Observation from a foreign teacher in China

Christopher is from Texas, the United States. He now works and lives in Suzhou, China. He is an Economic teacher in an international high school. During the outbreak, he mainly stayed in Suzhou and made detailed observation about the situation. As a foreigner who has lived in China for seven years, Christopher talked a lot about his feelings based on his experience.
Chinese people are doing well, not the government

When the raging corona virus issue in Wuhan was reported, I noticed there were few and few people on street and more of them started wearing masks. Chinese people did a fast and good job protecting themselves. After the first corona virus case was confirmed in Suzhou, my apart complex started to disseminate tickets with dates for people live inside. Me and my son need to take the tickets when going outside and dis-drop them when we came back. This is understandable because they try to let only people who live inside the neighborhood in. Then what I found odd was the security started to taking our temperatures and the police came around more. However, not all people with corona virus have fever. Also, temperature took from the wrist or forehead largely depends on the weather and physical activities. One day I came back with several bags on hands and my son on shoulder. I was sweating a bit so the result was a bit high than normal. But the security let me in as he could tell the reason.

A few days later, we need to register a health code on Ali Pay. Health codes are in classified into green, yellow, and red according to your self-reported health conditions. Although I use the English version of Ali Pay, the questions and forms for getting the health code were all in Chinese characters. It’s so weird that the English version of Ali Pay doesn’t mean everything is in English. I had no idea why I filled the form three times because it should be done once. Obviously I cannot understand what was the problem but I filled the form every time when the health code was not working. Initially it was good for about two weeks. Then all of the sudden, the location changed into Hangzhou, so I switched it back and did the form for a second time. Before this had taken place, I changed my passport number. So it could have been what prompt me to have this issue but I’m not sure. After a few days, I found the health code was not working again, it seems like the service has changed place. It is fine now but I think this policy is pointless. First, you need to agree many terms about privacy before getting the health code, or you cannot get it which means you cannot go anywhere. Everyone is now transparent to the government. Second, if I am health, then tracking where I have been to is unnecessary because I won’t spread the disease. People shouldn’t all be regarded as a potential patient with corona virus who keeps running around. Third, answers to the questions may not be true If you did had fever for other reasons and reported that honestly, it is likely you would be put into quarantine which increases the risk of actually getting the corona virus. If you had been to Hubei province and hided the fact, you would still get a green code, although you might be fined. So this policy didn’t take consideration of privacy and is a waste of social resources as well.

Chinese government was slow to react and washing on news to pretend everything is all good. Information opaque is the worst thing in this situation. Initially the government refused help from any other agencies outside China which would provide data and information to other countries. They could have better responses globally if they had the access to the initial outbreak in Wuhan.

Education is the solution

Only breathing, fever department, and emergency were available in hospital during the most severe time. People with other health issues cannot get instant care. Even when the situation is getting better, I can still imagine how hard it is now to address you have other health issue, especially bacterial infection. An old man live opposite from me had similar symptoms as corona virus --- coughing and fever. His daughter wanted him to have quarantine at home but he insisted to go outside. They ended up having a serious quarrel and even asked the police came to solve it. Everyone is panic about the corona virus.

These days, many flights from abroad to China are canceled. Foreigners were stopped from entering China. When I went to shopping yesterday, they checked my passport directly instead of the health code that I took much effort to get. Previously, people who came from abroad will have quarantine for 14 days and that is long enough to virus carrier and health ones. Fear leads to the overreaction.

I saw report from Zhang Wenhong, a Chinese doctor who has done a great job educating the public during this outbreak, hypothesized that this virus may not disappear until next spring. In fact, we lost 30-90 thousand lives in the States due to the regular seasonal flu. American population has a far lower population. It doesn’t make much sense to me what’s going on at all. And we all know virus would mutate. Should we shutting or locking down a city every year? This is not a realistic approach in any society. The only possible solution is to get proper education for the public. So that people won’t panic around and ridiculous rumors won’t be spread online. A mayor in New Jersey said it’s likely everyone will get the virus which is true. We need more education about how to protect ourselves and boost our immune system. So it it have its course and stop fussing.

Back to ‘normal life’

I keep can goods and bought more frozen food. But I didn’t buy a lot of food or hygiene products for spare. Outside of this, my consumer activity didn’t change much. I would say life goes back to normal because usually we order food and having it delivered but now we cook more.

Every online lessons have two sides

My school has moved to online teaching for seven weeks. It was a big challenge at the beginning to get everything done. We were asked to provide online teaching plan and supervisors were constantly asking feedback from students. It wasn’t difficult for me since I have taken online courses previously, but for the students, it was probably their first time. In this situation, the effort made is largely depend on their self motivation. When I assign tasks and tell them to hand in before the class ends, only 40% of them do so and ask me questions. Despite a few strong students, the rest of them may be procrastinating or didn’t even open the file. For students who have self-discipline, it could be an advantage as they can move at their own pace. However, online lessons in mass are not as effective as normal learning.

At this point, we were told to prepare for returning to school at the beginning of April. I advocate for doing so but it’s not the right time. Exams are scheduled at the beginning of May and since we have already have online lessons for the past seven weeks, I think it’s a better time to continue doing so.

This June, Christopher will move to another country and start a new chapter of his life there. Whether this pandemic happens or not, the world is always changing and people should be adapted to this nature. To him, education would be the solution and he would continue to bring this idea to teaching.

Interviewed By

Luxin Chen


Christopher Howell

Interview Date



high school Economic teacher