The Waiting… is the Hardest Part
10:08 AM - Bangkok Suvarnabhum Airport
I’ve made it to Bangkok without incident and have been waiting here, near counter U, for a couple of hours now. It’s just past 10 AM and my 1 PM flight is still on the board. I can see that 12 other flights to the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao have already been cancelled today. Some of those flights were still showing up on the board when I arrived, so I’m a little nervous. I should be able to check in soon… we’ll see. Oh yeah, It took three attempts before I realized why I could not open my phone using Face ID. I’m sleepy, but I’ve managed to binge on Burger King. Come to think of it, that may have something to do with being sleepy. Red-eye flights are always tough on me though. I simply can not sleep on a plane, no matter how tired I am. Anyway, I figure if I’m going to be quarantined at home I might as well get a burger before I go because there probably isn’t another one in my near future.
The airport here has much less traffic than usual and as you can imagine, there are many less Chinese travelers right now. I mean, it’s like maybe 10% of the normal crowd of Chinese folks who would be returning home after Chinese New Year, maybe even less than 10%. The airport isn’t exactly eerie but it is very noticeable. I’m going to see if I can check in… I see a line forming where a couple of counter workers are checking temperatures.
10:28 AM - Bangok Suvarnabhum Airport
So, I am on the flight. I had to have a temperature scan before I could check in. I got an upgrade too. Even as much as I fly I rarely get upgrades. There’s always somebody who files more often with a higher frequent flier status. I figure the flight must be operating at a very low capacity. So now I’m headed to immigration and security. China Southern is requiring face masks be worn throughout the flight. Apparently that is a government directive for all flights entering the country. I’ll talk about the effectiveness of face masks later…
11:25 AM - Bangok Suvarnabhum Airport
I’m through immigration and security without any hiccups and I am sitting in the Miracle Business Class Lounge. The Miracle name certainly feels apt, considering the saga of getting this far. I still have more than an hour and a half before the flight leaves. Now, the waiting is the hardest part . Shoutout to Mr. Petty.
12:50 PM - Bangkok Suvarnabhum Airport
I’m on the plane and the doors are closed and I have to turn off the phone now. With the usual pre-flight announcements comes another announcement about wearing our face masks. The plane is less than half full. Next stop - Nanning…
4:03 PM - Nanning Wuxu Airport
I’m on the ground. Now, all I have to do is clear immigration and customs and drive home…
4:19 PM - Nanning Wuxu Airport
I was the first person off the plane and made my way to immigration. A young man passed me on the way and when the two of us arrived at immigration there was a thermal screening area that all passengers were required to walk through. They stopped the boy and asked him to take off his mask and then walk through slowly, asking me and a few others now queuing up behind me to wait. He casually walked through and then boom - the sensors lit up. With red lights and an alarm blaring, an excited young immigration officer immediately ran over, took the boy’s passport and led him to an area off to the right. What? Come on man! I’m telling you, my heart was racing as I started walking into that thermal screening area. I’d just passed a temperature check in Bangkok a few hours before, so surely… nope. Boom - red lights and alarms! Arrrggghhh! I too was led off to the right and my passport taken. I saw a small table had been set up there for further medical screening. Come on! Visions of being force quarantined in a Nanning hospital were running through my head. This virus is being passed around in hospitals like hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party! There had to be some mistake! Then another person failed the thermal screen. What!? Then another, and another. Then two more. Seriously, it sounded like someone had robbed a bank. In no time there were seven of us standing there. We were each given old-style glass thermometers and asked to stick them in our armpits for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, the number of people failing the screen kept increasing and there were soon 13 people in line. Perhaps the machine was malfunctioning or out of calibration? I was thinking maybe they had purposely lowered the threshold as a further precaution. Five minutes later the first kid was cleared but was asked to wait for his passport. A minute later and I was also cleared. I wasn’t told what my temperature reading was, either from the scan or the armpit, just a grunted. “Okay”. I noticed when the agent took my thermometer he placed it in a jar with about 20 other thermometers, a jar I am assuming was filled with some sort of antiseptic liquid. It was a clear liquid anyway. That thermometer was then passed onto another passenger. I figure I waited another 7 or 8 minutes for my passport, which felt like an eternity. I was dying to take some pictures or video and actually took one before I saw signs everywhere saying photography was