By: Raissa Tetanish
FOSHAN, CHINA: It’s been three months now since Kyle Manzoni first heard about the novel coronavirus, and he has some advice for his fellow Nova Scotians.
Manzoni, a 27-year-old originally from Halifax, currently lives in Foshan, China, a small town outside Guangzhou.
It was the day after Chinese New Year when life as he knew it began to change.
“My folks were coming to visit at the very beginning of February, we had our trip to the Phillippines planned… as far as I was concerned, there wasn’t any reason for any of that not to happen. But then we started hearing about this illness in Wuhan,” Manzoni said, via a video interview about two weeks after he posted a video about his experience on YouTube.
At that time, Manzoni said it didn’t sound like the illness was going to make its way to Foshan, but almost overnight, it was all over the news. His parents cancelled their trip.
And that’s when it became clear “something was not right.”
Immediately, residents of Foshan were mandated by the police to not go out in public without a mask on.
“I had a bit of a mental breakdown the first few days,” said Manzoni. “One, I had never seen anything like this before – most of us haven’t. But now I’m in the country where this is happening, so I’m getting extra panicky. One thing I found fascinating though was that most Chinese people, especially those in my neighbourhood, were very calm. Not ignorant. They were fully aware of what was happening, but everyone just understood to wear your mask, don’t go outside right now, it’s going to be boring, that’s why we have phones. We’ll make it.”
Manzoni’s girlfriend, he says, was absolutely relaxed during this time, and had to tell him more than usual to calm down.
“You couldn’t go outside, and that was nerving. I think there were three weeks where we couldn’t go outside, with the exception of if we needed to make a trip to the market to buy food – that was okay. But you had to go through several police and military checkpoints for them to check your temperature. Normally a five minute trip to the market became a 30 minute trip to the market. There were no cars.”
He said things were quiet outside, which reminded him of a post-apocalypse show.
“It was very spooky. Some mornings all you would see was these cleaning trucks. It was terrifying. With the hazmat suits and [the workers] spraying.”
During this time, Manzoni said it was nice watching those in Foshan have the understanding they needed to remain calm and do the same with their everyday lives.
“That was the thing I had to start reminding myself,” he said.
The checkpoints lasted for about a month, so for about two months now, Manzoni says things have changed.
“Things haven’t relaxed yet, it’s more so changed. Now we can go outside freely. There’s not the military checkpoints everywhere. I can hear kids outside now. There’s a lot of activity again.”
But he says people are still wearing their masks and gloves outside everywhere they go. They continue to spray things down with sanitizer.
“But there’s a lot of life coming back to the world.”
The gym has re-opened, but people aren’t back to work yet, including Manzoni, who was working as a teacher. Restaurants are reopening, but on smaller hours and with fewer tables.
“Most places are almost back to normal with the exception of Guangzhou,” he said.
In his 13-minute video on YouTube, Manzoni speaks about making sure a person stays calm, and to be mindful of comments. He openly admits he’s had to adjust his attitude, and to practice what he preaches.
He said there’s been a lot of comments as of late that it’s foreigners that brought the virus to China – in Foshan, but particularly in Guangzhou. There are some markets, he says, that won’t allow non-Chinese inside. His gym also only has a three-hour window for him and other foreigners to attend.
“It’s not a big deal for me,” said Manzoni. “However, in Guangzhou, most malls and restaurants, foreigners are not allowed. As of late, it’s Africans in particular taking a bit of the brunt. It’s shocking. If I wasn’t seeing it myself and had people telling me it was happening, I wouldn’t believe them.”
Manzoni’s friend, originally from South Africa, was put on a 14-day house arrest, “where they boarded up his door.
“If it wasn’t someone I personally knew, if people were just talking about it, I’d say there’s no way that’s happening. But it is.”
He said people have realized lately, however, that this is not the way to address the issue.
With family and a few friends back in Nova Scotia, Manzoni said he’s been trying to catch as much news as possible, but it’s not always easy with an 11-hour time difference. He did, however, catch Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil’s comment to ‘stay the blazes home.’ While he liked McNeil’s comment, Manzoni said it’s not enough.
Having been through the worst of it, Manzoni says people really do need to stay home, and that it’s not going to stop right now.
“More people are going to die,” he said. “For anyone young to middle age going out assuming it’s just older people – no, it’s not. It’s just more likely it will kill an older person. Suppose it does only kill old people, if you contract it and you give it to an older person, you have killed that person.”
He said that opinion might not be a popular one right now, but if people started thinking that way, it might stop so many from going outside.
Manzoni knows it’s boring to stay at home. He thought the same thing at the beginning. But now he’s enjoying it.
So when it comes to the directive to stay home, Manzoni says follow it.
“There is a life-threatening virus. I don’t know what certain individuals aren’t understanding about this. Not that I want to shame anyone who is not following this, because I don’t think that’s going to help either, but I do think it’s a good reminder for people that people are going to die.”
One of the biggest things, he says, to help him be at peace at home is exercising. He used what he could find – an unopened bag of cat litter, jug of water, even his girlfriend on his shoulders – to add weight to his workout program.
“Oddly enough, it was the moment I started doing home exercises that I became much more relaxed. That couch potato, sitting down for a week, it gets old fast. Exercising at home made it a lot easier to sit back down.”
Being Canadian, Manzoni says he loves his country and his fellow Canadians. But he also loves China. He’s heard stories of people being hateful of people from China, and that bothered him. It made him anxious about possibly bringing his girlfriend here this summer (they’ve already cancelled their plans).
“This is scary. When this all began, the easiest mechanism for all of us, myself included, was to just be angry of the one person selling bats to eat. That’s where we started. But I realized myself, ‘this is because I’m afraid right now’, but it’s not helping.”
At the same time, his relaxed girlfriend is afraid, as are his neighbours.
“At the end of the day, people are people. I realized myself it was easy for me to get angry at things, do the finger point, and I realized it was unhelpful. I was being narrow-minded. I realized that was not the way to go.”
Manzoni is now at a state of peace where he catches himself before he goes down that road, and he wants to remind people not to go to that conclusion yet.
“Don’t go there, it won’t help.”