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From SARS to nCoV-2019

 

My first journey to China was in September 2002. My friend Lesley invited me to go with a group to study Fengshui. At that time I was finishing my MFA at RMIT in Melbourne and said yes as the journey was to be in April 2003.
Mid 2002 Lesley contacted me to say that the journey had to be brought forward as we could not travel in April 2003. She did not know why, however, spirit had told her to take the group in September 2002. I was in a dilemma as it was a crucial time in my studies and had to ask for dispensation to take the trip.
The university was not too pleased, however, obliged.
I mention this journey in the Changing Directions blog.
As it turned out in March 2003, China basically closed its doors to foreigners due to the SARS epidemic. When I spoke to Lesley on this she said that she receives the spirit messages and very strongly needs to follow the directions, hence the outcome and reason for our changed plans was SARS.
The World Health Organisation declared the SARS outbreak contained in July 2003, at which time Brian Wallace from Redgate Gallery contacted me and asked if I would like to take a residency with him in August. After four months of lockdown China was accepting foreigners again.
When I arrived at the Shangrila studios in Feijiacun, early August, the road to the studios was barricaded by a boom gate with a guard. Apparently we were the first artists to enter the studios after the opening up after SARS. A knock on the door and Li Gang introduced himself, an artist living in the same compound who spoke good English as he had studied in Australia. Li Gang accompanied us on a walk into the local Feijiacun village. He explained that the villagers knew him well and as we were with him we would then be accepted into the area and they would not be nervous of us.
I spent just under a month at the residency, working in the studio, had my first exhibition, met many artists, saw the famous 798 Art District, a converted munitions factory built in 1953 by Germans and engaged on many levels with all sorts of people.
The Redgate Residency is a superb way for artists to experience China and the very vibrant Art Scene Beijing had to offer.
Here I am late January 2020, GOSH!!! Nearly seventeen years later and about to leave Beijing due to concerns regarding the Coronavirus.
A virus that had its inception in Wuhan Markets in late December and spread rapidly with nearly 2,000 confirmed cases and 50 people dead has caused, as of today twelve Hubei Province cities to be locked down affecting some 62.8 million people.
With the great Chinese New Year migration of people travelling to be with family, many will be caught in areas unable to return to work and school. Wuhan streets are virtually isolated with only service vehicles able to traverse the city, airport and public transport is at a standstill and stores are being emptied of food without replacement.
On 24th President Xi Jinping declares that it is a grave situation and two new hospitals are currently being built in Wuhan to cater for the casualties.
Any place where crowds would gather has been closed, meaning the Chinese New Year Temple Fairs, Imperial Palace, Shanghai Disneyland, a section of the Great Wall, Starbucks and McDonalds cannot be accessed.
Based in Beijing, and arriving on Wednesday 22nd, I am currently staying at a friend’s apartment in downtown Beijing where I have internet access and a grand view across the city from the 25th floor. My friend Anne Hastie and I in a way have isolated ourselves, keeping a store of the necessities like beer and pasta. As I look across the cityscape I can no longer see the old CCTV tower as ‘haze’ impinges us and the AQI reading of 170 recommends masks, staying indoors and no outdoor activities. We are waiting for wind, as is usual in Beijing, as it will take the ‘haze’ across to the East towards Shanghai, which here is not our concern.
I have followed the reports on the Novel Coronavirus and today decided that it is time for me to depart. As an asthmatic and a disposition towards Bronchial issues it is wise to leave. As I write Anne tells me that Beijing has stopped all Tourist Groups and Buses from coming into the city.
My ticket is booked and paid for to depart on Wednesday; I am sorry to leave a place that has been good to me for the past seventeen years. In this year of the ‘rat’ I quietly feel like the rat deserting a metaphorically sinking ship.

Written on Sunday 26th January 2020, as I watch the night lights brighten an otherwise grey sky.

Post Script:
On Monday (27) Fabio returned home to Beijing, called back from a holiday with his family in Italy and San Diego. He is the chief of WHO in Beijing and walked into the apartment to prepare himself for a meeting with Chinese Health directors and President Xi Jinping on Tuesday. All Taxi and Didi(Uber) transport has been closed within the inner-city of Beijing but Fabio managed to get one from the airport. I walked to Dongzhimen Station where men in white coveralls checked my temperature; the train was virtually empty on both Line 13 and 15. I then took the No. 32 bus and was the only customer. Upon arrival at my apartment in Xi Mapo my friend Jingjing contacted me to advise that the apartment tenants have been urged not to meet people, to stay inside and not to socialise. She tells me that if someone knocks do not answer the door as they are the Community Carers and want to ask questions.
I had planned to go to my storage on Tuesday (28) before departing, informed Hongmei and suggested for her comfort that I do not interact with her while at her house. On the bus going to the site I was informed that Hongmei’s village had been sealed off to people entering and leaving, that I cannot go inside the property. On the walk from the bus stop back to the apartment all restaurants and stores are closed except for the cigarette and alcohol shop. Jingjing reserved a 9am taxi for my trip to the airport, although the flight was at 13:30 I prefered to get there early to avoid any hiccups. Wisely Anne has decided to also abandon her time in China and leave on Monday. Unfortunately her commitment was for three months with a paid for studio, power, water, etc.
Wednesday Morning (29) I received a message to say that Carrie Lam is restricting transport between Hong Kong Island and the Mainland, citizens cannot travel across Hong Kong harbour.
I had arranged to meet friends in the four days of my stay in Hong Kong, however they all live on Hong Kong Island. I do not think it wise to stay in Kowloon for four nights; after a call to Cathay Pacific, in Sydney, I was able to change my flight to leave Hong Kong on 30th January. At the airport many people were wearing masks, I needed to complete a health information form and surprisingly no temperature checks. At Hong Kong Airport arriving passengers needed also to complete a health information form, also much mask wearing and pump containers of sterilising hand wash are everywhere. The hotel manager checked my temperature after we spent a lot of time going through a procedure with booking.com to waiver the three nights that I will not stay. Staff at the Panorama Hotel are most obliging and it is a very comfortable hotel. I sent emails and messages to family and friends advising my situation and that I am well. My dear sister Carol replied to say “Thank God, I was so worried about you.” Friends and family made contact to check on my travel progress with Karin in Hong Kong ringing on Thursday morning to check that all was going smoothly.
It is not always known to me the impact across many countries and people of the life style that I choose to live, it spreads widely. One does not simply move through this life as a single entity, a life has tendrils that reach far out into the ethers of others lives, that link us inextricably. It is now 3.5 hours until my arrival in Melbourne, I am zooming above the clouds, speeding through the blueness of space in a plane that has no spare seats and an aura of calmness seems to hover within.

The attached Images by Bruce Connolly based in China, look up his Facebook Page.

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