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My 2020 Review: The Sights and Sounds of a Fleeting Year

JAN . 07 2021
Peking University, Jan. 7, 2021: With the prevalence of COVID-19 pandemic, last year is undoubtedly a special one for most of us. During the past few weeks, we have shared six PKU students' key words and unique stories of 2020, who came from across the globe and spoke at the 2020 Youth Forum.

Drawn by their full and varied experience, Pekinger Li Wanqi, a second year student from PKU School of International Studies, also writes to us to review her extraordinary 2020.

Li Wanqi is a Year Two Undergraduate from School of International Studies at Peking University who hopes to live an examined life and apply her majors in International Politics and Economics to explaining (and hopefully coming up with a solution for) the prevailing problems of today. She currently writes for the PKU Office of Global Communications, and dabbles in graphic design, video production, and guitar in her free time.

My spring festival was spent with my relatives in Hebei, China. COVID-19 then existed in passing mentions, the occasional quip, and as a trending topic on Weibo. As my family ate together in a long-awaited reunion, my heart lurched with each sticky cough that rattled the frame of my brother's fiancée.

In February, our city was plunged into strict lockdown. In our living area, every household received two passes that we could use to get in and out of our block. Volunteers meticulously took and recorded temperatures. Our residential Wechat group bristled with activity, sharing the latest updates on who got infected, when and where. We got the message loud and clear: sit absolutely still. And so our trips out were reduced to a bare minimum. We made only swift expeditions to the nearby supermarket in often unsuccessful scavenger hunts. In the first week or so, an alarming variation of potatoes, celery, egg and green onion adorned the table every meal.

This was the first time I got to spend so much time with both my parents in my twenty years of life. We would sit at work in the day, conglomerate as chefs in our tiny kitchen, exercise around the house, and watch films together at night. To this day, I hold these times close to my heart.

The spring semester commenced in late February. By April, I had memorized the routines of a good few neighbours living in the block across mine. The pulse of the city had slowed down to a faint mellow beat which we all were dancing to, hips and joints moving awkwardly, closed in by slabs of glass and concrete.

The dawn of spring

I was going solo. Workload from school, not at all relieved by our stay-home predicament, quickly filled up my time. In fact, as I didn't have many points of reference indicative of my progress, the need to pick up pace was a perennial nag. Here I must also stress that online lessons were the bomb. No longer did we need to travel the mile from Global Village to school-classes could be held in the comfort of our bedrooms! Online lessons also seemed to have bridged the gap between teacher and student; I found myself asking questions and clarifying topics in class, things I'd shy away from doing before.

In class with teachers and friends!

My extra-curricular life looked a lot more interesting than before. For one, I worked as a video editor for "Under the Mask", a student-initiated video project where we gathered interviews from students around the world dealing with the spreading pandemic. In bringing attention to the differences and commonalities different countries and people shared in their COVID-19 response, the team worked to tackle prejudice online.

The local infection toll dropped, time ticked away. I'd lost track of passing time until I'd cracked the window one day to clear some air and summer flowed into the room. Peering out the window, seasonal flowers were in full bloom. Peals of laughter accompanied the rigorous bouncing of a soccer ball, weaving through hot and heavy air. And it was with this noise that I sat back at my table in a daze, gathering my thoughts about the receding virus and the semester closing out.

Transitioning from the intensity of school to a 3 month mellow holiday was welcome whiplash. My summer was laden with Higher Math (高等数学), a name which sends fear into the hearts of many. I had to take it as a compulsory module for my Economics double, and feared that I'd lag behind, and thus tore into the books hoping to get a head-start (in retrospect, why grasp at straws?). In my free time, I travelled with my family and friends. Also notable was my rash decision to share my song covers on Bilibili (just hit the 15,000 views mark, hurray to the novice!!).

The train to the new year speeds ahead. As I write this, I am back at PKU, waiting upon the onslaught of the final exams. I am also fully aware that while things in China have returned to normalcy, abroad crises persist with varying intensities.

There will be no pre-virus state to return to, because we ought to have been profoundly shaped by the collateral damage COVID has dealt. Foremost, mortality is a heavy but unavoidable topic which warrants navigation. More than a million have not lived to see the new year, and this number only grows. This should prompt serious reflections on the importance of public health awareness and good governance (and its apparent scarcity).

Rising poverty rates during COVID-19
Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-54448589

We must not forget that marginalized communities are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Not only do their living and working conditions make them more susceptible to infection, but lacklustre welfare coverage and economic decline further adds to their burden. For many mired in extreme poverty, a lack of medical security and social protection add on to an already severe multidimensional plight. The lack of labour protection amidst quarantines have hit households of lower income. Rising tolls must motivate awareness and positive change; we must develop upon "pre-virus" to cultivate a better "post-virus" future. Here's to hoping that the cumulative efforts of humanity will come to fruition.

PKU awaits your arrival!

A lesser known but equally important impact of the pandemic is the deterioration of mental health. As such, for the individual, focusing on the upsides in times of crisis may well be what is needed to stay afloat. As troubled as I was during my semester alone, finding time for introspection in solitude, sticking to a regular routine, staying connected with friends and family, and allowing myself me-time were things that pulled me through. I think humans have it in them a miraculous ability to see the good in things. It may seem rich of me to say this but where ever you may be, I hope we can all trudge forth into the new year with strength and a positive spirit.

Written by: Li Wanqi
Edited by: Pu Hairui
Photo: Li Wanqi