Part One: Apple
(2020 January 18 – February 5)
0. In a video that our friend TANG Chao once made, a man dressed in a spacesuit walks in the city. This time TANG Chao passes through Wuhan on his way back home and says he wants to come and visit, taking the opportunity to share his new video work with us. The new piece is about a soldier who takes a series of photographs with film supposed to be used for reconnaissance purposes, developing it himself in a makeshift dark room inside a cave turned military bunker. One of the images shows him wheezing out a song out of tune while running through the dark and rainy night.
1. As his hosts, we cut oranges and apples for him, trying to figure out how to eat while wearing face masks.
2. It is only with his arrival that we begin to understand the seriousness of the corona virus. On the 22nd, just after TANG Chao leaves Wuhan, roads begin being blocked, and by 2 am that night a notice is issued to announce the lockdown of the city.
3. On the second day of the Lunar New Year, we ride electric bicycles south along Lumo Road towards the city centre. Other than sanitation workers, the streets were empty, and it is only after several minutes that one lonely car passes. Since the virus epidemic has been brought to the general public’s attention (on the 20th), it is only the third time that we’ve left the house, and the first time since the shutting down of all public transportation and the quarantine lockdown the city.
4. In the span between two bus stops, nearly all shops are closed. Of five pharmacies, four are closed with signs on their doors informing that antiseptic solution is out of stock. Two supermarkets are still open, a larger one of about 200 square metres, but inside it only one customer every ten metres or so, most of them middle to old-aged. We buy a bunch of food and supplies.
5. While at home, we’re still spending most of our time to follow up with the latest news and updated situation, so we get overloaded from the chaos and my mood becomes unstable. It’s better not too look too often, and anyway this phone doesn’t work well in a Wuhan winter; the battery has even begun to expand, making my iPhone swell up like a real apple.
6. There is a shipment of Apples that were brought in from Indonesia manifesting some kind of quantum drift. The same was reported in Wuhan and Lijiang.
7. Who knows if bats eat apples or not? Who knows if there will be a shortage of goods now that the city is under quarantine? Who knows whether the Wuhan Institute of Virology feeds its bats rats or monkeys? About what we eat — well, it is actually a bit difficult to describe: there is rice and cooking oil, but if the virus continues to persist, my flatmate Xiao Wei will have a hard time finding construction work out there. I may still have a bit of income, but next week it’s time to pay rent.
8. Motherfucker! I throw a leftover fruit pit out the door and into a puddle, making ripples in the black, muddy water. Even with my face mask back on, you can still smell the stink. After TANG Chao’s imposed 14-day quarantine at home, he receives a health certification which allows him to go back to Shanghai today. I hope he will arrive safely.
Part Two: Love
Keywords: going home, sending regards, Lumo Road rescue team, meeting a Wuhan friend, media flood, red meeting, whistleblower, night of indignation, the turning point between life and death, face mask boat, a cross pirate boat
1. I’ve already decided to stay in Wuhan for Lunar New Year this year: one, because it’s quite early this year, landing at the end of January, and I have some work that still hasn’t been wrapped up; secondly, I prefer to avoid the Lunar New Year travel rush and my parents’ usual expectations. At the beginning of the month, XIN Heng read a headline shared in her family’s chat group: “SARS is back”. On the 8th, friends in Hong Kong warn XIN Heng and I to be careful. By the 14th, another Wuhan friend who lives abroad begins to express concern for us, asking about the real situation on the ground. At the same time, I am trying to deal with telling my parents the plan not to go back to Guangxi until after the holiday period this year, as well as get ready for another visit from TANG Chao on the 18th.
All of this information flooding in is only a prelude.
A few days later when the Lunar New Year arrives, we finally cut a bit loose from the tyranny of social media, breaking off from the outside world for a few days’ rest.
Obviously I have been mistaken. After the pre-Lunar New Year frenzy, the entire city of Wuhan is hit with an even worse hurricane, sucking the entire province of Hubei, and even the entire country, into a vortex. When they announced at 2 am on the 23rd that the city would be put on lockdown, those of us night owls were already confused about the urgency of the situation. But compared to Hankou District on the other side of the river, XIN Heng, Little Wei and I are in relatively more calm conditions in Wuchang. Like a ship that stays calm in the eye of the storm, we are stuck here and can’t go out.
3. From the ship I look out of a small window, and through its yellowing glass and the layers of fog, there are people waving flags trying to tell us something. XIN Heng sees her two older sisters from far off waving at her. They tell her about the situation of stored food back home, and that they’ve found the boat where her grandmother and dog Ge-ge is. Her father and uncle are able to visit them every day, but unfortunately because the dog is already very old and has had several strokes, Ge-ge does not make it.
