Shannon Dinan: From Collins Middle School To China
Interview by William Legault
1. Can you give us a synopsis of your teaching background and how it is that you came to be teaching in China?
I have been teaching all my life in some form or another. It all started with me teaching swimming from the age of 15. I have continued to teach swimming on and off until recently. I then started teaching skiing at the age of 17. When I was considering what to study at University, I had thought of teaching as a major, but I saw dollar signs and wanted to enter the international business world. So, I denied my calling and studied International Business and even studied Mandarin for 2 years. I knew that since Chairman Mao had passed the Chinese were now becoming united as a nation and there was now one national language. I realized that China was in the future going to become a strong power in the world and understanding the language could be necessary.
For years after graduation, I did work in the business world and wore many different hats. After many years and my personal circumstances changing, friends of mine from High School who have lived in Malaysia for years suggested I move to Malaysia to regroup. I was teaching Kindergarten, 2 -4 year olds, for a year there. When I returned, I realized I must follow my calling and returned to University to get my Teacher Credentials. After graduation, I was finding it difficult to find a teaching position so once again, I decided to look over seas. At that point, my two friends from High School were now living in Indonesia so I accepted a job there. Unfortunately, when I told my son, who was just entering 2nd grade, we were moving to Indonesia, he said no. I asked him if there was anywhere in the world he would like to live where would it be, and his reply was China. In 24 hours, I had a job offer in China. That was how I moved to China the first time.
I lived here the first time from 2000 – 2002. I loved the people and country so much that I vowed once my son was grown and settled, I would return. Well my son is soon to be 27 and now studying to become a teacher himself. He made the same choices I did by entering the business world first and then realizing teaching is where he needs to be. So, I looked at the economic structure of China and found that the salary had raised exponentially but the cost of living had only raised marginally. I realized I would have a good quality of life and be able to travel. In 2018 I got an offer for Dongguan Hanlin Experimental School in southern China. I can be immersed with the Chinese culture and have a higher standard of living than I could afford in the US.
2. When did you first become aware of the COVID-19 Pandemic, how did the local authorities inform the community and what steps did they take?
I first became aware of the COVID-19 Pandemic shortly after I arrived in the Philippines for my month-long holiday of Chinese New Year. I left China on January 11 and by January 16 or 17 we were hearing whisperings about a BAD flu in China. You know when you are on vacation, you do not pay too much attention to the news. Well from that point on we had to pay attention because we heard that flights to China were being cancelled. Our flight was, in fact, cancelled for March 7. We had become refugees. We spent 2 weeks watching news postings daily. Every day more and more countries were not flying to China.
Around the third week of February we heard that you could fly from the Philippines to several different Southeast Asian countries and then fly into China. We took a chance and flew through Malaysia then into China on February 28. The local authorities at that point had shut down Wuhan completely (3rd week of January) and then soon after the rest of the country went on a stay at home order. The school was who was giving us the information that the government was telling them. Even when we did come back the school was telling us to stay outside of China. We had made our decision to come back to China at that time for several reasons, my main reason was I had a dog that I had rescued from life in a cage and I vowed I would never leave him, and the second was what drove us, I was with 2 other teachers from our school, to feel the need to return to China. We were noticing that Italy was getting out of control with the COVID-19 virus. There were also rumors of many other countries in Europe and the virus had also entered the US. We also saw that China had this virus pretty much under control. We thought we would be safer coming back to China. I was clearly correct.
3. What were your experiences in dealing with situation once restrictions were put in place?
Once returning we were told that we would be on house quarantine for 14 days. We needed to stay in our homes and not go out. My apartment complex/ garden was extremely helpful to me during that time. I could still receive packages and my local convenience stores would deliver food and beverages. I felt very taken care of. The apartment complex would still let my dog sitter in to walk my dog in the afternoon, since I was not allowed outside. Two of my friends sent me flowers at different times as well as the school delivered flowers, the principal did personally. I also had to report to the school my temperature 2 x’s a day.
Once the quarantine was lifted, we were free to go out and about but still HIGHLY encouraged to stay home as much as possible and when we go out, we need to wear a mask and have our temperature taken. Before returning to school on April 24, all the teacher for Grades 9 & 12, had to go have the COVID-19 test. We also had to again, record our temperature daily and report to the school what it is. If we were to leave the city of Dongguan, we had to notify the school, and we would probably have to start a home quarantine again.
