More than a year ago, when the virus that was paralyzing China was only part of the daily news, the RoundTable learned that Evanston resident Kurt Mitenbuler was quarantined in Wuhan province. Last month the RoundTable reposted “Love in the Time of Coronavirus,” his contemporaneous narratives of the quarantine. In this and the four ensuing segments, Mr. Mitenbuler recounts the 2019 visit to his in-laws in China, which was lengthened by the novel coronavirus. Here is the last installment of the five-part sequel.
On the day that the Chinese government completely rescinded travel out of Hubei due to a single Chinese woman talking her way out, driving to Beijing, and inciting a new outbreak, the word came down that NO ONE LEAVES HUBEI …
On that same day the U.S. consulate faxed me the necessary paperwork for my egress, which was now impossible. What became obvious over the next several days and weeks is that clearly, all Executive Branch communications to consulate employees was to make sure no one came back to America.
There is no other explanation for the recalcitrance and intransigence of the U.S. officials to any suggestion by me or the Chinese authorities. With the help of a couple Evanston contacts, I made contact with Representative Jan Schakowsky’s office, who were actually able to get the consulate geeks to move off their positions, but this was after the total lockdown, so it came to no benefit.
In broader frames of reference, a Note To Travelers: When traveling in China, understand that our representatives that ostensibly are sent to help US citizens navigate the intersection of our various civil requirements …do not help. Through my contacts and those of my family throughout the country, we had clearances, travel dispensations, and a clear line through to the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, where I could pick up a flight to Beijing, where I could connect to San Francisco.
It was airtight, but the for simple necessity of a single piece of paperwork from the U.S. government, which I never was able to get until it was too late. If anyone is still curious about our previous POTUS’s dismantling the foreign service, my experience is that he was very successful.
As a side note, in one of the multiple diplomatic kerfuffles taking place in 2020, one of them was the U.S. closing the Chinese embassy in Houston. The Chinese response was to close the consulate/embassy in Chengdu, Sichuan, the one I was dealing with.
As a tax-paying American citizen, I would like to testify that this was an entirely appropriate act on the part of the Chinese government, as it saved us millions of US dollars for its useless operation.
The World, and in specific, Americans, perceive China like a mirage; they impress upon China images and ideas that reflect what they have been told and are most likely to already agree with. This has been going on for well over a century.
Most folks are unaware that FDR’s maternal grandfather, Warren Delano, made the family’s fortune in the opium trade in China on both sides of the Opium war, lost it all in the panic of 1857, then went back to China and made it all over again in the Second Opium War.
FDR, icon of morality that he is, came to be rich because he was the scion of one of the largest drug smugglers in history, a fact never mentioned in the voluminous documentation of the Roosevelt family history.
Roosevelt took this disreputable connection, and massaged it into his having insightful and correct ideas about China, a condition common amongst our elected representatives.
FDR’s misrepresentations about all things China led to a century of misunderstandings we still live with. The metaphor of a man setting the path for Americans misunderstanding China was clouded in a haze of misconceptions that started, in a manner, with opium.
America views China in the same manner as an Opium Eater, dazed and confused, and disconnected from reality.
It’s equally instructive to understand that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 made it impossible for any American to actually know any Chinese well into the middle of the 20th century, so representations and fantasies about China and the Chinese abounded.
I propose that those same misconceptions and miscalculations are still with us, and the folks handling international relations, and more importantly, media outlets that define incomplete or non-contextual narratives, continue to cloud … or make impossible … understanding between China and the World.
The flight back into America illustrated the world I was descending into.
To enter a Chinese airport, one needed paperwork and a clear signal on their contact tracing app on your phone.
There was a second check at the terminal.
A third check was implemented during security, and a final check before I got on the plane.
We were prepped the entire flight on how we should be ready to be interrogated by U.S. officials, fill out paperwork, and be tracked through on the entire reentry into America.
The “form” was a four- question check box affair asking if my name was correct, list my email, had I experienced any sickness, and where was I going.
We were all nervous that this thing was going to stretch into hours of interrogation. Upon walking down the jetway into the terminal, we were met with a phalanx of what were clearly temp workers unfamiliar with any issue that might arise. They were even fidgeting, displaying their unfamiliarity with their current assigned task.
There was a single question: “Is all the information on this form correct?”
I answered affirmative, and walked into America, with no checks, follow up checks, contact, questions … or anything. It would have been just as well to save the money on the whole shebang, and to not have bothered to do anything at all.
And so, here I sit in my abode on South Boulevard, wondering when it will be over. After living through an extremely boring, but particularly well managed quarantine and eradication effort, I can only be distressed by the ham-fisted, disorganized and largely or completely ineffective American approach to the pandemic.
For anyone cynical enough to think America is a mess (me), it was an eye opener.
My predictions can be measured in “Friedman Units”, but I believe we will have been in this thing for more than two years before we even begin to get some sense of normalcy.
The question remains though: “What is normal nowadays?” I didn’t know when I was trapped in our apartment in Enshi, and I don’t have any idea now.