SARS is Back in China

According to news report, more and more new SARS cases are discovered these days. 4 patients were discovered around the previous SARS patient found in Beijing.


Image credit:


In Shanghai, every protection measures started automatically. The building I am working at start to post the daily disinfected report in all the elevators.


© Jian Shuo Wang. Taken at Metro City in Shanghai

Since I don’t take taxi any more, I don’t know what is happening on taxis. Anyway, people here are quite skillful to handle SARS and I am not worried at all.

SARS Alert in Pudong Airport

With the new case of SARS in Taiwan, the alert level of Pudong Airport rised a little bit. I happen to go to the airport to pickup Wendy today. Passengers are asked to fillin the yellow health claim form before check-in and the broadcast repeatly (at a low frequency) to remind people to do so. Masks returned to some of the passengers’ face of flights coming from Japan and Europe. It seems after the SARS period of this May, people are more experienced with the situation like this.

SARS, Autumn Tiger, and MSF…

I was frightened that there become rumors that SARS cases emerge again in west part of China. Is it true? I hope not.

Shanghai is still hot, exteremely hot. I started to be completely wet even when at 7:30 AM in the morning – we call it “Autumn Tiger” for this kind of hot weather after the begining of fall season. I heard that it is called “Indian Summer” in English. True?

Thank God that I passed MSF Practitioner Exam today. I didn’t prepared well for it, just like previous TOEIC test, but thank God, I passed it. About 2000 people in the world passed this exam now and about 5 of them is in China. Thanks for my friend Fang for take the initiative to pass it first and inspired me to give it a try.

Shanghai Says Goodbye to Masks

It is fantastic night. I walked along the Huaihai Road and the Maoming Road in Shanghai. The Jazz music came out of the pubs and the crowded people in the bars were dancing and singing. It is exactly what Shanghai looks like in summer!

In the metro train and on the street, I never see anybody wearing masks now. People are happy and relaxed. It is an enjoyable night. The only exception is the servers at some fast food restaurants like KFC…. Maybe masks will remain required for the dining industry for a long time no matter there is SARS or not.


As I am fan of cycling now, I bought a new Cateye Velo 8 cyclometer at price of 120 RMB ($14). I will install it on my GIANT right now.



Current speed

Elapsed time

Trip distance

Average speed

Maximum speed

Calorie consumption

Total distance

12/24 hr clock

Auto start/stop

Auto power saving

SARS Update in Shanghai

I didn’t update SARS situation in Shanghai in the last week. So my readers like Tracey began to worry about the SARS sitautation. :-) Well. Let me tell you the current Shanghai in my eyes – it completely returned to normal and SARS is over.

Indicator 1: Ban to events lifted.

According to new policy of Shanghai government, starting from June 15, 2003, the ban to large scale events and activities is lifted. Organizations are free to oraganize events and activities freely.

Indicator 2: Tourism became hot again

Last Saturday, in order to warm up the hard-hit tourism market, main scenic spots in Shanghai offered free entrances or 50% off in ticket price.

On Saturday, 220,000 made their way to 33 local venues that were either open to public free of charge or selling tickets for discounts of up to 50 percent, according to the Shanghai Tourism Administrative Commission.


Indicator 3: Crowded restaurants

It is not easy to find a seat at most restaurants in busy hours again.

Indicator 4: Busy airport

I went to Pudong Airport last week and found the airport was busy – even crowded at around 6:00 PM. It is said that the flight UA857 from San Fransisco to Shanghai was fully packed with people.

Conclusion: It is safe to come to Shanghai

Although the real situation in Shanghai still needs some time to spread out and reach those who are really interested in coming to Shanghai, Shanghai actually recovered from the SARS fear and is free of the disease. Regarding the mislead of information, my previous articles may also helped to mislead people since some readers just read the article I posted one or two months ago and think it is the CURRENT situation.

SARS is Over in Shanghai – II

SARS is over. After claiming the end of SARS two days ago, I feel even sure when all the information I gathered in the city these two days.

Taxi drivers removed their masks

According to Shanghai Transportation Adminstration, the regulation for all taxi drivers to wear masks was canceled. Starting from June 1, only attendants on air-conditioned buses, attendants in subways, and staff in long-distance bus stations are still required to wear masks.

Revenue increase for shopping malls, restaurants

According to Shanghai Morning Post of today, shopping malls see 16% increase in revenue. Restaurants return to 70% of the normal level. We begin to see people line up at some hot restaurants.


The Century Park received 20K visitoers every day last Saturday and Sunday. The Forest Park, Sheshan and other near places begin to surfer from the large traffic. People begin to line up for the buses, parks, tickets and dining. Some of them began to complain for that.

Congratulations to Shanghai

It was nightmare in the last two months. The city has experienced the hardest time in the recent year. Although it is still not the right time to officially announce the end of SARS, the daily life is returning to its original status.

P.S. Bicycle renting service

I found a bicycle renting company. Phone: 63144085 Address: Room 309, #1088, Zhongshan Road South. They offer new bicycle at 50 RMB per day, 60 RMB for two days and 90 RMB for three days.

SARS is Over in Shanghai

This page contains personal opinions only. Don’t treat it as official announcement.

If anyone asks me about the situation in Shanghai, I would say: “SARS is over in Shanghai”.

Shanghai returns to prosperity

After week-long cloudy and cold whether, from yesterday, it becomes sunny and hot. People began to rush out to street for shopping. Below are a series of pictures I took in Xiang Yang Market.

People are wearing summer clothes and I didn’t see any masks in the market. The most crowded market famous for cool shoes, cases, and clothes was almost empty during April but now, people begin to return. Although it is not exactly as busy as before, it is already a very significant sign. It tells that people in the city begin to think SARS is over.


© 2003 Jian Shuo Wang

People are busy bargaining with the sales man.


© 2003 Jian Shuo Wang

A lot of foreigners are visiting the place.


© 2003 Jian Shuo Wang

The small road are packed with taxis and cars – it was once empty during the May holiday.


© 2003 Jian Shuo Wang

Quarantine policy changes

Yesterday afternoon, the government announced the change of quarantine policy. People returning Shanghai will no longer need to take two-week quarantine. All people coming from SARS affected areas will take medical observation instead. Only SARS patient, suspected patient and close-contactor (identified by CDC) need to go under quarantine now. Others will only need to take temperature everyday.

Shanghai eased its traveling rules yesterday, asking only those with close contact to SARS patients and suspected patients to go through medical quarantine.

Local residents now returning to the city, including from such hard-hit areas as Beijing and Hong Kong, will not be quarantined as an earlier document required.

The new measures be-come effective on Monday.

Shanghai Government Announcement

Travel is not discouraged now

In addition to the quarantine policy change, restriction to business travel, actives and events is lifted. It is allowed to organize people to go out of the city to SARS-free provinces or provinces with 20 days of no-SARS history.

I also consulted the Shanghai SARS hotline 95120. The representative told me it is OK for people to hold activities in Shanghai again. It seems the situation is better.

