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Living in coronavirus lockdown in Shanghai, I am finding new ways to fill up my free time

Claire Lily Squire
AFP via Getty Images

Coronavirus became an urgent issue in China over the Spring Festival period. Like many people I chose to stay at home in Shanghai: I had spent the previous month traveling and I wanted to unwind at home, spend some quality time with my dog and (excitingly) begin a big spring clean and closet purge.

I am lucky to have been unaffected by coronavirus health-wise; as I am writing this over 70,000 people have been affected. Living through a situation like this, watching fear and panic strike, and seeing grief in the hearts of thousands, is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

It’s become increasingly difficult to be cheery. You spend all day, every day, at home. If you leave your home (to walk the dog, for example) you stay away from other people, you wear a mask and you are completely anonymous on the street. It’s the safest way.

However, this huge amount of unexpected downtime has given me plenty of room for reflection and an opportunity to rethink life and hone some skills I have been neglecting for a while.

Working from home is something I am good at. I’ve been working from home for years; I have a snug little office and I love being in the space. Thing is, there isn’t much new client work. I work as social media director at a communications company, which is focused on travel and hospitality. Right now, all restaurants are closed and no one is travelling.

Whilst this is rather dark and depressing, my colleagues and I have been using our time well. We have overhauled all our company presentations. We have created a new task monitoring system, and we have entirely revised and re-strategised all of our own marketing and social media.

All those tasks you usually put to the side because you have a meeting, or a call with a client; well, now is the time to be getting them done. Our inboxes are organised, our social media strategy has never been in better shape, and we still have heaps of time free each day.

It has made me reflect on how much time I dedicate to hobbies during normal life. Things we enjoy, which don’t go towards out work. I know I am guilty of an imbalance there.

One example is that as I get older, reading has become less of a pleasure and more something I do to better myself. I read books everyone is raving about, I read books to help me learn and to focus on self-improvement, but I rarely read for fun.

My cousin recently recommended “Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan, an epic 15-novel fantasy series. Right now is the perfect time to read for fun. Maybe a fantasy epic isn’t going to help me better myself, but it’s perfect escapism, which I have severely needed.

In the summer I also started learning the Ukulele with the help of a friend and YouTube. It’s something I am pretty terrible at and absolutely love. I have, since the beginning of Spring festival, been dedicating an hour a day to playing, and each week I’ve been learning a new scale or technique. I’m also attending drawing classes. It’s incredibly difficult and I don’t think I’m going to become the next Monet any time soon. But I am putting 30 minutes a day into learning, and I am really enjoying the challenge: let’s see how it’s looking in a year or so.

I also love to cook. For me it is stress relief, fun, exciting and sometimes (but not often) disastrous. Cooking, like any skill, is something that needs to be learnt, and can be taught. I have been using my free time to revisit difficult recipes and try again and again, until I get it right. I can now proudly say I make a mean meringue and my profiteroles aren’t bad either!

But my social life has become more challenging. You can only spend time in each other’s houses, and travelling to and fro can be very stressful. Add to this the fact that most of my friends left China for Spring Festival and are now stuck outside the country.

Those of us that are left have really rallied and created much closer bonds and friendships because of it. We have been taking it in turns hosting board game nights, cooking huge feasts and making cocktails. We message each other every day to see how we are doing, and have generally been keeping close eyes on each other.

Having a friend “family” who are here with me, stuck in the same position and trying to figure out what’s going on has been so helpful and so reassuring. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Lastly, but certainly not least, having free time during the day time means you’re very easy to get hold of. I have been chatting to family members more than ever before, connecting with aunties and uncles and cousins, hours on the phone to my mum and a long WeChat video call with my granny (with the help of my brother) on her birthday. It’s been so lovely to have time to chat to the people you truly love.

I know that this is a scary, hard and frightening time for the people of China, and for people who call China home or those who work here. But it’s important to try to find some silver linings, for your own mental health.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and has been edited

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