In Zurich, everything is almost back to normal.

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Three people by lake

In Zurich, everything is almost back to normal. It all seems to be fine – apart from people wearing masks. I almost feel that the virus doesn’t exist any more! 

We are very lucky.

We are quite an international family. I am originally from China. I went to England  to study when I was twenty-three and  got to know my husband  – who is German. We were studying at the same university.

Eleven years ago we came here, to Switzerland. We live right in the city, in Zurich. We always thought city life was very convenient but because of the lockdown we realised, actually the countryside is not a bad idea.  I could see people online with a trampoline in their garden – which we cannot have… on our balcony.

We have lived in this apartment for about seven years now. 

family home with balcony Zurich

We liked it because it is so close to everything: to the train station, the supermarket, to the local farm. The thing is: the infrastructure in Zurich is really good. There is a green space in front of us – a wonderful park. It has a six- storey high metal frame all covered in plants. It is really, really special.  We love it! 

Our apartment has three bedrooms: two rooms for the kids and one for us.  We have a large living room, a decent sized kitchen and a little balcony– which was really important during the lockdown, otherwise we wouldn’t use the balcony at all. During lockdown we started to grow  our own in our tiny, little balcony garden. We never had time before. Over the summer we grew tomatoes and raspberries. 

Zurich outdoor garden

I saw that lockdown was coming. When SARS broke in 2003  I was working in a hospital in China so lockdown wasn’t so strange for me. When I saw the numbers  were going up, and Switzerland finally said there would be a lockdown,  I was actually happy to hear it. 

Lockdown was not strict at all. Basically, in Zurich we could go out anywhere we liked any time and for any purpose. 

raspberries

My son is 11, my daughter is 9. Every morning the teachers would send out a video to the kids. Some of them had already gone for a run and would say: “Hello, I have exercised this morning, outside the air is fresh  – why  don’t you go out.” 

So, they actually encouraged you to go out and grab some fresh air for mental well-being. Also, some of the school tasks were outdoor-related. For example, they would say: Have you listened to the birds? Can you identify the birds by listening to their song? 

There was one task where we had to pick up some objects from the woods and then do handicrafts at home; being creative with the natural things around us.

The first day, we didn’t receive any instructions at all from the school. Then we got our computers installed. We managed to get one for each child – a decent computer. And then the second day the instructions came. There were no clear guidelines for the teachers.  They had to figure out on their own what they wanted to do with the kids. 

My daughter’s (two) teachers were very organised from Day 1. 

 They had a checklist for the entire week and  wrote very clear emails to motivative and encourage the children. And so, my daughter was very motivated to do all her tasks. A lot of which were interesting…. I found I wanted to be involved as well.

On the other hand, both of my son’s teachers have small babies at home. For them, setting tasks and being organised was more difficult because they had to look after their babies. I felt he was left more on this own – especially at the very beginning.

The children were off school from mid-March until the beginning of May.  

After that they had half-day school.  Every school class was divided into two groups and for two hours a day they were allowed to go to school. But because not all their friends were in the same group they missed them. They weren’t allowed to see the other group. 

I was happy to send them back to school.  I would like the teachers to see the work we did over lockdown and to check if the kids were on up to speed, and not falling behind. 

Before lockdown, when they don’t have school, they play freely with their friends outside the entire afternoon. They really missed their friends a lot. 

Both of my kids attend choir. During lockdown the teacher tried to teach the choir online through Zoom but she soon realised it wasn’t working very well – because of the delay. Also, her piano was so much louder than everyone else’s voice!

So, she decided to skip the choir practice and do individual vocal training online instead. It worked really well. My son plays piano and his piano teacher taught online every week by Skype. That worked really well too.  Surprisingly!

My daughter plays violin. Because she is a bit younger than my son, she didn’t engage very well with the teacher on the online lesson.  Also, certain things like… how you place your fingers on the violin. The teacher couldn’t really see.

They are both back to real-life, full-time lessons.  

Early this morning my daughter had a school trip, so she left at 6.50 am. So, apart from the masks we don’t feel the virus. We are really lucky. I’m really grateful we live in Switzerland.

