About a month ago, while China was still implementing a policy of "zero cases" to deal with the coronavirus, Patroklos Koudounis traveled there.
"Difficult conditions, unprecedented images, closed shops".
With this, he described to Proto Thema the nightmarish experience of his ten-day stay in Shanghai, implying that he encountered an immense prison, an abandoned city, as well as hotels without the slightest cleanliness and without glasses for fear of suicide because of the strict restrictions.
Although an air of normality and de-escalation had blown over most of the globe, China until a few weeks ago was in a constellation of its own, a hostage situation that dangerously exacerbated the climate and led millions of citizens to a unprecedented - by the regime's standards - rebellion.
The reactions due to the strict measures - for three years in a row, in fact - were so intense that the front pages of the largest international media repeatedly had reports with unimaginable images of the mass protests in the streets. Desperate Chinese even jumped from windows to escape confinement...
At the same time, there were many reports on the meteoric political future of Xi Jinping, Beijing's tough politician, who for the first time saw his fortunes hanging by such a thin thread and the questioning unexpectedly loud.
Amid the chaos and turmoil in China, the situation seemed out of control, the measures in place imposed a prolonged lockout of businesses, repeated tests for the coronavirus, a 14-day quarantine, exhaustingly strict control of movements through a special tracking system and even sealing of houses.
Resilience, however, dried up and the massive protests, which notably sparked a wave of crackdowns and arrests, forced Xi 's government to abandon such a harsh policy, proceeding to a first relaxation of restrictions.
Now, the picture in China looks somewhat healthier after the paralysis in major cities, including the financial hub, Shanghai.
However, Patroklos Koudounis, who traveled to the once impressive city, compares what he saw - through images he secured - to a prison... He saw a Shanghai that he could not have imagined.
"When I asked for a glass, they told me that glasses and aluminum cans were prohibited because there was a possibility that some people could not withstand the psychological pressure of the quarantine and cut their veins" - the shocking thing the staff of the hotel where he stayed said to him.
But how did he decide to travel to China and what limitations did the Greek tourist initially encounter?
“I am lucky enough to travel often, especially to the Far East. My last visit to Shanghai was in December 2019. I left there just before Friday, the day of the first news of some strange virus appearing in the city of Wuhan," he said.
"A few weeks ago and after the time of mandatory quarantine in a state hotel was reduced to 10 days, I made the decision to go again, as I had to visit friends and colleagues," the Greek added.
“You only saw people in white uniforms”
“After a lot of hassle related to the molecular tests, the required application, etc., I managed to board and arrive safely in Shanghai," he said.
"The first image was scary... A huge empty airport where you could only see people in white uniforms giving us instructions in Chinese.
"We understood by the gestures, while everywhere we followed the Chinese passengers ahead. We arrived at the hotel at 9 in the evening."
Looking back on what he had never experienced before, Patroklos refers to the "hospital hours" when receiving the hotel meals; to the prohibition of free movement, even within the accommodation; and the unimaginably frequent tests, which added further pressure.
"The room was tolerable (100 euros per night) but with absurd shortcomings. There was no refrigerator, glasses and reading lamps," he said.
"When I asked for a glass and coca cola, I was told that glasses and aluminum cans were prohibited because there was a possibility that some people could not withstand the psychological pressure of the quarantine and cut their veins," Patroklos explained.
"The funny thing is that from the second day I asked for a western menu (50 euros per day instead of the 15 that the Chinese menu cost), which came in a big box and not on a tray," the Greek said, adding: "Apparently no one had ever opened the box that contained a daily can of Diet Coke."
"Meals were handed out at 07:30, 11:30 and 17:30 with shocking accuracy," Patroklos pointed out in particular. "We weren't even allowed to go out into the corridor."
In the setting that was reminiscent of absurdity, the Greek tourist refers to the feeling created by the deprivation of freedom. He didn't even feel like listening to music that he turns to whenever he feels pressure.
"Every two days, at 08:00, we were tested. We at the threshold of the room. We weren't allowed to go out into the hallway... They weren't allowed into the room either," he said.
"Obviously, no need for cleaning ladies. Difficult conditions, dystopian environment, unprecedented images.
"The strange thing was that while I love music, I never felt the need to listen. This combined with my body never getting used to the new time (I slept every day from 10:00-15:00), were the strange effects the deprivation of freedom had on me...
"In hindsight I realised how bad it was as that dark ten days were erased from my memory, one day after leaving prison."
He also pointed out the "pitfalls" caused by traffic and such close monitoring by the authorities.
"I decided not to move around much. Because with this 'magical' application, the 'system' knows at all times where you are, where you moved and with whom.
"So, if you find yourself in a restaurant and the next day one of the customers who were there at the same time as you tests positive, you are also subject to mandatory quarantine.
"At the hotel where I was staying, one night three months ago, the covid authorities appeared with the police, and they closed it on the spot for two weeks because a case had been detected. Those who lived there, as well as the workers, were locked in rooms for 14 days.
"But the same was imposed on those who were there, that evening, to dine. No other clothes with only a supply of the medicines they might need. These harsh measures are the cause of the incidents that have broken out recently."
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