Restaurant resumes operation

During the SARS hit months, some restaurant has closed due to lack of customers. Today, when I passed by Xujiahui Road, I found a restaurant put a large sign outside the window – “Business resumes from May 30”. It is the only restaurant I see to resume operation these days.

Strict precautions still apply

I have been very used to the change of life after SARS – I have my temperature taken every morning when I enter the building I am working. This lasted for 2 weeks already. This is still going on. The disinfection of taxis and buses do not stop – I suspect maybe this can be a permanent policy in Shanghai.

SARS is over in the mind of people

SARS is over. At least from the people’s mind. SARS is removed from people’s topic list. Seldom do I hear my friends talking about SARS recently. Just as the end of long cloudy weather, SARS is passing and the city enjoys the sunlight again.

Travel Ban Partly Lifted

Today, the national travel administration lifted the travel ban within China. It is very good news for travel agencies. Now, travel in provinces not in the WHO’s travel advisory list is allowed. After Guangzhou and Hongkong was removed from the list, Beijing, Tianjing, Shaanxi, Hebei and Inner Mongolia are still regarded as SARS affected area.

Changes in the vistors of this site

Another change also happens. Before March, lots of visitor comes to my site when search for Pudong airport. My site was listed as #1 in the search result.

In April, seldom can I see anyone is searching for Pudong airport, since most of the trip were canceled. On the contray, most visitors come when searching for “SARS Shanghai” or “SARS Pictures

Now, the good news, the trend to search for Pudong airport raises dramatically again while SARS searcher descreased even faster. It is insteresting that all the metrics are related to each other.

Daily Life – SARS Related IV

This is the forth article of a series of article on the daily life in Shanghai. From the changes in MY life, you may get some idea about the real situation in Shanghai.


If you read about my previous “Daily Life – SARS Related“, you will know that I pay specially attention to taxis and taxi drivers.

Recently, nothing changed since the new regulations take effect on April 20. The daily disinfection does not stop and the 7 color tags rule is still working.

The taxi drivers still wear masks at work. They will remove it, hanging the masks on one ear for fresh air and put it on when passengers get on to the taxi. It is hard time for them – financial surfer due to lack of passengers and physical surfer due to the annoying masks.


Any crisis will give literature and art a bigger room to grow. It is the case of SARS. I saw some wonderful campaign on SARS on local TV.

The first one was shown from two weeks ago. It featured a little girl waiting for her mother who is a nurse in hospital. The recent one featured “I love Shanghai. I believe in Shanghai” from about 6 General Managers of foreign companies, like Siemens. Here comes the third one. It is about the contribution those people who got quarantined for SARS. Five (maybe five) persons of different occupation repeated the same sentence. “This is what we should do, because I love Shanghai”. I regret that I cannot show it in this webpage for you. It was really well done.

Well. This is what we call the morale building, isn’t it? These campaigns gave the nurses, the foreign invested companies and the people who got quarantined a lot of support by showing understanding and appreciation for their contribution.

City landscape

The city landscape does not change even a little bit because of SARS – if there is any change, it should be the emerging of new buildings. Below is a picture I took from a building near the Bund, facing north.

© Jian Shuo Wang

In the picture are the lower houses near Fuzhou road. The road on the right is Jiang Xi road and the intersection of the two taller building is Fuzhou Road. Nanjing road is about three blocks further. Shanghai has been cloudy like this for about a week and maybe will continue to be. Nothing affected by SARS, right? But mood of the people inside the houses has been changed greatly. SARS dramatically slowed down the pace of the city.

© Jian Shuo Wang

Above is the same scene looking a little bit eastward. You can see a small portion of the Huang Pu river on the right corner.


© Jian Shuo Wang

Sunsetting in Xujiahui, looking west. More and more new buildings appeared in the Hong Qiao Area. In the scene is the tallest building in Hong Qiao – but I forgot the name. Let me check it out later.

The figure

Today, 8 new cases were reported, among them,

Beijing 5

Shaanxi 1

Inner Mongolia 2

Good number. I was worried when I see the number of 40, 40, 34 in the last three days. Now the number goes down again.

Date – New cases reporeted

May 25 – 16

May 24 – 34

May 23 – 40

May 22 – 40

May 21 – 12

Other news – Earthquake

This afternoon, someone sent email to me if I feel the move of the floor. I didn’t pay attention to it since I think it is joking. Later, I saw this: Strong earthquake shakes Japan – Magnitude 7.0 trembler strikes northeast, felt in Tokyo.

Later someone reported that they feel the earthquake in Shanghai. Really? I didn’t.

Online broadcast

You should see the video between May 26 11:00 PM to May 27 11:00 PM.

Read more:

Going Back to Normal Life, Slowly

Fan and I went to Sichuan Garden in Xujiahui for dinner today. It is a decent restaurant with reasonable price. It is located on the Gongchen Road, just behind the Grant Gateway.

Many people there

I still remember when we had dinner half an month ago at the same time in this restaurant, it is half empty. We two even occupied a large table near the door. There are still many empty tables.

Today, the news is good news and bad news. The bad news, people begin to line up to wait for an empty table. It is bad actually since ever Friday day, it is often hard to find a place in good restaurant. It seems the good time has past and we need to struggle to find a place to eat later. The good news is, obviously, the impact of SARS on hositality industry become weaker. People begin to go out of the door and rush to restaurant again.

The even better thing I see is, with the returning of customers, the restaurant strengthened the precaution measurements – the air condition is stopped, instead, it uses the fresh air. Waiters and waitress are still wearing masks.

I can feel the city is waking up and the prosperity and the energy of the city is coming back slowly.

The SARS champions

Opening my TV and I saw a series of SARS related champions. One is about the confidence of foreign investments. About 6 CEOs of major companies in Shanghai, such as Siemens, are repeating the same sentence in Chinese “I love Shanghai. I believe in Shanghai”. It is very impressive.

Shanghai government is always doing good job of buiding its image among citizens. It is seldom seen in cities in China.

WHO lifted travel warning to Hongkong and Guangdong

Effective today, the World Health Organization (WHO) is removing its recommendation that people should postpone all but essential travel to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Guangdong province, China.

Source: WHO website

New SARS cases

Yesterday, all the TV station in Shanghai printed rotating subtitle to their program. It reads:

All passengers taking training K48 (Guangzhou to Shanghai) on May 20 are required to register at local CDC. All passengers in the No. 2 train are quired to take quarantine. Tel: 62095600、62750270

It is because the new SARS case is confirmed to be a train attendant on tha train.

Also in these days

There are some interesting things these days. I am tracking all these events everyday.

CCTV broadcast China expedition team atop Everest

It was an exciting moment when I see the real time broadcast of Everest from CCTV-1 the day before yesterday. It is so beautiful, man! The camera sent back the picture form the top of Everest to my home – it is really an exciting moment. The hundreds of snow covered mountains are below the feet of the camera man.

