Liana Returning to China (8.2020)
Updated: Aug 28
My significant other, Liana, returned to China last week. This week I will share her tale of flying from Boston to China (Part 1), arriving at Shanghai Pudong Airport (Part 2), being put in a quarantine hotel for two weeks (Parts 3 and 4), and why she made the journey (Part 5). The Chinese are serious in combating Covid-19, and their efforts have proven effective in this regard.
Returning to China, Part 1
Departing from Boston
The international terminal at Logan Airport in Boston was a ghost town when we arrived (three hours early). The people who then slowly trickled in were mostly Chinese heading to Frankfurt for the connecting flight to Shanghai. This was the third flight Liana had booked. First, she was going through the Middle East, then Japan, and finally Germany. The flights kept getting canceled. Planning the trip was nerve-racking.
She was required by Lufthansa staff at check-in to show a green QR code demonstrating that she had been inputting her temperature and other data for two weeks before the flight. She ultimately wore a mask, face shield, and gloves for more than twenty-four hours and told me that it became extremely uncomfortable. She also brought goggles and protective clothing, but did not wear them. The passengers were not expressly quarantined during their ten-hour layover in Frankfurt, but they all congregated near the outgoing boarding gate and didn’t stray.
Before boarding for Shanghai, German airport staff told them that the Chinese government requires each passenger to fill in a form to generate another special QR Code for Chinese customs. This code contains their personal information—local address, phone number, contact person, second contact person, and more.
Liana Returns to China, Part 2
Arriving at Shanghai Pudong Airport
After landing in Shanghai, the airplane from Frankfurt taxied for thirty minutes before arriving at the terminal. For those who had not already inputted their information to get the updated green QR code required by Chinese customs, airline personnel wearing protective clothing, masks, and goggles boarded the plane and helped get the stragglers to load the data into their cellphones. Only once they were all done were they allowed to deplane.
These returnees played follow the leader through a closed passageway to an area of the terminal where they were individually examined. Temperature taken. Two swabs up the nose for a Covid-19 test. Their passports were collected en masse for processing. They ultimately picked up their luggage (which had likely been disinfected). This all took about 1.5 hours after leaving the airplane.
Boarding a bus positioned right outside the door, they were driven away from the airport to their quarantine home-away-from-home for the next two weeks. Passports were returned once underway. They were told that if the results of the Covid-19 test were negative, they would not hear anything further. If the doctor who met the bus at the quarantine hotel called for you, you had tested positive.
Liana Returns to China, Part 3
At the Quarantine Hotel
A few dozen passengers, Chinese returning from abroad in her group, were transferred by bus to a quiet, rural hotel located on a large island at the mouth of the Yangtze River located at the northernmost edge of the Shanghai municipality. The ride from Shanghai Pudong Airport took about two hours. The doctor did not call Liana’s name when they arrived. Her test must have been negative.
Liana’s hotel room is spartan, but a good size with high ceilings. The bathroom looks modern and clean. The queen size bed has new linens and duvet, but the two cloth, sitting chairs are dirty enough that she puts a towel down first when sitting by the small table to eat. They provided a thermometer (more on that later), a case of water, several cloth slippers, a case of toilet paper, and a couple boxes of tissues. The view from her window isn’t anything to write home about, but it is the outside world.
The fifth-floor hallway floors are lined with plastic. There is a small, red stool outside each room. Only one person per room. Spouses, parents with older children, friends traveling together--they all have singles. They are not allowed to leave their rooms for two weeks. They are supposed to open the door only six times per day, to receive and dispose of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
They never see the people who deliver and pick up the meals. The garbage, once removed, is disinfected before disposal. And that thermometer? The returnees have to take and report their temperature twice per day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I was surprised to learn that the thermometer measures from her armpit.
If the rules are violated, the quarantine clock re-sets.
