by Xinhua writers Zhang Yisheng, Tamara Treichel
BEIJING, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Michael Crook remembers the thrill of stepping on the wooden planks of the Yangtze River bridge under construction in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in the summer of 1957 as a six-year-old.
"We were allowed to walk right onto the bridge, stepping on wooden planks. I looked down through gaps between the planks to see the torrent hundreds of feet below -- for one like me, who has always liked heights, enjoy bungee jumping, it was so thrilling!" Crook told Xinhua in a recent email interview. Subsequent visits to Wuhan followed during Crook's youth, which he remembered as "very calm, beautiful moments" in the turbulent 1960's and 1970's.
Growing up in China, the British-Canadian China hand, who is bilingual in English and Chinese, has the unique distinction of having lived in China for decades and witnessing the many profound changes the country has undergone. An unprecedented event for him and his family was the COVID-19 epidemic in China, which would eventually become a pandemic.
Like others in China, Crook and his centenarian mother Isabel had to engage in what is known as "social distancing" because of the epidemic. For Crook himself, that meant a greatly reduced social life, no more skiing and no more visits to swimming pools, although he tried swimming in the cold water of Beijing's canals.
"Mum, being retired, has been affected less. But her social life has been much reduced -- no friends over for dinner, no visits to homes of friends," Crook said about his mother Isabel, who until recently has still maintained an active social life and attended various events.
Crook helped found the Western Academy of Beijing, an international school, in 1994 and has been involved with the International Committee for the Promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (Gung Ho-ICCIC), whose mission is to bring benefits and opportunities to communities in need, for about 30 years.
After hearing of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan that would eventually claim thousands of lives, Crook, who now lives in Beijing, became living proof of kindness in a time of crisis.
He did not hesitate to make some donations to the virus-hit city of Wuhan through two not-for-profit institutions.
"I have made some donations -- money and masks -- to a hospital in Chengdu, and also to people in Wuhan, through the Jingxi Education Research Institute and the Rural Women Practical Skills Training School," Crook said.
Crook added that through the ICCIC, they have made much greater donations to hospitals in the Chinese cities of Chengdu, Shanghai and Datong.
But the relief efforts he was involved in also extended to Europe as COVID-19 rages in the West. "ICCIC being an international organization, we have also made donations of masks to friends in Europe (Germany, UK) and are working on donations to Belgium, Italy and Spain," Crook said.
Sending over donations to Europe was not easy logistics-wise, Crook admitted, as the equipment needed to be certified to the European standards and overcoming customs barriers could prove difficult.
His mother Isabel, a China-born Canadian anthropologist and author, is 104 years old and has lived in China for decades. She was one of the first foreign teachers at what today is known as the Beijing Foreign Studies University, China's top university for foreign studies, and was awarded the Friendship Award, China's highest award for foreigners who have made economic or social contributions to the country, in 2019. A documentary titled "Isabel Crook: Childhood Memories from Bailuding" was made to celebrate Isabel's long life in and contributions to China.
Next to supporting her son's COVID-19 relief efforts for the ICCIC, Isabel also made donations to Chengdu Second People's Hospital in southwest China's Sichuan province, across the street from where Isabel and her parents lived when she was growing up.
What's more, mother and son recorded a video message together to express their support for Wuhan and China during the epidemic.
Crook said the relief efforts "amount to a drop in the oceans. It's the thought that counts."
The Crook family's strong bonds with China go back a long way. "Counting my great-grandma Cecelie Sophie Allemand, who taught French in Chengdu about 100 years ago, I am fourth generation in China," Crook said.
"My missionary forebears came to China because (they) were imbued with the spirit of service. Both parents were very public-spirited," he added.
"I think there are factors that have contributed to China's great success in dealing with the epidemic," Crook said. "One is China's traditional emphasis on collective good, subordinating individual to the collective, stressing cooperation more than competition."
Crook's observations are borne out by what occurred shortly after Wuhan was locked down. On Jan. 27, four days after Wuhan was sealed off, local residents leaned on windows in a spontaneous show of solidarity. They sang patriotic songs and chanted "Wuhan, fight; China, fight" from the balconies, and the sounds rippled across the rooftops.
In the thick of the battle against the disease, Chinese deliverymen at risk of being infected kept supplying Wuhan's residents with essential supplies as they were confined to their homes.
Images went viral on China's social media platforms, with one showing a taxi driver's having hung a plastic sheet inside his car to cocoon himself from passengers, a responsible gesture symbolizing good hygiene and social responsibility.
"So (Chinese) people naturally are mindful of others, rather than always fighting for their individual rights and interests," Crook believed.
In terms of the Chinese government's efforts against the virus, Crook praised China's current system as the government can mobilize resources "in the public interest."
As the outbreak appears to be winding down in China, Wuhan has been bracing for a revival of activity. The transport hub reopened its subway and railway station on March 28, following more than two months of suspension due to the pandemic, and the lockdown on Wuhan was lifted on Wednesday. Now the focus is shifting to other COVID-19 hotspots abroad.
"Not only has China done a pretty good job for itself, it has given generous help to other countries," Crook said. "China's work on curbing the spread of COVID-19 is not just at home, but made an impact around the world!"
On March 31, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press conference that the Chinese government has provided 120 countries and four international organizations with surgical masks, N95 respirators, protective suits, nucleic acid test kits, ventilators and other supplies.
"There is much other countries can learn from China," Crook said, "but of course they may need to adapt measures to their particular situations."