SARS was tough, but this is worse
China Daily

Zhu Jianwei, 40, was a final year law student at Northwest University of Politics and Law in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Early in 2003, I visited Beijing to look for a job. It was my first trip outside Shaanxi, so my mom sewed 3,000 yuan into my underwear. When I returned to Xi'an in late February, it was like summer because spring in the city had been very short.

A month later, my roommate and I took a bus in Xi'an to buy a cellphone for essential communications before graduation. At the time, the locals were very wary of returnees from Beijing.

On the bus, my roommate asked why I hadn't bought a phone in the capital. Before I could reply, the bus screeched to a halt and the driver shouted,"Have you just returned from Beijing?"

I held the handrail tightly and hurriedly explained that I had been back for a month, and that everything had been fine in Beijing when I had left.

At the end of April, universities imposed stringent preventive measures, such as entry and exit restrictions on campus, and only a few students from each class were allowed to go outside per day. The students either sat in the library or played mahjong in their dorms. What seem boring entertainments now were enjoyable back then.

Girls made lists of necessities and we helped buy them in the supermarket across the road.

The university handed out gate passes so teachers' relatives could go out to buy food. We found one on the ground, so we regularly changed the photo to that of whoever wanted to go for a walk. The trick was finally exposed by the guard and punishments ensued.

During the university's partial lockdown, people returning from Beijing, Guangdong province and other hard-hit regions were quarantined for 12 days on the campus.

Some young couples were placed under observation together after returning from recruitment activities outside the city. Their relationships were strengthened thanks to the adversity during that special time.

The memory of the end of SARS has gradually faded.

The end of our college lives that year could be described as tragic because farewells on station platforms, the graduation ceremony, and plans to undertake postgraduate studies together all flew away with the wind.

We took a group photo on the last day of June. Days later, we departed in batches, and I started in Beijing at the company that had interviewed me earlier. In my mind, that was the end of SARS and my college career.

The situation this year is quite different from back then, at least for graduates in Xi'an, which wasn't among the hardest-hit cities.

Also, the job market wasn't as competitive as today, so most of my classmates quickly found jobs.

Zhu Jianwei spoke with Zhao Yimeng.