Liana Returns to China, Part 4
At the Quarantine Hotel
So what about the food? It runs the gamut from good to so-so to “I cannot eat that.” Liana told me that I would definitely go hungry with most of the portion sizes at mealtimes. She particularly enjoys the meat buns and fried noodles. Much of the other food is fine, while some is not to her taste but she eats it anyway. There are exceptions, though. There was a green vegetable for dinner one night that could be part of a “guess what this is” game show.
Knowing that she would be quarantined, we sent her prepared. We went to BJ’s Wholesale Club and bought individually-wrapped packages of Oreos (six per bag), Fig Newtons (two big cookies per bag), beef jerky (original and teriyaki flavor), and a healthy-sized container of trail mix. We also filled a Ziploc baggie with raisins. She has been enjoying the snack food to supplement her meals.
I have heard stories that it can be hit or miss with quarantine hotels and food in different cities. Liana appears to have landed in a pretty good spot.
Her jet lag is almost over after several days. She wakes each day, speaks with friends and family and business associates (using WeChat). She studies English (on her cellphone). She listens to classes on business at night (also on her cellphone). She has wi-fi and a laptop, but the Chinese live on their cellphones even more than American teenagers.
Throughout the day, she cannot leave. Throughout the night, she cannot leave. There is a lot of down time, but she does not complain. I am impressed by the sense of community and responsibility reflected in China. The Chinese people do not agree with everything their government does and many may want change, but for most they have a shared destiny, a goal, a willingness to sacrifice for the common good.
Liana Returns to China, Part 5
Returning to China
So why did Liana return to China? For all the hardship, it is a privilege after all, one she can do with a Chinese passport that I cannot do with my American passport (notwithstanding my ten-year Chinese visa). She had to pay an exorbitant price for scarce airline tickets. She has to pay for the quarantine hotel, the food, the transportation. When she is released from quarantine and can fly domestically to her home city, there is a question whether she will need to self-isolate some more. Both financially and emotionally, returning is an involved process.
Many students (at all levels) are returning because they miss home and they (and their parents) are concerned about their continued ability to stay and thrive in the U.S. On the flip side, thousands of foreign professors and teachers who work and live in China are marooned outside of China and cannot return.
In Liana’s case, she has been away for many months and needs to attend to her business. She needs to reconnect with her family. Her elderly mother broke down crying when they spoke for the first time after she was back on Chinese soil. I think that at a subconscious level, she also needs to show them all that she survived America, that the chaos and clamor the Chinese read about is not absolutely everywhere in the United States.
Liana plans to return to Boston in early 2021. My fingers are crossed that by then our bilateral relationship will have stabilized, that borders will be more open, and that if I cannot go there, she can come back here.
Liana Returns to China, Postscript
For all who were following Liana’s journey to China last week, here is how her trip ended. Three days before her fourteen-day quarantine was to be lifted, Liana was tested again (both mouth and nose samples). On the last day of quarantine, she had to sign out and was given an envelope with her test report, a mask, a test invoice, a letter, and a certificate for lifting the quarantine. Before leaving the hotel, she also had to notify her local work unit and the local community district where she lives that she was coming back.
She called a taxi to return to Shanghai Pudong Airport because the regular bus for the "parolees" leaves the hotel at 8:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. daily, and she was not released until after 2:00 p.m. On the way to the airport, she saw the bright blue sky. At the airport, she went to a café for a snack. Checking in required showing the test report and the quarantine release certificate as well as scanning an updated QR code to fill in the necessary personal information to generate a health code that allowed her to board her flight. Her local community district required the same documentation.
After that it was a smooth trip, and her long journey came to a successful conclusion. She is happy to be home and had only one complaint during the quarantine which she can now remedy. Liana likes to walk most days, and she was not able to stretch her legs while confined to the hotel room. She is once again able to move about. Tomorrow, she will go visit her mother.
The little guy hanging at her condo in the last photo was a present from me last year from my trip to Ireland.