China’s COVID Surge Stunned Me, But I Still Dodged the Virus

COVID used to be more of a stranger in China. The virus wasn’t generally lurking next door. We didn’t worry about getting infected when we dined out or ran errands at the bank or visited a tourist spot. 

But in early December, China eased restrictions to open up, and soon the virus ripped through my workplace, faster than I ever imagined.

Of the 10 people in my office, I’m one of three who didn’t get COVID. It’s a miracle, as the virus infected every person in the cubicles next to me. Some estimated 80% of the employees at work caught the COVID virus; the same may hold true for the overall population of Hangzhou.

Witnessing the rapid pace of transmission in the office stunned me. It began with a manager, whose mother-in-law was running a high fever. Then others retreated home — many as close contacts who soon came down with the virus. And then the two colleagues who sat directly beside me reported sudden fevers, which sparked fears that I was next. On that day I rushed to get free medicine and antigen tests from my employer, who was rationing Ibuprofen (only two pills per person). Outside the workplace things were worse, from hucksters hawking meds at a premium, to a shortage of antigen tests at pharmacies.

Thankfully, I dodged COVID then, but would still brace for the threat of more cases in the office, including two other people beside me who were infected. By then I was wearing N95 masks, and altering my work routines, such as having breakfast and lunch at home instead of in the office. 

Our community grocery group buying outlet soon shuttered — the neighbor in charge caught COVID. I flipped open the apps for other outlets, and couldn’t get groceries on any of the major platforms. One said delivery slots would open at 6 am, which would mean rolling out of bed at dawn to battle with hordes of desperate netizens — and no guarantees of any deliveries. Oranges, lemons and pomelos were going for two or three times the usual prices, inflated after an onslaught of panic purchasing. Jun and I took stock of our pantry and produce, including the veggies and fruits from a recent visit to his parents’ rural home, and determined we could survive for a while without buying much. For the garlic, ginger and onions I needed, we bought online from a lackluster rural supermarket, which charged more than usual and slipped us a partially rotten piece of produce. We cooked a lot of fried rice, a lot of garlic and olive oil noodles, and, thanks to an enormous pumpkin from my mother-in-law, a few pumpkin curries.

Soon the emptied streets and cubicles lent an eerie post-apocalyptic vibe to the world around. I stopped bothering with the GPS to check on traffic because there were almost no cars on the road and no more rush hours. One day, I was the only person working in the office for a morning; outside the windows, I rarely glimpsed anyone wandering the grounds. The absence of people, of vehicles, brought to mind a new twist on the title of that Simon & Garfunkel classic — that I was nearly “the only living girl in Hangzhou”. 

The worst week, ironically, led up to Christmas. It was hard to embrace seasonal cheer while wearing an N95 mask that pinched my ears and getting tested daily to confirm I wasn’t positive. When I streamed holiday music, I preferred the bitter cold and austere landscapes of “In the Bleak Midwinter” to the discordant warmth and exuberance of “Wonderful Christmastime”. 

Following Christmas, my workplace scrapped its free PCR testing services, in the abrupt way that real Christmas trees get tossed to the curb just after the holiday. A colleague sick with COVID hurt his back that week, but couldn’t get an ambulance to take him to the hospital due to a shortage of beds. I doubled down on my protective measures, which meant continued use of N95 masks, a lot of hand washing, and little contact with people.

In the weeks to come, I started seeing more masked people on the streets, more cars on the road, and a growing number of colleagues reappearing at work. Soon groceries could be bought on major online platforms throughout the day, without an early rise. A local community center promised Ibuprofen to residents free of charge — too late for most, in all likelihood. And my employer urged anyone still negative to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

So, I received a booster shot, together with Jun, in a community vaccination site with a skeleton crew and nobody else waiting. The staff at the entrance reminded us that you can’t get a shot if you’ve just had COVID. “You’ll have to wait six months.” The COVID surge had, among other things, cleared the queue for vaccination.

Now, as the two of us still remain negative in China, we’re the strangers in this post-pandemic world — the few who haven’t gotten COVID.

