Two months ago, I called my grandmother to tell her I would be in Beijing for the Winter Olympics. She was excited.
But I already explained that too If we were in the same city I wouldn’t be able to see her. I would be in a strict bubble, separated from the rest of the Chinese population. My grandmother told me not to worry. Concentrate on your work, she said.
I lived in Beijing before going to Tokyo early in the pandemic. When I left, I wasn’t sure when I would see my grandmother again. China’s borders have been virtually closed for two years because of Covid and the government has accepted limited visas for journalists.
The Winter Olympics offered me a rare opportunity to return to the country.
But within the Olympic closed circle, it’s like walking through the city in a glass box, unable to experience the Beijing I know. Hotels and sites are surrounded by temporary walls and security, workers in hazmat suits are waiting at tables or taking my Covid test.
So when I noticed a bridge near my hotel through which Beijing residents could look down the closed loop, within the temporary walls, I saw an opportunity to see my grandmother. I dropped a location pin to my relatives and told them that unfortunately this was the closest we could get.
Still, my grandmother was delighted, she arrived 20 minutes early in her best winter coat. I shouted Happy New Year in Mandarin as loud as I could, because she is hard of hearing, and jumped up and down. She took off her mask and smiled broadly, her face wrinkled at the edges.
Our meeting was symbolic of the isolation the world has faced since the start of the pandemic.
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