Pasta Wok is a restaurant in Madrid, the capital of generous standards, but if someone dares to set foot in this artisan noodle establishment in the Usera district, they will have to answer for violating the strict law of its owner. Three stools block the entrance and two signs warn in Chinese and Spanish of the rules that the business has imposed itself: only take out food and no entry. This last rule is highlighted with three exclamation marks. When poking his head inside the establishment, the manager angrily warns from behind the counter: “No! Get out!”
The virus is something very serious in Usera, the district with the most Chinese in Madrid. A year ago this community was ahead of the Spanish authorities. No one forced them but the shops closed on their own, the parents stopped taking the children to school and everyone began to wear masks. He seemed paranoid but weeks later, with hospitals on the brink of collapse, many in Madrid lamented that they had not followed suit.
A year later the pandemic suffocates less and the authorities of the region have given more freedoms than in many parts of Europe with the idea of continuing to make money, even at the cost of risking health. Madrid has become the capital of the afternoon, the crowded terraces and the French refugees. To many Chinese of Usera the customs in Madrid still seem reckless. Many hospitality businesses catering to the Chinese public are open but, like Pasta Wok, they only deliver home delivery. Chinese schools only teach online and many neighbors ask the supermarket to bring their purchases home.
New Year’s Eve was an occasion for the Spaniards to relax norms and resume meetings with family and friends, but the Chinese New Year, which was on February 12, has not been an excuse to lower our guard. The festivities end on Friday, but Usera’s most popular hall for weddings and birthdays, Guo Dong Restaurant, was empty on Monday afternoon. There hasn’t been a single meeting these days, says Kai Zhang, the 33-year-old owner: “No one leaves the house. Not even to meet with other relatives ”.
Like other hoteliers in Usera, he has a sign on the door that warns that they only deliver home deliveries, but he admits that they are having such a bad time that if someone asks for it, he can allow them to eat in the living room. Guo Dong even has a second floor with rooms for private meals. But Kai says that not even for those are his clientele encouraged.
Eating outdoors might reassure some Chinese neighbors, but since Usera’s streets are very narrow, there is no room for tables on the terraces. The same problem has the typical bars frequented by Spaniards of origin, but these places do allow you to enter the establishment. The atmosphere is much more relaxed in these establishments. According to latest update of standards of the Government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso, hospitality businesses can allow an occupation of four people per table indoors.
At the Cervecería Bar Ángel Luis, a customer drank beer at the bar this Monday, despite the fact that this is prohibited by the rules of the Community of Madrid. Inside here they know that Chinese shops have their own, stricter rules, but they hardly notice that contrast. “In Usera, the Spanish and the South Americans go to some bars and the Chinese go to others,” says a parishioner, Alfredo, naturally, as if this separation were the most normal thing in the world.
Chinese discipline versus European tolerance
In Usera, even young Chinese do not question the discipline against the virus that their community demands. Yiting Chen, a 20-year-old girl, hasn’t partied all year. “I’ve only gone shopping with friends,” she says while waiting for a bubble tea to be prepared for her at the door of an establishment that also prohibits the passage. Another client, Michelle Chen, 30, regrets that young people are not making sacrifices. “They have not taken it seriously and have made a bottle.”
But there are second-generation Chinese who question so many deprivations. Jackie Yun, 29, is a young man of Chinese origin raised in Denmark who has been in Madrid for five years. His parents reside in China where they have businesses, so he lives “between two worlds.” In the last year he has participated many times in Internet forums in the debate of which approach is better: Chinese discipline or European permissiveness? He puts Madrid in the same group as the rest of European capitals because he says that in Copenhagen people also have parties, although at home.
Yun acknowledges that he goes to the discos in the center of Madrid on weekends, after lunch. There are people in line and inside everyone drinks and dances like before the pandemic: “I think it’s the most natural thing to do. I didn’t go out at first, but I think people have the right to have fun. We have been living like this for a year and this has lasted too long ”.
Meanwhile, others in Usera prefer to wait for the vaccine to bring normality. “There is little to go,” says Alex Cai, an employee of Hong Du restaurant, another restaurant that prohibits diners. “We will be using the tables again soon,” he says, pointing around him. All the chairs are on the tables, surrounded by a yellow and black ribbon. It seems that they have been intervened by the police, but the scene is explained by the sense of duty of their boss.