According to stories in the media, we’ve passed the peak of infections here, though we may have to brace for more waves ahead, including during and after Chinese New Year. But if this pandemic has taught us anything in the past few years, nothing is certain with COVID. So we will continue to keep calm, carry on and wear N95 masks, while hoping for better times.

Pub’d on China Daily: China Feels Truly Like Home With Chinese Green Card

China Daily recently published my column titled China Feels Truly Like Home With Chinese Green Card, where I shared my reflections after becoming a card holder. Here are some excerpts from the column, along with a video I made:

The new card in my hands glinted with promise, even under the muted fluorescent lighting of the entry-exit administration in Hangzhou. Printed with my name and, on the back, the words “People’s Republic of China Foreign Permanent Resident ID Card”, it was more than just extra identification. This little piece of plastic was the manifestation of a big dream.

China has always been close to my heart, especially since my husband Jun joined hands with me in the marriage registration office years ago in Shanghai. But it was only later, after the two of us had spent years in the United States, that we made a new vow: to live the rest of our lives in China.

My journey as a Chinese green card holder has just begun, and I still have more to learn to fully tap into the benefits. But for the moment, the thrill of the card has yet to fade. China always felt like home to me; now, with this new identity, it’s truly official.

Read the full piece here at China Daily.

Video: Why I Still Love My Old $3 Christmas Tree

Dear friends,

It’s Christmas and I’m so behind on everything amid the sudden COVID-19 surge here in China, which has impacted our lives in many unexpected ways. Fortunately, Jun and I still have not caught COVID, and remain safe and healthy.

But I wanted to share with you this Christmas letter I started writing a few weeks ago. Even amid the surge, it still rings true.

There’s a video too, if you’d prefer to “watch” my letter instead.

Wishing you a safe, healthy and happy holiday, wherever you are.


A parade of Instagrammable Christmas decor lit up one of my online groups in the past week, with photos of artificial trees so perfect they could have starred in a Balsam Hill commercial.

One glance at the offerings from my virtual neighbors, who were even touting snaps of DIY Christmas ornaments straight out of Etsy, told me they probably wouldn’t deem our tree “camera ready”.

The tree in our living room, standing 5 feet (1.5 meters) high, was around half the size of those in the photos. Only the visually impaired would mistake it for a real one. The wires in the barebone branches were visible from across the room. This faux foliage couldn’t conceal the aggregate of wires forming its trunk, which looked more like a branch propped up by three plastic wedges. The decorations–from the golden star and words “Merry Christmas” to the assortment of Santa, bell, drum, gift and pinecone ornaments–looked like something on sale at the local dollar store. Indeed, years ago we bought the entire tree, including those ornaments, green and blue tinsel, and a janky string of colored lights, for the Chinese equivalent of $3.

It was nothing to envy. 

Would anyone want to see a photo of it? They might laugh, just as Charlie Brown’s friends did when he took home the most pitiful tree on the lot for Christmas.

You may wonder why we’ve clung to a tree like this, when we could easily afford something the online Joneses would approve of.

But we don’t want another one. This is the Christmas tree equivalent of a war veteran. It has accompanied us through some of the darkest years of our lives, and remains a living testament to how far we’ve come, despite the challenges. Its humble appearance eschews the usual showy perfectionism of the season, instead urging us to hold fast to the things in life that matter far more than money.

I’m reminded of the wisdom the late Viktor Frankl shared in his seminal work “Man’s Search for Meaning”:

“…today’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness.”

I see our tree as an embodiment of that dignity Frankl writes about. There is value in simply having survived the vicissitudes of life, and coming out on the other side. 

It took me a long, tearful time — involving a lot of processing — to realize the presence of this spiritual wealth in my own life. But now that I have, I want to embrace it in all its incarnations, including one unassuming $3 Christmas tree in my living room.

I want to dedicate this end-of-year message to anyone who has had a difficult year. I know what it’s like to be buffeted by the hardships of life, and so does that Christmas tree. We will continue to shine a light for all of you, hoping for brighter days in this holiday season and beyond.

