Life In The Time Of Cholera

These are translations of the blog posts made by a female student at the Hainan University

(October 31, 2008)

I heard for the first time that there is cholera in Hainan.  In Danzhou and Lingao, more than 30 people have been diagnosed with cholera.  At the time, we were in class.  When we heard the news, we were more worried.  It is less than one hour by car from Danzhou to Haikou.  It seems like a typhoon, because it gets here before you know it.

I had been talking to Jiajia about eating hotpot outside.  But when I heard the news, I got afraid.  It is better not to go out.  It should be safer inside the school.

Jiajia is very scared.  She said that her stomach has not been feeling well for several days.  I comforted her that Danzhou is far away.  She will get better with more care.

(November 1, 2008)

In class today, Yuanyuan said that Jiajia felt sick and has gone to the hospital.  At noon, Jiajia came back.  She was feeling good enough and she told us that the hospital is filled with Hainan Univresity students with diarrhea.  There were many people there waiting to see the doctors.  The doctors were so busy that they had to arrange for queues.

Everybody laughed but then we realized that this is serious.  I began to wonder whether I have cholera too.  I went on the Internet and looked up all sorts of materials about cholera.  Then I fell asleep.  By around 5pm, I was awaken by several phone calls to say that I had to go down to the school office and get some medicine.

Then a series of events made me dizzy: the school was put under a quarantine; the three entrances were manned by police.  Two persons from the School of Tourism were confirmed to have cholera.  Many others people were placed under isolation.  Jiajia was taken away!

Oh, ... cholera is really here alas!

Underneath grey skies, people were gathering according to their classes to get medicine.  Whenever people saw each other, they asked: "Has your class given out medicine yet?"

I got my medicine.  Two small yellow tablets.  The teachers comforted us.  Twice a day.  We will be alright after three days.  As soon as I took the tablet, the person next to me threw up immediately.  Everybody around us immediately jumped several steps back.  The girl who threw up then raised her head and said, "Wow, it was too bitter."  The people around her were ashen.  She was sent to the hospital anyway.  Luckily, it was just a reaction to the medicine.  A false alarm.

Jiajia sent a SMS to say that there were a lot of people at the quarantine location.  The food was inedible, it was crowded and she did not get her own room.  She asked us to bring food and clothing.  By this time, it was 7pm.

Within two hours, our world had been turned topsy-turvy.

The discussion topic for the evening was cholera.  Chaos, chaos, chaos, chaos.

I saw Jiijia's QQ signature on the Internet as: "The cholera business."  My heart was chilled.  I dared not recall that we ate together last night.  I don't know if I was the only one.  Every few seconds, the word "cholera" came inside my head.  Then I worried that I would be vomiting and having diarrhea the next second.

Anyway, I am thoroughly disoriented now.  I cannot react at this moment.  So I just wrote for my QQ signature: "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, this is too much."

(November 2, 2008)

I was awaken by the voice of people calling for disinfection.  A large group of men and women were carrying bags into Jiajia's dormitory room.  I went over there.  They were spraying disinfectant.  I asked them: "Has she been confirmed with cholera?"

"No.  We are only disinfecting as a precautionary measure.  Have you taken the medicine?"

"I did."

"You'll be alright if you take the medicine.  You are lucky to have medicine.  We don't even know if we will get the medicine."


At noon, we were told that the cafeterias were closed.  All the snack stores and fruit stands were closed.  All those places that offered food were closed.  Out of the seven cafeterias, only one small cafeteria remained open to serve 20,000 people through a dozen small windows.  There were several small supermarkets that remained open.  I don't know how to describe the extreme imbalance between supply and demand.  The people who went out to buy lunch said that it was like buying a train ticket for the Lunar New Year.  There was no way to even tell where the queues begin or end.  It took at least 30 minutes on the line.  Everything in the supermarkets was sold out.  The lone remaining cake shop has also been emptied out.