“Everest, Mount,” Microsoft?Encarta?Online Encyclopedia 2003 ?1997-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Office website and news

There is even a flash showing the routines of the Everest.

SARS Almost Goes to an End

As you can see from my recent weblog entries, I cover less SARS recent than in the month of April. This is also a reflection about how people in this city thinks about SARS – when the temperature taking, the clean taxi and staying at home become a habit, people pay less attention to it, as it SARS has been in the city for 100 years.

Less new cases

12 new cases were reported with 7 in Beijing. This is a small number if you recall the 100+ cases per day time at the end of April. With the slowing down of new cases, the preventional measures are more and more strict in Shanghai. It is too early to say SARS is over, but it is obvious that SARS is approach to the end.

Still cannot travel

I still cannot travel outside Shanghai. It has been one month that the door of Shanghai closed. It doesn’t mean that I am not allowed to go out, just don’t want to wait for the long line of body temperature taking, the form filling when leaving and entering Shanghai. The 14 day quarantine is also too long for me to step out of Shanghai.

I subscribed Tian Yi Tong

I subscribed Tian Yi Tong this noon. Of cause my temperature was taken when I entered into the branch office of Shanghai Telecom and taken again when I returned to the place I work. It reminded me that someone has complained to the city government that their business nature requires them to walking around the city. Sometimes they need to have their temperature taken more than 6 or 10 times a day. Some of the theremeters are infrared, but there is still some normal one. So it cost them about 1 hour every day. They want the government to issue some kind of form so they can have their temperature taken only once. Good suggestion, isn’t it? :-)

Well. Back to the topic. I used 110 RMB to subscribe Tian Yi Tong. Then I will get a USB wireless network card and an Access Point.


Isaac has mentioned the webcam in his personal weblog and the group blog Isaac is right. Webcam is not something new. Most of them has disappeared. I am not sure how long I can keep the webcam operation. Maybe I will just shut down the cam in one month, when one of the criteria (see the Criteria for me to pause this service section) is reached. The other possibility is, I will keep the webcam online, for about 6 months? I have never think of the possibility of writing the weblog for more than 3 months – I offen start something new passionately, but fail after some short time – from one week to one month. So it real surprises myself that I have been writing for this weblog for more than 8 months. Still remember, the first entry of this weblog written on Sept 11, 2002.


The webcam is online from 8:35 PM today and may be turned off at 11:30 PM today.

Caroline is Back to Shanghai

One of my most active reader, Caroline, recorded her trip back to Shanghai. It is a series of interesting posts. Thanks Caroline for sharing the experience with us. I’d like to quote it here.

May 09, 2003 Caroline heard of the quarantine rule and was pretty worried

More bad news, I am in Hong Kong right now, and am planning on coming back to Shanghai next Wednesday, and the Shanghai Health Bureau put out a notice saying that people returning from SARS affected areas HAVE to be quarantined for 2 weeks! Locked up in my own home for 2 weeks! What am I going to do? They are planning on sending health officials from my xiao qu to take my temperature twice a day!

May 14, 2003 Caroline returned to Shanghai

I am back in Shanghai. At the Hong Kong airport my temperature was taken before I got on to the airplane. After the plane landed at the Shanghai airport, some health worker came on to the plane and took all our temperatures. Then we were let off the plane. At the health checkpoint, out temperatures were taken again.

When I got back to my xiao qu, I went to register myself, and my temperature was taken again. Then I was told to stay put in my home until the 27th.

What a bummer! Let’s hope SARS will be history soon!

May 15, 2003 annie asked how the quarantine will happen

hi caroline,

glad u got back safely! where did u go register? how did you know where to go? who told you to go where? are they bringing you food to eat? are ppl coming to check your temperatures everyday???

take care!!!

still in hk,


May 15, 2003 Caroline described the measures in her xiao qu

Hi Annie, the local qu wei hui people were pounding on my door one day before I arrived back in Shanghai, asking my ayi whether anyone has gone or is back from SARS infected area. So I decided to turn myself in before they execute me! :-)

Dr. Wu came to take my temperature this morning, but I will call her everyday at 10am and 2pm to tell her my body temperature. Someone from the qu wei hui called me at 11am to see whether I needed anything (and probably see whether I have sneaked out of the house). So I am laying low.

It is very true. In many residential area (xiao qu), the resident committee, which is the lowest level of government organization and commonly formed by retired old ladies, is working very actively to investigate the coming and leaving people in the area. They almost know everything. There is debat that whether they will violent the privacy of the residents. :-)

In my area, the telephone number of the residential committee has been posted everywhere and asking people to register at the committee upon returning to Shanghai.

If you are interested in how a short trip will look like, check Dr. Irons’ great article Flight to Shanghai: A Journey in the Plague Year

About Caroline

Caroline owns a website at and two pottery workshops.

The Fringe, 2 Lower Albert Road, Central, Hong Kong SAR
Tel: (852) 2525 7949 Fax: (852) 2525-7901

2nd Floor 220 Taikang Lu, Shanghai 200025, PRC
Tel: (86) 21 6445-0902 Fax: (86) 21 6445 0937

Taikang road is just at the center of Shanghai, near the south-north elevated highway.


Check out Caroline’s exhibitions.

I am very interested in the workshop and have decided to visit the workshop. I mean after Caroline get out of her quarantine period and comes back to the workshop. She also offers pottery class. I will describe my experience there and share with you. Maybe Caroline also have something to tell you about her wonderful potter workshop too.

Caroline is also the top commenter of the month of April 2003


My Temperature Is Monitored

This morning, when I steped into the Bund Center where I work, the guard stopped me and politely asked me to have my temperature taken. He used the hand-held mini infra red thermometer to point to my head. Just in 1 second, he allowed me to go into the building. It seems other buidling around the has implemented the same rule.

I am really impressed by the effecient of the government now. I don’t know why, but all the departments of the government is working closely. I am always surprised by the speed of the roll out of an action. When I found one change happen in one place/organization, it will happen on the other very soon, sometimes just in one day.

SARS cases in China

The good news is, the number of the new SARS cases in China is 55 today, among them 39 are in Beijing. I still feel bad that 55 is still not a low number, but it is much smaller compared to the numbers before. Very encouraging number!

Online trading boosted

The new car number plate auction will be held online on May 24. It is the effort to use the online trading to avoid gathering.

Update on SARS Situation in China

Thanks Luo for providing the valuable information for us.


