Lockdown, Day 52: let’s talk about neighbors.


First things first: I’ve decided to get back on the writing grind. From now on, I’ll be sending out a newsletter every Monday at 9:00 AM Eastern Time. If you want to get my writing in your mailbox every Monday, subscribe to the mailing list here. Much obliged.

Lockdown, Day 52

I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. This Shanghai lockdown has been rough on a lot of people, myself included, but there are certain good things to come out of the whole experience.

One of those things: it’s given me a chance to get to know my neighbors a lot better.

In China, you simply don’t know your neighbors well at all. People keep to themselves and avoid pleasantries. You basically pretend that the other people in your apartment building don’t exist.

I used to think that it was a one-off event, or that people wanted to avoid me for some reason. But over the past decade of living here, I’ve seen this behavior come up too many times in public settings.

Maybe the root cause of this behavior is the need for privacy in a deeply impersonal and urban society. Perhaps it’s linked back to some part of Chinese or Confucian values. It might be generational. I don’t know, and I’m resorting to “cultural” as a one-word shorthand of an explanation.

There are exceptions, of course. It’s easier for parents to connect because of their kids and having to coordinate activities in a shared school or community. Kids also tend to be the most vocal ones in public; parents are obliged to make social concessions. Necessity breeds behavior.

I haven’t lived in Canada for 10 years, but I do remember my living experiences there as being a lot more social, at least with neighbors. Perhaps things have changed in Vancouver, Canada, toorose-colored glasses, etc.

Before the lockdown, I knew a grand total of two people in my apartment building. One American guy, because he walks his dogs out and is a fellow basketball enthusiast. One Chinese lady, because we cooperated together to settle a rental dispute with the landlord.

After the lockdown, I knew everyone in the building.

It started with the group buying activities. For group buys, neighbors were forced to cooperate to put together minimum orders for essential goods. On the first or second day of the lockdown, the American neighbor added me to the group.

Necessity breeds behavior, and so we asked each other the mundane things. Who wants water? Who wants bread? Who wants Coca-Cola? (Turns out, everyone does.)

We made helpful announcements to one another. The neighborhood food handouts are here on the first floor; come down. The COVID testing lineup has started this morning. And so on.

The group has become more social. We gossip more. We learned that one of our neighbors tested positive and had to self-quarantine at home. Anything we can help you with, just let us know.

We discussed how one of our delivered packages mysteriously disappeared. Unbelievable. I can’t believe that happened.

We congratulated one of our neighbors who decided to leave Shanghai and wait out the lockdown in his hometown. Smart move, man. See you back here soon. Safe travels!

Online socializing has translated into daily in-person interactions. We now say hi to one another while taking walks or running errands. We drop off packages for each other if we happen to be passing by a neighbor’s floor. (These days, we take the stairs and avoid the elevator, believing it to be a COVID-19 hazard zone.)

We’ve gotten to know the security guards, because they hold essential information. What’s the latest development in our neighborhood? What’s going on with the new policy? Will there be mandatory testing today?

It’s hard to imagine being invisible to one’s neighbors, yet again, in a post-lockdown world. I much prefer getting to know my neighbors and knowing we have each other’s backs.

Some things are irreversible and it’s for the best.

Take care of yourself, and be well.


If you want to get my writing in your mailbox every Monday, subscribe to the mailing list here. Much obliged.

One Comment

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  1. Nice to hear you’re getting to know your neighbors, James! That’s a good thing!


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