunch and dinner with our relatives. That evening, we took the late train back at around 8pm. It was pouring rain and pitch dark when we left, and the rain was a bit icy. I felt much safer when we arrived in Changsha. We got back to our hotel at around midnight.
My mom’s birthday dinner was on January 8th. Everything went smoothly, and our relatives in Changsha were happy to see us. They were especially happy to see how much our two boys had grown. Our boys were thrilled to see so many of their cousins, second cousins, uncles and aunties.
We came home to Vancouver in mid-January. From the news, we saw that the epidemic in China was getting worse. (WHO hadn’t characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic until March 11th.) The central government of China finally decided to lockdown the city of Wuhan on January 23rd. Xiaogan, the city we’d visited on January 6th turned out to be the site of China’s second biggest COVID-19 outbreak. We were shocked and concerned for our relatives. Thankfully, they were all fine. I thank my God for His blessings in guiding my family back to Canada safely, and in protecting our families in China. We made donations to hospitals in Hubei, trying to do what we could remotely.
Though atmosphere was quite intense even across the Pacific Ocean, both our boys went back to school from January to March. Our older son John was studying in Seattle. COVID-19 cases began appearing there before Vancouver, and there were outbreaks at long-term care centres in Kirkland. We asked John to consider moving back at spring break and offered to drive down and pick him up. He didn’t respond. As an independent young man, he preferred to do things his own way.
John finally decided to move back in mid-March. He purchased a bus ticket online in advance. With COVID-19 cases developing in both Seattle and Vancouver, we were concerned for John’s safety. Buses between the two cities were usually crowded with commuters. When we heard that the US and Canadian governments announced to close the border between US and Canada for non-essential travel, we were even more worried. His bus would surely be crowded with people trying to make it home before the border closed. A crowded bus was a terrible place to be during a pandemic, but we couldn’t do anything about it.
On March 14th, when he finally headed back, my husband received a text from John saying that he was the only passenger on the bus. The bus stayed empty except for a few more passengers who got on closer to the border. This was a total surprise. I could say nothing other than “Thank God!”
Three days later, the border was closed. This had never happened before in the history of the two countries. I still remember the words on Peace Arch Border Gate: “May these gates never be closed.” This pandemic has changed history without a doubt!
John stayed in our basement for the duration of his 14-day quarantine. We’d prepared everything before he arrived to make sure he’d be comfortable. While he was in quarantine, we texted and talked on the phone or through WeChat. He had enough food in the basement refrigerator and cooked for himself most of the time. He was healthy and showed no symptoms. With deep gratitude, I saw that everything turned out fine.
John’s quarantine coincided with our other son Tim’s spring break. In the past few years, we’d used his spring break to travel. This year, however, we had to stay home. It was a time of rest for all of us. We had none of the stress of packing, airports, rental cars and hotels. We spent a lot of time together and relished the chance to catch up. We celebrated my birthday with flowers and a cake from my favorite bakery.
Tim’s school encouraged students to give back through their Saints Go Making A Difference program. One student used a 3D printer to make face shields for medical staff at hospitals. Some fixed used computers or bikes for low-income families. Young people helped seniors with their grocery shopping. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus has not stopped people from loving and caring for each other, though we have had to remain physically apart.
This special experience has brought our family closer. In times of difficulty, we realize that family is more important than success. As Matthew 22:39 says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ We are certainly our own closest neighbors, and we shall all support and care for each other.
It is now in June. Summer has come. Things are calming down in British Columbia. Businesses are gradually reopening. Schools are partially opened for in-class instruction. Out in the sunshine, birds are still singing, and flowers are still blooming. The mountains are majestic and trees are so green. What a beautiful world! We see God’s presence in His creation even during this catastrophic pandemic. We will continue to count His blessings every day.
Born in China, Helen Fong now lives in Vancouver, Canada. She manages her own business of translation, specializing in translating legal and commercial documents between English and Chinese. She enjoys writing in both Chinese and English in her leisure time.