from my sister-in-law in Hong Kong: covid-19 at the two-month mark

As per my request, my sister-in-law Kim has kindly jotted down some notes about what it’s been like living under the cloud of the coronavirus for the last two months. Then, based on her notes, I cobbled together a Q and A, of sorts. I find her practical, upbeat perspective to be calming, and wise, and hopefully you will, too.

Disclaimer #1: Hong Kong is not the United Sates. Hong Kong has done an excellent job containing the virus; the United States, not so much. Two months from now, our situation may look a lot different than what theirs looks like.

Disclaimer #2: It is crucial that we are discerning about who we listen to, regarding this pandemic. We are living in a rapidly changing world, and the science about Covid-19 is constantly evolving. Kim is not a medical professional; her perspective and advice are entirely anecdotal. Refer to the experts for the facts.


How have you managed to stay sane?
I started some new projects and doing some new activities, like worm composting and gluten-free baking and sourdough baking. I began reading out loud to my son in an effort to reduce screen time and we are both enjoying it. I have occasional weekday lunches with friends to support the local food and beverage industry.

I’m reading a 1000-page Churchill biography. I read some advice on an Instagram account that said the best way to tackle these long, non-fiction books is a bit at time: read 10-15 pages per day in addition to whatever else you are reading and you will get through it in a couple of months. Currently, I’m about one-third through.

I have started mask-wearing in public. I struggled with this initially as it does not protect the wearer, but it may protect others from what you have, and since it is the social norm in HK, I am now 100% on board.

Recently, I began a meditation program. I figured it can’t hurt, and I have the time!!

How are the kids doing?
Luckily I know what homeschooling looks like, thanks to my in-laws, and this helped manage expectations. The kids’ school has been fantastic with getting online and neither child is in a crucial exam year so I am not too worried. Both kids also have fairly decent study habits, so I’m grateful for that.

And socially? How are they coping? 
My son, age 11, has a friend in the complex and they play every day, alternating media and non media. This resulted in a complete clean-out of our dropped ceilings as they got the ladder out and discovered everything that had been shot/thrown/launched up there in the past 4.5 years that we’ve been in this place. I had to put my foot down with the laser tag in my bedroom after they took a chunk of my wall out. Luckily, Tim is fairly good at spackling. That said, I know my son is feeling underlying stress because it is affecting his skin — hence the gluten-free baking.

My daughter, age 13, is on her phone a lot more than usual. I let it slide as she is an extremely social child and she misses the daily interaction with her friends. Her sleep habits are erratic: some nights she’s up past midnight, and some nights she goes to bed early. As long as she is up by registration —called “tutor time” — when they have a roll call and get announcements about upcoming school stuff, I don’t say anything. (I’m usually a bedtime-and-sleep hygiene fanatic, so this takes some effort on my part.) She is allowed to go out and meet friends, although not all her friends are allowed to leave their homes. She also goes for sleepovers and does school with friends for the day; we alternate houses for this.

Has Tim been able to continue working? 
Yes. Starting in February, all his travel was cancelled, and he began working from home two days a week. He still goes into the office the other days, and he’s used public transportation throughout, wearing masks and washing hands before and after. One day he forgot his mask and felt the red hot stare of every single person who laid eyes one him — and he is a person who generally does not recognize any social cues!!! Now he comes home to get a mask if he forgets.

How have your views of the situation changed and evolved over the last two months? 
In Hong Kong everyone self-quarantined from the get-go due to their experience with SARS, which had a much higher fatality rate. At first, I thought people were overreacting, but in hindsight I see that it was the right thing to do.

The virus has changed Hong Kong, too. Until the virus hit, there were violent protests every week. There were armed riot police on street corners; it was a bit of a scary time for a while. The protests created a real rift in society, and even in families, between those who supported the protestors and those who supported the police and government — some parents threw their adult children out of the family for going out to march. But then the virus came along and boom! Social order was restored for the time being.

Ironically, the government passed a no-mask wearing law last year as protesters wore them to disguise themselves and protect against tear gas. That has fallen by the wayside!

Putting life on hold for so long must be so hard. So many opportunities lost…. 
The disappointments — the cancellations of long-awaited trips and school events, among other things — are too numerous to mention. We are in uncharted waters, and yet we are extremely fortunate in so many ways. This is where Tim accuses me of relentless optimism (haha) as I focus on us: We have our health. We have our jobs. Our kids have access to great online learning, and we are all together. We have everything.

What advice do you have for us? 
I have let go of all expectations bar doing school work and being online when you are supposed to be. If you have to put the TV on and let the kids veg in front of it, do it. Don’t feel bad.

I recommend exercise of some form to keep sane. Walking around the yard, anything! For the kids especially. Also, see friends in outdoor environments — close friend you know haven’t been anywhere and who won’t be seeing the elderly or other vulnerable people.

We all need grace. People have different levels of comfortability and that’s okay. I’ve learned to say, “I would like to do such-and-such together, if you’re comfortable,” and then be honestly okay with their answer.

Keep a sense of humor. It’s so important.

Hope for the best; prepare for the worst. It is going to be a challenge for the next few months so you need to feel all your emotions. Once a few weeks pass, you will have some sort of routine.

Breathe deeply.


Thank you so much, Kim! Sending you love. 

P.S. This video — measured and sobering — is one of the best I’ve seen yet. And here’s an article addressing something that many people my age are struggling with: Convincing Boomer Parents to Take the Coronavirus Seriously. (I am so grateful my parents are receptive to our concerns.)

This same time, years previous:
the quotidian (3.18.19), a good reminder, the last weekend, the quotidian (3.17.14), the creative norm, no buffer, family time, our house lately.


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