Day 10 in Quarantine

Today is my last day in quarantine. I’ve been informed that tomorrow morning I will be released. I will then find a way to go to Shanghai – my destination and my hometown. I’m supposed to be thrilled. But instead, I feel sad.

The whole journey to THE East has been like a dream – a not so sweet one, though.

It all started with the purpose of life, my life. When I think big, I say, I want to make a change in the world, leave an impact. When it comes down to earth, I know, I have to do it – to go to mainland China, my responsible territory for work, to develop the business.

I started looking for air tickets over a year ago. Despite the ridiculously high prices, I (actually my employer) booked them twice and twice the attempts failed. Then here came up an opportunity from Shanghai – Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai was organizing a flight to Switzerland and a flight to China. I took the latter.

After having successfully completed two PCR tests (one within 48 hours, one within 24 hours), I departed from Lausanne, where my 3rd hometown is inevitably forming into shape, on September 14th, in order to spend a night near Zurich airport. Zurich, definitely my 2nd hometown as how I want to put it, welcomed me with a drizzle and cold air.

By 4am on September 15th I checked out of the hotel and arrived at the airport. To my surprise, there was already a swarm. Many people were rushing in the last bit of the holiday season.

I fell asleep on the plane before the take-off. We all did. It was nearly full. Portugal, is always a good destination for a vacation.

When I suddenly opened my eyes, for no reason – as I was sitting by the window, nobody disturbed me – I saw something totally marvellous. I took out my phone immediately and captured the rare moment – one airplane was flying beneath ours, with a long tail of air, another airplane quickly passing by like a shooting star. Only then did I realize, in one sky, three airplanes could fly simultaneously!

Didn’t capture the 3rd airplane…But I will never forget what I saw.

It was the time for the sun to rise somewhere between Zurich and Lisbon. The song of Norah Jones’ Sunrise started playing in my head and for an entire day my mind was fixated on the lyrics…

“Surprise, surprise

Couldn’t find it in your eyes

But I’m sure it’s written all over my face”

After landing, while waiting for my checked-in luggage, I found the group that had been organized by Swiss Chamber of Commerce. Confidently, we marched towards our airport hotel in Lisbon for a two-night stay and two PCR tests (again, one within 48 hours and one within 24 hours as the Chinese authority requested).

Luckily, this time we didn’t need to hustle ourselves to find those two different clinics out of the six appointed by Chinese embassy in Portugal or to struggle with Portuguese language. It was very well organized, including a photo shoot session requested by the airline for the flight to Hangzhou, China. It was to make sure, we were who we claimed we were.

After experiencing the 4 times “let’s-try-to-find-your-brain-through-your-nostril” test, we became more grateful to the life we had been having in Europe, which till now was taken for granted.

To celebrate life, we headed to town after work (those were two workdays after all. Some of us had to work from hotel room. At least I did.), risking everything that we were not supposed to. Avoiding catching the COVID virus seemed to be everything for now. We were the only visible people on the street with masks on.

Then, there, I had the last two proper dinner. I knew subconsciously, this was the “last supper” kind of thing.

Before we asked for the bill, our test results arrived in each one’s email box with a low key. Yet, it raised all of our attention and the atmosphere became tense. The bill didn’t come even after we had all successfully filled out another Health Code online form. Perhaps the waiters didn’t want to disturb a group of customers whose eyes and fingers were tightly fixed onto their phone screens.

“I got my green code!” One after another was hurrahing in our chat group on WeChat. It must have been a long time since any of us had got so excited. Because only we knew what this meant – we were finally allowed to fly to China.

September 17th, we proudly marched back to the airport and patiently waited in a queue three hours and a half prior to the scheduled flight.

A staff came to ask us if any of us would like to upgrade to the business class. I was tempted, so I asked how much it cost.

Dear readers, please take a guess. My employer paid nearly CHF 3000 (about 3000 Euros) for my one-way Economy class ticket to Hangzhou, China.

“3300 Euros to upgrade to Business class” She said.

Okay… forget it. Nothing makes sense during the whole trip. I started to think.

After obtaining the boarding pass, each of us had to scan another QR code in order to fill out another online form to apply for another Health Code, a so-called black code . And we were told, keep a screenshot of this black code and guard it with life.

We would soon find out why we needed to guard it with life. ;p

Boarding started on time, almost.

The legendary Da Bai (Big White) appeared. Every flight attendant was wearing such a white piece of overall. The strong smell of disinfection liquid compellingly suggested us this was not a vacation airplane. Every flight attendant took their job seriously. Each of us was requested to wear a KN95 mask, during the whole trip.

The airplane was about two thirds empty. Yet, we were requested to sit all together. They blocked the middle part and draped the curtains as soon as boarding was complete. Every passenger’s seat had two boxes of snacks and two bottles of mineral water. There was a TV screen on the back of every seat, but there was no earphone.