Chinese Spousal Green Card: Things You Should Know Before Applying – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just ran my post titled Chinese Spousal Green Card: Things You Should Know Before Applying. Here’s an excerpt:

It didn’t seem real. The brand-new Chinese green card, embossed with my name and photo, felt more like a figment of my imagination. I had dreamed of getting a card for years, and now was holding one in my hands.

Why do foreigners like me long for a Chinese green card (also known as the Chinese Foreign Permanent Residence ID card)? It replaces your visa and lasts for 10 years, liberating you from the annual bureaucratic hassle of visa renewals. It grants you the right to live and work freely in China, without depending on an employer for a visa and residence permit. You can enjoy the same rights as Chinese citizens in housing, education, investment and many more areas. And it clears the way for easier international travel, including when you enter and exit China.

If you’re married to a Chinese citizen, like me, you’re eligible to apply through the “Family” route, if you’ve been married and residing in China for at least five years (not leaving China more than 90 days per year during that period).

More and more WWAMs have joined the “green card club,” including Sara Jaaksola, who blogged about her experience. Want to apply? Here are some things you should know first:

Head on over to WWAM BAM to read the full post! And if you like it, share it!

Where’s Wang? Taylor Swift, Taeok Lee Make a Magical Pair in ‘Willow’ Video – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my latest post titled Where’s Wang? Taylor Swift, Taeok Lee Make a Magical Pair in ‘Willow’ Video, where I take a look back at a Swift video featuring the singer with an Asian “boyfriend”. Here’s an excerpt:

Taylor Swift fans have grown restless this fall as they await the October release of her forthcoming album “Midnight”. That makes this a perfect time to put Swift in the spotlight, through a music video of hers that cast a spell around the world (and here at WWAM BAM): “Willow”.

The video, dressed largely in a “prairie chic” reminiscent of a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, follows Swift on an ethereal journey through a rabbit hole, enchanted forests, a carnival fair, a witch gathering, and cozy log cabins, as she traces a magical golden thread leading her straight to “the one”. The soft and subdued lighting — whether from candles, fireplaces, strings of lights, mystical orbs, or the golden thread itself — lends an intimate, crepuscular atmosphere to the video that fits the acoustic folk-infused sound of the love ballad. If only our dreams could be this beautiful.

But at WWAM BAM, we are also enchanted by Swift’s handsome co-star in the video: Taeok Lee, a Korean American man who, in fact, has history with the singer.

Read the full post at WWAM BAM. And if you like it, share it!

People Assume We’re ‘Foreigner & Translator’ in China; Sometimes, We Just Go With It

“Where is she from?”

“The US.”

“How long has she been in China?”

“For some time.”

“Where does she live?”

“Around here.”

I listened to the dialogue, in Chinese, between my husband Jun and the hairdresser trimming my chestnut brown tresses. But even though I was fluent in Mandarin and could easily have responded to every question, I remained silent, resting in my chair while wearing a shy smile.

It was easy to appear abashed because I genuinely felt that way, wondering, What if they all really knew the truth? And every now and then Jun and I swapped knowing grins, in recognition of the success of our “performance” that very evening.

Once again, we played “foreigner and translator” for a captive audience — and nailed it.

“Foreigner and translator” are the roles my husband and I adopt for certain public situations in China, where I pretend to be just another outsider who can’t speak Chinese, and my husband the local providing language assistance.

It’s actually an easy sell in China, where marriages between Western women and Chinese men still remain overwhelmingly rare. Instead, when people see me and Jun in public places, they automatically assume the man at my side serves as hired linguistic support, rather than a romantic partner.

While it might seem strange to engage in this subterfuge in a public place, like a hair salon, it has its benefits.

First of all, if people know we’re a couple, it immediately piques their curiosity, because they probably never saw a Western woman married to a Chinese man before. The surprise triggers a cascade of questions, including some that get intrusive — and which we’d rather avoid. “Foreigner and translator” helps us to sidestep a lot of awkwardness.

Plus, sometimes I just want to unwind — to savor the scalp massage and stylist’s work — instead of getting grilled about my life. So with Jun as “translator” I can just relax and be the “foreigner” enjoying the moment.

