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 d├ęcor. 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.

    12 thoughts on “Flight to Shanghai: A Journey in the Plague Year III

    1. Dear Wang Jiang Shuo,

      I was considering about my trip back to Shanghai (I work in China regularly) and I got a little positive situation from Dr. Glenwood’s report.

      I have postponed my trip back (I left China end of January) for one month already waiting for “good news”.I’m in daily contact with China because the job and friends.

      My problem,comparing with the author Dr. Glenwood is that normally my life in China is a travelling life between my main office in Wuhan (Hubei) and surround factories and Zeijian Province (Jiaxin) area and normally everytime I do this transfer I stop in Shanghai (to refresh and find my good friends there).

      So my worrying is if they will let me move so quickly around different provinces or not,if somebody could give me first-hand news about it I will appreciate.

      I think Dr. Glenwood not only is a good writer but also give me a good feeling,I know all places he visited even the same serviced-appartment where he have been (in 8 years I visited almost all Shanghai) so gave me the feeling to see exactly what he talk about.

      Even during my next trip (before end of this month) maybe I will keep attention do not walk everywhere in Shanghai as was my habit before.

      I normally stay in China 7 months per year,so my chance to get a virus is very high (in the past I got many but all normal and well known)

      Thank you for your service.


      David M. , Italy

    2. David,

      Actually, as I talked about for some time, Shanghai is still safe to come. However, for your case, my suggestion is, you may need to postpone your trip.

      Recently, with SARS issue, travelling in China become very risky for yourself. Most importantly, now most people thinks take travel in this special time is *Inresponsible*, since no one can be very sure that he is not carring the SARS virus – one will show the symptom after about 1 weeks when get infected but still keep infectious in the one week. So your travel will be a very big problem to the local residents. Have you checked the recent mandatory quarantine in Shanghai? ( http://home.wangjianshuo.com/archives/20030509_shanghai_quarantine_mandatory.htm )

      So if your job nature is travling, you may meet a lot of problem in China recently.

    3. Dear Jian Shuo Wang,

      It is one month I check regularly all information from official and unofficial sources and even tight contact with my friends in Shanghai and even in Toronto as well (the two place that I love: China and Canada were the two place in worst situation strangely).

      I thanks a lot for your advice and be sure I have read well all mandatories and news from Shanghai Government,in order to be aware.

      Also I’m planning to reduce a lot my movement in China,even staying in voluntary quarantine if necessary.Some people already are working to arrange safety movement for me.

      I really hope during next 10 days the situation will show a better control,surely if I will consider to high the risk I can postpone again, but I will get trouble with some matters.

      Congratulation for your wedding and pls be sure I love China so much and Shanghai first,that I will never put on risk local residents.

      I found out your web site seriuos and well arranged ,simple but efficient, I have to compliments to you for this.

      Thanks and Best Regards


    4. David, thanks for the compliments. Actually, the article of this page is written by Dr. Glenwood Irons who arrived in Shanghai in May 3 and just left for Thailand. His article is very interesting and I enjoy reading it. He is also kind enough to let me publish his articles so thousands of people can read.

      My personal forecast for SARS epidemic is, the situation will be better at the begining of June. There are two reasons:

      1. Now the precaution measures have been raised to the highest level – the level I had never expected.

      2. With the coming of June, the weather is becoming hot. The virus are easily killed and are less infective.

    5. Dear Jian Shuo Wang,

      I completely agree with you about your forecast, I’m thinking that since few people around (also because scared) and high level of control paradoxical to move in China cities became more safe.

      About point 2. I agree with you ,but I’m asking to myself a question : Hong Kong and Guandong are regularly hot place..all the year we can say..so why the virus developed with so high magnitude in that area?

      About real situation (I think cases must be little higher in Sh) some big hotels closed (even Peace Hotel),they said because no customer.

      Do you think is the real reason ?

