Atypical pneumonia, typical life

Daniel Chen

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Because of the outbreak of SARS, also known as atypical pneumonia, CityUniversity, together with its seven local counterparts, suspended classes for two weeks, from 29 March to 13 April. Although the situation seemed alarming, the two-week suspension was an unexpected holiday for many CityU students, especially for the non-local students who live in halls.

"I'm going home! It will be a big surprise for my parents because they don't know I'm coming," said Mr Wang Jing, a year one Shanghainese student in the Department of Public and Social Administration.

After the announcement that classes would be further suspended, more than 20 mainland students crossed the border, flying from ShenzhenAirport home to northern China. "Not that we're worried so much about SARS," explained Ms Lin Ying, a second year Zhejiang University exchange student in the Department of English and Communication, "we are just homesick." They were all very happy that there were no classes for another week and they could go home for a short reunion. "I don't think Hong Kong is as dangerous as described in the international media," Ms Lin added.

On the other hand, many of the non-local students remained in residence and enjoyed an "atypical holiday." In the first few days of the class suspension, they took the initiative to help the janitors clean and disinfect common rooms and public areas. Later, they occupied the computer rooms of the student hostel, writing papers, doing research and ICQ-chatting with friends, parents and relatives.

"Thanks to the unexpected holiday," said Mr Ding Ying, a year three student from the Department of Manufacturing Engineering and Engineering Management, "I sleep more these days. Some schoolmates joined me and we prepare our own meals. The meals were much better than those offered in the student canteen." They also had more time for sports and to share personal experiences and feelings.

Some, however, complained about being bored. "How nice it would be if we could have classes tomorrow!" said Ms Li Ai, a first year student in the Department of Biology and Chemistry. "Although it actually feels nice to slow down a little. During the 'holiday,' I had some time to chat with the security guards. I used to ignore them. But now I find them very interesting and kind."

A student from the Philippines, Ms Hazel Ho was among the few foreign students who chose to stay in Hong Kong. Apart from catching up on sleep, she ate out everyday. "It was the safest period to eat out," explained Ms Ho, an associate degree year two student majors in East and Southeast Asian Studies, "because everybody was wary of atypical pneumonia. They naturally paid a lot of attention to food hygiene and the general restaurant environment." Though classes were suspended, she kept herself busy working on a few projects with her local partners.

About 156 non-local students lived in residence before the outbreak of SARS. Some 27 overseas short-term exchange students checked out and left Hong Kong after classes were suspended, according to Ms Grace Ng, Student Residence Life Co-ordinator. "We are working closely with the University's Ad Hoc Group on Monitoring SARS to make sure the dormitory is a safe home for students," she said. "Special assistance can be provided to non-local students upon request."

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