In the end, the haircut turned out perfect — one of the best I’ve had in years.

Before we walked out the door of the salon, I couldn’t help saying “Xie xie” — thank you — in Chinese, which once again sparked awe from our small audience, remarking how “good” my Chinese was.

Ah, if only you knew, I thought. If only you knew.

As Many Foreigners Exit China, I’m Still Here to Stay – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my latest post titled As Many Foreigners Exit China, I’m Still Here to Stay. Here’s an excerpt:

“I attended multiple going away parties in one week,” confessed a foreign coworker of mine not long ago.

After living in China for years, he had become accustomed to the annual wave of departures that invariably rippled across every expat social circle. But what was once a steady drip had now become a deluge.

It was sweeping up a lot of my friends too. Among them were people I’d pegged as China “lifers”–including a fellow foreign woman with a Chinese husband who had always seemed so happy about life in Shenzhen. But the death of a close family member, whose funeral she couldn’t attend, prompted a dramatic reshuffle of her priorities, leading her to pack up her life and say goodbye to China.

Headlines such as “Foreigners Are Leaving China in Droves” and “China’s Foreign Firms Are Running Out of a Key Resource: Foreigners” shout out the stark reality of the times we live in.

And yet, as foreigners flood out of the country, I’m one of the few going against the current. I’m staying here, and still committed to living in China for the rest of my life.

Head on over to WWAM BAM to read the full piece. And if you like it, share it!

The Sauna Days of Summer in China – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my recent post titled The Sauna Days of Summer in China, a reflection on the extreme heat we’ve had to endure in recent weeks. Here’s an excerpt:

It was 2 pm on a sultry weekday afternoon when I left the refuge of our air-conditioned office to brave the heat with my colleagues. We wouldn’t have chosen to leave then, apart from the mandatory meeting we had. And even then, we did everything we could to avoid the elements, even opting to cross the grounds in the underground parking tunnels, instead of striding across that infernal square and its blinding white hot concrete that almost seared your eyes just staring at it.

Even so, once we emerged from the elevator into the shaded corridor, we were immediately buffeted by the waves of heat which rose, much like steam from an oven, from that square. It felt like a scene from Dante’s “Inferno” and yet it was no fictional account, but our summer reality on a day which delivered record temperatures and no relief in sight.

Welcome to the sauna days of summer in China.

Read the full post on WWAM BAM. And if you like it, share it!

5 Tips to Survive S China’s Monsoon Season in Your Home – Pub’d on WWAM BAM

The group blog WWAM BAM just published my latest piece titled 5 Tips to Survive S China’s Monsoon Season in Your Home. Here’s an excerpt:

Once again, a mantle of gray clouds the heavens, which have been steadily “weeping” all day, dispelling thoughts of hiking or picnics.

Yes, we’ve entered southern China’s monsoon season, that time of year when the humidity reaches 100 percent under a curtain of rain as everything from hiking to even hanging laundry out to dry becomes impossible. And don’t even get me started about the mold that creeps into the corners of your rooms and closets indoors.

So how can you survive?

As someone who has experienced many years of monsoon seasons south of China’s Yangtze River, I would like to share some of the ways I’ve learned to adapt and even thrive:

Head on over to WWAM BAM to read the full post. And if you like it, share it!

The Date Night China Podcast Featured Me

Date Night China, which features stories and conversations about dating in China, interviewed me for the most recent episode of their podcast, titled Meet The Foreign Wife of a Chinese Man (Yangxifu 洋媳妇). Here’s the summary of the episode:

In this week’s episode, we talk to Jocelyn, an American woman who is married to Jun, a Chinese national from Hangzhou. We discuss her experience as a “yangxifu 洋媳妇” (the foreign wife of a Chinese man), stereotypes of being in a WWAM (Western Women Asian Men) relationship, and how she found community with other foreign women who are married to Chinese men.

You can find the full podcast on Anchor FM (where you can find also links to the episode in Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts as well as other platforms).

And if you’re in China, listen to the full podcast on Bilibilli.