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  • Writer's pictureHannah

Social Distancing in Suzhou

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

Gideon was supposed to be going back to school tomorrow and Emily on Friday, but nope. It's a similar story for other Chinese schools too, for early and infant years many establishments are remaining closed. One of our teacher friends in another school has had a 50% cut in his salary for the indefinite future. Many students from Mike's school and Gideon and Emily's school have requested full refunds for the previous and current term. Many staff have handed in their notice, some leaving earlier than anticipated or mid contract. At this rate, it will be surprising if the children's school continues to exist next academic year. It's all quite exasperating. At times the inconsistent approach to Covid-19 management becomes confusing. They are so strict on opening schools and education centres but the rest of public life has got underway, most places open for crowds at a time, social distancing is not enforced in any way. Many compounds are open to visitors, but ours is not yet and we still need to hand in our little green or pink slips to be accepted as residents if we so much as pop out to collect a delivery. They used to be more thorough on checking temperatures when going to the park or the coffee shops but now they are often going through the motions, for example holding the thermometer to you but not actually taking a reading. Some are allowed through, some are checked first.

A rule was made up recently that we had to have a nucleic acid test to check the presence of Covid-19, so we queued along with some other colleagues and they swabbed our velums. We were told that today they wouldn't swab 'the babies' (even though other colleague's children had been swabbed), so we were relieved for Gideon and Emily not to have to have it. But then later, the school advised that it was also mandatory for the kids to have a negative test result before returning to school, so we were required to set up another nucleic acid test for them. Emily was rather terrified by the thought and not even the kind gestures of planting hot, hard boiled eggs in her hand (?) by well-meaning hospital staff would calm her. We shouldn't have let her watch Gideon have his swab because his tears of discomfort of course made her feel worse. In the end, Gideon and I went off in search of ice cream .

Some of the hardest things with home schooling is most of the work set by teachers requires access to a device, of which we have only one and so they regularly miss their class sessions, also they have changed to schedule this week to include some sessions in the afternoon, it is difficult enough to motivate them in the mornings. There's also often poor connectivity and now that the kids have sussed how to change their virtual background, most recent zoom sessions have been usurped by a hunt for the funniest photo background. Not being a trained teacher, I'm not sure what standards of work to expect from either of them, so I'm probably giving praise where it's not really due and ignoring the times when it is deserved. As Gideon is in a higher year, I do tend to prioritise his school work and so the most input Emily gets some days is a half- read Biff, Chip and Kipper book. Some days not even that. We had a lot of fun making play dough monsters today.

During this unusual time, Mike and I have had the unexpected opportunity to be a part of a short film about life in Suzhou. It's commissioned by the government and has a focus on recreational opportunities here, such as running. We were asked to turn up at a location by Jinji Lake, last Wednesday at 6 am. We were a group of 5; 1 girl was a fitness instructor, 1 guy owned a running accessories shop, the other was a professional, international marathon runner. We were requested to run up and down distances of about 200 m along a stretch of the lakeside, with the famous "pants building" in the background. Some takes we were chased by a running crew member holding a camera, some takes they were on a Segway. They also used a drone and a mini-crane type thing with a camera on the end. There was an air of industry and intense concentration from the film crew. No joking around, not 1 Starbucks coffee cups in sight; just focus. We were told it would be 6-8 am, so when we were finally released at 10.00 after 40 minutes of broken sprints, we were feeling quite ready for a drink of water. Tomorrow is our second dawn- filming session, starting from a more historical part of Suzhou.

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