4. Many friends also send messages to us (in a bottle) along the tidal waves, asking us what our situation is. A couple of days later, I tell my mother about the food we have just prepared, and XIN Heng sends her mother a photo of the dish I made.
5. In the middle of a storm, it is common for several boats to come together in a circle and share information across their windows. Their signals tell when there is a pirate ship…and when a tidal wave is approaching, the flag bearer should better get off the deck.
6. We get together again, passing the time with alcohol.
7. One night, the whole sea is tossing and turning. A weather forecaster falls into the waves.
That night all our friends and family are posting information about his condition, with indignation and grief spreading everywhere, taking root. The person who first warned us about the storm has been taken into the cabin of Schrödinger’s boat, both dead and alive at the same time, and between the real and the false, he keeps getting up and laying back down again. The flag signaller has been beaten down by the waves.
8. XIN Heng and her sisters raise a newspaper called “Days in the Eye of the Storm” up onto the mast. It is a diary of their experiences during this time, and Little Bao did the layout for them, even drawing a few of the illustrations. These spontaneous occurrences move people, and they make us feel just a little bit more at peace amidst the anxiety and worry, making us feel new possibilities.
Part Three: News from Yulin, Guangxi Province
(January 29-31, February 7-16)
1. Her mother lives in Hankou District, and the owners’ committee there is fierce (I’ve seen them posting dazibao posters to criticise the property management about elevator repair work and the renting of common space). Now they’ve started collectively buying medicine. Her sisters live in Wuchang District, and now they’re all staying together at their father’s house. Everyday she calls her family, and her father worries incessantly, bringing fresh food over to us every other week even when she tells him it’s not necessary to make the journey over here.
2. I heard Yulin has a drug lord who brings a virus to villages by drinking and feasting there with a gang of his brothers and uncles. I saw a video of his wife being carried away in an ambulance and also a photo of many people sitting around a table eating, the one circled in red supposedly a positively diagnosed relative. I imagine him standing outside of a denim garment workshop, just finishing a smoke on his pipe then raising his head to see in the distance the western style house that Boss LIANG had bought for the rinse technician from Zhejiang a few years ago. A few minutes later, he would be taken into custody by police officer LI and his cadres and sent to Hospital 183 for quarantine. He becomes bored stiff in the hospital ward while waiting for the results of his nucleic acid test and starts chatting on WeChat with his scoundrel brother and his good friend Eight ZHANG. He confesses to them in a jokey tone about how he’s all in a tizzy about becoming an internet sensation.
3. My younger cousin tells me on January 31st that something has happened back home. Later I confirm that it’s one of our cousin’s wives who has travelled with her father to where the epidemic has spread, and they’ve been diagnosed. My elder cousin and his entire family—ten people—are all put into quarantine. They live on the eastern side of our ancestral hall, the other sides of which are owned by my family, my grandpa, father’s elder sister and their family. All of them are forced into in-house quarantine.
4. My mother and father don’t live in our ancestral home though, so when I call them my mother is just back from doing the shopping. She says my father bought a drone and is playing with it on the roof.
5. My aunt sends a video to our family chat group, and in it she is filming from her window two people down below wearing white protective suits and spraying disinfectant in our family courtyard. They walk into my cousin’s house on the opposite side, and behind them is a blue suited person recording video, probably to document for making a report. It feels violating — these strange people invading a place that is so familiar to me. A few days later, neighbourhood workers paste notices on all the houses in the vicinity, even the empty house of my grandmother who has passed away.
Later, the neighbourhood workers bring food to my aunt’s house, and she posts a Douyin (TikTok) video of how to grow sprouts at home.
6. Near the village where we live on the outskirts of Wuhan, there have also been a few confirmed cases, so the entrance to the village has also been sealed off. In order to enter or exit your temperature has to be checked, and later they completely forbid all residents from leaving at all. Neigbourhoods inside the city are even more strict about leaving. During this period, the hardest hit are friends who run businesses. It’s the new year and there are no customers, but rent still has to be paid. So our friends from Koenji in Tokyo gave us the idea to hold a “Wuhan Pandemic x Tokyo Prison” event on February 15. They would sell Wuhan’s famous hot dry noodles, Corona beer and Erguotou baijiu (sorghum liquor) at their Nantoka Bar, and we would join them by video call. All of the proceeds would go to an underground bar in Wuhan called Wuhan Prison.
