Saturday, October 30, 2021

Quarantine lessons learned in a China hotel...and meeting some angels...

                       Angel #1 (Robert) in Detroit who helped us get the codes. 

       Thanks to Rowyu, (Angel #2) we survived quarantine. 

                                           The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.

But I have promises to keep.

And miles to go before I sleep, 

And miles to go before I sleep.    --Robert Frost

When I returned to China this fall, I realized there are not many of us ex-pats still here in China. Many ex-pats left when Covid began. More departed after months of prolonged travel restrictions and plane cancellations to see loved ones. A large portion of people are unable to return. We have definitely witnessed an exodus of people who have migrated to other homes.

For the few of us who left and returned, we had to quarantine in a hotel for two-three weeks--most of the time alone. I dreaded it all summer, but being willing to do it because I wanted to see my loved ones. There was some pain knowing I would have to pass through much-complicated health surveillance and codes, tests, and eventually quarantine. It gave me angst every time I thought about it--even a few tears of desperation when I heard many people whose codes and applications were not accepted. With my husband still in China, I knew I needed to return to be with him. To add more complications, I would not only be by myself but with my 19-year-old son who has autism. And I knew quarantine somehow had to be palatable to him.

                                                          Arriving at the Shanghai airport

Previous to leaving the US, I kept remembering a solo experience I had long ago as a 16-year-old. As teenagers, my sister and I went on a month-long survival trip in southern Utah. As part of the survival course, we had to spend about five days by ourselves. One of the university instructors came to check on us once or twice in those days to make sure we were safe in our overhangs, nestled alongside the muddy Escalante River. The entire group of us were perched in small caves or overhangs several hundred feet apart so that we could experience a solo time. Our only companion was a little smoldering fire.

In that time, I read, journaled, and mostly just thought about who I wanted to become when I returned to high school after that summer trek. I made solemn promises to myself. I learned many lessons in that month that I still refer to today. But the solo experience, more than any other lesson in that month, launched me to leave my younger self in the sand when I came home. We were given time as a precious gift to mull over our decisions. We reflected on who we would be when we went home. I came as a young adolescent on the survival trip and returned as a fledgling adult (at least I liked to think so 😃). This summer, I tried to reassure my anxious fears that I could make this quarantine experience transformational like my solo time so long ago.

True to my apprehensions, the China quarantine was tough-- at times, seemingly insurmountable. Once we passed the gauntlet of tests that I knew many who could not, we were finally able to board the plane.  After our 16 hours of flights, we landed in Shanghai,  We were relieved to get to our designated quarantine hotel room. 

                                       Every day we got our food delivered to us three times.

After a few days, I began to throw the food away because I could not bear to see any more soggy white rice and oily vegetables that were left at our door three times a day. However, I do acknowledge someone was thankfully leaving food. I did not have to fix, find, or hunt for it. No one was going to starve. This was not a prison camp or survival ordeal. We had few pleasures and welcomed every phone call with elation and joy.  Surprisingly, I even heard the healthy cry of my first grandchild who was born during my quarantine!

                                                             Our room for two weeks...

A large, but ordinary window (that extra gift) became my window to gaze at a Shanghai suburb park. This would be the only lens to the outside world for a few weeks. We were not allowed to leave the room. As I peered down to the street below, I imagined where people were rushing to as they briskly walked the streets. I envied their mobility and any destination they had to go. How I ached to be outside again, feel the wind, and just walk on a normal sidewalk with a crowd. 

                                                        A view that kept us at least a little sane. 

Slowly, the days passed one by one. Sometimes I even forgot what day it was. We passed the endless hours in quarantine by distracting ourselves from small tasks. We danced, wrote, created art, read, wrote, and watched some downloaded movies. 

Trying to move every day made it bearable to be in a room for weeks...

My quarantine experience for the most part made me realize that I enjoy a very blessed life. I have (for the most part) not only had enough food but I can choose what I have eaten most of my life. I could move and walk where I wanted. I have never been sentenced to jail before, and quarantine gave me increased motivation to keep it that way. 😀 

                                                                       Doing art...

Beyond the happy birth of a grandchild, our time had some shocking news as well.  Indeed, it proved to be a time to reflect when I heard a young professor who I had loved since he was a child had died in a tragic accident. His death made all of us who had known him ponder on what made a good life. His life had been cut short, but he left indelible, undeniable lessons for countless people.

Perhaps all of these realizations are expected. But my biggest surprise during quarantine was not what occurred in my own musings and reflections; it was in meeting two strangers--two angelic Chinese men who helped us get back to China. One in Detroit helped us get our Chinese health codes, which can take many hours to finally turn green--if at all. It might sound benign, but anyone who has had to do it knows it is like a test that was designed for exclusion and failure. 

The second angel  I met getting off the plane in Shanghai. He was a young graduate student who had lived in the US for nine years. He quickly told me many people had helped him when he was in the US for school, and he wanted to do the same for us. He cheerfully helped me navigate the maze of tests and regulations. 

Although my oral Chinese is quite good, I felt like I had been dropped off in the middle of Finland to figure out how to start a business. It was a time of feeling lost and bewildered, almost like being blindfolded. Two strangers, unknowingly and without a desire for any compensation, came to rescue us. Sometimes people come into your life and you honestly have to admit you could have never succeeded without their help and friendship. And that is who they became to me--instant friends. 

During my quarantine, I intently contemplated what constituted a good life. If I cannot repay or give these strangers/friends anything for what they have done for me, what can I do? How can I give back to others or in other words, be someone else's angel? Who are the others who have assisted me before? Did I even realize and acknowledge I was being rescued? 

Hopefully, I left again an old part of myself in the sand like long ago in the deserts of Escalante. I learned anew: it is in those relationships, both known and unexpected that we are rescued. God sends angels to us--like a new grandchild, but also strangers who come into our lives at crossroads when we get lost in Finland. Sometimes everyone needs an angel disguised as a kind stranger.