Part I of VI: Cross-Cultural Pandemic Perspectives — TCK Thoughts from Shanghai

Shanghai China tall buildings amidst coronavirus

Many within our cross-cultural, intersectional community rely on skills to keep ourselves grounded among chaos. Yet, who would have expected a global pandemic would spur the masses to remember the wisdom of keeping body and soul together during difficult times?

In our series examining COVID-19 among our globally mobile community, we take a peek behind each continent’s curtain. We will visit and examine perspectives from Culturs contributors, correstpondents and editors from almost every continent around the globe: China, Italy, Isreal, The United States, England, Trinidad and Tobago and Austria.

Our first destination is Shanghai. Here is a personal perspective from Adult Third Culture Kid and Culturs Editor-at-Large, Xiaoya Cheng.

VIDEO: Click above to view the peaceful calm that has overtaken normally busy Shanghai. Video begins after commercial.


Shanghai, the most prosperous and busiest city in China, just had been through a time of desolation. I went back to Shanghai from London in December 2019. The city was alive — as it usually was back then. I had a really relaxing time hanging out with my old friends and family in a very short term before the coronavirus took over.

There weren’t any extraordinary signs before this enormous epidemic disaster approached. It all started from a rumor that said an unknown virus was found in Wuhan, China, that people half-believed in and even joked about. In no time, it was certified by officials. We saw the confirmed infection cases surge day by day. People were getting more and more panicked and too afraid to go out where self-quarantine started.

Europe and some other regions in the world were so quiet and secure when China had started all the chaos. Just like the calm before the storm.

Amid Coronavirus, Shanghai Disney sits closed quietly among the clouds.
Amid Coronavirus, Shanghai Disney sits closed quietly among the clouds.


My sister who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, was crazily worried about our parents and me since we were out of any medical sanitary goods and hardly found any place to buy them. She bought some facial masks and sanitizer in Europe. Because the shipping policy says that no alcohol contained items can be shipped, she only sent us four packs of medical facial masks. Europe and some other regions in the world were so quiet and secure when China had started all the chaos. Just like the calm before the storm. After a few days, we received the facial masks from my sister.

Within two weeks, Europe was submerged by COVID-19. The confirmed cases number was increasing rapidly in Switzerland. My sister is pregnant and living with two children which made my parents worry more about her family’s safety. We were thinking to send back some of the facial masks we just received from her since she couldn’t find any of it in stock. All she had were the three bottles of sanitizer that she wanted to send to us in the first place. These few months we never stopped being anxious and worried about each other.

These few months we never stopped being anxious and worried about each other.

VIDEO (CLICK ABOVE): Peaceful Shanghai amidst Coronavirus lockdown.
Video begins after commercial.


The first thing in the morning, I got used to in these self-quarantine days, is to check the latest status of all the countries and to read some reports and articles talking about COVID-19.

I’ve read plenty of information about the virus and people’s thoughts toward the current situation. Bad things happened inevitably. People are dying for the lack of medical equipment. I saw businessmen treated the virus as an opportunity, so they increased the prize of facial masks on purpose. And when it came to hatred and racism, it really poked somewhere in my heart. I understand when people get panicked, some extreme perspectives or behaviors might be triggered especially when it limits their will of chasing freedom and human rights.

However, the coronavirus also shows me something deeper, tighter and more powerful than I thought — the bound of each individual. Even though people are not physically contacted with each other in this time, we’re still closely bounded. Approximately three months ago, China had been through the toughest time, my friends from all over the world were so worried about me. They’re urgently making sure my family and I were fine.

When the Coronavirus burst in other parts of the world, I couldn’t help but worry my friends, my loved ones there. I saw tons of stories about the connection of strangers during this specific time. I even donated some sources for where needed even if it’s just a few packs of masks, but it’s more than just masks.

My dad, who’s quite pessimistic, he thought the appearance of this virus unmasked some people’s ugly side of their nature. I partially agreed. But what I think is that it really disclosed some human nature we didn’t normally realize until the unexpected incident emerged. I believe it contains the bad and also the good.

Peaceful Shanghai amidst Coronavirus lockdown.


About two months ago, I couldn’t bear staying at home and doing nothing for over a month, I decided to go out and have a look of the city. Surely with the mask on, on one hand, for protecting myself, on the other hand, to make people who walk by me feel safe.

Speaking of wearing mask, I noticed a very interesting phenomenon relates to culture shock. In this particular time, most people in China wearing masks not because they’re sick. It’s because reason 1) they’re trying to avoid the chance of droplets in the air to make them sick; reason 2) since the incubation period of the Coronavirus is uncertain, people think they may be sick potentially. Wearing a mask can not only protect other people, but it also protects themselves. In Western culture, people usually wear mask because they’re simply sick. I saw an interview video on the internet. The interviewer asked a European on street why she decided not to wear a mask. She said, “I’m not sick, why am I wearing a mask?” Here, I think we should stop judging, but try to understand the other side.

So, I was wandering on a street of Shanghai aimlessly. I haven’t felt this peace for a long time. It’s like the image of Shanghai in a sleeping memory of mine when I was young. Without the package of prosperity and bustle, it turned quiet, earthy but romantic. I heard the birds singing, the bike spinning and the sunshine sprinkled on my skin. Then I realize the only incompleteness is an old friend who can walk with me.

Shall we meet again, after this?

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