Frequent temperature checks, health warnings on loop over loudspeakers and ‘masked socials’ in cafés – welcome to the new normal under the coronavirus outbreak. Culture Trip commissioning editor Mandy Tie reports from Shanghai.
During the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, fear led to the most basic questions in my mind: What are the bare minimums I need in order to survive? What things can be given up? Who are the people I hold dear?
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Once I was over that hurdle, other questions followed: are public healthcare and logistics working properly in this country? Do we have the infrastructure to sustain life and work through the quarantine period?
I am fortunate enough to be writing these words, knowing that the unsettling silence after Lunar New Year caused by the slow return of migrant workers is behind us; that there has been an uninterrupted flow of goods coming to my neighbourhood each day; that I can carry on with life more or less as usual. This hasn’t been the case for everyone.
Frances Song, who hails from Shanghai and is a regular contributor at Culture Trip, described the past month as having ‘derailed’ from normality.
“I didn’t go outside for 23 days,” she says. “Yes, I counted it. Not going anywhere, not meeting anybody or attending any events was very challenging in a city like Shanghai.” She thought back to the last days of January, when, “overnight, the city was silenced. I was truly amazed by how quiet and empty Anfu Road was when I passed by last week”.
The Immediate Reality
From my apartment window, I can see the full stretch of the ’50s residential compound where I live. This is a typical ‘work unit’ community, consisting of employees of textile factories on the Huangpu riverside. Most of its residents are old-age pensioners now. When they enter the compound gate, now they obediently extend a wrist to the janitor, and have their temperature tested. When they leave, the janitor in turn hands each of them a palm-sized slip of paper – a ‘day pass’ which will grant them access to the compound when they return.
This is also where deliveries are dropped off. The more tech-savvy residents – young people, mostly – tend to have their daily essentials delivered to the gate instead of popping out to shops in the neighbourhood. By 10am, plastic bags bursting with vegetables, snacks and toiletries pile up by the gate, waiting to be claimed by drowsy-eyed youngsters wearing winter jackets over their pyjamas.
As life slows down, many are able to embrace their inner creativity. For some, cooking is the frontline. Maria, a Finnish teacher living in Shanghai, attested to this. “I have lived in Shanghai for almost two years now. For the first time ever, I steamed some food myself and made egg-fried rice.” That’s after she had revisited old favourites including a traditional Finnish pea soup with mustard and French chicken pâté on the stove.
State and local authorities have strongly advised against any type of social interaction. In Shanghai’s Former French Concession and the West Bund, these words of warning are blasted out on repeat over public address systems:
Wash your hands, do not overlook personal hygiene.
When you go out, wear a mask.
Do not visit your neighbours or friends.
Register your name when you enter and exit the compound.
Seek medical help if you are self-diagnosed.
Adjust your mentality, do not fear.
Together we can win this battle.
And yet, another part of the city tells a brighter story. On a sunny day, the Pudong riverside – a 21-kilometre (13-mile) urban development project – is alive with joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers and families picnicking on the lawns.
By now, ‘masked socials’ have become more commonplace around the city. Erica, an American student at the Shanghai Theatre Academy who also volunteers at ShanghaiPRiDE, remembered the effect of socialising on her wellbeing, “I have gone out exactly one time, to meet a few of my former co-workers at a taco place,” she said. “I know that eating out is not something people are making a habit of doing right now, and that there is risk involved in being around other people, but it did wonders for my mental health.”
Self-isolation has in fact pressed on our need to connect with fellow humans. Where the means are available and the measures taken, we find ways to interact with people around us: whether that’s by sitting quietly together outside a café, exchanging a smile with our eyes above masked faces, or moving our social life online.
The Reality Online
A blessing and a curse, the Chinese tend to do their social networking and following of news updates all in one virtual space – WeChat. The ‘news feed’ on the app can provide helpful tips on medical advice, as well as the latest on the outbreak’s spread – but this often comes alongside a plethora of misinformation. Time is needed for each individual to identify outlets and articles that are reliable and based in fact.
“People learned how to filter and spot the truth, and also to be open-minded so as to hear different voices,” says Frances.
In the same vein, the very digital conduits that widen the gulf between realities can also bring communities closer together. As millions of people in China are working from home, communication channels such as DingTalk and Slack have become indispensable tools for keeping businesses running. Those of us working for or doing business with international companies also count on VPNs to access Google and Zoom (among other apps), which have come under threat as the government attempts to curb the dissemination of misinformation on digital platforms blocked by the Chinese Firewall.
Censorship also gnaws at the video games industry. Plague Inc – the pandemic strategy game for mobile devices – has been banned from Chinese app stores. The strategy simulation game is designed on the premise of creating an epidemic that will eventually eradicate the human race, and had garnered considerable popularity in China until it was taken offline. Beyond this, the gaming industry is evidently thriving on an increased number of downloads, offering people a little escapism from the confines of their four walls.
Nightlife venues are also making an effort to digitally deliver music and cheer. In Shanghai, venues such as Yuyintang, Elevator and Specters are live-streaming DJ shows into the early-morning hours online. To complement a full ‘night-in’ experience, apartments and terraces have been transformed into cocktail bars, karaoke booths and dancefloors.
With little hindsight to lean on, we can only look to records of previous epidemics to gain perspective. Technology evidently has played and will continue to play a significant role, and proves that an outbreak does not necessarily render us isolated.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.