The Proud Frogs

I called my mom today. She and my dad live in a middle-sized city called Ankang in the middle session of China. I was worried about them because, as I saw at social media, there was one Covid infection case in their city last week. Yes, one case, and I am sending my concerns from an American city of similar size where we have 2.5k daily cases and 50 deaths over the past four weeks. We both laughed over the bitter contrast. They have been Covid free for more than six months. Life almost came back to normal for the people there, until they had this positive test. She told me the story, and it’s been as absurd as anything of 2020 can be.

A man worked in Turkey as a construction engineer. His family is about 30 miles out of Ankang. He was trying to come back home for the Lunar New Year festival. The Lunar New Year used to drive hundreds of millions of people, mostly labor workers, from the big cities to their hometowns in the vast, remote areas across China. But Covid almost killed this mega immigration for 2021. The man was one of the few rushing headlong no matter what. The trip was like passing a minefield — -potential infection and countless test stations on the road. A positive test at any point would blow off his dream of reunion.

He hit home like a brave soldier. Negative report 48 hours before the departure from Turkey, 14 days quarantine in Shanghai right after landing. Four times regular tests during the quarantine and two final tests all cam back negative — he finally became a free man in his home country. Taking a train from Shanghai to Ankang, then bus — — with all the precautions on the road, he arrived home on Jan. 05. Then came the local regulation — any homecomer must have a Covid test within 24 hours. He went to the city hospital the next day morning. Two days later, the report came POSITIVE. The city was like hit by a nuke.

They scrambled to launch the virus tracking system, which had been widely used in large cities. Every detail of his trip since he left Shanghai was disclosed on media, his photo, the seat numbers on train and bus, the time he visited the hospital, the name of the village. Everybody that had been possibly close to him was requested to report to local authorities for test and self-quarantine. He and his whole family were put into the hospital for treatment and quarantine. His village was locked down. Masks came back to people’s faces on the street — they almost forgot where they’d put the masks. All markets started the temperature check. A couple of days later, all local schools were closed.

Although having read a lot of stories about how Chinese virus trackers totally crush people’s privacy, I was still constantly shocked by my mom on the phone. Then I told her, in the county where I live in the U.S., there are about 2.5k Covid cases and 50 deaths every day. Markets are forever crowded, no temperature check and social distancing. My neighbors have parties all the time. And we talk about the Covid-19 with more jest than fear now.

“Are you all crazy? Why don’t you respect life?” yelled my mother from the other side. It feels like a talk between two species.

“What did you tell me before?” She started the mother’s rumble now. “You said American people respect life more than anybody else in the world. It has the largest number of fitness clubs, runners on the road everywhere. TV plays diet and nutrition commercials nonstop. And you said people there try to make life richer by going to church, reading more books, and building self-improvement habits. What you say now? 50 people dying every day can’t make them respect life a bit more?”

Her questions hit me really hard. There is a joke among us that Chinese people disrespect life more than anybody else in the world. They eat the most toxic food, breath the most polluted air, work under the worst condition, care the least about exercise and nutrition. The Chinese population has the highest lead content and lung cancer rate in the world. But they just care so little to improve the life quality. But when the virus hit, Chinese people were the first to shut down everything, the first to self-quarantine, the first to wear masks and follow social distancing. A typical “Boiling Frog” syndrome — they are okay to be slowly boiled alive, but the immediate death threat generates immediate vigilance.

But here in the US, it seems we live in a “Proud Frog” syndrome — as far as they can keep heads up, they don’t really care it’s warm or boiling water underneath. Once they are forced to lower heads, they would jump into the boiling water. The pride they hold dearly is freedom.

The two cultures are so different and yet equally realistic. One is like, life is a course of going up. But without freedom, I would rather lose it. The other one is like, life is a course of endurance. As far as I have it, there is nothing that I can’ endure.

Two quotes best depict them:

1, Life is dear, love is dearer. Both can be given up for freedom. — -Sandor Petofi.

2, Good death is worse than bad living. — -an ancient Chinese quote that gains vast popularity in modern China.

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Bond Wang

Bond Wang

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Forget injuries, never forget kindness. Hey, I write about life, culture, and daydreams. Hope I open a window for you, as well as for myself.