Feeling Nostalgic: Taipei, SARS, and the End of the World

Daily Origami is a way for us to record our off the cuff thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around us. Published every weekday, Monday through Friday.

Early summer evenings in Taipei...

Early summer evenings in Taipei...

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
— Fleetwood Mac

Ivan here. 

Hop on the nostalgia train as we travel back to the year 2003. Back when I was a 14 year old teenager. It was a time before social media. Before smartphones. Before blaming immigrants for all our problems was cool. 

2003 was the season of SARS. Remember SARS? It was the old Ebola. 

I. Outbreak

I was a sophomore attending a private international school in Taipei. The school had been built in 1949 for families of American GIs stationed at the nearby Shulinkou Air Base. After the U.S. withdrawal, it became an expensive prep school for kids of the wealthy and connected. My family was neither - but that’s a story for another time. 

Back to SARS: it’s hard to remember the general sense of panic and paranoia that was in the air. Especially in Asia - where the disease originated. And because the virus spread through the respiratory system, every cough was met with narrowed eyes. People travelled everywhere wearing surgical masks. Bottles of sanitizer flew off the shelves by the half gallon. 

SARS had a major impact on my life. In some ways, you could say that the end of the world has helped shape the way I make sense of things in 2017.  

II. Quarantine

It began in April, when a classmate of mine contracted SARS. We were in the same physics lab together. He was a decent guy, and though we hardly ever spoke, he definitely didn’t deserve to contract SARS (spoiler alert: he survived). 


Two things happened after the government quarantined my classmate: 

  1. My school was shut down immediately for the year and our summer vacation officially began in April.
  2. I was given a “Pass” grade on the slow moving trainwreck that was my physics project.

However, my relief turn out to be short-lived. Two extra months of summer sounds awesome in theory - until you realize that you’ll be spending those months cooped up at home reading War and Peace and watching the world crumble around you on daytime television. Every channel kept replaying the same footage of my classmate being wheeled into the hospital. 

The fear was palpable. It was everywhere - and we couldn’t turn away. 

III. Containment

By July, SARS had been contained, taking the lives of 775 people around the globe. 

The first day I set foot outside without a mask, I remember feeling shocked at how quickly everything went back to normal. All the fear and paranoia of the past eight months vanished like a bad dream. 

The fever broke and life went on.  

Which is to say that everything has its season, and every season comes to an end.