      In Xu Jia Hui I think this time the people will be very few ,to visit the Computer Market there this time will be hard,it is a pity because I plan to buy a new lap-top and I always bought there all my computer things I love to go around there to see all new state of art and (I admit I like bargain in chinese).

      Probably the best place is the Wai Tan.

      I will continue to read your web site hoping to find some good news..I plan even to visit that shop managed by Caroline..I think you have a good future in marketing.



    6. David,

      Well, it is reported that the SARS virus cannot survive under 36 C (about 100 degree F) – around this temperature – I cannot remember the exact number while it can live for ever at about 0 degree C.

      Some of my friends also told me the temperature is a very important reason why the serveral virus epidemics in the history ended by themself – maybe it is because the weather becomes hot.

      Guangzhou and Hongkong are warmer than Shanghai, and Beijing, but maybe are still not hot enough. :-) Just some guessing.

      Regarding the Peace hotel, I don’t know the real reason. But anyone can have a guess, isn’t it? My guess is, it is really because of lack of customers. You can see how empty the hotels and restraunants are recently.

    7. Mr. Jian Shuo and other web friends,

      what do you think about this ?


      China censors CNN SARS report

      From Jaime FlorCruz


      Thursday, May 15, 2003 Posted: 1228 GMT ( 8:28 PM HKT)

      Laurie Garrett said China was still giving a blurred picture of the true SARS situation there.


      Story Tools



      A 9-year-old Beijing girl is using a Web site to help fight SARS.



      A Singapore mental hospital struggles to contain a possible SARS outbreak.



      Fewer people in Hong Kong seem to be wearing masks.



      ?WHO: SARS no longer spreading in Canada

      ?Beijing: SARS ‘under control’

      ?Singapore fears new outbreak

      ?Special report: SARS outbreak

      ?Interactive: A new epidemic

      ?Interactive: Outbreak timeline


      ?World Health Organization

      ?Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


      ?Health Library

      ?All about SARS

      BEIJING, China (CNN) — Chinese censors have blocked the airing of a CNN International interview that criticized the government’s handling of the SARS epidemic, despite a government pledge to be more open with information.

      The seven-minute segment was part of CNN’s 30-minute “Insight” program. Newsday reporter Laurie Garrett, author of “The Coming Plague,” commented on the decrepit state of China’s public health system.

      Garrett accused the government of ordering doctors to underreport the number of patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome.

      The flu-like disease is believed to have originated in southern China late last year.

      When asked about the censorship, a Chinese official said, “The coverage positions a negative coverage of China.”

      China requires foreign broadcasters to use a designated Chinese satellite to transmit signals into the country.

      A seven-second delay between the time signals reach the satellite and the time they are retransmitted to cable viewers allows censors to selectively black out programming.

      The censorship process predates the SARS epidemic.

      In recent months, many CNN reports on controversial government issues — human rights, Tibet, and the Falun Gong spiritual movement — have been blacked out.

      “We regret the Chinese action and we are checking the circumstances and details of the interruption,” a CNN spokesman said. “In the meantime, we will continue reporting forthrightly and responsibly on SARS and other important matters.”

      Other networks such as the BBC also have experienced censorship in recent months.

      Since the first SARS cases were reported in November, government officials covered up all reports about SARS in China, even as the epidemic was spreading in Beijing and other provinces.

      In early April, health officials insisted the epidemic was under “effective control.” Beijing, they said, had only 37 cases.

      Three weeks later, the government acknowledged it had underreported SARS cases, and the Beijing mayor and the Chinese health minister were fired.

      Since then, top leaders have gamely worked to make up for lost time, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao ordered that all SARS information be made public.

      “Government and health officials who cover up, delay reporting or report false figures will be demoted or sacked,” he said.

      Still, earlier this month, a top World Health Organization official criticized China for hindering the agency’s efforts to control the deadly SARS outbreak.