The number of new cases of SARS reported in Beijing has been falling for several days in a roll. On Wednesday, the city reported 39 new cases and five deaths, bringing the cumulative number of infections to more than 2,300 and total deaths to 139. Quarantine orders on three hospitals and a residential neighborhood have been lifted. So far, 16,197 have been released from quarantine and 8,813 people are still under observation. (RTHK, Foreign Affairs Office)

Last week, WHO extended its travel warnings to include Tianjin, a nearby city that has reported 171 SARS cases, 102 suspected case, and nine deaths as of May 14. Over 2,000 people are in quarantine for having close contact with SARS patients and suspects in the city. (RTHK,


Shanghai reported one more confirmed SARS cases last weekend, bringing the number of confirmed SARS cases to seven. One of the confirmed SARS patients is an American. Of the 10 suspected cases, one is Japanese. One of the SARS patients has died. So far, only one death has been reported. (Shanghai Municipal Health Bureau)

Taxicabs drivers are now required to wear gauze masks when working and nearly 50,000 taxicabs are required to be disinfected everyday. In addition, the taxi drivers are required to fill out forms recording the time and place of entry and exit of every passenger. They must then submit the forms to their companies at the conclusion of their work day. (Xinhua)

Shanghai plans to extend its current quarantine and health monitoring measures to include all travellers passing through the city from any of China’s 26 SARS-affected provinces. It was not immediately clear if foreigners would be forced to abide by the same rules, but all travellers will be subject to more stringent health examinations. A mandatory 14-day quarantine for Shanghai residents arriving from the SARS-crisis areas of Guangdong, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Beijing and Hong Kong was ordered a week ago. (Shanghai Municipal Health Bureau)


In the nearby province of Jiangsu, seven SARS cases and 19 suspected cases have been reported. More than 10,000 people are in quarantine in the provincial capital of Nanjing, which is just 290 km northwest of Shanghai. New anti-SARS measures include putting incoming travellers from SARS-affected areas in quarantine for 15 days. On Monday, local authorities have shut 566 hotels, saunas, hair salons and Internet cafes in a bid to prevent SARS from spreading. (Channel News Asia,


More than 1,700 people have been quarantined in Hangzhou where four SARS cases and five suspected cases have been reported. Some 1,200 were put into isolation following the confirmation of three cases of SARS over the past two weeks and another 500 joined them over the weekend. (AFP,

Shanghai SARS: The Next Level of Precaution

The alarm level of Shanghai is raising to the newest level.


From yesterday (May 11, 2003), all taxi drivers are required to wear masks. I noticed this at the morning. The taxi driver told us that they will be fined if not wearing masks.

No outside cars – residential garden

From today, the residential garden I live have post the notice that no cars from outside garden are permitted to enter the residential area. It includes taxis.


The building I was working in has lined up a 10 meters long table at the lobby. Three ladies were sitting at the table. Anyone entering the building will be required to wear their employee card with pictures. Others will have their temperature taken at the tables.


There is a strictly seperation in Shanghai Jiao Tong university. Every student have two options: on campus or off campus. If you choose on campus, you cannot step out of the gate of the campus. If you choosed off campus, you can enter the campus and attend classes, but cannot enter the dorm and library. The status cannot be changed if you have made the decision, which means if you choosed off campus, you cannot return to the dorm again.

How local medicial workers handle suspected SARS cases

Here is a group of picture about the whole course of the suspected SARS cases in bus. Since the site is in Chinese, let me explain the pictures.

  1. A lot of people is gathering around the bus
  2. An old lady got off.
  3. The inspector checked the medicine the lady took.
  4. Keep checking..
  5. Keep checking..
  6. The old lady complained about the guy who called 110 (the police hotline) when she kept coughing in the bus.
  7. The lady was required to take the Shanghai First Aid car and will be sent to hosipital for check.
  8. Finally, the whole bus of peopel followed the policy to check for SARS.

Thanks Kevin11 to take the pictures and share it.

Flight to Shanghai: A Journey in the Plague Year IV

This is the forth, and the last article of Dr. Glenwood Irons’ trip to Shanghai.

  • Entry I
  • Entry II
  • Entry III
  • Entry IV (this page)
  • Entry 4, 12 May, 2003

    When Daniel Defoe came to the end of his Plague Year journal, he began to meditate somewhat on the horrors he had experienced over the previous year, even to consider why he had been spared the worst of the Plague. He had indeed contracted a severe fever and was almost certain that he too would perish along with the many other Londoners who had suffered the worst fate which the Plague could dish out. However, he came out of the experience, at least in his own opinion, as a much better person that he had been. Perhaps that is the essence of such a Journal ?the wish to share with others and experience which has made us better for having gone through it.

    On my second full day in Shanghai, I now felt ready for the best and the worst the city could dish out. Moreover, I felt well-armed against the vicissitudes of this modern plague, not least because I was having my temperature taken every morning before I ventured beyond the reception of my serviced apartment. So, right after the “digital check?which showed my usual 35.5 degrees (I was beginning to wonder if the thermometer actually worked!), I was picked up by a driver for the School where my meetings were to take place, and my colleagues (who had accompanied the driver) all headed off for Pudong, that amazing new centre, just across the river from Shanghai. As many readers will know, Pudong was little more than rice fields in the 1980’s, but now it is a place which rivals even the most modern Western city in its amazingly creative skyscraper architecture, its energy, and its financial power. And there is no doubt that Pudong is one of the reasons Shanghai is well on its way to taking over from Hong Kong as the “hub?of Asia.

    And as if to echo the wealth of Shanghai, I was being driven along in a sleek, black Audi A6, built in an automobile factory just outside of Shanghai. One of the colleagues accompanying me is a Caucasian American, so fluent in Mandarin that he has taught on CCTV for a number of years, the other colleague is a Chinese American, with a PhD in International Affairs from Columbia University. And all of this seemed to fit well with the vastly interesting architecture which spreads out before us as we cross the Nanpu Bridge on our way to our first meeting of the day. Amazing people in an amazing city.

    But of course the conversation turns to the SARS outbreak. I remark on the fact that the WHO seems to have given Shanghai a rather “easy?time of it in their report, especially as just about everyone mistrusts the low number of reported cases, and we expect the WHO to give an unbiased opinion. One colleague, recently arrived from Shenzhen, and just out of his quarantine period (all arrivals to Shanghai from hard hit areas must undergo a 14 day quarantine in their flats) suggests that his various doctor friends believe there are at least 200 confirmed cases in Shanghai, and more than likely quite a few hundred more “suspect?cases. In a city of 16 million, this isn’t surprising ?on a per capita basis, this number is still lower than Toronto — but the reasons for such “under reporting?are important to all of us. Shanghai is in fact the engine of the Chinese economy, experiencing double-digit growth in the past few years, and enjoying a prosperity which major cities in the West would envy. Under the present circumstances, with Beijing still reeling from the daily increase in SARS cases, Shanghai will likely be the only export window to the rest of world. It would be devastating to undermine that important conduit to and from the rest of China, especially right now and especially because of Shanghai’s ongoing importance as the new “hub?of Asia. So, we shall hear about a few increases in SARS cases over the next few weeks, but as Beijing eventually brings the caseload down, I suspect that Shanghai’s caseload will all but disappear from the world’s radar screen.

