SARS can’t stop student’s nuptials (taken from here)
By Amir Efrati – The Daily Iowan
Love can transcend time, space – and a deadly respiratory disease.
Lin Wang stood in a courtyard outside his Hawkeye Court apartment Tuesday, his face covered by a white, rounded mask as images of his fiancée, Lei Lingyan, fluttered through his mind.
It was a dress rehearsal for May 18, when the 25-year-old will board a United flight to Shanghai en route to Leshan, where he will marry his sweetheart – the product of a two-year online romance – despite a chorus of objecting voices from family and friends in China who fear he might contract SARS. They think he’s nuts; Wang sees no other option.
“My friends, they say, ‘Don’t come back now; just wait for a couple of months,’ ” said Wang, a UI graduate research assistant from Wenling, in southeastern China.
“My parents tried to persuade me not to go back.”
Wang looks uncomfortable wearing the model N-95 “standard respirator” – manufactured by 3M, it runs about $1 – which is meant to prevent the spread of SARS.
“I don’t want to wait any longer,” Wang said, his fingers twitching with nervous excitement.
“But if I say I don’t worry about the [SARS] situation, it’s not the truth.”
Inside Wang’s apartment, seven antibacterial lotion bottles surround a box full of SARS masks – valuable commodities in China, where an outbreak of the disease has claimed 262 lives and infected 5,086, according to the World Health Organization. But Wang doesn’t have time to worry about a worldwide epidemic that has, since November 2002, affected more than 7,000 from Kuwait to New Zealand – including 64 non-fatal cases in the United States, none in Iowa. This biomedical engineer has bigger fish to fry. Besides planning for the wedding, Wang must also ready his wife’s visa documents for her move to the United States in June.
Upon his arrival in China, Wang said, he will whip out his mask, sanitize his hands, and slip into surgical gloves to blend in with the Shanghai crowd. A taxi will jet him across town to the domestic airport – not before passing medical workers spraying city buildings with sterilizing chemicals. At the terminal, Wang said, he will walk under an infrared machine that scans passengers’ temperatures to detect anyone over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit for quarantine.
High fever, body aches, and dry coughs are common symptoms of the disease.
Wang said he has little to fear when he enters the SARS-ridden country because his travel route is relatively safe compared with such places as Beijing, the capital, which has been in a virtual lockdown because of the virus. Plus, he said, “I’m confident in my immune system.
“If I get SARS, I have a 90 percent survival chance,” Wang said cheerfully.
Wang’s story remains somewhat of an oddity among Iowa City’s more than 550 Chinese students and scholars, many of whom canceled their trips home and shouldered the costs of nonrefundable airline tickets. Since April 20, when China’s government admitted to a SARS cover-up in Beijing, the students have watched from afar as a strange and still-incurable illness engulfs their country, endangering their relatives and friends.
When Chen Liu got a phone call from his sister-in-law in Beijing two weeks ago, she listed acquaintances who had been infected by SARS.
“She told the truth, that they died,” said Liu, a UI graduate student. “I think she’s used to it.”
Checking updated stories on the crisis in China, Liu often thinks of his family members, who have been holed up inside their Beijing apartment for weeks as 70 percent of the city’s workers – including his father, an accountant – stay home from work. In late April, UI senior John Denning returned from the capital after his study-abroad program was canceled there.
Zhenzhou Lei, another UI graduate student who had planned to return to see his parents in southeastern China, now faces a $300 penalty for changing his flight schedule, and even if he reaches China this summer, he said, authorities would keep him quarantined for four weeks.
“It’s very, very horrible now; the death rate is very high,” said Lei, the vice president of the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars.
Lei said he had a friend who was a nurse at Beijing Chest Hospital and tends daily to SARS patients.
“Before she enters the hospital, she puts on three preventative coats, three masks, a special hat, three gloves, and boots – it’s very complicated,” he said.
At first, he said, fear kept her locked at home but she later changed her mind and returned to work.
“I was shocked to know she chose to go back to work,” he said. “She said that if she stays at home, when she gets old she might feel remorse because she didn’t pick up her responsibility when she needed [to]. And if she goes back to work, she might die, and this way she would have no chance to feel remorse.”
SARS is a “popular topic” in the UI’s Chinese circles, and debate continues over whether it will soon be controlled. Despite the distance, some have decided to combat the illness from Iowa City by forming a SARS donation fund.
“This is a serious natural disaster,” said Xiang Li, a UI graduate student and president of friendship association, the group that organized the fund.
So far, Li said, group has raised more than $1,100 for the Red Cross Society of China to supply masks and medicine in the poorer, rural regions of the country that lack basic health facilities. The group will accept donations until the end of June.
In a time of fear and recession in China, Wang, who will soon enter its fray, relies on humor. A bona fide romantic, he knows how to woo his girl in a time of national crisis. Two weeks ago, he sent her a “care” package of SARS masks – a true sign of affection.
“She said, ‘Oh, no need,’ but I think she was happy,” Wang said.
In what is to be only his second face-to-face encounter with Lei later this month, he imagines a “classic” scene of love modified only slightly by SARS: Donning his mask, he will say hi to her and her family when they pick him up from the airport. Dropping his bags, he will warn her to stay back until he sanitizes his hands, give her a big hug, and tell her that she will be his bride in three days.
“Then,” he said, “I will take the mask off.”