In Wuhan, China, nine million people were in quarantine for 76 days between January and March as COVID-19 went through the city. At the California Sunday Magazine, a student, a noodle shop owner, a tech worker, and a delivery driver share their personal stories of struggle, loss, and unexpected kindness in the wake of the virus. Read the story by Shawn Yuan, and check out the illustrations by Joey Yu.
YI (A student, age 23.) My father and I went to the funeral parlor in Hankou district to retrieve my mother’s ashes. When we were standing in line, we saw a man about the same age as my father, who was likely also retrieving his wife’s remains.
I remember watching a movie about a girl who died, and when her family went to mourn her, they didn’t seem that devastated. At the time, I thought, Why aren’t you crying? Why is there still a smile on your face? The scene at the funeral home was similar. People seemed relaxed. Nobody appeared very sad. It was as though people had already been drained of their tears.
I was handed a small silver bag containing my mother’s ashes. I was shocked at how, when a body is cremated, it amounts to so little. I had chosen a wooden urn, and a staff member of the funeral home put the ashes inside and wrapped it in a red and gold cloth. After, another staff member escorted us out with a black umbrella. It was barely raining, so I asked him why he was holding it. He said he didn’t know.
CHEN (A delivery driver, age 32.) Before, our society rarely paid attention to delivery drivers. Now, it definitely knows more about us. Wuhan people are incredibly warm and generous and insisted on giving me masks: Sometimes when I delivered their order, they would throw masks down. Usually, the delivery fee is 5 yuan an order, but customers have been giving me tips — which is not a common practice in China — and now every order earns me 7 yuan. These two months, I’ve averaged around 10,000 a month, much higher than usual.
Late one night, I went to pick up noodles for a young man. I thought the shop owner had made a mistake because he handed me two servings, but it turned out that the customer had bought an extra one, just for me.
On Valentine’s Day, there were a lot of orders for flowers and chocolate. One guy, when he made his order, told me that his girlfriend likes lilies the most and requested I bring her some. I searched and searched but couldn’t find lilies, so I called him and told him. He was very understanding and asked me to buy a bunch of fake flowers instead, and then he bought me a bunch, too. I’m not a young man anymore — what’s Valentine’s Day to me? But it still made me very happy.