    In any case, I spent a very interesting morning in meetings and a visit to the construction site for the new private school, a US $40 million facility which will eventually enroll 4000 students, and then turned my thoughts to more important matters, namely lunch. In fact, I would like to suggest that it is here, in the restaurants and hotels of Shanghai and Pudong that one sees the most obvious influence of the SARS outbreak. On Tuesday and Wednesday I enjoyed four different meals at four different restaurants ?and no I’m not trying to become a Sumo Wrestler, but everyone knows that eating when on business in China is probably the most important function, other than ceremonial signings ?and I noted in each one just how few customers there were. Even though business lunches and dinners are in small rooms with a round table which seats ten or twelve people ?a very enjoyable way to eat ?one still passes through the main restaurant “en route?to the private dining rooms. I would say that patronage at restaurants is down by at least 50%, and that is the most obvious manifestation of the distrust which the Shanghainese have for the SARS-related reporting. As well, of course, all service staff in restaurants are wearing surgical masks, so they too are taking no chances with the “numbers?game.

    Nevertheless, I still immensely enjoyed those meals, and if the number of Qing Dao bottles sitting empty at the conclusion of each was any indication, I daresay my colleagues enjoyed themselves as well. In fact, like many citizens of the world, my Shanghai colleagues had a somewhat fatalistic attitude towards SARS, not to say careless or foolish, but one which tried to ignore the outbreak, at least while the important business of eating and drinking was underway.

    One other observation of note (before I take us back to Pudong Airport and the flight from Shanghai): I spent Wednesday and Thursday morning at meetings with the Dean of a well-known college in Pudong. I was immediately struck by the fact that none of the 4000 students were in evidence, and in fact I was informed that the college had been closed until the 12th of May, obviously in order to prevent the spread of SARS. This was perhaps the clearest indication of the deeper effect which SARS is having in many parts of China. In fact, I was informed that all meetings which involved “class-room?sized groups had been put in abeyance until at least May 12th. Nevertheless, or perhaps as a result of this, we managed to get a great deal accomplished, and in fact I might even have gotten more accomplished on this trip to Shanghai because of the restriction on large-group meetings.

    But, all good things must come to and end, so on Thursday afternoon, after a final temperature check at the reception ?still 35.5 — I was picked up for the long drive to Pudong International Airport. I say “picked up?because the Dean of the College I mentioned above had offered me one of his drivers, so I had happily accepted, not so much to save on the cost, but because I felt I could count on a “driver?to know precisely where to drop me off. Little did I know! This particular driver seemed rather nervous about the “route?he needed to take to get to the airport, frequently asking me in Chinese how he should get to Pudong (through the tunnel or over the bridge). I suggested the bridge, which he took, but then he proceeded to try various avenues in order to get to the highway. At one point, he almost drove past a sign indicating “Pudong International Airport? and when I pointed this out, he stopped right in the middle of traffic and backed up in order to get on the exit ramp. Amidst raised middle fingers, honking horns and screamed obscenities, we finally made our way to the highway entrance ramp. Still, this driver was uncertain about where to go, and even exited the highway twice in order to find another “Pudong International Airport?sign and get back on the same highway.

    We finally did get to the airport, and I asked the driver to stop at the Thai Air sign, which he did, and so I quickly bid him farewell, hoping he would have at least some idea of how to get himself back to the College. Immediately, I could see I was back in “mask country? so I put a new one on, and walked up to the check-in. 30 minutes later, I was moving through Customs, infra-red temperatures checks, quarantine forms, etc. But this was all done very efficiently, and in fact I arrived at the Thai Air Lounge about 90 minutes before flight time. I found an internet hook-up (only one was working) and began to answer a long e-mail about a specific proposal I had received from a Shanghai colleague. Everything seemed fine up to that moment, and then I began to break into a rather strange cold sweat. I wondered if this was something I had eaten, or (more ominously) if I had “caught?something in Shanghai. I also wondered what this might mean once I arrived in Bangkok!!

    In any case, the boarding call came and I arrived at my seat. The steward came around with some juice or champagne, masked of course ?all flight crew on Thai Air were masked throughout the flight — and reminded me that drinking alcohol might raise my temperature. So I decide to drink water, especially as I was still sweating and still wondering why. Soon we took off and in fact I quickly fell asleep for much of the 4 hour flight to Bankgok. But when I awoke just before starting our descent, I still felt rather awful, and now I really began to worry about what might happen when I arrived for the medical check at Don Muang International Airport. Of course, the heat was as intense as always, and upon leaving the plane I felt as though I had been stuck inside an oven. In fact, when we did get inside the airport terminal, we were met by a small army of nurses and doctors, and each of us had a “strip?pasted onto our foreheads to take our temperatures. I anxiously awaited the outcome, and was told I was “okay? my temperature was 36, slightly above the average in Shanghai, but certainly “normal?

    So, my “ordeal?had ended well, and in fact I was now looking forward to the time I would spend here in Krong Thep, “the city of angels? However, as I left the airport with a university colleague who had offered to drop me off at my hotel, I noticed how few people were at Don Muang Airport. Normally, even at 9:30pm, the traffic would be awful, there would be throngs of people moving about, and the air would be stifling. But there was virtually no traffic, there were few people in the terminal ?and the air was still stifling. It seemed as though SARS had an effect in Asia that those in Toronto had already realized ?the perception is in fact much more fearsome than the reality.

    I already missed Shanghai.

    Glenwood Irons

    Written by Dr. Glenwood Irons. Published with permission.

    Flight to Shanghai: A Journey in the Plague Year III

    This is third article of Dr. Glenwood Irons’ trip to Shanghai.

  • Entry I
  • Entry II
  • Entry III (this page)
  • Entry IV
  • Entry 3, 10 May, 2003

    In A Journey of the Plague Year, Defoe frequently walked about London, keeping up with his daily habits, but also he wanted to see firsthand how the Great Plague was affecting what he certainly thought to be the greatest city in Christendom. He often noted how certain shops were closed, how certain places seemed less habituated, and how Londoners often kept a careful distance between themselves and others. In other words, he saw his city as a much-changed place, one that had been deeply affected by all the fears one would expect from a Plague-threatened populace.

    Shanghai is no such place. Yes, it has certainly been affected by this modern Plague, and there is no doubt that business is down in many restaurants and tourist haunts. Even the horrific Shanghai traffic isn’t anywhere near as bad as during past visits. But the ubiquitous masks which grace just about every face on the news broadcasts from Beijing are, in fact, almost unseen here. Except for those who work in places which serve the public, hardly anyone else is wearing a mask. Perhaps this is simply part of the attitude which the Shanghainese often express as the main difference between themselves and Beijingers, but I originally saw the lack of masks as an indication that things are essential “normal?in this city of almost 16 million.

    As it turned out, the “normalcy?is rather more on the surface than anywhere else. The cab driver in my taxi from the airport to my flat at the New Harbour Apartments in central Shanghai didn’t wear a mask, but he also didn’t have the air-conditioning on in the car because, as he pointed out, the breezes would prevent SARS. And when we arrived at the reception desk for my “serviced apartment? both the receptionist and the chap who put my credit card through the electronic sensors wore masks. And without even a by-your-leave, one of the receptionists stuck a (sterilized) digital thermometer in my ear, and took my temperature. This was immediately logged onto a form which would be used to indicate my twice daily temperature reading. Also, I was placed on a floor which was reserved for those who had recently arrived in Shanghai (many of the flats are for long-term guests). Now I was beginning to feel the “new?SARS-affected Shanghai, but actually I found the daily temperature checks to be a relief, as I no longer had to worry, at least about my body temperature.