7. She and I get into a fight.
8. WANG H came back to Wuhan with his daughter just prior to Lunar New Year, and they are quarantined inside the house. His wife YK is in Tokyo, so it’s convenient for them to join the online drinking party. On that side of the lens, YU Xiang is constantly repeating, “Mi casa es su casa”. I even see Yama, who brought his wife Shoko and their son Ui for refuge in Wuhan for a while after the nuclear accident in Fukushima. I haven’t seen Yama for ages! He used to love to play that song “Monomorai” by Wataru Takada on the sax. It all made me so happy. And Ozzy! Come drink with us!
9. The bar stayed open all night, bringing in over 5,000 yuan. Hajime gives the money to Dongdong and Wuhan Prison to help pay rent for the bar.
10. On the morning of the 16th, after their in-house quarantine is over, auntie leaves the house and goes for a stroll.
Part Four: Quarantined
1. When I was young I had an idea for a novel where all of humanity would enter a 100 year-long sleep mode and nature would slowly recover. Of course, this novel was never written, but in January towards the beginning of February, I saw a video of a wild pig fleeing on the Second Ring Road, and there were a lot of reports about animals being expelled or even buried alive because of the epidemic.
2. From February 10th, they had started to control the quarantining of all housing communities in Hankou District. On the 17th, housing communities in Wuchang District and many other small roads began closing off one after the other. Until the 18th, the guard of our village was still not so strict, and we rode an electric bike around a small path to get to the supermarket to buy meat and vegetables. Along the way, the entrances to every village were obstructed by barricades, with guards wearing red caps and red vests standing by. But the next day, on the 19th, the security for our village was stepped up, and the guard became very strict — no going in or out. The 20th was my birthday, and I tried to make a doughball-shaped cake for myself.
3. On the 21st, the gas for our cooking stove ran out. Usually getting a new gas tank involves calling a number, and it costs around 90-100 yuan, but now that hotline has stopped working. On the corner of the door of our house there is a sticker with another phone number for an official gas supplier from the city, and when the phone picks up, the person’s voice sounds like a fat guy sprawled in front of his desk, telling me that they can deliver a new tank to the village entrance for 130 yuan.
4. At the entrance to the village in front of the rubbish dumpster, a blue guard wall has been added, leaving only a small opening to dispose of waste. Printed in yellow on the barrier are public notices and announcements about the situation of the epidemic in our local neighbourhood (a radius of several villages), as well as the QR code for joining the chat group of our village. The village leader and neighbourhood committee workers wear red armbands, and at the village entrance they’ve set up a table with an umbrella to make a temporary station for the guard.
5. Couriers and sanitation workers from the botanical garden nearby live in our village, and when they go to work they have to stop at the guard’s station and show their credentials. They can only leave after signing out. Produce and rice are delivered in bulk by the vegetable seller who lives in the village next to ours; the village leader sends a message to the WeChat group telling people to come out. There isn’t as much variety as the supermarket, but the prices are about the same as they were before. I heard that in the city some neighbourhoods do group shopping in bulk, and the markets offer them fixed sets from A to E. Each set is strangely put together with vegetables that nobody would ever need, and in Hankou District the prices are really extravagant. Pork costs 60 yuan for half a kilo.
6. There are five households waiting to have their gas tanks exchanged so that they can go home and prepare lunch, but after one hour, the delivery has still not come. I call that fat guy and threaten him, saying that he will be responsible if someone gets sick because there are over ten people standing around together waiting for their gas tanks. I get the delivery man’s phone number from him, and the village leader calls, asking if the delivery can arrive within the next twenty minutes. He jokes with us in order to calm us down, saying that if the delivery doesn’t come on time then we can all raid the truck and just take the gas tanks, no need to pay.
7. At one in the afternoon, a truck finally arrives and the driver explains that he’s just come all the way from Qingshan, which is pretty far. Taking our empty tanks, he adds that ours are all not proper, because their official tanks from the city have safety standards. Taking our below par tanks will cost an extra 80 yuan on top of the 135. I say that the fat guy told me it was 130 and ask for an official receipt. One of the neighbourhood committee workers tries to smooth things over. As the driver stands at the guard station to write a receipt for me, I see the name of a nearby (non-official) gas company branch written on the back of his uniform.
8. In the evening over dinner, we continue poring through Weibo and WeChat to follow the news. It’s been confirmed that the epidemic has now spread into prisons, and over 200 inmates are infected. One writer states that people inside prisons are “inhumane” anyway, and I feel disgusted. One of our friends has started the Masked Angels rescue team, and she has been helping to transport goods as well as doctors and nurses to and from work. These last few days, she went to some of the underpasses and tunnels to deliver goods to homeless people, and some people critiqued that she was not operating under official city protocol, saying that these beggars “are the real illness that need to be eliminated from the city”.
