It’s That Much Worse If You’re There

Dearest Rachel –

I mentioned a little while ago about a dream I had that might have been based off of a plan I was trying to make for yet another trip – and at the time, I didn’t bother to tell you about the details, partly because it was still up in the air at the time. It turned out to be just as well, as the plans got scrubbed to the point where I had to switch lines in order to get where I wanted to go – all because of the itinerary’s terminal.

You see, I’ve been wanting to get back to Japan again after all this time. We both have, from time to time, what with each of us having been there separately; we wanted to experience the place together as a family. Of course, that’s not going to happen – I’m pretty sure that I’m not even able to take Daniel aboard a cruise ship even now (Israel seems to be one of the few enlightened countries thus far, but even the influence of Florida can’t change RCL’s corporate mind. Then again, Florida is throwing its weight around against the stupidity of several corporations these days – maybe they can win this one, too, eventually). Still, we will see as time goes on whether places will open up to us some day, and once they do… well, they had better look out.

My agent Kelly at first warned me away from taking such a trip because it was geared for a… different… clientele, with the cuisine being relatively unfamiliar and the excursions less likely to be available in English. But that’s not the sort of thing that was going to stop me; that’s just the sort of challenge that appeals to me.

Although, it’s probably redundant for me to tell you ‘you only live once.’

The thing is, the one Royal Caribbean ship (Spectrum of the Seas, as it so happens – they really have to put out a Card Against Humanity introducing the latest RCL ship, the “________ of the Seas” some day) that is plying the waters around Japan had an itinerary that was set to start and end in Shanghai. I’m not nearly as keen about visiting the PRC, but if that’s the only place I could catch the boat, well…

That being said, she made mention in passing about the political and medical situation in Shanghai, and that I would need to quarantine for 14 days upon landing there before being able to move about the city (which would include the transfer from the airport to the ship terminal). Now, I’ve already done the quarantine thing once, and have no intention of going through that rigamarole a second time, so I took her advice and looked elsewhere. Fortunately, RCL’s sister line, Celebrity, has an itinerary originating and concluding in Tokyo, so I had her book me on that one instead. It’s a little later in the year, but not so much that the weather is likely to be too inclement. Plus, I get to knock about Tokyo for a couple of days; gotta love that.

But even as I have finalized this revised trip, I’ve learning a few things about the situation in Shanghai. Now, when the words ‘Shanghai’ and ‘ship’ are mentioned in the same sentence, they mean nothing good to Anglophone ears. This actually doesn’t have anything to do with the city (although it’s entirely possible that someone who had been shanghaied might end up in Shanghai at some point); the verb comes from a petty criminal named James Kelly, who ran various establishments on the Barbary Coast district of San Francisco in the mid-nineteenth century. Kelly, known as ‘Shanghai’ Kelly, had a particular talent for recruiting men to crew merchant ships setting out from San Francisco – and ‘recruiting’ is putting it most charitably. Drugs, alcohol, and straight-up violence were his persuasive tools, and he was a master craftsman in their use. His most notorious caper was assembling a birthday celebration for himself, limited to ninety guests; a pleasure cruise with all the booze and women a man could want, for a relatively nominal price. Once his guests were suitably smashed, he delivered all ninety of them, in batches of thirty, to three ship captains in need of crews, thereby getting paid twice for the same trip – first, by his guests; then, for his guests.

Being shanghaied was never a pleasant experience – granted, life in the past was rarely what one would call pleasant – but it turns out, the modern era has not necessarily improved matters. Shanghai may have grown into a commercial hub of some twenty million or more, but right now, it’s that much worse than in the days of old man Kelly. You don’t want to end up there; because you may well meet your end there indeed.

You see, despite the fact that China spent most of 2020 claiming that there were neither cases nor deaths from Covid over there (and of course, mocking the western world for its haphazard and mostly overly panicked reaction to it), the nice thing about being a totalitarian regime is that you can say anything you want to, and everyone is required to believe it. The not-so-nice thing is that, all that saying and forcing people to believe what you say doesn’t make it true. Worse yet, if you begin to believe your own made-up publicity, you start to think that Covid-zero is a possibility, and when it turns out that it isn’t, you’re forced to take drastic measures to make it so, lest you be proven wrong – and if you’re an authoritarian that’s been proven wrong, your public might start to wonder what else you’ve been wrong about all this time… and, I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Anyway, China – and Shanghai in particular – is in the grip of a milder version of the already mild Omicron variant of the disease. But rather than let it run its course and burn itself out among the population, the government has decided to go back to the original option in the Covid playbook: lock the entire population down indefinitely. As I understand it, most people are forbidden to leave their homes or apartments until at least the end of the month, and possibly longer; no one seems to be really sure. And as it so happens, not everybody stocked up on enough food to last them until then – not that they’re making any money to buy it with in the first place. People are starving, but they can’t go out to get anything, because there are drones and police in hazmat suits and everything.

It’s not the place for a cruise ship to be docking, is what I’m saying.

I’ve seen footage of people throwing themselves off of apartment buildings – either the roof, or their own balconies – as well as hanging themselves from wherever they can, either concluding it’s a quicker and less agonizing death than starvation, or they just despair of anything ever getting any better. Whether they’re right about the temporal plane is subject to debate, but that’s a pretty drastic step to take, unless you’re absolutely sure that the afterlife has to be better than what they’re going through.

It’s a crazy situation, where the tragedy is being spurred – presumably, because I want to believe that this is being done with the best of intentions, but I’m too cynical to actually be able to convince myself of it anymore – under the banner of “if it saves just one life,” and yet, these folks flattened on the pavement or dangling from the rafters are just as dead – more so, given what we know about the lethality of Covid at this point. It’s worse than anything I’d ever want to deal with.

Thankfully, they’d never let someone as filthy and disease-ridden as myself in at this point, anyone. Which is funny, because I’ll probably be more alive when I finally fly out to Tokyo than an awful lot of Shanghainese will be by then.

Still, honey, wish them luck – and hope – they’re going to need it so much more than I will for now.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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