    In the morning of my first full day in Shanghai, I decided to walk over to the famous “People’s Square? about 15 minutes from 88 Yongshou Lu, where I was staying. I passed many of the small restaurants in my quarter, and noticed that they weren’t jammed with customers as they would have been at any other time. I thought perhaps that, this date being the part of the May Holiday which was still left by the Chinese Government, there were fewer people at work, and thus the “dumpling & dojong?houses were less than full because of that. So, I expected the People’s Square to be full of kite fliers, sightseers and others. Well, there were many people surrounding the beautiful fountain, and there were a few kite fliers, but there were also many outside workers from the Shanghai City Government spraying antiseptic on just about anything which didn’t move or grow. As I sat on one of the marble benches in front of the Museum, I immediately noticed one of the workers sterilizing a refuse container right beside me. Good for the Shanghainese, I thought, hoping that such sterilization on a mass scale might make an important difference to the economy of this city.

    Later that day, I had a meeting at one of Shanghai’s most important universities, and there I noticed the real difference which the fear of SARS had created, most of which “difference?would not be available to the average tourist. First, I wanted to get a picture of myself standing in front of the famous statue of Chairman Mao, in fact one of the few left standing on Chinese university campuses. But I was stopped at the University gates by an officious guard who asked me for my faculty card (in Chinese of course). I do have a rudimentary understanding of Mandarin, so I whipped out the business card of the Dean who had invited me, and that did the trick (with some help from a passing faculty member). But I noticed that every student was checked for id, and most of them were on bicycles, a mode of transportation which has only recently exploded in Shanghai (once again). So, I asked that same passing faculty member to take my picture in front of “the Chairman?(I’ve attached it to this file), and that made my day, not because Mao and I have about the same amount of hair, but because I thought there was a passing resemblance to the great man and myself (in all modesty, of course). Chinese readers will note that (as I’m often told by my Chinese colleagues), I also look a lot like Dr. Bethune, so at least there is a Canadian connection too!!


    Okay, enough of that. I crossed the main road to the building where I was to have my meeting, and noted a hastily posted Chinese sign in the window of the entrance doors. “As a result of the SARS epidemic in “the People’s Capital?and other parts of the “Middle Kingdom?(Zhongwa), and in order to maintain the health of our community, please use the rear entrance.? So of course I complied, and was soon accosted by another security guard who checked my documents (the Dean’s card had worked well thus far!!), and allowed me in. I noticed that students also went through this ritual, and one young female student was denied entry because she didn’t have her card. Now, I won’t tell you about the meeting (the details would simply bore you), but I will tell you that I was treated almost like a hero by the Dean and a few of his colleagues whom he had managed to round up. This was to happen many times during the next few days of meetings since, as it turns out, very few foreigners have had (what my colleagues called) the “courage?to visit Shanghai, much less other parts of China. I explained that there was nothing heroic about coming to this eternally interesting city, but decided not to push the matter, as it isn’t every day one “rises?to the status of hero!

    On the return trip to my “New Harbour?flat, I also noticed the lighter traffic on the expressways into Shanghai centre. This trip would normally take me 45 frustrating minutes, listening to the cab driver curse all along the way, honking his horn and speeding up whenever a break would come. Not this time. We made the trip in just over 25 minutes, almost half the normal time it takes. Which was a blessing, as I was looking forward to a brief afternoon nap before getting back to my e-mail and other work-related business. But not before my afternoon temperature check at the reception, the reading for which was essential the same as the morning reading.

    I had planned for a relaxing evening in the flat. However, I was pleasantly surprised by a call from a colleague who wanted to take me out to dinner. He wanted me to meet his charming new wife, and also to talk a little business in preparation for our meeting at a brand-new private school the next day in Pudong. When we arrived at the famous “Zen?restaurant, situated in (I believe) Shanghai’s Duolun Lu Cultural Street, I was immediately struck by the fact that we didn’t need to stand in a half-hour queue to get into the place. I had walked by “Zen?on other occasions in Shanghai, but I had never been willing to put up with the wait. There was no wait that night, and in fact we enjoyed a wonderful meal with very attentive service (actually service in Shanghai restaurants is always attentive), surrounded by the most interesting all-black furniture and décor. The windows were all open, and my friend was extremely generous with my favorite beer, Quing Dao Gold, so who could possibly complain. In fact, my colleague suggested that he almost enjoyed the restaurant better like this!

    Next time, I’ll complete my entries for this “Flight to Shanghai?story. In that entry, I will briefly describe my final days of meetings, my departure from Pudong Airport, my flight to Bangkok, and my arrival at Don Muang Airport itself. I will also venture a few meditations on the present state of travel and the economy in Asia, primarily as a way of affectionately completing my “Journey?

    Glenwood Irons

    Written by Dr. Glenwood Irons. Published with permission.

    Shanghai Quarantine – Mandatory

    Breaking news for those who are planning to travel to Shanghai:

    All people returning from SARS affected areas will be required to take a two-week mandatory quarantine at home and their body temperature will be taken by inspectors twice every day

    This has affected a lot of persons, including my reader Caroline and Annie. They are living in Shanghai but happen to be in Hong Kong right now.

    Reaction from the public

    In the 36 comments followed the news on, more than half of people thought highly of this regulations, with only 3 – 4 negative comments. Here are some samples:

  • Very good actions! IP:218.22.254.*
  • If it is rolled out 3 months ago, the situation will be better. IP:218.80.61.*
  • We should do it earlier! IP:210.22.128.*
  • It seems a lot of commenter come from Shanghai :-(


    I think the reasons behind this rule are the four new SARS cases recently found in Shanghai. Although the government is suggesting people not to travel, especially those who are in SARS affected areas, people are still attending meetings, visiting friends, sightseeing… The four cases are two couples coming from Beijing and visited a lot of places in Shanghai and causing 200+ people be quarantined.

    Now, with the order, a one day meeting will become a 15 day meeting. This will greatly discourage travel. I believe a lot of meetings will be cancelled for this reason. I believe the goal is to reduce the travel itself, instead of really quarantine people – the quarantine is too long and I don’t think any company spend the 14 days for a meeting – it is the most expensive meeting possible.

    Now, anyone who return or arrives in Shanghai need to stay at home/hotels for 2 weeks.

    Will it be carried out

    My doubt is, whether the rule can be carried out? Who will audit if the travelers are following the rule? It is a big concern – I am not against any traveler, just wondering if the rule can be implemented.

