My plan was to go

My plan was to go back to Beijing after my three-week tour of South China, but conditions there seem to have deteriorated to the point that I simply can’t return. I have rebooked my flights to go to Singapore from Shanghai, where the SARS infection rate has, for some mysterious reason, remained low. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Tomorrow we fly to Yunnan, the highlight of the trip and a place I’ve dreamed of visiting for two years. Now I’m worried that, like Guilin, entire areas may be blocked to tourists, making the trip an exercise in frustration. Too late to change things now, so we’ll just have to go with the flow and make the best of things.

Meanwhile, the Chinese media continue with their usual propaganda, at times making the SARS menace seem more a nuisance than anything else. Earlier this week China Daily held “interviews” with students quarantined on Beijing university campuses. Each had the same comment: It was dull at first, but then it was actually kind of fun, with TV and games and a great opportunity to read and meditate. No one had any complaints. Then there were threee “letters to the editor,” all of which congratulated the government for its courage and stressed that now was the time to stand behind these brave leaders in the fight against SARS. The letters expressed annoyance that the Party had fallen under criticism for the Beijing cover-up, and stressed that it was time to “put all of that behind us.” Then I saw at the top of the same page a lengthy editorial that said, more or less, exactly what the three letters said. Coincidence? I don’t know, but I found it all too reminiscent of the government’s heavy-handed, clunky attempts to “maintain social stability” by repeating the same rosy scenario again and again and again, until the public finally despairs and accepts it as Truth.

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SARS may be more insidious

SARS may be more insidious than any of us had imagined, according to a new article in the NYT. It starts with an ominous lead: “Dismaying developments in three nations yesterday underscored the capriciousness of SARS, the respiratory virus that had seemed to be coming under control in many countries.”

Reading the article, I realized just how little we know about this pathogen, and that it may hold many surprises in store for us in the future.


For the first time, traffic

For the first time, traffic to my site in April passed the 5-digit mark. (I know, to most bloggers that’s pretty low, but I never intended to have any readers, let alone 15,000.)

Thanks for reading; I’ll be back full-time once my vacation ends and I get settled in Singapore at the end of May. Until then, posts will have to continue to be few and far between.

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The best-selling tourist item here

The best-selling tourist item here in Guilin is a T-shirt that says, in English and Chinese, “I Survived SARS 2003.” It’s funny, but it’s also telling. Everyone, especially those whose destinies are linked to tourism, is feeling battered by SARS. It’s got the country in a death-grip.

Even though I am far from SARS-ravaged Beijing, the disease continues to cast a pall over my vacation. Tourist sites are closed, flights are cancelled and everyone’s depressed. My hotel in Guilin somehow got it into its head that since SARS doesn’t like the heat, it would be a wise move to turn the hotel into a sauna. They have stopped the air conditioning and, despite complaints from a few very vociferous customers, turned the entire hotel into a hothouse. This is a huge hotel, and there are at most 20 customers. My hotel last week in Xi’An is a veritable fortress, and my guess is there were 8 to 12 people. You really have to see this to believe it. The staff just stand(s?) around as though everything is normal, the huge buffet laid out each night with no one to eat any of the food. How long can this go on?

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