In the evening, I went to check and saw that all branded instant noodles have been sold out.  More boxes were being moved inside the store, but there was no time even to put them on the shelf.  People were just reaching into the boxes directly and taking them.  The lines to pay for purchases reached all the way to the extreme far end of the supermarket.  The reality is that there was no place anywhere today that did not require queuing up.  People who are scattered in various places around the campus show up at a designated hour at the closed commercial streets.  There was chaos everywhere.  People were confused.  Everything was in chaos.  Cholera has driven people crazy.  At the supermarket, a woman held a tissue paper to her nose and held her head down.  I almost thought that cholera was like SARS and can be transmitted by breathing in the air.  I saw one person who said to a classmate coming down the street: "Fuck, what did you grab?  I got up late."


Right now, I cannot sleep during the day, because people kept asking me to open the door for various reasons.

"Hey, it is time to spread the disinfectant.  Everybody out, everybody out."

"Fellow students, open the door.  We are here to check whether you have been taking the medicine."

"The people in class number one should go and get your medicine. Bring your own cups."

"We are from the school office.  Have you all taken your medicine?  Does anyone have any adverse reactions?"

Cholera makes people remember that is is cholera every single moment.

(November 3, 2008)

Cholera has become a part of our my life, along with taking medicine and eating instant noodles.  The air smelled like disinfectant and instant noodles.  When the two are mixed together, I wonder if they will create suspected cases.  On today, I saw at least ten people complaining about wanting to vomit at the smell of the disinfectant or after eating the instant noodles.  When I heard them say that, I suddenly wanted to vomit as well.  Cholera is around you and any feeling of discomfit will make you wonder if you have cholera or at least in the incubation stage.

With the determination to hold fort in the dormitory, I ate instant noodles twice yesterday.  But I finally decided to go out.  I left at 430pm in the hope of being able to get into one of the cafeteria.  Today, another cafeteria opened up.  There are now two small cafeterias plus the Muslim restaurant to keep the university going.

I read in the Intenet news that the university has been placed under quarantine.  It is said that the teachers and students at Hainan University are living normally and remaining mentally stable.  But nobody in the entire university campus has told me what the situation is.  There are only people coming and going, spraying disinfectant and washing the walls.  Meanwhile, the hungry students are not getting fed.

At 4:30pm, the cafeteria was already full.  There were more people queuing up than eating, because by the time that you finish, they haven't gotten off the queue.  The speed at which the workers operate is problematic.  There were students wearing camouflage uniforms at the queuing area.  The atmosphere was very strange and solemn.  The people in this vast university campus have been quarantined here.  They send people in keep order.  How come there was no cholera anywhere else in Haikou except at Hainan University?  The people on campus don't know what is going on, but the people outside say that they are very calm.

There is no news about Jiajia.  I heard that she asked someone to bring food to her.  When Yuanyuan told us that, we reflected on how terrible it is to be under quarantine without food.  But at least we figured that Jiajia was not in big trouble.  She was not going without food, but we cannot imagine what it was like inside.  There are many rumors now.  When we speak about cholera, our expressions change a bit first.

It was raining periodically during the day.  Someone said that cholera broke out because the heavy rains earlier flushed out the stuff from the drainage pipes.  Someone said that the cafeteria bought some dead fish.  Some said that we will be held here for one month.  Someone said that other epidemics have broken out ... the dark clouds in the sky slowly dissipate and drop into our hearts.

When I came back, I checked everybody's QQ signature.

"I want to sleep, I want to eat, I want to embrace, I want to embrace Huanhuan, I think about mom and dad, I want to break out of the cordon."


"Socialism is good.  Socialism is good.  Socialism cannot feed us."

"Mom, I don't want to keep waiting."

Then there is this classic:

When you see someone, you ask: "Have you taken the medicine?"  When you get out of the dormitory, you ask: "Have you grabbed some food?"  When you meet outside the university, you ask: "How did you manage to get out?"


In the evening, two people went to the dormitory room next door to compare notes.  "Please remember where you went last week and what you ate."

I slammed the door.  I don't want people to find out that I was so close to the next room.

