As we start to hibernate in physical isolation, a necessary response to the fact that the U.S. is now considered the Coronavirus “epicenter”, I recently thought to myself, what is going on now in China? Our fall 2018 intern, Jayden, moved back to China a year ago. Oh my goodness, I wondered––is he ok?
It had been several months since we last chatted. I couldn’t log into my defunct WeChat (a Chinese chat app, similar to WhatsApp) account, so I sent him something cheery and normal to the tune of “how are you?” on Facebook chat. I hoped nervously he still had access to Facebook since China often blocks it.
Deep down, the message I actually wanted to send was, “ARE YOU ALIVE?” I was dreading the scenario that COVID-19 had gutted his city, and potentially his family. Dramatic, yes, but it does point to something about my perspective (and maybe yours, too) of China: Besides the harrowing news stories we’ve heard, I don’t know anything really about what day-to-day life has been like over there recently. My one weekend trip to Beijing 10 years ago during my study abroad in South Korea didn’t give me much of a picture of daily life there, either.
While I was tensely awaiting his response on Facebook, I remembered back to the hilarity of the last time we all hung out over a year ago. His friends and my friends got together at his South Salt Lake apartment for a hot pot party and played VR video games. If you’ve never eaten hot pot, it is a traditional Chinese method of cooking meats, veggies and other meat-like things in a simmering broth, similar to a giant fondue pot. It’s a very communal way of eating food, and if you’re not as savvy with the hot pot (as we were not), it’s a nice way to learn to receive help from your host as you try and maneuver meats and things you’ve never seen before. Jayden and his friends graciously helped my friends and me identify what we were harvesting from the hot pot for our plates (strange clear noodle clusters, fish cake and so many other things).
Meanwhile his Thai girlfriend served us the “mild” spiced Thai soup. Note: it was NOT mild. I’m sure it’s forever amusing to people from places with extremely spicy food to watch brave white people who “love spicy food” embarrass themselves, as we slowly melt from a spice overload. Between that and learning how to play new video games, I’m not sure we ever stopped laughing that night. Me, from Utah, and my friends from Montana and Massachusetts, along with Jayden from China, his girlfriend from Thailand, and his friend from Taiwan, all from such different places, found so much in common to laugh about.
That evening left my two friends and I feeling quite foreign in the best way possible. Clambering through things that are so ordinary to some, and so new to us, we essentially experienced how every day might feel for Jayden, while studying abroad in Utah. Jayden is a motion graphics artist, and he attended the University of Utah. As his intern coordinator at CATALYST all semester, I was constantly reminding him of little English language nuances, American culture norms and the likes. For him to show me a small window into his world, as he helped us dole out meats into the hot pot, this was quite the role reversal, and a welcome reminder that everyone’s foreign somewhere.
And finally, before I could wonder for too long if I’ll ever get to share another hot pot dinner with Jayden… his response read:
Yo it’s been a while
How have you been?
He’s alive! I thought. He told me that they’ve been on a two-month self-quarantine, and that people are just starting to go back to work. Shops other than the essential industry have been closed during this time. There are no cases in his hometown at the moment.
It seems like as ripe a time as any to write some stories about our reconnecting, and what two months of isolation has been like. But a podcast might be even better. Would Jayden be up for it? “Yeah of course, as long as I can help,” he responded. Superb! Yes, this did make me feel like the proudest intern mom.
I could not have asked for a better moment to make this leap for CATALYST’s content. Now that the magazine will be digital-only for the time being, podcasts seem like a natural next step.
Jayden and I are preparing our first ever podcast for CATALYST. We will catch up and compare lives in this strange time. What has he been doing? How has their local economy been doing through all of this? What has changed the most? I have so many questions for him. If you do as well, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, title the subject line, “podcast,” and I can incorporate your questions, too. You can also call (801) 363-1505 and leave a message with your questions.
And what a perfect time to tune in with Jayden, to hear about the light at the end of the tunnel that China must be experiencing right now, as we move headlong into our own isolated tunnels, while we try to contain the worst of the spread of the virus in the U.S.
As I sit in my room typing, physically isolated from so much of my world, thinking about what future days and opportunities hold, I also think to myself––never before have I felt so connected to the world.