At night I dream of my brother who treats me to some Dutch food, the familiar place in our hometown. I want to pay him back my part but for some reason cannot. I doze off and I dream that a positive case lives in our bathroom. It has no shape, I just know it exists and that I cannot go there. There’s a dash of WeChat green and can you hear the people sing. I’ve never dreamed so much as I’ve done these days — unhinged dreams without the fever.
These days are about everything. At night, our curtain flashes red and blue from a police car parked downstairs. Outside, officers are yelling at buildings through megaphones that residents cannot go outside. They have the resoluteness the dabai’s lack, but only a bit more. The dabai’s have given up warning seniors, resenting themselves to the faith that they’ll never leave this compound for all eternity. In the night, smartphones light their faces, WeChat and Douyin occupy their days. There are no green fences here, just stipulations without enforcement.
Monday, February 14th — Valentine’s Day. I was in Suzhou ready to leave for Shanghai — but at 06:30 in the morning the compound was closed. Suzhou, unlike Shanghai, took the measures early when only a handful of cases had appeared. We had to wait for tubes and people wrapped in plastic to arrive, and after a PCR test and being handed a colored piece of paper we could leave the compound.
I had already missed my train and stayed a few more days. Each day brought the same old song yet ever new. Do a test and get a new paper — a new color and new significance each day. Schools were supposed to start their semester but didn’t — shopping malls and parks were closed.
These days are about nothing. California says asymptomatic people don’t need to quarantine, and 344 million Chinese people are in some sort of a lockdown. The servers for the PCR tests crashes, people break down. Shanghai keeps falling from grace. Fences, pointless disinfection spray, banging on pots. Grass grows on the North Bund.
On February 23rd when we traveled to Shanghai for the first time. Most highways were closed off, the one available started in Kunshan and you had to show a PCR test results from within 48 hours to get through. Back then, Shanghai offered relative safety, even if an illusion — but that tide turned in mid-March, with more and more compounds being locked down. Friday, March 18th, day -38 or 33, and the city of Suzhou announced anyone coming from Shanghai would have to quarantine on arrival for two weeks, at your own expense.
Work and Chinese classes take up all the mental energy, maybe a bit more. It’s been 18 days since we last left our apartment. Just like our compound, our apartment is no longer part of Shanghai, but rather a capsule floating in endless space. Labels for days no longer have meaning, nor have the directions of a compass.
Day 30, day 76.
Shapeless dreams in which everything means something else. The food stall at my high school, the brick church in a nearby village, the roundabout area of Wujiaochang. People can endure if there’s a meaning to their suffering, but this I’ve held in my hand like a gemstone, twirling it this way and that, holding it against the light to look for something I have missed. Maybe these days are full of dreams because the mind searches for vanity, sanity. Not asking for a friend. If you find contentment in a dream, even if for a little while, does is matter?