Jack Raymond, a Portlander living in China, had read on the news that a strange virus was spreading in Asia, but he didn’t make that much of it.
That changed when, upon returning to Beijing from Hong Kong, he saw that everybody in the airport terminal and the subway he took to get home was wearing a face mask.
“‘Oh, God,’” he said he thought at the time. “‘I need to put on a mask — now.’”
None of the stores he went to had masks. He ended up buying a respirator for about $50, but it didn’t fit. A few days later, an American friend “who knows a guy” got Raymond some masks.
On Thursday, after hunkering down in a sixth-floor apartment in Beijing, Raymond was leaving the city he has called home for four years, abandoning close friends, his girlfriend, three hamsters and two teaching jobs.
The Milwaukie High School and Art Institute of Portland graduate is also leaving behind Goose, a kitten that stuck by him as Raymond endured three weeks of self-imposed confinement in his apartment, where he tried to keep cool as the news about the spreading coronavirus outbreak got increasingly dire.
The new virus has so far infected more than 40,000 people, the vast majority of them in China, and has killed more than 1,000. The U.S. Department of State said on Feb. 2 that people shouldn’t travel to China and that the U.S. citizens already there should either leave or hunker down and limit contact with others.
Raymond has been taking the advice to heart. He said he has been outside just a handful of times since he returned from Hong Kong. He let some garbage pile up in the apartment, he said, because he preferred being inside with trash than risking encountering people outside. And apart from going to the grocery store a few times, he has gone outside only to take Goose to the veterinarian to get his shots.
Every time he has gone outside, the streets have been empty, which he said is very unusual, and people making deliveries now leave them on the street, he said.
Making things worse for Raymond is his complete distrust of the Chinese government.
One post Raymond saw on social media made it seem like it was possible there were 24,000 people dead from the virus, not the 600 known at the time. He has been reposting videos on Facebook with people allegedly trying to spread the infection deliberately and other videos of Chinese authorities barricading people inside their apartments.
“You don’t know what to trust,” he said. “You don’t know what to think about reality.”
As for Goose, Raymond rescued the stray orange cat, which had been hanging around the drama school Raymond taught at and defecating on the stage. Raymond was determined to catch the perp.
He eventually caught the cat and took him to a veterinarian to get shots, in anticipation of finding someone to adopt him. But, as these stories usually go, the cat grew on Raymond.
Now, little Goose is staying with Raymond’s friend, and he hopes to get him to the United States in the next few months, Raymond said.
“He has been my company,” Raymond said, “keeping me from going insane.”
The cat is staying in China, he said, because he wasn’t able to make the arrangements in his rush to leave the country. Raymond will be landing in Washington, D.C., and then heading to his mother’s home in North Carolina. In at most a few months, he will go back to Portland, where he will try to find a job in software development and animation, he said.
“I feel like this is ushering a new chapter in life,” he said.