Ethan Lou

Feb 4, 2021

Field Notes from a Pandemic

A Journey Through a World Suspended

Signal 2020

We are just over a year from when global news first reported a new type of pneumonia emerging in the Chinese city of Wuhan. A lockdown of Wuhan on January 23rd, 2020, was the first indication that these stories were more serious than originally thought.

All of us know what happened next: COVID-19 spread from China to other countries in Asia, then to Europe, then to North America, then worldwide. To slow the spread, countries frantically imposed travel restrictions on those coming from places affected by COVID-19: a massive shift away from the increasingly open borders seen over the past two decades.

One traveller caught up in these new restrictions was Ethan Lou, author of Field Notes From a Pandemic: A Journey Through a World Suspended (Signal, 2020). Ethan arrives in China in early 2020 to visit his family, as the first leg of a trip around the world. On each leg of his journey, he sees how different parts of the world are transformed by the global pandemic. Field Notes From a Pandemic, named among the CBC’s best Canadian non-fiction books of 2020, is one half travelogue, one half commentary, in and about a changed world.

In this interview, Ethan and I talk about his journey around the world, and how COVID-19 made a routine trip exceptionally complicated. He shares how he saw the world change in real-time, and which of those changes may end up sticking around.

Ethan Lou is a former Reuters reporter and has served as a visiting journalist at the University of British Columbia. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Globe and Mail, Maclean's, the South China Morning Post, the Walrus, and the Washington Post. His next book is Once a Bitcoin Miner: Scandal and Turmoil in the Cryptocurrency Wild West. He can be found on Twitter at @Ethan_Lou, and his work can be found at

You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books, including its review of Field Notes From a Pandemic. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.

Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.

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Nicholas Gordon

Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.

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