From Wuhan, jiāyóu! - finding hope, strength and connection in quarantine

Song Ziwei, a Treasury Assistant at COFCO International, tells us about living in quarantine throughout the lockdown in Wuhan, how staying connected to her colleagues kept her positive and why she thinks COVID-19 can be a source of unity if we continue to fight the pandemic together.

Dear Friends,

At the end of 2019, I started planning a trip to Wuhan to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. I grew up in the city and was missing my parents a lot – I live and work in Portugal for COFCO International and don’t usually make it back home at this time of year.

Chinese New Year is a lot like Christmas, especially the parts involving family and food. So for China – a country that’s known for strong family and culinary traditions – being at home to celebrate is a really big deal.

​​​​​​​Full of excitement, I flew to Wuhan on 15 January 2020 ready to celebrate the New Year in my hometown for the first time in two years.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million, is the capital of central China’s Hubei Province
Wuhan, a city of 11 million, is the capital of central China’s Hubei Province

Family, friends and food

Everything seemed normal when my parents picked me up at the airport. I was very happy to be home, and couldn’t wait to catch up with family and friends while enjoying some of Wuhan’s best food.

I noticed more people than usual wearing face masks as I travelled to my parent’s house from the airport. But my mind drifted after the long flight and I started thinking more about the days ahead. 

It wasn’t long before I found myself sitting in front of one of Wuhan’s signature dishes: hot dry noodles. A similar texture to spaghetti, this spicy noodle dish is covered in a roasted sesame sauce.

But in the days that followed, coronavirus news dominated the headlines. As infections increased, I noticed more people wearing masks on the street. Not wanting to take any risks, I met my best friend for coffee close to my parent’s house.

Above, one of Wuhan’s most famous dishes: hot dry noodles. The spaghetti-like pasta is slathered in a rich and spicy sesame sauce and can be eaten any time of day. On the left is a bowl of fresh soy milk, another popular food across China.
Above, one of Wuhan’s most famous dishes: hot dry noodles. The spaghetti-like pasta is slathered in a rich and spicy sesame sauce and can be eaten any time of day. On the left is a bowl of fresh soy milk, another popular food across China.

News of a lockdown

I was planning to return to Portugal in early February. But as the number of COVID-19 cases increased exponentially, the entire city of Wuhan was locked down on January 23rd, two days before Chinese New Year.

There were five of us in the flat. My grandma, who is 80, both of my parents, who are in their 50s, their dog and myself. We were shocked and, I have to admit, quite scared.

Initially, we were allowed to go to the supermarket, but after a week we were asked to stay in the house. Food and other supplies were delivered by local residential committees to reduce the possibility of infection.

January 20th was the last time any of us went outside. We’ve been in the house for over two months now.

Healthy routines and communication

Exercise has been an important part of Song Ziwei’s daily routine while in quarantine. “Yoga has helped both my body and mind relax,” she says.
Exercise has been an important part of Song Ziwei’s daily routine while in quarantine. “Yoga has helped both my body and mind relax,” she says.

Being in quarantine is hard. But I’m grateful I’m here because I’m close to my family. I feel very fortunate that we’re all in good health.

Part of what’s kept us that way are the routines we’ve followed. I’ve been doing yoga every day with my mum, for example, and we also find time to talk.

Working from home has provided unexpected benefits for Song Ziwei during her two-month quarantine. Offering an important sense of structure, her daily work routine kept her connected with colleagues and the outside world.
Working from home has provided unexpected benefits for Song Ziwei during her two-month quarantine. Offering an important sense of structure, her daily work routine kept her connected with colleagues and the outside world.

Communicating with my COFCO colleagues has also kept me in a positive state of mind. As the quarantine period extended, colleagues reached out daily to offer support and encouragement. It sounds like a small thing, but knowing someone is there for you makes a big difference.   

Later on, as I started to work from home, I found a strong sense of motivation. Work added structure to my day that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and it kept me connected to great people.

We’re all in this together: Jiāyóu!

Over the last two weeks, the situation has improved. On March 31st, Wuhan reported no new infections for the seventh day in a row. Businesses are starting to open and life is slowly getting back to normal.

But that’s not the story in Europe and other parts of the world. I’m now calling my boyfriend, friends and colleagues to check how they’re doing in quarantine, offering all the support, encouragement and coping tips that I can.

Song Ziwei, a Treasury Assistant at COFCO International in Portugal, travelled to Wuhan in the middle of January to celebrate Chinese New Year with her family. The city was locked down only a few days after her arrival to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Song Ziwei, a Treasury Assistant at COFCO International in Portugal, travelled to Wuhan in the middle of January to celebrate Chinese New Year with her family. The city was locked down only a few days after her arrival to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

I’ve told them a story about one of the ways people in Wuhan motivated each other while in isolation. To keep spirits up, residents sang China’s national anthem and shouted “jiāyóu!”, which roughly translates as “keep up the fight!” from their windows.  

I’ve heard stories about Italians doing something similar, singing from their balconies to stay positive. The truth is, these actions of solidarity are happening everywhere as we all face the common challenge of COVID-19.

There are still many difficult days ahead, but there is an end in sight. I’m starting to see it in Wuhan, and am really looking forward to things getting back to normal. But I’m also looking forward to supporting my colleagues the same way they supported me. If there’s anything quarantine has taught me, it’s that we’ll all come out of this a lot stronger if we continue to fight COVID-19 together.