9. Someone in our village chat group posts a photo of a family of newborn puppies, asking if anyone wants one. Our neighbour chooses a sepia-coloured one to take home.
10. On the morning of the 21st, it is reported in our chat group that they will start disinfection spray patrol. The sound is really loud, and it smells like a hospital. I hurry up and close our front door.
(from the end of February to the middle of March)
1. I dreamed that the two of us would go for a walk in the vegetable field to make sure that some walkable routes were not blocked. After passing the pumping station and going south, there was a trail along the outer edge of the golf course, which was created by fishermen’s walking. If you walked out, you could reach the main road, and there was another opening to enter the course. The course was a large piece of lawn on the side of the road. On both sides, the net was pulled up with poles as high as 10 stories to prevent the ball from flying out; one section of the net was broken, and you could walk in. No one was inside. The scale was so big that it was too tiring to walk to any direction; there was a 2-story building in the distance, and probably the golf balls flied out from there. The magpies with black and white feathers were all bouncing in the course. I took the ball from my pocket and it said EDEN.
2. We walked on and rested at a fishing spot. I saw something floating among the aquatic plants near the shore, and it was a fish basket! The basket was not connected to the shore with a string, and there were three fish trapped inside, which probably heard our voices and struggled to the depths of the water together. The fish basket floated towards the center of the lake, farther and farther away from us.
3.On the 22nd of February, the video of a middle-aged woman who lived in Binjiangyuan scolding a person from the property management was circulating: the purchasing service from the collaboration between the property management and supermarket was too expensive, and residents were not allowed to organise group purchases by themselves; this storm of Wuhan style scolding made people feel that their anger was released.
On 24th February, a middle-aged woman of Panlongcheng climbed down from the 10th floor to buy meat, but was caught by the property management personnel of the gated community. Some grandpas and grandmas climbed over the wall to do their groceries.
During the period, many WeChat groups were cracked down, some of which were family groups or colleague groups. They were usually used to share baby photos and chat with others. Many people’s WeChat accounts were directly blocked; after his WeChat account was blocked, my friend L went to Weibo to communicate, but less than half a month, his Weibo account was blocked again, now he turned to Douban.
On 4th March, I saw a video of Iranian medical workers dancing. On March 5th, disobedient people shouted from a height: “Fake, fake!”
4. On the morning of 10th March, I shaved off my beard. The last time I shaved was on the 18th of January. The beard grew to 2 cm, which made it a bit inconvenient to eat. In the afternoon, Tudou sneaked out and asked us to walk around the lake together. The lakeshore in spring has already got a new color. In the distance, the indistinct building was probably the power plant of Yangchun Lake, which emitted white smoke silently; we and the dog Daidai walked up the mountain from the lake, telling our own experiences during this time: Tudou said that this week friends have made appointments with him for a haircut, and he chose the service location on the riverside.
5. I said that we found a fish basket that probably had been floating in the lake for more than a month. 32 crucian carp were taken out from the basket, and their lips were injured as they tried to forced their way out. One was grabbed by a black cat.
6. On the second day and the third day, an article “The Whistle Giver” was spreading, disappearing, and reappearing, and many netizens playfully published different language/font versions of this it (including English, Japanese, classical Chinese, Morse code, Cantonese, Nvshu, Mao Zedong calligraphy, Miao language, Esperanto, etc.). I also translated it into a “Fot ChuiGai ge Njan”, using the romanisation of a Cantonese sub-dialect.
I made a cake with a rice cooker and went to a nearby highland for a picnic with Xin Heng and Luoluo, and the latter lived in a neighboring village.
At this time, many garbage trucks and ambulances were used to transport food and meat in Wuhan.
7. On the evening of the 13th, Tudou asked a few of our friends to have a video chat with Choucheng from Taiwan.
8. On the morning of the 14th, I received a package from Hajime from Japan, which contained a pile of food and supplies, including several packages of cigarettes with brands one called Peace and one Hope.
Excerpts (Part 01-05) of the Wuhan Diaries by Z & Friends.
Translation: Aris WOO, Little Mosquito
The entire diaries can be downloaded here: Wuhan Diaries (PDF)
Z and his friends, who live in Wuhan city, try to live in a cooperative collective way; they are stuck in Wuhan during the lockdown in early 2020. Now, they are separated and not living together.
go to topSeptember 15th, 2022 — Rosa Mercedes / 04