Sana Iqbal in conversation with
Asiya Siddiquee is a Chartered Psychologist from Manchester, and now expat living in China. She relocated to Shanghai over 4 years ago, with her husband and children. Coincidentally, this was the first time since moving to China, that Asiya and her family decided to visit the UK during the Chinese New Year holiday. Sana and Asiya are cousins, and Sana believes Asiya’s perspective and experiences in China have been a wise sounding-board during this crisis. Sana is a Creative Consultant.
Note 1: March-May
On the 23rd January, my family and I decided to visit our hometown of Manchester for Chinese New Year as a surprise for family and friends. As we left Shanghai, we heard that Wuhan had been shut down due to a deadly outbreak. We didn’t think much of it, but as time went by we felt we had made a lucky escape… but had we?
As China closed its borders, our two week holiday became an indefinite stay. My instincts were to prepare for the worst, whilst my husband thought I was being overly worrisome. Soon I would use the infamous, marital phrase ‘I told you so’.
We became physically prepared for lockdown, but not mentally prepared for the sadness and powerlessness at the rising death toll. Nothing has prepared me for the mental pressure of self-isolation, but I’ve kept strong as staying at home will keep my family safe.
Note 2: May – July
Several weeks on, I’m still stuck in the UK and living out of a suitcase full of winter clothes with two kids bouncing around. I came back to catch up with friends and family – lockdown has stopped me from doing either.
My husband is back in Shanghai: working, socialising, eating out and throwing parties. Our split lives makes it a struggle to understand each other. I fail to see his loneliness when my basic freedoms have been taken away. International quarantine rules make it impossible to see each other and plan for the future, creating frustration.
The way I live has transitioned over the weeks. The government’s diagram of the ‘alert’ levels, (which people quickly realised looked like Nando’s spiciness levels) has defined the boundaries of my way of living. This is what I’ve gone through:
Extra Hot: Like tackling a panic-buying, fiery stockpiler
Hot: Highly numbing – proceed with clapping
Medium: Hit the shops without contaminating others
Lemon and herb: A mere hint of freedom but a tidal second wave
Plain-ish*: Marinated in normality, and grilled with a vaccine. As normal as we go.
*Out of stock until 2021.
I normally choose extra hot, but right now I would do anything for ‘Plain-ish’.
Note 3: July – August
I reflect upon that fateful last-minute decision, around the middle of January to fly to Manchester for Chinese New Year. What started out as two weeks became eight months and then a decision to permanently relocate to the UK. In life, pivotal moments such as these are so important, though at the time we are unaware or oblivious to their weight. As I look at my new desk and work-station, poised to start teaching, I can’t help but contrast this with my Shanghai expat life. The decision to leave behind a luxury apartment overlooking the second tallest tower in the world complete with a nanny, maid and personal driver, was not an easy one.
Peering deeper through the Covid haze, I see how being stuck in England during lockdown has rekindled a fire inside of me. It has pushed my sleep-deprived mummy brain into my old, trail-blazing self. It has forced me to face questions I wasn’t yet prepared to answer: who am I and what do I want for my family and me?
My one regret is that I wish I could have said goodbye to my Shanghai family. I aim to go back over Christmas to say farewell and finally close that chapter. But imagine if I did and I got stuck there… Oh the irony!