(November 4, 2008)

I just came back from class, and read so many blog comments from people care about me.  I am really grateful.  There are also people who have doubts or blame me.  But I am only noting things that happen around me.  Even if there is no one around, I would be speaking to myself.

There were heavy rains this morning, but classes were not cancelled.  The teachers tried to provide us with psychological counseling.  Generally speaking, they wanted to let us know that the university is trying its best to help us.  The Hainan provincial leaders are on campus to supervise the work.  The food is checked very carefully in many steps of cleaning and selection.  They tell us that this is a historical moment because this is cleanest food in history no matter how we check it.  Ho ho!  I may be numbed, because I am not having any more fear or adventures.  Maybe people realize that this is not SARS and there is a timely cure, and therefore I am a lot calmer.

But the cholera itself keep reminding us all the time: I am still a serious threat and I am all around you.

Today, students who were off campus could not enter even with their students passes.  The guards told them to take a three-day vacation.  The off-campus students said that it was not sure whether things were serious inside the campus or it was even more unsafe outside.

I did not think about going down to the cafeteria at all.  Perhaps I was scared off by what I saw when I walked past the cafeterias after class.  There were crowds out the entrance and the university workers were yelling: "Do not enter.  Please do not push.  It is already full inside.  Even if you get in, you won't get any food."  There were many students dressed in camouflage uniforms trying to maintain order.  They chased waves and waves of students back out.  Even the temporary stands outside the cafeteria for instant noodles were mobbed.  There was a notice which said that the cafeteria which re-opened yesterday is closed today because of water stoppage.  The workers watched the people from the second floor.  As I walked past this cafeteria, I heard a male student yell from the second floor: "I want to eat food, I want to drink water."

When I got back to the dormitory, there were more notices downstairs.  Two notices were new: water was stopped and the Internet will be down tomorrow.  Everybody howled in collective agony again.  I don't think cholera is scary.  But the lack of supply of the various essential things in daily life is the true terror.

I just learned that the water has been turned back on.  I can make noodles.

(November 4, 2008)

As usual today, I could not get a noon nap.  As soon as I got into bed, there was yelling outside.  "Emergency notice.  Go downstairs and assemble.  The class director is going to say something."  When we got there, the class director had just arrived.  The class director held a form that has a list of all the students.  (Reportedly, he had just received the list from the university).  He asked everybody to sign to indicate that they have taken the six doses of medicine supplied by the university.  The teacher kept repeating that we had to sign honestly because we bear legal responsibility.  The university had found someone who continued to have diarrhea because the medicine was being skipped.

We asked the teacher whether the medicine guarantees that we don't get sick.  The teacher said more or less.  At the very least, we would not infect other people even if we were virus carriers.  We asked when the university would re-open.  The teacher said to wait until the medicine taking is completed and then they will see.

Now that there is way to control the epidemic, we felt better.  Signing our names does not give us any real material help.  But at least one teacher was able to tell us clearly how the fight against cholera is progressing.  This is the fifth day of the cholera outbreak, and we are beginning to understand the cholera situation around us.

At lunch, the purified water that was ordered did not arrive.  Maybe the leaders were all out supervising the medicine-taking, even though we don't have the water to take the medicine with.  We can only go and buy our own bottled water.

The school was especially clean today.  As the teacher said, the university has entered a historical period that is really worth remembering.  I felt as if someone had pulled out every blade of grass.  There was no dirty water from the rain.  The garbage cans were thoroughly cleaned.  I wish that it would always be like this and I don't want to remember how we used to live.  Everybody who has lived this way will share the experience.  We hope that this lesson will teach the university about certain essential hygiene practices.

Passersby were all rushing to their own destinations.  The people who managed to buy food draw admiration from their acquaintances: "Wow, you bought food!"

The entire university is clean and empty, but it also reflects a certain sense of fear.

(November 6, 2008)

When I got up this morning, I heard that the cafeterias have re-opened.  Very early, some fellow students brought food home and were happy.  The five days of living on instant noodles are finally over.  Today, many people will be able to eat fresh food inside the school.