When the take-off was seemingly done, the staff came to pull down every window shield. It was in the middle of a sunny day. Nobody said no. Nobody asked why. Nobody dared to make a noise. Except my neighbour – a Chinese businessman who made an investment in Portugal as an immigration option – who kept talking to me about global economy and politics. He kept his voice low, so he had to keep our distance short. I was being polite and participating in the discussion every now and then, here and there. Luckily, we are wearing masks. – I thought.

“You seem to have high politics sensitivity and a strong observant ability.” His compliment to me.

Do I? – I asked myself. The outcome of being all by myself in a foreign environment these years, perhaps.

“And you speak several languages….” He started sounding suspicious.

I know it’s rare for a Chinese person to speak three different European languages.

“…aren’t you a…spy?” He finally voiced the word.

I laughed. I felt amused and flattered. I must be working for the wrong organization, though, who doesn’t recognize my hidden talent. :o)

We landed next morning shortly after 9 o’clock in Hangzhou, China. It was my first time to land at this airport. It’s usually not often used for international flights. The airport seemed extra large for a group of passengers with a reduced number from a long-distance flight.

Everything was very well organized. Where to go, what to show, where to scan the black code. It was scanned multiple times. Our nostrils and throats were probed multiple times, as well.

Afterwards we were embarked onto a bus, without knowing where we were taken to.

Another Da Bai came onboard to warn us: “No eating, drinking, or removing your mask. The surveillance camera is here.” He turned to point at the camera.

We listened and obeyed. Like always.

An entire hour was gone. The bus stopped inside a residential compound in a remote place in Hangzhou. Outside the compound it was a vast field.

We were arranged to accommodate in building number 2. The Da Bai staff were actually friendly. Some of them even wanted to help us with our luggage.

Each of us was taken to a unit of apartment. It was bigger than a hotel room, thank goodness. More space for me to walk around and do my daily workouts. – I quickly scanned the living room.

However, I fell deeply in depression. It was big, because it was empty. There was a desk, a chair, a bed, a small closet with a super strong smell of formaldehyde. The bedroom smelled stale. The whole apartment was extremely dirty, full of dust and construction residues. The worst of all, there was no tool for cleaning.

Each bathroom was equipped with some basic items, including a tiny towel for shower and for everything.

I had to lay my suitcase on the ground and keep everything inside. I wanted to open the windows for some fresh air. Then I found out, the balcony door was locked and each window was chained by an iron thread. Perhaps they wanted to prevent people from jumping off. When opening the door for receiving a lunch box and another round of PCR test, I noticed a surveillance camera fixed above onto the corridor ceiling. Yes, we were actually all safely guarded… or in another word, imprisoned.

There has been fixed time slots for PCR tests, temperature checks, food delivery, and garbage disposal, every day. There was absolutely no personal interaction between “prison mates”. However, we (as in the chat group) managed to ease off our anxiety and depression by joking about everything and anything possible online.

We were (and still are on this last day of quarantine) regarded as biochemical disposals, or huge viruses.

Every morning the staff punch the door so loudly that even deaf people could hear it. My heart races even till the 10th day. My only theory is, they are equally unhappy being trapped here doing their job, repeating the same thing over and over.

My colleagues and friends in Switzerland check in on me and ask me if the quarantine conditions are bearable, if I am still sane. The warmth in their questions keeps me sane and makes it easier than it looks like.

Therefore I’m motivated to tell them the pros of this quarantine:

  • It’s more spacious than a quarantine hotel room
  • The authentic Chinese food is tasty.
  • There is no distraction. So I feel more productive.
  • I have interesting books to read and French listening compression exercises to do.
  • On top of that, I have work to do – making plans to develop the business in China – the whole purpose of this Journey to the East!

It’s quiet here. Therefore, each punch on the door sounds extremely loud. But each bang brings either food or a staff to make sure we are still alive, and hopefully with no COVID symptoms. In a way, it also keeps me awake and alert, not from my sleepless nights, rather from the idealized reality that we are all living in.

Looking outside, the farmers burn the straws everyday. Perhaps it’s the season. They don’t care about the air pollution and how my eyes react to that, or how the bugs seek refuge in my quarantine apartment.

Every evening they play fireworks, as if it’s a ritual, as if they are reminding me, “Hey, life isn’t so bad at all.”

Right, life isn’t so bad at all. I look outside the chained windows and see a group of Da Bai helping some new arrivals to settle in here for 10 days. I see neon lights twinkling from afar.

Tomorrow I will be out. Tomorrow I will be on my way to Shanghai. Tomorrow I will start the second part of this exciting journey to the East.

I can feel sentimental and sad today, because I’m finishing a chapter. This chapter will become a memory, as all chapters do. One day when I recall, I’m sure I will smile.

2 Comments on “Day 10 in Quarantine”

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