The Journey Back to China

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Getting off the plane was a relief; we had been blessed with sitting in front of a massive plonker whilst in the air. The man behind my husband insisted on sticking his big fat clown feet all the way under the chair as far as they could possibly go, so that when my husband peered down all he could see were the rounded toe caps to heel, taking up a significant proportion of the already measly leg room. He argued with the air hostesses about the unacceptable amount of drinks on offer and made his vocal complaints loud enough for all to hear. Come on man! This was a budget Air Asia flight, there was never going to be a fully stocked bar on the aeroplane. For us though, after enjoying the sky fodder on offer, it was time to recline our seats and enjoy the rest of the flight back. No problem for my daughter and I, the seats behind were empty so we risked offending no-one. For my husband, he felt no guilt in the action of pushing backwards, plonker behind was encroaching on his space, time to reclaim some of it.

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The Easy Jet of Asia!

Even on landing, he continued vocalising his displeasure to the air hostesses, who batted his insults and comments off, much as a duck shrugs off water. They must have encountered far worse than him. The last we saw of him was just after Hong Kong customs where he’d got into yet another minor altercation, and we watched him walk off into the distance shaking his fist and head at anybody who cared to see.

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Parked aeroplanes at the airport

“Have you been to Italy, Iran, South Korea, China, or Japan in the last 14 days?” The question that we were asked at every checkpoint (and there were a lot of then.)

“No.”

Ok – good to go. We got through Hong Kong immigration relatively pain free. (Except for my leg, which had given way on disembarking the plane- when I say relatively pain free- I meant it metaphorically – in a sense that it was straightforward. I was in a fair bit of physical pain and spent the day hobbling from one point to the next!)

Our next step – into a green taxi to Shenzhen Bay Border. After what had happened with the two teachers stuck in Chinese quarantine, we were loath to take the ferry. However, at this point, as the ferry was no longer running, even if we wanted to, it was no longer an option. We were never quite sure where to pick up an Uber from the airport, so a common taxi it was then. Not the favoured method of travel. Our suitcases were put in the boot and tied down with a flimsy piece of bungee cord. Then an hour’s journey with a complete speed demon mentalist. Fortunately, the freeway was empty for the most part, so when he hit speeds in excess of 100 miles an hour (at one point 110) at least there was no-one to crash into. The erratic swaying of the vehicle did concern us though- as did the way that the suitcases were secured. We breathed a heavy sigh of relief when we hit traffic once again. At least the only thing we had to contend with there was the dodging between cars as he fought to get to the front of where-ever.

On arriving at Shenzhen Bay Border, we were met with a very different sight from when we had passed through over a month before. The place was almost deserted. When we had left on the 5th February there were people in abundance, masked up, clustered around, and amidst a mild sense of panic. Now, the counters were empty, health declaration papers wisped on the surfaces, and a discarded white and blue hand-held tannoy broadcast its message in Mandarin, or maybe Cantonese. I have no idea, not understanding either. It’s my guess it was either health advice or a stern warning about Covid-19. The whole scene bought to mind a creative writing task (why wouldn’t it? I am an English teacher!) You know the one, or you will if you also are an English teacher or have recently taken an English GCSE. Describe a busy shopping mall. Followed by, describe the same shopping mall after everyone has gone home. Only in this case the task might read something like: Describe crossing the border when escaping a virus infected country, followed by, describe the same deserted border crossing on the night of your return. If we had been allowed to take photos of the border on our exit, you would see the startling differences. A video of the noise of exit, compared to the silence on coming back even more so.

Inside, and approaching immigration was like walking into a contagion-based movie set. Again, we wish photos had been allowed- alas not. There were few regular people around, and an abundance of staff in white protective plastic gowns, protective masks, and a full protective face shields on top, milled about looking official, movie like, and ready to do business. Again, our transition through this border was relatively (metaphorically) pain free. No so for a young American lady in front of us. She was pulled over whilst filling in a health declaration form by a begowned entity, only to reappear in front of us as we went through passport control. Not for long. As she presented her passport, another begowned entity took her to the side.

“Please come with me.” In broken English.

“Why?”

We never found out the answer to that question, as she disappeared off with a look of panic and a bead of sweat dripping down her brow. We’re hoping the sweat was from stress and panic, and not as the result of a fever.

So far so good.

The school had arranged a driver to pick us up from Shenzhen Bay Border, and once more this turned out to be stress free, well organised and efficient. This driver was not a mentalist, the car was comfortable, and we were on the home straight.

Entering the community proved somewhat different. Our community has four entrances, North, East, South and West. The main entrance during this period was the West entrance which was and is fully kitted out like a crime scene. No longer is it a simple swipe your key system. Now it is controlled by guards in fully manned tents, bodies in yellow plastic protective jumpsuits, that you need to get through. A different social status to those in white gowns? A fashion statement? Either way, these guards managed to play God and make the last part of our journey a nightmare. How can crossing three borders in one day be easier than crossing the community gate to get back home?

Even proudly displaying the QR codes that we had prepared in anticipation of this (the QR codes painstakingly obtained from the Chinese local police through (electronically) submitting passports, visas, residents permits, plane tickets, boarding cards, and mobile phone records to prove our whereabouts) was not enough. After phone calls to the landlord, HR at school, back to the landlord, and so on and so forth, and a lot of waiting around, we once again submitted every piece of documentation that we possessed. Finally, after an hour of waiting around we were let though.

A walk across the grounds, into our building, then up to floor fifteen (being careful not to press the lift button with bare fingers) out the lift and across the hall, keys in the door, and here we are- home!

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Our view for the next two weeks. Thank goodness for having a balcony!

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