Beijing Expat: March 2020 Quarantine and Coronavirus

March was a great family-bonding month for us! It was our first full month together as a family since December and we lived it to the fullest. We spent half of the month exploring Cambodia and the last half of the month in self-quarantine. Especially since everything in the world seems so unsure right now, it was great to know that we still had each other.

FAMILY FUN IN CAMBODIA!

The last day of February, we began our 5-hour flight to Phnom Penh for our last family vacation of this school year. My school had already been pushed back so many weeks that the teachers were informed that our remaining holidays were going to be cancelled. After being stuck in our home for the past few weeks and with no end of online schooling in sight, we wanted to get out and enjoy one last international vacation. We had purchased our tickets and Airbnb 8 days before we left and quickly went on our way! When we arrived, it was after midnight and got through customs pretty quickly. We got a tuk tuk and headed to the Airbnb we rented for 2 weeks. We never actually met the owner, instead getting the keys from her neighbor. We had already been warned by the owner that the cleaning crew had not gotten to the apartment, but there would be clean sheets, etc. I guess we were still not prepared for the mess that we were about to encounter. The last tenants had left bags of trash on the floor, rotting food in the fridge, unwashed dishes in the sink, etc. I was put off, but figured they would be able to clean soon and everything would be fine. I tried to ignore the giant, but dead cockroach bodies and we went to sleep. The next day, things continued to get worse when we were informed by the owner that there was no WiFi or a working television. We had online classes scheduled the next week and not having WiFi was not an option. Once a giant cockroach nearly crawled over my foot, I NOPE’D right out of there. We lasted in that Airbnb 12 hours and could not do it anymore. We booked a hotel near the Royal Palace and got out of there.

We booked a room through Airbnb at a hotel called G-Eleven, right in the middle of all of the tourist attractions in Phnom Penh. We got there and it was heaven in comparison to the private apartment we had just left. They had a pool on the third floor, clean rooms, and breakfast served in the morning. It was such a welcome change and even cheaper then the Airbnb we had just left. I had to spend the next few days convincing Airbnb that I shouldn’t pay $138 for 12 hours in the apartment, but they eventually agreed and refunded my money. Anyways, it was funny because I asked for a room with a queen and single bed, but when we got there…the beds were pushed together into one giant family bed. As I said, we were just so happy to not be in the other place anymore that we didn’t mind the extra chance to ‘bond’. We began to use our mornings to go out and explore the city, doing things that we can’t do in China during the country shutdown. Our first week was spent exploring the tourist attractions, shopping, and eating at restaurants. There weren’t any online classes the first week we were there so we had all day to explore. After walking around in the heat all day, we would then go back to the hotel and enjoy the pool. It was so nice to be able to swim and just be out of the room. We had amazing food and the prices are so cheap in comparison to China and the US that we could gorge and enjoy our time. I wrote three posts about our time in Cambodia about Angkor Wat, culture shock, and tourist attractions.

The second week we were in Cambodia was a mix of work and play. We had online classes which was a little difficult due to the time difference and competing with my son for WiFi. We had a 2.5 hour break for lunch and finished school around 3:30 pm. We spent our lunches and evenings visiting malls and the movie theaters, things that we really couldn’t do in China. Cambodia only had one reported case when we arrived. As time passed, we noticed more and more people were walking around with face masks. Stalls in the market were starting to sell face masks and hand sanitizers. Cases in Cambodia began to rise and people began to act accordingly, taking precautions and spreading the word about the virus. When it was finally time to leave Cambodia, we headed to the airport and put on our face masks right before we entered the building. As we were waiting in line for our flight to China, I noticed the ‘two sides of the spectrum’. Half of the passengers were Westerners, not wearing face masks or any protective covering despite being on their way to China. Then the other half of passengers were Chinese, standing one meter apart and practically wearing hazmat suits. They had bucket hats with plastic sheets hanging from the front that covered their faces! I couldn’t help but notice that the Westerners kept eyeing the Chinese passengers and vice versa. Then here we were in the middle wearing our face masks, seemingly right in the middle of spectrum between one extreme and the other. I was amazed at how carefree the Westerners seemed to be and equally amazed that the Chinese could breathe in their gear. When we finally got on the flight and everyone had to put on their masks, one Western traveler said he didn’t have a mask. The look on the flight attendants’ face was priceless, a mix between surprise and fear for this man’s safety. Don’t worry, she quickly ran to the front and grabbed him one usually reserved for the flight attendants.

