My money: “People have started to leave their homes again”


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Jen Smith


Jen Smith lives in Shenzhen, where it is mandatory to wear a mask outside at all times

My Money is a series that examines how people spend their money – and sometimes difficult decisions. Here, Jen Smith, a children’s television presenter from Shenzhen in southern China, tells us about a week in her life, as the country slowly emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Let’s go to Jen …

Since I’ve been locked out, I’ve been working hard to keep pace with the Kardashians. It starts with an episode after dinner, flashes, and suddenly it’s 3 a.m. YouTube, Facebook, Google and Instagram are all banned here, so you might think I would be a frenzied socialite after a year and a half of living in China. Well, these sites are banned unless you have a VPN – I pay $ 120 (£ 97) a year for mine, so Sunday was late at night, with an extension until 10:30 this morning.

I’m going to run – mask and everything, because it’s currently illegal to be outside without one. I make my coffee (bought in the UK), a fruit smoothie (about 20 yuan, $ 2.82, £ 2.27) and cereals (80 yuan a package) before commuting to work.

Today is a little crazy day in the studio. I work as a TV presenter for children. My business has taken advantage of the lockdown as more and more children watch the shows continuously, which means a rapid turnaround for us.

We are filming two shows from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. then “break” for a meeting. We’re talking about tomorrow’s filming while I’m having dinner – homemade eggplant curry. It is normal for Chinese people to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at work. Normally, the company gives all staff 25 yuan through a food ordering app, and the whole company eats together. However, due to the current social distance, this social time is in the very distant past!

I come home at 8 p.m., I order fried cauliflower as a snack (45 yuan) and unleash the inevitable Kardashian frenzy.

Total expenses: 65 yuan ($ 9.10, £ 7.37)

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Jen Smith


Workers often take a nap at noon at the office

It’s a much earlier departure (7:30 am), but the same morning routine. On my work cycle, I notice that traffic has almost returned to normal – Shenzhen is home to more than 12 million people, so as you can imagine, the rush hour is intense. It doesn’t change the fact that everywhere you go you have to scan a QR code – leave my apartment, take the bridge by the river and enter the building in which I work.

After a morning of filming, I eat homemade potato curry and settle down for a nap. Napping is so common in China that people store cots in the office. I order coffee and banana chips (20 yuan) for a rewind before the afternoon shoot.

It’s St Paddy’s day, so I head to the local pubs, I have dinner in a French restaurant (222 yuan), then a few glasses (25 yuan – mainly bought by men at the bar for us) before a very pompous bicycle house.

Total expenses: 242 yuan ($ 34, £ 25)

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Jen Smith


Disposable lid reduces risk of virus transmission by touching lift buttons

The filming in the morning (fortunately) was canceled, so I treated a hangover in bed until around 11 am, when I had a telephone meeting for a company for which I am modeling ” plus-size ”(for the context, I’m a British size). 12). I eat a bowl of cereal and order more cauliflower (45 yuan) while watching a movie.

At 2:30 p.m., an intern picks me up and we head to the government building to apply for a new work visa. Ironically, the image taken for my visa is Photoshopped to remove wrinkles, freckles and my frizzy hair. When I ask why this is done for an identity document, the intern replies that the government wants it to be clean, and “Chinese-style” is to have modified the photos.

I don’t argue and have an interview before handing over my passport. The whole process takes about two hours, so I order food from my house on the way home (150 yuan for burger, salad and cake!) I take a taxi through the city which ends up being 39.05 yuan.

Total expenses: 234.05 yuan ($ 33, £ 27)

My money

More blogs from the BBC’s My Money series:

The day starts at 8:30 am with coffee and reading, before getting a manicure (280 yuan). My nail lady was very worried about the condition of my hands during the virus, so she spends two and a half hours treating them while I watch a movie (0.99 yuan – bought by her). Because the manicure was so long, I don’t have time for lunch before our fitness session, which runs from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Then I have an appointment to connect to a building in which I will film tomorrow.

The building is near a supermarket called Ole (one of the only western supermarkets), and I’m shopping for 183 yuan before you go home to cook, listen to podcasts and prepare for the big day of shooting Friday.

Total expenses: 463 yuan ($ 64, £ 52.5)

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Jen Smith


Jen films in front of a green screen – a more colorful digital background will be added later in post-production

Fridays are usually my busiest days. The way the Chinese seem to work is that a boss will say “I want this done now,” and then the employees rush to finish it. Generally, they will write scripts Monday and Tuesday, discuss Wednesday, and then shoot later in the week. Poor editors, despite compulsory office hours during the week, must then work tirelessly over the weekend to reach a deadline on Sunday evening.

I start with an avocado puree and a hard-boiled egg before working. The morning shoot takes place from 9:30 am to 11:40 am, and I have an early breakfast – homemade curry again, before the usual nap time. The afternoon shoot is three hours, so I have time to go home and take a shower before a live broadcast at 6 p.m. I take a taxi to and from the live stream which ends up being 28 yuan.

Total expenses: 28 yuan ($ 3.92, £ 3.18)

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Jen Smith


Taxi driver improvised screen to reduce passenger’s risk of taking Covid-19

Finally the week end! Although things are slowly improving in China after the coronavirus epidemic, there is still not much to do. So I use this time to write, play my piano and generally relax indoors. Around 3 p.m., I venture outside to get snacks (159.60 yuan) before setting up to call my family in the UK with a homemade cocktail – one of my friends in Canada does a daily live broadcast, “quarantinis” where he teaches you how to make cocktails!

What is interesting is that many people have started to leave their homes, but it is still illegal to go out without a mask, and temperature checks are carried out everywhere. I was even refused entry to a building because of my foreign status. I imagine this is because recently, the only new cases are brought by non-Chinese who are returning to China.

Total expenses: 159.60 yuan ($ 22, £ 18)

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Jen Smith


Shenzhen metro system is still very quiet

It is another slow day for me as many foreigners have not yet returned to China, so most of my friends are out of the country. I start the day by reviewing the potential scripts.

That brings me to 1:30 p.m. without realizing that I haven’t eaten. I decide to do a quick run and come back to eat avocado puree and a hard-boiled egg.

I bleach my hair with products bought in the UK, then I come back to touch up. Around half of the afternoon, I take a short break to practice Chinese. I’m using a fantastic free app! It is really worth it for everyone to download it during the social distance so that you can learn new skills!

For dinner, I order online again, a three-course meal for 160 yuan.

Total expenses: 160 yuan ($ 22.4, £ 18)

Total weekly expenses: 1,352 yuan ($ 189, £ 153)


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