22 April 2020
Today, I woke up to a strong smell of bleach and disinfectant. I thought that the cleaning lady must be cleaning the elevators and corridors again. All the hallways and elevators of my building are disinfected daily to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread. A necessary measure, but my building smells like a hospital. I live on the second floor of a 20-story building in Hung Hom, an area of Kowloon in Hong Kong.
The building elevators open in front of my apartment door. I hated the annoying sounds of the elevator in the middle of the night and early mornings, but now I find myself longing for those sounds to get some degree of normalcy. Like others in my building, my family rarely goes out. This made me contemplate how this epidemic has affected every aspect of my everyday existence.
I got up and opened my laptop to start working on my thesis. As I opened my laptop, a notification popped up on the desktop. I clicked on it and read that yesterday Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the social distancing period is extended for fourteen more days. She further said the government would continue to closely monitor the situation and roll out relief schemes under the second round of Hong Kong’s Anti-Epidemic Fund to assist the business sector and those affected by the social distancing measures.
This news raised a surge of hope in me because it means there is a possibility that the universities will be in normal operation after fourteen days. It would also mean that my husband’s defense could be conducted by the end of this semester. He is doing a Ph.D. in robotics at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. His defense has been delayed because no external supervisor has been willing to come to Hong Kong. They are afraid that they will have to go through a fourteen-day quarantine period when they reach Hong Kong and another fourteen days when they go back to their respective countries. No one is willing to go through all this trouble just for one student. I hope that his Ph.D. will be completed by the end of this semester.
Meanwhile, I am in the third year of my Ph.D. in English literature, and I will no longer receive a fellowship after August. I am a bit worried about our financial prospects because both of us are Ph.D. students and our sole source of income is departmental funding. Living on a study visa means you cannot work freely and have to make both ends meet within the departmental fellowship provided by the department. It will be difficult for us to live in Hong Kong without a steady source of income. Carrie Lam’s statement about social distancing made me think about many other Ph.D. students whose lives are also affected by social distancing. I hope there will be some kind of financial assistance scheme for Ph.D. students affected by social distancing.
I worked on my project until 4 pm and then headed to the nearby grocery store to get some milk and vegetables. We have been living in Hung Hom for two and a half years. It is a busy neighborhood, with a cinema, several restaurants, a big supermarket and several small shops near my building. While walking towards the grocery store, I saw that people were wearing masks and trying to maintain distance from one another. At the entrance of a few shops, the staff were standing and checking the temperature of anyone wanting to enter. Although it is a good safety measure to restrict the number of infected people entering a shop, it makes grocery shopping a bit difficult. I had to stand for several minutes in a queue before I could enter, which was stressful since time is very important for me as a Ph.D. student. Eventually, I finally entered the store and went to the milk aisle. To my disappointment, milk was all sold out. Out of panic due to COVID-19, people are tending to hoard food items in Hong Kong. I had to buy a carton of milk from another grocery store at a much higher price.
My next task was to buy some vegetables. There are a few small vegetable shops near my building, most of them run by women. I always prefer to buy vegetables from these shops because of two reasons: firstly, it is so empowering to see women running their own independent businesses, and secondly, they sell vegetables at much cheaper prices than the big super stores. The shopkeeper was wearing a face mask and gloves, but I could see that she greeted me with a smile. It was so relaxing and normalizing to see someone smile during this epidemic.
I returned home and washed my hands thoroughly and disposed of my face mask. This routine always makes me remember ablutions. As a Muslim, I perform ablutions before every prayer. I received a call from Abu, my father, who is in Pakistan. He talked about the situation there, saying, “It is like wartime—no one is going out, all roads are deserted. Only a few grocery shops are open.” His words kept echoing in my mind for a long time. Yes, it is a war. Except this time human beings are not afraid of weapons and bombs—rather, they are afraid of a deadly virus.
It is already evening. I spent some time with my daughter, who is 22 months old, and then read a few articles while my husband looked after her. I completed my analysis for the second chapter of my Ph.D. dissertation but could not work more on the theoretical framework since I needed an important book. No bookstores are offering physical deliveries of books in Hong Kong right now, and I requested the university library to buy this ebook over two weeks ago, but still no news on that front. I hope this problem will be solved soon.
Abroo Nazar is a Ph.D. student at the Education University of Hong Kong. She is from Pakistan but currently lives in Hong Kong. She has conducted research on the stereotypical representation of Pakistani women in Pakistani English fiction, and her dissertation explores postcolonial female resistance within the framework of spatiality, ecofeminism, and disability studies. Her article titled “Silencing of Subaltern in Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” was published in the International Journal of Language and Education. She also writes fiction and poetry both in Urdu and English.
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The Teach311 + COVID-19 Collective began in 2011 as a joint project of the Forum for the History of Science in Asia and the Society for the History of Technology Asia Network and is currently expanded in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Artifacts, Action, Knowledge) and Nanyang Technological University-Singapore.