Americas, Venezuela, Asia-Pacific, China, Opinion, Editor's Choice

Venezuelan Expat Talks About the COVID-19 Pandemic in China

If you have recently heard of Venezuela, independently of your personal opinions, you know it’s a country that had it (almost) all, and now things are very difficult. Around 5 million people have left Venezuela and now live in other countries trying to have a better live quality, whatever that means for each individual.

I am one of them. And yes, things in Spain are tough, but not as tough as they are in my country. Including the confinement situation we are all living everywhere in the world.

I am also anxious, I’m curious about when and how this will end, if it ever does. I have a lot of critics for the Spanish government, and pretty much all other governments. But I am also lucky enough to understand that I am not the one suffering the most.

What I bring you guys to read today is an interview with a friend from Venezuela who is now living in China. I was curious about how could a Hispanic woman adapt to the oriental culture, and how she was doing with all this madness, particularly after coming from such an insane country as Venezuela is.

I don’t want to extend my words much longer because I really want you all to read her words, and find not only some peace in this storm, but also to appreciate the little things that make these times more bearable.

Where you are reading me from, if you are angry at something, there will be time to ask for justice. If you are too sad to get out of bed, now it’s the time to guard your strength. If you are as anxious about the future as I am, I bring you an interview from the future. About how we could be in the following months.

Take care, and stay strong. You will want to watch this future.

When did you moved to China? Which city do you live in?

I arrived in Beijing on October 2019. I currently live in Beijing.

Why did you decide to move there?

I chose to come to China in an attempt to improve my life quality. Being honest, I just wanted to leave my extremely insecure and unstable country and find some financial and social security/stability. I got a job offer in Beijing where I could work in my area of expertise, while having a good salary and other benefits. Could have been China or anywhere else, in all honesty. I was just looking for a normal life.

How did you feel when you got there? How did the city treat you?

The cultural shock is very real. Even though you are sometimes lucky enough to find English speakers in some establishments, it is not common. It can be overwhelming and scary, but with the amount of technology available now, I think you can adjust quite easily.

I have not had a bad experience in terms of adapting. Chinese people mostly keep to themselves, but are pretty friendly. It is usually older people who tend to be kind of “afraid” of you (quite literally, I have had people almost running away from me), though some old folks are extremely nice and curious about you. Younger people are usually friendly, and I have personally felt that there’s always someone who can and will help you. It is necessary to say, however, that as an expat, you enter an expat community most times, which means that you are mostly interacting with other foreigners. I would say that the expat community in Beijing is pretty tight and close. There are quite a lot of us, but we are still a minority in China

Something that has been shocking for me is how safe the streets are, and how I can find help in policemen (which is unheard of for me, coming from Venezuela)

In terms of cultural differences, do you think it is difficult to adapt to the Chinese culture?

I think that we cannot judge Chinese people under western standards. We have to be conscious that they come from a whole different background. So, if you are expecting to find everything just as it works in western culture then yeah, you’ll hate it. There are simple things that drive some people crazy, like the fact that when you order food, they’ll just bring whatever is ready first to the table, regardless of it being an appetizer or the main course. In that same sense, language can actually be a quite big barrier for a foreigner. You can get by, but it becomes frustrating.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that Chinese are very conservative and traditional, so of course I don’t feel 100% comfortable with everything (especially when it comes to women’s issues) but I try to be understanding and keep an open mind to the whole experience.

Do you remember when was the first time you heard of the Coronavirus?

Yeah, I was actually traveling inside China, since the news first broke around the Spring festival.

What did you think about it at that time?

Well, I was actually shocked at how quickly measurements were taken. Withing days businesses where closing its doors and following the central government recommendations and guidelines. I want to stress that these measurements were a suggestion for businesses at the beginning, but everyone was quick about adjusting to them. I just thought it was going to last some weeks and everything would be back to normal. Safe to say, I was wrong.

When things started to escalate, did you feel safe enough with the measurements taken?

