On January 23rd, 2020, I excitedly boarded a flight with my friend, as we were about to embark on a 'girls trip' from Shanghai to the Philippines. A few weeks before that, the Taal Volcano had erupted in a town south of Manila, and the Manila airport shut down for safety precautions. We were a bit anxious about flying into that airport, but a few days before our flight, something more concerning happened. The announcement of the Coronavirus outbreak in China.
On January 23rd, 2020, we excitedly boarded our flight to the Philippines- wearing face masks. We landed at our final destination (Siargao) safely and enjoyed our time there.
Even though we received news about the virus daily, we initially enjoyed a carefree vacation. That was until we realized that the situation was worsening, and eventually, our flights got canceled- twice. Most of my friends told me that they weren't going back to Shanghai and warned me that I shouldn't. Others were as confused as I was. Should I stay, should I go?
Uncertain of what I should do, I decided that I would head to Bohol to meet my boyfriend after our girls trip. I nervously landed in Bohol and tried to enjoy our time there, while simultaneously trying to decide on our next move. In my heart, I felt like we should return to Shanghai- after all, it's home. And that's what we eventually decided to do- go home.
On the day of our flight, I felt nervous, had doubts, and wondered if we were making the right decision. I secretly wished that our flight would get canceled, which would prevent us from going back to China. My boyfriend, still reluctant to head home suggested that since our flight would connect through Seoul, that we stay there for a few days (I'm so glad we didn't), I suggested that if we get on the flight to Shanghai, that we commit and go home.
We arrived in Shanghai. Our flight had landed, and everyone got up to deplane. We were told to sit, and two people covered head to toe in white protective jumpers, goggles, and gloves came on board. They walked directly to two passengers, took their temperatures, and escorted them off the plane (everyone on the flight wore a mask, by the way). We were then allowed to exit the aircraft as well.
Welcome back, I guess.
The airport was empty and silent, but the silence somehow hypnotized me with peace, not panic. Everyone was careful and followed the rules. We exited the airport quickly and calmly and drove through the empty streets of Shanghai, mostly in silence as our new reality registered in our minds- our vacation was over. The smell of the ocean was replaced with the smell of bleach (our driver had thoroughly wiped down the car seats before we'd entered), and the tropical weather was replaced by a still stubborn winter. From then on, I'd struggle with the question, did we make the right decision of coming back?
At least the sky was blue.
A 14-day quarantine awaited us. I sat in my living room, and old thoughts crept back. Old feelings of self-doubt and confusion- specifically about my future. The inevitable mental state of anyone being placed in this situation in a land far away from home, I'd assume.
At the age of 32, I still feel like a drifter, I thought to myself, drifting through my life that continually feels like a dream.
And this was the most recent dreamlike experience- experiencing the Coronavirus outbreak in a communist country, almost completely shut down and somewhat isolated from the outside world, and being monitored even more than before. Another story for the grandkids I guess.
We got through our quarantine, and I got through my somewhat depressed state of mind. It wasn't as bad as we'd thought and not as restrictive as it is now.
Social Distancing tip: Keep dancing. Every morning we'd play music and dance. It's not as crazy as it seems!
And now, this virus spreads throughout the world, and more lives are being affected by this outbreak. Life in China is getting back to "normal" for us, while many around the world, which include my friends and loved ones, are in their homes confused and maybe even a bit panicked. I've read about many losing their source of income, children going hungry and the loss of life.
My reality is spreading across the world, and I am here to tell you to feel what you need to feel, but don't let it consume you. You have a lot of time now. Maybe you're like me and have wished to have a little more freedom and flexibility in your day. I know it can be hard, but slow down, enjoy a homemade breakfast, take care of your mind and body, reach out to someone that you haven't spoken to in a while, read a book! Maybe even try to make your time at home feel like a vacation and believe that things will get better- after all, it's Springtime.
For most of my self-quarantine, I regretted coming back to Shanghai when I did. I felt stupid, especially since so many people stayed away, and there were times where I thought we'd made the wrong decision. But now, as things are getting better and as I feel safer, I have ultimately been reminded that sometimes there isn't a right or wrong decision.
Moreover, I have realized that we are all more connected than we think, and I hope that at the end of this outbreak, we feel connected in a way that makes the world a better place.
*Self-quarantine- For those of you wondering, what self-quarantine in Shanghai entails- Because we were outside of China and then came in, we were asked to register with our apartment complex, stay inside as much as possible for 14-days and monitor our temperatures. Have our temperature checked when we did have to enter and leave the apartment complex. Complete a daily online health check. All done to avoid the spread of the virus in case we picked it up while in the Philippines or in transit. Since then, self-quarantine/quarantine in China has become stricter, but it is all in the interest of the residents of the cities as we would not like to see another spike in the outbreak. Bottom line is that we feel safer because of these measures taken.