    The daily color label for taxis gave me a surprise because I have never seen a rule carried out so well in Shanghai – better than the traffic rules. I have never seen a taxi failing to stick the new label yet. On the contrary, the other rule, like the “no spitting” rule seems to be just rules. The fine has been increased to 200 RMB, but no body is monitoring it – I don’t know who will issue the fine ticket yet – it is still a question in my head but there is no body to ask. People are still spitting everywhere as before.

    According to the announcement, all people coming back or visiting Shanghai need to report to the local resident committee or CDC within 24 hours of arrival and an inspector will be assigned to take your body temperature twice a day – If you ask me, I guess it is very likely this part will be implemented very well. Why? Because Shanghai has a very solid resident committee organization in any xiao qu (residential area). Whenever there is strangers in the area, they can feel it. I see the posters stating: “For safety of yourself and for your family, you need to report any suspected new comers to the area to the residential committee”. This is a very unique phenomenon in China.

    For Hotels, I think it is even easier than the residential areas.


    I will keep tracking how well this rule will take effect. My guess is, this rule may works as well as the daily-color-label rule for taxis.

    6 SARS Cases in Shanghai

    6 SARS cases in Shanghai now. It is an alert. Althought there is only 4 new cases, it is 200% increase in the last few days by simply mathatics calculation. With the new cases, the alarm level of Shanghai increases to the new level after the level increased in April 21. (the level of precaution measured are judged purely by my personal feelings of the city, instead of any official numbers or announcement).

    The club of the residential garden closed today. I am not sure if they are taking proactive actions to prevent SARS or take reactive actions when there is no customers.

    At the same time, I heard that the College Entrance Examination will continue to be held on June 7, 8 in Beijing and the date for the exam country-wide will not be changed. That means millions of middel-school gratudate student will take the exam in the two days. It is a hard decision to make.

    At the same time, TOFEL, GRE and HSK were postponed already.

    Pictures about the city

    Here are some more pictures about the cities in SARS. (Chinese sites)

    Flight to Shanghai: A Journey in the Plague Year II

    This is third article of Dr. Glenwood Irons’ trip to Shanghai.

  • Entry I
  • Entry II (this page)
  • Entry III
  • Entry IV
  • Entry 2, 5 May, 2003

    In A Journey of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe was very keen to keep a day-to-day account of all the ways in which he saw the Great Plague affecting his fellow countrymen. He often noted grisly details of how an individual would seem quite normal one day, then suddenly the next day, the same person would begin to cough violently and within a few short days after would die, usually at home. There were, of course, individuals, even in Defoe’s time who contracted the Plague, but who survived by some miracle, and Defoe himself was one of those.

    But, luckily for Defoe, air travel was completely unheard of in the 18th century, so that particular fear wasn’t on his list of concerns. Such is not the case for those of us who wish to travel anywhere these days, and for those of us who wish to visit China, even Shanghai, there is great concern with respect to air travel. But, as I mentioned in my previous installment, my two flights to Shanghai from Toronto and then Vancouver, seemed rather less of concern than I had thought at the outset.

    So, as we began our descent into Pudong International Airport, I was filled with the usual excitement I have upon arrival in this very interesting part of the world. It was great to see the rice fields (not that there are very many left out there), and also to see the ships heading out to sea. Pudong Airport is almost an hour drive from the downtown area of Shanghai, so it almost seems rural when one views it from the window of a Boeing 767. Besides that, after twelve hours in a metal tube, even the Business section starts to become rather claustrophobic. Suffice it to say that, despite all the concerns about SARS in China, I was more than a little excited to be returning to this most amazing of places.

    As we taxied to what is called the “bridge?in airport terminology, we were informed by the Chief Flight Attendant, a rather dapper Hong Kong Chinese with a stern way of putting things in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, that the Chinese Government required us to stay in our seats until our temperatures were taken by a Customs Nurse. If we didn’t conform to this rule, we would be kept on the plane and sent back to Vancouver!! Needless to say, this made some passengers apprehensive, but when the nurse arrived, I could see that this wouldn’t take terribly long. She pointed an infra red light at our wrists, and then read out the number to the Flight Attendant, who in turn wrote the number on our Chinese “Quarantine?Report. These Reports have been required for years by Chinese Customs, but they are taken quite seriously these days.

    Well, as luck would have it, my reading came up at 32 Celsius, about the temperature of a recently deceased body! The nurse simply laughed at this, observing that I was indeed alive and kicking, and simply moved on to the next passenger. I told the Attendant to write ?5?on the form. This isn’t to say that I hadn’t wondered a little bit about my own health at this point. The chap in front of me, a Shanghainese who had been coughing and sneezing throughout much of the trip, also had the nasty habit of spitting into a plastic bag whenever the spirit moved him. Having traveled on trains in China, I have often sat beside people who felt themselves inclined to, as we say in English, hork themselves silly throughout a three-hour train ride, but I hadn’t had yet had this particular pleasure in the Business section of an aircraft. In fact, the Chief Flight Attendant (I mentioned he was Hong Kong Chinese) was very irritated by our resident horkmeister, not least when he frequently offered his spent tissues to the Attendant, in the hope (I suppose) that the Attendant would actually put the things in the waste for him.

    Okay, so the fun was over, and we were now all healthy enough to leave the plane. A rather long walk later, we found ourselves passing through an infra red temperature screening device, with a number of medical staff watching as we passed through. I would have liked to see what I looked like on their side, but of course we were all ushered towards the Customs queue. I was actually a little nervous about this, as my visa had expired a couple of days before my trip, but I couldn’t renew it because the visa offices in Canada had been closed for the May holiday week, and I had only reorganized my trip at the last moment when the SARS outbreak was announced in Beijing.

    As luck would have it (bad luck, I supposed), the Customs Officer decided that my note (in Chinese) explaining the visa problem simply wasn’t enough for him, so he sent me over to the Visa desk, back through the infra red screening. I managed to find a chap sleeping in the office behind the desk, and I showed him the letter of invitation from a colleague here in Shanghai. He disappeared for about ten minutes, returning to tell me he was waiting for a fax from my colleague, affirming I suppose that I had indeed received such an invitation, and if he didn’t receive it in five minutes, I would be “deported? Well, I have a through ticket to Bangkok, which I had booked in Business for just such an eventualilty, but my colleague managed to get the fax into the Visa Office in time, and the chap behind the desk was even kind enough to take my picture and put the visa right into my passport.

    So, about an hour after I left the plane, I was in a taxi, heading to my flat near the People’s Square. Now, almost everyone (including me) had been wearing masks when we left the plane, but I noticed that few people were wearing masks once we got outside to the taxi stand, and in fact the cab driver who picked me up wasn’t wearing a mask. I felt a little foolish at that point, especially as the driver had both front windows open, and at 120kph, there was a driving gale inside the care. So I took the mask off, made some idle chat with the very little Chinese I had learned since my last trip, and sat back to enjoy the mask-free environment inside the car.

