We don’t know how much the Chinese Communist Party pays the New York Times to place pieces in its pages, but we’re guessing it’s a good income stream for the paper. In Monday’s New York Times, Li Yuan explains that although Beijing keeps its uncompromising grip on power through surveillance and censorship, you have the freedom to walk around during the pandemic.

Yuan writes:

Mr. [Duncan] Clark, a businessman and an author, returned to China after spending nine months in the United States and France, his longest time away from the country since he moved to Beijing in 1994. He had been spending more time outside China over the past few years to get away from air pollution, censored internet and an increasingly depressing political environment.

But when he returned in October, he felt something new: safe, energized and free.

“The ability to just live a normal life is pretty amazing,” he said.

While many countries are still reeling from Covid-19, China — where the pandemic originated — has become one of the safest places in the world. The country reported fewer than 100,000 infections for all of 2020. The United States has been reporting more than that every day since early November.

China resembles what “normal” was like in the pre-pandemic world. Restaurants are packed. Hotels are full. Long lines form outside luxury brands stores. Instead of Zoom calls, people are meeting face to face to talk business or celebrate the new year.

So the guy who left China to get away from internet censorship is now calling life in China “amazing” because the bar has been lowered so far he can go to a restaurant.