Now that we are back at school, we get our temperature as we enter the school grounds, and record it at the gate house, we then proceed to our department head and have our temperature taken again. After lunch, we go back to the department head to have our temperatures taken again. Mind you, this is not done in a manner that does not invoke some “fight of flight” feeling. They take the temperature reader hold their arm out straight and point it at your forehead, like a gun. It is unnerving, something you do not get used to. As I said before, I think, we also must wear face masks all day and disinfect the classroom, in my case, the computer lab, after every class.
The temperatures here are now above 90 every day and the humidity makes it feel hotter than that. Because of fear of spread of infection, the school is not turning on the air conditioning. Classrooms are extremely hot and as soon as 25 computers are turned on for the class, it gets almost too hot for the computers, even with 7 fans blowing constantly.
I know I am handing over many of my liberties that I am used to as an American. When I chose to come back to China, I knew I would already be giving up a lot of liberties in general. I will say though that because the Chinese people listen to their government and the government has put forth strict guidelines, the country really has come to beat this virus within the country. Until there is a vaccine though, this country and all the countries throughout the world will never be free again. While we are waiting for the vaccine though, we can do our best to protect ourselves from contamination as well as protect others from us as possible silent carriers.
4. What steps are the local authorities taking to ease the restrictions so as to return to normal?
Well before I came back to China on the 28th of February, the government had already told the factory workers to go back to work (February 14th). Communities were still on restriction and many still are on restriction from non-residents visiting. It was a little disturbing when I got back and found roads blocked with tin roof being used to make walls, closing communities completely. Right around the time my quarantine was lifted, March 17th, many of these barriers were removed. Even as I write this, foreigners though are not allowed to enter any apartment complexes that they are not a resident of. This has made my life lonely while living in a large community. Since almost no one speaks English here I am surrounded by people, but I choose to keep my distance. Also, since the number of newly infected are down to just a dozen or two a day, sometimes none in the whole country, they are really paying attention to where they are coming from.
Almost all the new infections are coming from foreigners returning to or moving about China. This has led to many people fearing foreigners, especially black people. Most of the foreigners that have new cases are from African countries. It is sad to see friends be blatantly discriminated against and seeing people fearing me. Usually if I just smile and say hello in Chinese this breaks the tension. You can see faces become friendlier and body posture loosen.
5. Do you have any personal thoughts to share with those of us back here in Salem?
My suggestions to my Salem “family” are to remember you may not have any symptoms but may be a carrier. The best advice I have heard through all of this is to behave like you are infected and do not want to infect others. Please stay home except for buying essentials. I know we live in a BEAUTIFUL area with loads of places to go out and exercise, but please try to refrain as much as possible or go at hours that would be less crowded. I too have had to do this for walking my dogs (yes dogs, I am fostering/ probably adopting another dog since returning. Many pets were tossed aside out of fear). My dogs are now used to walking early in the morning and again during dinner and that is it. We keep it short a sweet. The more diligent we are, the sooner we can start to take longer walks. Also, please support all our local eateries if you can. Even if you only order take-away once a week. It will truly help. Remember, our community is strong, sensible and caring. I love you all and I hope this has settled enough that I can come home for a visit in August. I have not seen my son since February 2019.
SALEM DIGEST: Below is Facebook post by Shannon from earlier this morning, 20 MAY, 2020 where she provides an update from Dongguang.
So the requirement to wear masks outside in public has now been lifted, they are saying though if you’re going into crowded places like a mall or some other place that’s enclosed with a lot of people, you should still wear a mask, but out in public like riding my bike or just walking down the street, I should be okay without a mask. I have to say that seriously the majority of the deaths have been in Wuhan, they were contained and I am very proud of that fact that that happened and that not so many people have been infected here in my Province even though we were the third highest Province, it’s still very, very little or numbers. We have not had an infection for a long time now. It just shows what happens if you’re diligent and follow the instructions to stay inside self quarantine, keep your distance only for necessities, necessities are not ice cream, but just go out for what you absolutely need to sustain your life. And even after the country opened, which it opened a long time ago, I mean people went back to work in the middle of February, the majority of people went back to work in the middle of February, so even though that happened, other people that were in industries that didn’t have to go back to work stayed home. More good news is that they are saying that kindergartens in my Province will go back to school on June one or somewhere around there, and earlier they were saying the kindergarten would not open until the fall, so this is very good news.