For the past few days, university students in the Southern Chinese resort town of Hainan have been quarantined on the grounds of the Hainan University campus with little food or water. Apparently there's been an outbreak of cholera, and the local officials dealt with it Resident Evil style: Lock everybody in, give them no information, and see if they survive. But one woman student has been blogging about the ongoing ordeal, posting pictures and giving status updates several times a day. Luckily, the bloggers at EastSouthWestNorth have translated her blog for people who don't read Chinese. The incident started quietly enough, with the student blogging about her friend Jiajia feeling sick and throwing up. But within hours, things started to get weird:
In class today, Yuanyuan said that Jiajia felt sick and has gone to the hospital. At noon, Jiajia came back. She was feeling good enough and she told us that the hospital is filled with Hainan University students with diarrhea. There were many people there waiting to see the doctors. The doctors were so busy that they had to arrange for queues. Everybody laughed but then we realized that this is serious. I began to wonder whether I have cholera too. I went on the Internet and looked up all sorts of materials about cholera. Then I fell asleep. By around 5pm, I was awaken by several phone calls to say that I had to go down to the school office and get some medicine. Then a series of events made me dizzy: the school was put under a quarantine; the three entrances were manned by police. Two persons from the School of Tourism were confirmed to have cholera. Many others people were placed under isolation. Jiajia was taken away!
What's interesting about this is how much this student and her friends are communicating about this online, especially using the popular Chinese social network QQ. She is constantly checking her friends' status on QQ, and writing down what they say. One of her friend's QQ signatures reads "TERRIFYING." Another says, "Socialism is good. Socialism cannot feed us." It's hard not to see this event in the context of growing fears about a SARS-like pandemic breaking out in China and spreading worldwide. In fact, the student keeps talking about how she's terrified that this is going to be like SARS, even though she knows cholera can be treated with a three-day course of medicine. Apparently the authorities were treating this like a beta test for a more dangerous epidemic. As things developed Monday, the student wrote more:
Cholera has become a part of our my life, along with taking medicine and eating instant noodles. The air smelled like disinfectant and instant noodles . . . I finally decided to go out. I left at 430pm in the hope of being able to get into one of the cafeteria. Today, another cafeteria opened up. There are now two small cafeterias plus the Muslim restaurant to keep the university going. I read in the Intenet news that the university has been placed under quarantine. It is said that the teachers and students at Hainan University are living normally and remaining mentally stable. But nobody in the entire university campus has told me what the situation is. There are only people coming and going, spraying disinfectant and washing the walls.
Despite the visibility online of people writing about the frightening quarantine, few Western media sources have picked up the story. There was an item in the China Post yesterday, which made it sound as if the event was contained and over.
But yesterday, our student blogger wrote:
I did not think about going down to the cafeteria at all. Perhaps I was scared off by what I saw when I walked past the cafeterias after class. There were crowds out the entrance and the university workers were yelling: "Do not enter. Please do not push. It is already full inside. Even if you get in, you won't get any food." There were many students dressed in camouflage uniforms trying to maintain order. They chased waves and waves of students back out. Even the temporary stands outside the cafeteria for instant noodles were mobbed. There was a notice which said that the cafeteria which re-opened yesterday is closed today because of water stoppage. The workers watched the people from the second floor. As I walked past this cafeteria, I heard a male student yell from the second floor: "I want to eat food, I want to drink water." When I got back to the dormitory, there were more notices downstairs. Two notices were new: water was stopped and the Internet will be down tomorrow. Everybody howled in collective agony again. I don't think cholera is scary. But the lack of supply of the various essential things in daily life is the true terror.
She's right. And in fact her ongoing coverage of this quarantine reads like a near-future science fiction story because what she's going through is just a small-scale version of what many of us would deal with if a pandemic did break out. In such circumstances it's possible that if a disease doesn't kill you, the quarantine conditions will. Life in the Time of Cholera [via EastSouthWestNorth]