We finally returned home early one Friday morning and had to go through a health check to get into the country. The customs officials checked my passport from cover to cover to make sure I wasn’t lying about where I had been the past 2 weeks. The health check was a little strange because we were told it was really strict, but we just had to fill out a paper and walk past a thermal camera. It is possible because we were coming back from Cambodia and not a country with a high Coronavirus rate. We saw people that were returning from the high-risk countries in long lines and being sanitized in boxes. The airport staff were wearing white body suits and seemed to be on high-alert. We eventually got through and took the subway home. I was initially surprised on the ride home because the subways were packed with people. In my blog from February, you could see that the subways were all empty as the citizens were staying home and preventing the spread of the virus. Now after 2 weeks in Cambodia, the crowded cars were just a sign of life beginning to go back to normal in Beijing. I completely forgot to snap a picture of the crowds but I got one right before we got off which still shows people (still much different then pictures from the month before). We knew that we would be quarantined for 2 weeks the second we got home, so we split up. Korey and Calvin taking the luggage to head home and me heading to the grocery store to grab a few essentials. I got back 30 minutes later and could see that the boys never made it into the apartment complex. They were stopped by the community guards and were going through a painstakingly long process of explaining where we had been the past 2 weeks (through a translation app) and register with the government. It took almost an hour to get all of our information filled and submitted to the government, then they explained the rules of quarantine. We could not go out, all food and grocery deliveries would be brought up by the guards, and we had to take our temperatures everyday. Failure to comply could end up with the government taking us to a quarantine site for monitoring.

We began quarantine and began establishing our daily routine. Calvin and I had classes daily so we got up around the same time every morning and had things to occupy our time. Korey went crazy fast. He just isn’t the type to be cooped up and it showed. But we tried to enjoy our family time to the best of our ability. We watched movies, shows, and enjoyed our own personal time to do what we wanted. We cooked at home most of the time which was different for us (until our stove broke) and got used to life in quarantine. We would keep our windows open and let the cool spring air in. The kids of the apartment complex were enjoying their online schooling time and could be heard screaming and running 14 stories below in the courtyard. We would order groceries every few days, which was a new experience for us. We always preferred to go out and buy our own groceries and that still hasn’t changed. I thought I was ordering one clove of garlic and somehow ended up purchasing 1 pound. The price was so cheap I didn’t notice until we got our order. We had a LOT of garlic those two weeks, so it was a good thing we were keeping the windows open. But looking back on our quarantine time, I am really glad that we toughed it out fairly well as a family.

Right after we got home, China starting regulating the incoming of international flights even more strictly due to the influx of Coronavirus cases coming in from abroad. About 2 days after we returned home, China announced that all people coming in (foreign and local) from international flights would be quarantined at hotels within Beijing. They would be kept there for 2 weeks and then be allowed to return to their homes if they showed no symptoms. I felt so lucky that we got to return to our own home with its familiar surroundings and our belongings. Another week passed and China changed its regulations again, saying flights would no longer go directly to Beijing. Passengers would be diverted to airports in the cities around Beijing and have their quarantines take place at hotels there at the passenger’s expense. I already had friends trying to return home by this point and were being put into hotels in other cities. Luckily, our school Kaiwen agreed to pay for the teacher’s expenses for the hotel. My friend said his accommodations weren’t bad! He was staying at a 4-star hotel that hadn’t yet opened and his meals were being brought to his room. They had wifi so continuing their online classes wouldn’t be a problem! Eventually, the hammer really dropped. China announced that no foreigners would be allowed to enter China, even those with residency visas. They would have to reapply for a visa before being allowed to enter the country. This is a HUGE problem for most of our teachers still out of the country, because many left those important documents here before they left on vacation. I don’t know how long this will take place or when the restrictions will be lifted, but for now we aren’t sure as to when we can leave China again.

Notice of changes

Finally, our quarantine ended and we were able to go outside! It felt so strange to see how much had changed in those 2 weeks. The cold, winter air was gone and replaced by cool air. I was sweating in my winter jacket that I thought was still appropriate to wear this time of year. We passed by trees and bushes that had been barren while we were gone, but now blooming with beautiful flowers! Calvin and I headed to the mall and were excited to see almost all of the stores were open! People were at the clothing kiosks and the restaurants were open again. We went and spoiled ourselves on sweets at the bakery and grabbed more groceries. It was so nice to finally get out and walk about before finally returning back to our cave of an apartment. We are going on walks and even started doing virtual work-outs with the other teachers from Kaiwen. We still don’t have any idea when Calvin and I will go back to school, every time we are given a date it continues to get pushed back.

My friends in Arizona have finally been told that they will not be returning to school this school year. Many of my old students have had their prom and graduations cancelled, my sister’s optometry school graduation has also been cancelled. While China’s beginning to recover from the virus, the USA still has a long way to go. When China began their preventive measures such as taking temperature everywhere and enforcing face masks in public, I told my husband I could never see the USA doing that. As I see the cases in Arizona increase, I am worried about my family members and how they may come into contact with those that are infected and aren’t aware of it. It is a little ironic, because when this started we had family members and students messaging us and asking if we were ok! Telling us to wash our hands and stay indoors, etc. Now the shoe is on the other foot and I fear not enough people there are taking precautions seriously. I heard people in Kentucky contracted the virus at a Coronavirus Party….A CORONAVIRUS PARTY smh. I hope in the next month we will start to hear better news and can start to return to life as normal. However, this is the third straight month that the word ‘coronavirus’ has been in the title of my monthly blog. It doesn’t seem likely that life we will be returning to normal soon. Until then, be safe guys!

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