Former Vancouver Island man stuck in Thailand after fleeing China to avoid coronavirus

Mark Conway unsure when he can return to teaching job at Chinese university

Former Qualicum Beach resident Mark Conway finds himself stuck in Thailand, after recently catching a last-minute plane to the country following news reports about the coronavirus outbreak in China.

The illness caused by the virus has a name as of Tuesday — COVID-19. The epidemic has now taken approximately 1,100 lives.

Conway was a server at the Beach Club restaurant in Parksville for five years and moved to China to teach at a university seven years ago. His classes have been canceled until further notice. He said he loves living in China and can’t wait to get back – all his best friends live in the country, most of whom are still there.

“They’re scared and lonely,” said Conway, over a sometimes glitchy Skype connection from his Bangkok hotel. “I talk to them every day.”

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A recent message from Conway’s best friend described the scene in China — he said a drone flew over him and told him to put on a mask, or else it would drop one on him.

Conway said he knew he had to leave his home in Zhenjiang after a couple days of staying indoors. The Chinese government told everyone to not leave their homes, and Conway compiled for as long as he could before riding his e-bike to the store.

“7-Eleven stayed open,” he said, adding a few other stores did the same. “There weren’t any fruits or vegetables, not even an onion.”

He was critical of how the coronavirus situation is being handled – in his eyes, everyone is scrambling, unsure of what’s going on and how to handle it.

He said getting the initial news was strange – no one really knew what to think. It was the first day of Chinese New Year, the spring festival, and people had just started their holidays.

“It’s like Christmas in Canada, everyone is with their families,” said Conway.

Conway was at his friend’s house for Chinese New Year. She’s a nurse, and came up and checked his temperature with a laser pointer thermometer before he walked in the door, confirming “he’s good.” He said they were all able to enjoy dinner, that the reality of the virus hadn’t really set in for everyone yet – they were even making jokes.

When the hysteria started to increase, Conway decided to try and get out of China. He said he threw a few things in a bag and was able to catch a flight out within the day, getting him to Thailand. He said the airport was “completely surreal”.

Conway lived in Thailand before he lived in China, so he said he’s doing fine. He has friends there and is safe, but is having to spend the equivalent to $70 Canadian per day on living expenses while he’s there.

“I can’t afford to live in a hotel forever,” he said.

Although his parents want him to come home to Qualicum Beach, Conway says he’ll only do that if the university cancels classes for the rest of the semester.

The school recently announced that they would start up online classes in March, but there hasn’t been word on when physical classes will startup. For now, he’s playing a waiting game for things to get back to normal, so he can get back to his job and life in China.

cloe.logan@pqbnews.com

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