    Eventually we crossed the amazing Nanpu Da Qiao (Nanpu Bridge), and I surprised myself by actually reading the characters which announce that incredible structure ?and we were suddenly into downtown Shanghai. And there were virtually no masks, no bank-robbers?convention of white masked people, as one sees in the newscasts about Beijing. In fact, downtown Shanghai looked, sounded and smelled much like it had on my last trip in February of this year. The fact that my arrival was on a Sunday made Shanghai seem a little quieter than normal, but that was the only change I noticed.

    Until I arrived at my newly rented flat here in the New Harbour Service Apartments, near People’s Square in Shanghai. Not that the “difference?was particularly startling, but the chap at the reception asked me to fill out one more form than normal, a form which requires that my temperature be taken every day, at the reception, and that someone there witness the number which is filled in.

    So, after a very short night sleep (I always find it difficult to sleep through the night for my first few nights in Asia), now I am ready for my meetings at colleges and universities in Shanghai and Pudong over the next few days.

    Once I have had a chance to see the city over these few days, I will write my third entry, as that will give readers a true sense of how this amazing city is reacting in this year of the Plague.

    Glenwood Irons

    Written by Dr. Glenwood Irons. Published with permission.

    Flight to Shanghai: A Journey in the Plague Year

    Editor’s note: I am very happy to have invited Dr. Glenwood Irons to write about his journey from Toronto to Shanghai. He arrives in Shanghai today and will stay here for four days. What he sees during his trip and his stay will definitely be very helpful to thousands of people asking the question “Shall I cancel my trip to Shanghai?“.

    “People will get an accurate sense of how things are going…. I’ll do it in a few installments, one on the plane, one after I go through Customs and arrive at my flat near the “People’s Square”, one during my four-day stay in Shanghai, and then one last one, when I arrive in Bangkok from Shanghai.”, said Glenwood.

    I’d like to thank Glenwood for spending the time to record the journey and share with us his observation. Dr. Glenwood Irons is Director of ESL & Testing Services in Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, CANADA L2S 3A1 Web:

  • Entry I (this page)
  • Entry II
  • Entry III
  • Entry IV
  • Entry I

    First of all, I must make an apology to Daniel Defoe, the great English writer of the 18th Century. Defoe is probably most famous for writing Moll Flanders, but I’m thinking at this moment of his Journal of the Plague Year, in which he describes in some detail the horrors of living in England during one of the last Great Plagues. Defoe had a rather practical approach to the mayhem which surrounded him some 300 years ago, so I will try to keep some of his narrative interests in mind.

    I live in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, a small city of about 130,000 people, situated about 15 minutes by car from Niagara Falls, and about 60 minutes from Toronto. St. Catharines and in fact the Niagara Region as a whole have no cases of SARS. However, Toronto, is at present the North American city which has been hardest hit by SARS. Most readers will know that the SARS outbreak in Toronto began when a Chinese Canadian woman returned on the 23rd of February from a trip to Hong Kong, unknowingly infected with the virus. She entered a Toronto hospital, and spread the virus to numerous medical staff, finally expiring herself soon after. The virus is now said to be under control in Toronto. Nevertheless, it seems I am traveling from one SARS affected city to another.

    I left St. Catharines on a Saturday morning, 3rd of May, in this year of the plague, 2003. My early departure from my wife and two daughters was uneventful, save for the fact I had to leave at 6am, and after only about 5 hours sleep. Driving to Toronto was rather enjoyable on a cool May morning, as the normally heavy traffic was in fact nowhere to be seen. Upon arrival at Toronto International Airport, I parked my car and proceeded to the ticket counter to pick up my prepaid ticket for the long journey ahead. There were the usual check-in formalities, along with the strict security which is now employed at all airports, and as luck would have it, I received my earlier-requested upgrade to Business Class at the last minute, just as I was about the board the plane.

    The flight from Toronto to Vancouver was uneventful, and in fact there was no sign of the ubiquitous masks which one sees in television footage of airports in Canada and most particularly in Asia. On the other hand, there were many Chinese on the flight, as Vancouver and Toronto are home to hundreds of thousands of Chinese Canadians. In fact, all passengers seemed as comfortable as I during the five hours it takes to get from Toronto to Vancouver, and I soon found myself leaving the plane and heading straight to the Star Alliance lounge to wait for my flight from Vancouver to Shanghai. There were a few more masks in evidence as I walked to the gates which display flights to Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and other parts of Asia, but there seemed to be no other indication of the virus which has made life miserable for much of the Chinese-speaking world.

    When I arrived at the gate to board the flight to Shanghai, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself upgraded to Business Class again. I do a great deal of flying in the business I conduct for my university, so I normally request upgrades well in advance, but there is no guarantee that such upgrades will be given out these days. However, at the boarding gate, while waiting for my upgrade to be processed, I also noted that many more of the passengers, that is to say Chinese passengers, were wearing the heavy N-95 masks which I had learned are the benchmark mouth and nose covering for most travelers. However, the real indication of difference between this and previous flights I have taken to Shanghai, was the reduction in passengers, particularly in the Business section of the Boeing 767. Rather than the normally full Business section, there were only 10 seats out of a possible 30 which had passengers. I asked the Chief Flight Attendant about this, and he said that the Air Canada flights to Shanghai, Beijing and of course Hong Kong were being reduced considerably, and depended on whether there were enough passengers to make the trip. Up until the SARS outbreak, there were daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai (on Air Canada), daily flights to Hong Kong, and some days even saw two flights to Hong Kong. The fact that flights are being cancelled, however, should not surprise anyone, as there is a great deal of concern on the part of everyone who watches the news coming out of China.

    If lower number of passengers wasn’t in itself disquieting enough, the Captain announced that we should be ready to have our temperatures taken before leaving the plane in Shanghai. One hopes that one doesn’t pick up a cold or fever during the 12 hour flight, but on the other hand, such a precaution is probably warranted under the circumstances. The Captain also announced that we would be taking a very northern route on this flight, past Nome Alaska, down through Siberia, then over a bit of North Korea, Japan and finally into Chinese airspace. This seems to be a rather convoluted routing, but the headwinds (we’re told) would make this necessary. I think I’m more concerned about flying over North Korea than I am about the risk of SARS.

    That will probably change when I get to Shanghai, but it is worth noting that there are very important issues here, many of which seem to go unnoticed in the larger discussion of the virus outbreak in Asia. Viral outbreaks are not, of course terribly unusual, particularly in China. This one has received a great deal of publicity, and it certainly is a cause for concern and extra precautions, but the nose-dive which China’s economy is presently experiencing is also of very real concern. In the past few years, Shanghai itself has experienced double-digit growth, while China as a whole has also experienced extremely high growth. If the perception as well as the reality of SARS is not soon brought under control, then China and much of the rest of the world, is likely to find that the problem of SARS has gone much deeper than any of us have been able to observe so far.

    In my next installment, I will describe the trip through Customs in Shanghai, and I will also give a “foreigner’s?glimpse of life in that city on a Sunday afternoon and evening.

    Glenwood Irons

    Written by Dr. Glenwood Irons. Published with permission.