On the road in virus-stricken China

Last month, as the world was coming to grips with the seriousness of COVID-19, Mads Vesterager Nielsen found himself 1,000 miles away from home, battling altitude sickness and dizziness in the border region of Gansu and Sichuan. He and two colleagues had just begun a road trip for music research that was supposed to take them through Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia. The coronavirus put an end to those plans.

But getting back to Beijing proved tricky. The virus seemed to tail Nielsen and his companions at every turn, causing them to get rejected by hotels and questioned in every city they passed through. Oh, and they also had to break into their own rental car:

“What are the foreigners doing here?” the police chief asked.

“They locked themselves out of their own car,” an officer answered. “These days, technology is too modern for when the going gets rough. Aiya!”

“It’s not too bad,” another officer said. “At least if you get a cold up here you can go to the hospital for free now!” Everybody laughed. “Can we take a selfie with you?” We leaned in.

Customer service called us back and instructed us to shatter the rear passenger window. They would cover the costs, they promised. The policemen began arguing about the best way to do this, and eventually offered a baton, but not their assistance. This was our responsibility, so we had to do the deed.

It’s a wonderful tale of whimsy and humanity, set against the backdrop of a budding epidemic. Click through to SupChina to read it.

—Anthony Tao