Yes, I did. Like I said, the minute I knew about it, everyone was getting masks, staying inside, and doing all that. This was January 25th or something like that. I did feel that all possible measurements were being taken. I did not feel unsafe or threatened by the measurements taken, especially because it felt as culturally coherent for the Chinese people. And this is something that I would like to emphasize: Chinese people voluntarily followed the measurements, even when it was not mandatory. At least, that is what I saw and what I can share. From my perspective, people were keen to follow the suggestions for the greater good.

Can you tell us about how you lived the confinement? How was your routine to protect yourself? (E.g. how long it lasted, were you able to buy enough food for this period, were you supposed to follow very strict rules?)

So, I came home earlier than expected from my trip to Kunming. I had already planned to chill at home for a while. I had several activities planned. I had a Lego set, several books to finish. The first week or so passed by quite quickly, I went to the supermarket the next day after I arrived and got things to get me through some weeks. The following weeks were kind of crazy. Too much wine (which can be delivered to my doorstep) and just a toxic attitude in general. Probably as a product of anxiety given the circumstances. I contacted my therapist and started therapy again. I would say, give yourself room to feel whatever you are feeling and if things feel like they are too much, seek help. Try to exercise, if not your body at least your mind. And also, beat the system by not feeling guilty about not wanting to do ‘productive’ things. Count your blessings if you are able to quarantine under a roof with enough food and a stable job. If it is possible, help others however you can.

In terms of rules, there were actually not very strict rules in my community for most of the time. It was around two weeks into the issue that the building’s management made cards for the residents of the community to be able to go to the supermarket and come back. At all places you went, your temperature has to be measured (still to this day) and some times you will have to fill out a form to enter places like malls and so on. However, in communities that are more centric and crowded rules were very strict. Some people had an hour or two a day to do their grocery shopping

I must clarify that, again, as an expat, I kind of live in a bubble. My personal experience was not at all scary nor too restrictive.

Now that China is slowly recovering from this incident, how do you feel about living there still? Do you feel optimistic?

I am happy here. I do feel safer and therefore I do feel free here. So, I am optimistic about staying here and fulfill my contractual duties at work. China is much more than this incident, and quite honestly, China is much more than what western media usually covers. I am aware of my ignorance when it comes to most Chinese people’s experience. I am aware that I have an extremely privileged position here in China, but I do want to learn more about this country and its people, who have been the target of a lot of prejudice and ignorance.

Have you read news about how other countries are living the confinement situation? What do you think about it?

I have read it and also talked with friends that live in different countries. I find it necessary (given the circumstances) and interesting. Also, I empathize a lot with people who are struggling now. I feel like this whole situation just shows how fragile human institutions are. The whole world’s economy will be heavily affected by this. I think this whole situation has brought a sense of community and a chance to empathize with others and realize how privileged some of us are.

Do you have any advice for people in USA or LATAM?

If you can do your quarantine and work, feel that blessing every day and do it happily. If you cannot work, try to establish a schedule (include a variety of activities and schedule your meals). Do your groceries according to a meal plan, don’t panic-buy if possible.

Try to work out and move your body doing something you enjoy (Yoga, HIIT, dancing, play with your pet)

If some days you just feel like you can’t do anything, give yourself a break, focus on your mental health.

What do you think about the world’s current situation COVID-19? Should things be done differently?

I think the necessary measurements are being taken by most countries. I think this also shows the severe flaws in most healthcare systems and the underwhelming preparation that we have in the face of a pandemic situation. I also think that this should open the conversation to reevaluating how healthcare works and to what extent the governments are responsible for their people. I think a lot of countries are going to have to step up and care for their people.

About Daniela D. Franco

Daniela is a Social Psychologist from Venezuela, she is interested in the changes technology and the development of social networks generate into human interactions, and is currently studying Digital Marketing. She enjoys reading, writing and biking while David Bowie is playing in her iPod.

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