Descent into Hell

A new article in the Times captures the current mood of China’s capital city:

China carried out a sweeping quarantine today of thousands of Beijing residents who have had contact with suspected carriers of a highly infectious respiratory illness, as the Communist government began a resolute campaign to combat a national health crisis.

Isolation orders were imposed on homes, factories and schools where people who developed SARS symptoms lived, worked or studied. Communist Party cells in work units and neighborhoods ferried food and other basic necessities to people confined to their homes, while monitoring them to ensure they do not flee.

Authorities wrapped white-and-yellow crime-scene tape around a city block in northwestern Beijing, sealing more than 2,000 health workers and patients inside the Beijing University People’s Hospital complex. Medical personnel there said by telephone that more than 70 staff members were suspected of having severe acute respiratory illness, or SARS, forcing the isolation of the facility.

Two of the city’s major hospitals have been closed and sealed off, and one can only wonder where this will end. I don’t believe I could exagerrate the craziness of Beijing at the moment if I wanted to. The CCTV announcer assured us in calming words that the city will not be blockaded and people will be free to travel in and out. But the very fact that a good number of the citizens here believe such steps really might be imminent says much about the current misery.

While observing all of this is, as I’ve said before, fascinating and amazing, it’s impossible not to be depressed and frightened as well. I am scheduled to fly to Yunnan in 48 hours. How will I be greeted there? I just read (sorry, I didn’t keep the link) that Hangzhou is holding passengers arriving from Beijing in isolation for two weeks. What if Yunnan decides to do the same? I know at a moment like this such thinking may sound selfish, but I have waited for this trip for more than six months, to meet my closest friend and enjoy nearly three entire weeks together touring some of the most beautiful places on the planet….Now I’m just wondering how we’re going to cope with all the stress brought on by SARS.

We went to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square today, and had them all to ourselves. Hawkers looking dazed and desperate ran up to us literally begging us to buy their tourbooks and trinkets. This is all they have, it’s their life. What if this nightmare just goes on and on?

Tomorrow will be my last day in Beijing. The movers come in the morning to take my stuff to Singapore, we head off on our great adventure Sunday morning, and I will only be able to post sporadically at best. Meanwhile, I just want to say thanks to everyone who’s come by. This site started as a naval-gazing exercize, mainly a personal journal, then it became more political and China-focused, and over the past few weeks, incredibly, it got cited in the UK Guardian (along with my blog buddies SARS Watch, bwg and Flying Chair). Suddenly the tiny trickle of onlookers swelled into a flood, at least for the past few days. I guess there aren’t many bloggers here in Beijing, and I am lucky (if that’s the right word) to be able to help offer an insider’s view of what’s going on in this madhouse. I’m afraid these posts from Beijing will soon dry up, but I’ll still report on what’s going on in the rest of China whenever I have the chance.

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