When Ms. Cheng first arrived at the exhibition center, it felt vast, cold and empty, she said in a phone interview. Ms. Cheng, who is a student in her early 20s, also wrote about her experience on Chinese social media.
The fluorescent lights were glaring but she tried to get some rest. She woke up the next morning to find her hall suddenly crammed with people.
There was no tap for running water and no showers, Ms. Cheng said, so each day she and others would crowd around several fresh water machines, waiting to fill up the pink plastic wash basins they had been given. The portable toilet stalls soon filled with so much human waste that Ms. Cheng said she stopped drinking water for several days so she wouldn’t have to use them as frequently.
Even if someone had figured out how to turn off the floodlights, Ms. Cheng said, it would still have been hard to sleep at night. That was when people would shout out their complaints and let off steam.
“Lots of people complained, and some people shouted out that it was too smelly to sleep,” she said.
Worried about upsetting her mother, Ms. Cheng didn’t tell her that she was in a fangcang. She said instead that she could not do video calls, giving her mother vague answers about daily life in quarantine. A woman sleeping in a nearby bed took a similar approach when speaking with her daughter. The two women shared a smile when they discovered they had the same secret.
Ms. Cheng said she struggled to come to terms with a quarantine system that reduced her to a number. If she wanted something, she had to find a nurse or doctor who was assigned to her zone. But the nurses and doctors were so busy that it was hard to get any help, she said.
Ms. Cheng said she had once admired the government’s goal of keeping the virus out of China. It meant that for more than two years, she could live a normal life, even as cities and countries around the world had to lock down.
Now, she’s not so sure.
“This time I feel it is out of control and it’s not worth controlling the cases because it is not so dangerous or deadly,” she said, referring to the highly contagious Omicron variant. “It’s not worth sacrificing so many resources and our freedom.”
Joy Dong and Li You contributed research.