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2 Shanghai residents share how they've handled the city's lockdown


For nine years, I lived in a giant apartment complex called the Summit with thousands of other people in the city of Shanghai. My family and I left China months before the pandemic, but I still stay in touch with some of my former neighbors through the group messaging platform WeChat, which is where I saw this.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Chinese).

SCHMITZ: That's a government drone elsewhere in Shanghai, warning people who were singing from their balconies. The message says, please comply with COVID restrictions. Control your soul's desire for freedom. Do not open the window or sing.

HA CHUONG: One of the only ways, honestly, to survive this lockdown is to have to see it through some kind of humor. These get circulated, and we almost laugh at them.

SCHMITZ: Ha Chuong was one of my neighbors. She and her husband, Nadav Davidai, and their two kids have had to maintain a healthy sense of humor lately as Shanghai approaches its sixth week of a citywide COVID lockdown. China still maintains a zero-COVID policy, which, for Ha and Nadav, means they haven't been able to leave their apartment building since April 1. Since then, the Summit apartment's WeChat group has taken on a new life as an information hub for food delivery and required COVID testing, as a place to complain together but also to help each other out and for whatever levity they can find. I asked both of them about that.

CHUONG: Well, for me, it's been really a kind of lifeline. We had no connection to the outside world. And so this WeChat group - it was really nice because, you know, there are obviously some people that I knew there from before. But then there was, you know, all these other new neighbors that kind of came out and made it interesting and helped us through this time, like, helping with the group buys and helping with just making sense of, you know, when the testing was happening. We even started a Friday night trivia group, which was - you know, which was quite nice. I think that happened about, like, two or three weeks into it. And then we figured out, oh, my goodness, you know, this is going to continue, and we really need to do something social beyond just the chats.

NADAV DAVIDAI: So there's these nice moments of kind of levity and community mixed in with what-the-heck-is-going-on type of stuff. So we've been tested 10 days in a row. Today was the first day in 11 days we were not tested. And they bring in the medical teams, the doctors, to do the testing. But the people to come call us, knock on our doors and get us downstairs and then check us off - all of those are residents. And one of those residents - he's wearing those dabai suits - right? - the, like, head-to-toe...

SCHMITZ: Yep - the Tyvek suits.

DAVIDAI: Yeah. And, you know, he - every day, we'd see him, and he was chatting us up. He's fully bilingual, really kind of engaging. And he's doing this every day on top of his work. We never met this guy before in our lives. And then it turns out he was one of the people in our quiz night...

SCHMITZ: (Laughter).

DAVIDAI: ...That virtual quiz night I mentioned (laughter). And even then, I didn't recognize him 'cause he - you know, when we see him, he's, like, head to toe with hazmat. And the next day, he saw us, and he was like, oh, that was a great quiz. I was like, David, is that you?

SCHMITZ: (Laughter).

DAVIDAI: And that's how we got to know David. And, you know, I think once we get through all of this, we'd love to have dinner with him and other people that we've never met. I can kind of picture us going and hugging a whole bunch of neighbors that, previously, we'd never talked to just because we've all now gone through this together.

SCHMITZ: Wow. You have two young children. How have they handled this?

CHUONG: Yeah. It's been tough for them. At first, it was, you know, a 48-hour lockdown. And actually, I have to credit a meme that was going around about how there would be a four-day lockdown. And in the meme, it's these people who are playing Uno. And if you played Uno before, you know that there's, like, these plus four cards - right? - these plus four, plus four, plus four cards (laughter).

SCHMITZ: Right. Yes.

CHUONG: And so there was a meme going around about, you know, how many days are you going to be in lockdown? And it starts with - the government says, four days. And then someone's holding the cards, and it's plus four, plus four, plus four. And so our oldest, who is 9 years old - she had heard about this meme through her friends. And so she was joking about it. And that actually, in the end, really helped her mentally get through to it because every time she asked, how many more days now, and we're on - I don't even know. What day is it today (laughter)? We started April 1. The days are all blending. But yeah. So she - you know, she's getting through it because she's thinking about that Uno meme and saying, plus four, plus four, plus four.

SCHMITZ: In a video shared on the Summit WeChat group, workers in blue Tyvek suits began to erect metal barriers at the entrance to your tower, which is by far the largest tower in the complex because somebody tested positive the day before you were all able - all set to be let out to wander the complex's courtyard for the first time. Let's listen to the response from your building as they were erecting these barriers.



SCHMITZ: So this is the sound of dozens of people screaming from their windows in protest. And that protest actually worked. The workers took down the barrier. Tell me about that incident.

CHUONG: Yeah. I think to kind of set up the mood of how we were feeling in the tower, the hard lockdown started April 1. And on April 1, we were announced that we had a case. And so we were good, and we had been following all the rules and had gotten tested and everything. And there had been a couple of other cases that popped up. And so by the time, you know, this came about that the - I think it was on a Thursday night or a Friday night. The day before, like you said, they had announced a new case, and it came out of the blue.

And then when they brought the fencing in, that was, for me, like, one of the lowest points so far in this lockdown for me - is, like, they were going to fence us in. And it was just all that pent-up frustration inside of us. You know, we felt like they didn't have any compassion for us by erecting this fence in front of us. And so this is why we were screaming or at least why some of us were screaming. But, you know, thankfully, they listened, and then they took it away shortly after.

SCHMITZ: You all have been locked in for five weeks now, going on six weeks. And we talked a lot about some of the physical limitations to that. I want to talk mentally. What kind of impact has this had on folks there?

DAVIDAI: You know, it's been tough for us. And as Ha said, we've had highs. We've had lows. And, you know, kind of keeping it together day in and day out without knowing where this is going and kind of getting the ball to roll down the hill again and having to restart over and over and over kind of thing has been tough for us. But I can only imagine for those that are in other situations that are more difficult than ours. Some of these people that are in our building and in the same situation or same location as us - very different situation - are completely separated from their house, their families. There are those that have had medical issues come up.

SCHMITZ: And some who have been sent to quarantine centers, right?

DAVIDAI: Absolutely. Yeah. One perspective that I think maybe people back in the U.S. don't get very much is - they see this, and this makes for horrible optics, as we talked about. But we felt incredibly lucky to be in China. From March 2020, when we came back from Singapore, until a month ago, it was the best place to be in the world.


DAVIDAI: Like, well...

SCHMITZ: There was no COVID there.

DAVIDAI: We lived normal lives to the point where it was the reverse. It was like we kind of felt bad about it in times because people were really struggling everywhere, and we were on vacations in really nice places. And our kids were in school from May and didn't miss a day of school. And so, I mean, the zero-COVID policy was really beneficial to us. It was a real boon for us for a long time. And it feels very different now, obviously, but kind of on balance. I don't know.

SCHMITZ: Those are my former neighbors and friends, Ha Chuong and Nadav Davidai, who are still in lockdown from their apartment in Shanghai. Thanks, you guys.

CHUONG: Thank you, Rob.

DAVIDAI: Nice to speak to you, Rob.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM MISCH AND YUSSEF DAYES' "KYIV") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Ashish Valentine joined NPR as its second-ever Reflect America fellow and is now a production assistant at All Things Considered. As well as producing the daily show and sometimes reporting stories himself, his job is to help the network's coverage better represent the perspectives of marginalized communities.