Before lockdown I was working as a tour guide in Zurich taking Chinese tourists to the mountains. During the pandemic there weren’t any Chinese tourists but I was supported financially by the government for three months. So, I was really grateful for that. It meant I could stay at home and support my kids and family without worrying. It was a luxury.

The tourists are not back – at all.  My job is with a local tour bus company and we do daily trips to the mountains. The boss sent out in an email a few weeks ago to say that everyone is free to leave the company  – if they want. 

Some of my friends, who work in designer brand stores, are also suffering a lot because there are no customers, and they rely on the international tourists. Relying on Swiss people alone is not enough. 

The Swiss Government Health Department has a website that is updated daily to give us all the information we need. We just have to check the website if there is a change in policy. During lockdown we had a press conference every day. Sometimes I watched it with the kids to keep informed. 

Making gnocchi from scratch

During April there was a two week school break. Normally we would have a lot of activities but of course it was not possible. But, during lockdown we managed to tidy up the rooms and clean the windows. We did a lot of cooking, and played a lot of board games that we hadn’t managed to play with before lockdown. The children got them for birthdays and from relatives  and they were just all piled up in the cupboard.  We never actually thought about playing them. So, we went through all the board games. 

Normally the children only play with their friends but during lockdown they had to play with each other. They learned how to get along.  That was great. It was a great bonding process for all of us. 

Strangely, my husband and I were having more arguments than ever. When I watched  “Big Brother” I used to laugh when they would argue over a plate of food or something…  Then during lockdown the same thing happened to us. Small things became huge. We couldn’t plan anything, so we didn’t have a ‘vision’ for the future. We were just focused on the moment and on the small, little, tiny details.  That was interesting. A marriage test! 

My husband still works from home. The office has limited the number of people who can actually physically work there. He works in between teams and it is not possible to see all of them. The best thing is to see them online. 

He will be informed when he is to return to the office – but it’s not going to be any time before October.  He is looking forward to going back.  It’s different … working with and meeting different people. Online phonecalls are great –  but less effective than face to face communication. 

He used to go to the gym. It’s all open again, but he doesn’t think it is safe to go. So, he put up a home gym in our balcony. 

We missed our friends and family.  I would really love to see my parents. They should have visited us by now, but they didn’t come this year. My parents-in-law, who live in Germany, when they had birthdays and Easter we couldn’t visit them.

Through all this we realised that we don’t have a common passport. The children have a children’s Chinese passport and German passport. – they can go to both countries.  Me and my husband, we don’t have a common passport. Right now, it is not possible for him to come with me to China, because he is German.

The price of flights from Zurich have gone up so much! Going to visit family has become a more difficult thing to do. Before, we would just buy the tickets without thinking. Now that seems to be a luxury!

Because I was expecting lockdown I said to my husband it’s likely the ski areas are going to close. So, he just took a day off  – to go skiing. And that was the very last day before the lockdown. 

The ski season here was extremely short because, first of all, the winter wasn’t cold enough. Then eventually, when we had enough snow, the pandemic happened. We still managed to have a ski holiday in February. 

Normally, we ski every weekend over the winter. We are close to the mountains so it’s very easy, with brilliant access to the ski areas. 

During lockdown I don’t think the food prices went up.  Actually, it saved us a bit of money because we didn’t go anywhere and we didn’t visit hair salons and nail bars. These things became so unimportant to us. 

The pandemic is very bad. People are dying. But for us – so far – it is not such a bad experience.  Lockdown was actually a nice relaxing time for us –  apart from the arguments of course.

I have also realised just how adaptable we are. The children quickly adapt to their daily routine and we adults too. 

Because we are used to living in Zurich, everyday there is noise…. cars… people and then…. all of a sudden everything was so quiet.  That kind of relaxing atmosphere was a very special experience. 

All Photos By Respondent

Follow Nuala Rooney:

I am a creative professional and award-winning author, currently developing original ethnographic design research. With over 25 years experience in Higher Education my interest lies in exploring distilled thinking and design as lived experience.

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