prohibited. All this time people continued to fail the thermal screen. They brought over the passports for the first 6 of us and made us provide our information, including where we were staying and our phone numbers. Finally I moved on to immigration where an emotionless young woman began perusing my passport like she was trying to solve a puzzle. She looked through every page, every old Chinese Residence Permit, every other visa and entry/exit stamp I’d collected from around the world, all while continuously staring at her keyboard and checking the screen. This was much more thorough and took a lot longer than usual, but I can understand the scrutiny given the severity of this outbreak. The whole time this was happening people were continuing to fail the thermal scan behind me. Finally the stamp came… and I was in. At baggage claim I found my bag was rotating on the carousel with a smattering of others. It looked like most everyone else on my flight had gathered their bags by then and moved on, leaving my bag along with the bags of my fellow thermal screen rejects. I had to have all my stuff screened as I went through customs, then made may through the exit and into the arrivals hall. The airport was nearly deserted. Where hundreds would usually be milling about, rushing to make connecting flights or finding ground transportation or reuniting with loved ones or meeting business associates or otherwise making their way home, I saw maybe 20 people. I walked through a door that revealed a typical Guangxi winter flat, gray sky and a platform and streets wet from humidity. I was expecting to find Lily there with the car but she was no where to be seen. A quick call revealed curbside pickup had been suspended for weeks already. She was in a parking lot about two kilometers away. After a bit of confusion I managed to find a shuttle bus and got off, according to the driver, “at the parking lot”. I then watched him drive to the parking lot, which was actually behind a fence on the other side of the road. After a few more phone calls, a hike of about 1 kilometer to the parking lot gate and then Lily having to actually exit the parking lot, drive completely around the airport, and then back to the parking lot entrance, we were reunited. Lily and Jia pulled up (wearing their masks) and they had brought Elvis along as well. Elvis, smart dog that he is, refused to wear a mask. I watched, equal parts amused and confused, as Lily starting wiping down my bags with a wet rag. I tried explaining to her that a wet rag wasn’t going to do anything to disinfect my bags, but she did it anyway. At 5:12 PM, with the now soaking wet bags in the car and with me behind the wheel, we began the three hour drive to Liuzhou.
11:30 PM - Liuzhou
After a somewhat longer than expected and enlightening drive, we made it home just before 9:00 PM. I’ve begun now, to realize just how how different everything is here. The freeway from Nanning to Liuzhou, just as it was with the airport, was nearly deserted. Most of what traffic we did see was semi-trucks or other larger delivery vehicles, but even those were greatly reduced. After driving for nearly an hour, I realized we still had our masks on. I glanced at the dog and he gave me a knowing look, something akin to “you idiot.” Isolated in the car with the windows up, we were still wearing face masks! It took a bit of cajoling, especially with Lily, but we eventually took them off. If you’ve been following this corona virus at all you’ve probably read about the multitude of studies proving these masks are pretty much ineffective in fighting a virus like Covid-19. It doesn’t matter much in current day China. Masks are required in almost every municipality across the country. If you want to go anywhere in public, grocery shopping, getting gas, a trip to the pharmacy, even a walk in the garden, the mask must be worn. Still, wearing a mask in the car is certainly overkill. At one point we drove for more than 40 minutes without seeing another vehicle, either coming or going. In a country this size with this population, that’s unheard of. It was early evening but felt like it could have just as well been 2 or 3 in the morning. Along the way we passed through four medical checkpoints that had been set up at various points along the highway at toll booth entry and exit points.
We put our masks on as we were pulling up and at each stop they asked for identification and checked our temperatures. The medical staff at three of the checkpoints were outfitted in full hazmat suits. It seemed they were all a bit skittish. It was beginning to feel very much like we were characters in some apocalypse or zombie movie, with the full authoritarian might of the state on display, except this was no movie. When we finally arrived in Liuzhou and drove past the largest, newest, brightest shopping complex, it was completely dark. Closed. All the stores that are opening have been operating at reduced hours for weeks. The MixC mall has been closing at 6 PM. That’s where our local Wal_Mart is and the last time Lily went there, more than a week ago now, there were a lot of empty shelves. Our plan is to make a grocery run tomorrow and then hole up until we need to re-supply. It’s 11:30 and I’m dragging myself to bed.
Next - The Supply Run