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April 02, 2020

Tale of Two Cities

I was in NYC right before the stay-at-home order. Some stores including Apple and Dyson were already closed then. Those remained open typically had more employees than customers. Because there were no Chinese tourists anymore,  no one "Ni hao!"ed me at Macy's. Instaed, lots of them were just staring at their phones while working.

When things were normal, I was annoyed by "Ni hao"s from salese associates who wanted to sell me awfully expensive moisturizers I cannot afford. I am Asian, but I do not speak a single word of Chinese. Now I kind miss that experience of being racially profiled.
  

We knew the outbreak was happening, but in retrospect, we were not aware how seious the situation had been. Here are some photos I took before I left. It is heart-wrenching to wake up to news of rising cases there everyday these days. 

It just happened so quickly. In late February, there were more cases in Japan --it was also dealing with the Diamond Princess debacle--and I felt safer staying in the US. It was a complete reversal by mid-March.

I learned this afternoon (April 2nd) that the capitain of my flight from NYC to Haneda was tested positive! Of course, I was not in close contact with him. I wish him swift recovery. But I am left with the feeling that I left the hot zone by a hair's breadth.  

Things look normalish on streets in Tokyo these days except virtually everyone is wearing a mask. It has far fewer cases than in NYC even though there is a surge last couple of days. People shop and restaurants are well patronized. 

The Tokyo governor told us at a press coference to avoid certain places: bars and eateries "where you are served by servers" (that is a euphemis for the kind of places where gentlmen are served by certain kinds of ladies, I think. Obviosuly, she is not talking about regular restaurants.) It is not like "Hey, stay home! Don't go out!" I do not understand why she can't be more direct and straightforward. 

Yesterday, the prime minister announced that each household will receive two masks from the government. I thought it was an April Fool joke. The effectiveness of masks in mitigating the spread of Covid-19 is not established yet. Even it is proved to be effective, its distribution should be left to a carefully regulated market as they did in Taiwan because everyone's demand is different.The black market would be flooded with these masks. If we have to get useless gifts from the government, why can't we receive bamboo sticks like when we were enouraged to fight the enermy while the Manhattan Porject was well underway? At least then we can pretend we are Jedi. And has the government have ever heard of the notion of transaction cost?

My university decided to move all classes to online this semester. I think it is a great idea. A surprisingly good decision by the powers that be. Even that means extra work for me as a sociology program head --I have to harrass the technologically challenged (cultural sociology people, I am talking about you) and force them to read the manual. They gonna hate me.

Some other universities are going online. But my concern is, other universities may not have that option. Some schools are seriously under-funded. My university introduced Microsoft Teams last semester. Of course it is not in anticipation of this pandemic, but lucky us.  I read today that one university will have regular, face-to-face classes while limiting enrollment significantly by doing a lottery for each class (Takasaki Keizai University, I am talking about you). If you have fewer students in class room, lower probability of spreading the disease. That is the rationale. But it does not make sense. Who wants to come to class knwoing that there is low and yet real chance of getting the disease. No thank you. It reminds me of The Deer Hunter. Masks. Smaller classes. We are so good at magical thinking. 


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