We chose to go out at 11am, which is the most crowded time of day normally.  The ground floor of cafeteria 5 was operating normally.  There were not too many people eating inside.  The range and quality of the food was more or less same as normal.  Cafeteria 1, cafeteria 2, cafeteria 3, the combined cafeteria and the Muslim cafeteria were all operating normally.  The people buying food have began to form long lines.  Compared to the chaos before, this was very orderly.  The students in charge of maintaining order were no longer there.  If there was cholera around, there was basically no difference from before.

The good thing was that someone brought over water early in the morning.  Ho ho ... even though we don't have to eat instant noodles anymore.

The sun was shining bright today.  The clouds covering Haikou the past few days have dissipated.  I don't know if cholera will evaporate in the sun just like those clouds.  On the way back, the school broadcasting system was playing Chen Yijing's <The meaning of travel>.  This cholera may be equivalent to one of our journeys.  I only hope that when the dust settles, the world would be brand new.

Here are some more tales.

In the morning, we were doing out own things in our dormitories.  Suddenly, there was noise coming from the corridor.  The noise came near.  We were going to open the door to find out what going on when a man with a backpack of disinfectant charged in while spraying: "Get out, get out."  Before we even knew what was going on, we were forced to get out.  He sprayed around the dormitory.  I moved too slowly and I got sprayed on my hands and feet.  Then the man charged out and raced down to the next room.

The female students were standing outside in the corridor and they were mad at the brusqueness of this man.  He kept spraying but had to stop and wait when the disinfectant was used up with one or two rooms left to spray.  I thought that was interesting because I thought that this head-on approach was better than a cold indifference.  At least now we knew that someone was still coming to carrying out hygiene procedures on the seventh day of the cholera outbreak, even though his manner was rather crude.

I have to go back and revisit a previous subject.  The fellow student that I mentioned previously seems to have diagnosed to have cholera.  Today, someone went to their dormitory room to take samples and thus we learned the news.  Someone at the hospital also said so.  But she does not know herself.  I don't want to say anything more other than wishing her good luck.  Our fellow students have all been concerned about her.  Basically, I speak to her every day on telephone.  Today she was excited to tell me that she is getting fat because she eats too much there.  Ho ho.  She is a really lovely girl.

I thank everybody for your concern.  Parents who have children attending Hainan University may feel more relaxed after reading what I write.  We have basically returned to normalcy, even though we cannot step off campus.  At least people have quieted down.  I believe that we will make it through.

(November 7, 2008)

From the day that my blog was first mentioned to today, it has only been four days.  But it felt a lot longer.  Something new happened each day, forcing us to accept and be pulled along.  I was just an ordinary student before the cholera outbreak.  After this is over, I will live my life peacefully again.

I feel that I am doing everything possible to show how we are living.  But if reality is cruel, isn't it a mistake not to say it out?  I can understand that some people don't understand.  But it is very hard to convince me to just move on.  Some shadows will rush up to my mind and I can't sleep at night.

My heart beats rapidly and I can't breathe.  I feel that I want to vomit, and my stomach is sometimes uncomfortable.  Maybe these are normal reactions from anxiety.  In abnormal times, I have to question myself.  My fellow students say, "She couldn't sleep last night because she was blogging all night.  She omitted everything that happened during the cholera period but she wrote about her feelings.  Writing makes her feel better."  Suddenly, I admire her state of being.  I like to use words to release my feelings too, but I am stuck.  What I see, what happened and what was left behind can easily be negated by people.  I can only laugh.  This may be true.  Life needs more sharpening, and our worries seem silly.

Rumors are everywhere.  We are full of expectations for signs that things are getting better.  But the school has sent notices to each and every person: the school will still be under quarantine until at least Monday.  The inspections will be even more rigorous than before.  There is no need for us to go outside of the university.  If we skip too many classes, we will be dismissed.  Disinfections occurs twice a day in the dormitories.

This is perhaps a genuine diary.  There are no cheap tricks that create controversies.  Although this is just what a modern society needs, I am only writing down my words to those who are willing to share.