Getting Back to China: Part One – A Chaotic Start

If you’d told me when I boarded a flight from Guangzhou to Dhaka on January 20th that I wouldn’t be able to set foot in China again until almost 10 months later I’d have said you were barmy.

Of course 2020 has been a year like no other and at this point it’s pretty much impossible to be surprised by anything that happens.

China’s closure of their borders to foreign nationals at the end of March left me and rafts of others stuck outside of the country with no idea when we could return. I was one of the luckier ones; I got ‘stuck’ in Bali and was able to work online until the situation became clearer. Many others weren’t afforded such luxuries.

Worse places to be stuck, I know.

The novelty did wear off very quickly, however. When you’re working and trying to complete a Master’s, it stops feeling like a holiday and soon becomes just one more thing to worry about. I appreciate many will think I’m mad for saying this, but after a few months I was climbing the walls and desperate to leave!

Slowly but surely, the borders started to open up to select people and from June onwards there was a steady flow of announcements, each providing hope until I read all the way through and to find out that, once again, it didn’t apply to me. Finally, at the beginning of October, there was a breakthrough and I was able to apply for my visa to return.

Bali blues

It was far from smooth sailing, mind you. With my visa application submitted and faced with a case of playing the waiting game, I decided to take a PCR test just to be sure that I was good to fly before booking. This was where the drama started.

Positive.

I was shocked. How unfair was this? I’d been cautious, followed all the guidelines and avoided crowded places. I had no symptoms, yet I’d got a positive result. I quickly started reading about the possibilities of false positives. Slim, it seemed, but they did occur. Just ask Wayne Rooney. 24 hours after my positive test (not result, test), I took a second test. I don’t know why, but I just needed peace of mind.

Negative.

Eh? How weird was this? What was I to do now? I decided to play it safe. Isolate for a while and see how it played out. A couple of weeks – and no symptoms later – I took a third test.

Negative.

Boom. Time to book a flight. I moved quickly. I got my second negative result on the Tuesday and by that evening I had a flight booked for the following week. I’d have to fly to Jakarta on the Sunday, take another test on the Monday (I’m going to have a nose like Danniella Westbrook at this stage) and, all being well, fly on the Thursday.

Putting on my best sober face. I promise I have more than one shirt.

A few farewell dinners and a lot more drinks later, and it was time to go. See ya Bali. Despite being more than ready, I was surprised to feel a huge pang of sadness at the airport. In hindsight, it made sense. I was leaving behind some great people, in a place that I’d called ‘home’ for almost double the amount of time I’d been in China, but ultimately I knew it had been a long time coming.

Dragging Jakarta

The four nights in Jakarta felt like a lifetime. That’s the problem with airport hotels. They’re convenient for the airport (and in my case, the PCR testing centre), but not a great deal else. It didn’t help that I was on tenterhooks waiting for my test result and then the stamped health declaration from the embassy – both of which seemed to take forever and a day, but eventually came through as promised.

So, flight booked, negative test and documents in order. Good to go, right?

Well, not quite.

I woke up on Thursday morning, excited but apprehensive about the long day of travelling ahead. I picked up my phone, checked my usual notifications and then something caught my eye.

It just so happened that from that very day – y’know, the day I was due to fly – China had started slapping entry restrictions on certain countries due to the COVID situation, with the UK being one of the first and many more following in the coming hours. Hardly surprising given the UK’s impending second lockdown, but still, unbelievable timing.

Squeaky bum time.

Naturally, the Facebook experts (graduated from ‘The University of Life’ – you know the type) were spouting all sorts of unfounded information. It was impossible to find clear answers to my questions, which were:

  1. Did this apply to all UK citizens, or just those in the UK?
  2. Had they announced anything regarding Indonesia?
  3. Most importantly, what the f*ck should I do?

After a good hour or two deliberating, and ultimately achieving very little, I decided to do what I do best in this situations:

Order the biggest coffee I could find, listen to the Manics and just see how things played out.

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