      Increased communication among the 27 countries dealing with SARS has been a key factor in controlling the disease’s spread, David Heymann, director for communicable diseases at WHO, told a U.S. House subcommittee Wednesday. China, so far, he said, has not been very helpful.

      Wednesday, China reported its lowest daily increase in new SARS cases in weeks, amid government claims that the worst of the disease is past.

      The number of cases in mainland China rose by 55 to 5,124. Beijing accounted for 39 of the new cases, continuing its decline in fresh cases.

      But experts at the World Health Organization have said that it is too early to claim the virus has been contained in China.

    8. Dear Jiang Shou Wang,

      well decision is taken.I booked flight ticket to come there.

      End of this month I will arrive in Shanghai.It is strange but after contacted different Hotels I got totally different replies.

      Some Hotel (Holiday Inn) they accept all customers (even coming from other province) but they checp temperature and health.

      Some as Jianguo they do not accept people from Zheijian province,but they accept from Hubei and abroad.

      Some as Peace Hotel (technically closed) but they replied with a lot of application form (where you go ,where you eat,with who you go out).

      At the end nothing is clear,even the story about move from and to Shanghai (my factory is just 20 meters outside Shanghai custom border) in Zheijian Province.

      Some says no checking, some say there is,some says forced to quarantine some no problem.I don-t know who believe !

      Even Government web site do not specify well.

      So ,in Chinese way,I will accept the situation, if they stop me I will stop according to rules, if they let me move I will move.

      Anyway I plan at my arrival to stay in Shanghai 3/4 days to check around,even I’m thinking not so much around,maybe I have still to avoid crowdy places.

      About Virus and temperature at 56 degree Celsius the virus survive about 5 minutes on plastic surfare, at 36 C take maybe 10/20 minutes to die.

      I found interesting your note about wireless use around the city ,even since I work with computer all time I always try to find excuse do not use it!.

      SInce I see you are expert about computer, do you know about last Centrino Intel laptop ? I’m looking for S1N (the version with Centrino Intel),but I’m not sure to find in the Computer MArket of Xiu Jia Hui,do you know a better place ?

      Actually my old ASUS MP8300 keep good efficiency,but since the long time start to lose some pieces (it was a good choice at that time),so I’m looking for a new very light (weight) and good laptop.

      I’m not interested too muc to performance,since I always travel I look for low weight,good monitor (actually 13″) and very stable.

      In order to have low weight,I always look for laptop that has all accessories (floppy,cd..) all detachable,because in real I use very few time.

      If you have some suggestion,thanks in advance.



    9. Dear Jian Shuo Wang,

      thanks for suggestion I didn’t consider, I check data has some strong points,next week I will visit computer market in Xu Jia Hui to give a check hoping to find this model.

      Weight for me is important since I move frequently and I don-t care so much about strong performance,to watch DVD or listen music (I’m old fashioned person I prefer to go out when I’m free).

      I will compare with ASus S1N if I can find this model with Centrino.

      Thank you I see you are really a good expert.



    10. For the Dell model, you may need to dial their hotline to buy. I am using this one when I write this comment. It is pretty good.

      I believe Xujiahui is the best place to buy computer – not in terms of price, just in terms of the variaty of choice. There are Bai Nao Hui and Pacific – three large computer mall there.

    11. Dear sir,

      I am Gilbert v. Franco from Manila, Philippines. my email address is gilbertfranco9@yahoo.com.au

      I logged to this website trying to find way to get in touch with Mr. Jaime FlorCruz, my very close buddy during our college days in Philippine College of Commerce. After 1972, we lost contact but during the late 80’s I was able to get in touch with Jimmy when he was still the Beijing Bureau Chief of Time Magazine. We exchanged a few letters then.

      But again the communication was cut. Can you please help me to get in touch with Jimmy? I will soon be going to Hanford, California, USA probably early next year.

      Thank you very much Sir.

      Gilbert V. Franco

      Mobile Numbers 0063920 802 1958

      0063922 6087892

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