Most of us are by now super tired of the endless covid memes and the newscasters’ shrill voices that even drown out the messianic sounding music that herald the incoming of a vaccine. But the quarantine tales are many, varied and yet untold, while differing depending upon the geographic region one comes from.
In what was a sign of the times and things to come, I had an unexpected phone call in mid-June of this year from an elderly relative. (I was already by then, thoroughly tired of the virus which evoked strong memories of an annoying fly I could not swat away one trekking afternoon. I had come down to India on a visit for a cousin’s wedding and was marooned by the sudden central government decision to cancel all air traffic in March.) To say, I was surprised at the caller ID was a mild understatement. Nonetheless, after exchanging pleasantries, the caller held forth on a wide variety of inane topics ranging from family gossip, the state of affairs in the US and the plight of the green card applicants under the Trump administration while leaving me more and more baffled. The inevitable closing statement of the call cleared up the confusion.
“Naan hotel quarantine la irruken ma (I am in a hotel quarantine). The TV doesn’t work.”
The flight availability searches back home to Hong Kong, not unlike Russian roulette matches, continued in the ensuing months. When I did finally book a ticket, it was on a chartered plane from India’s covid capital of Delhi away from my home roost of the southern city of Chennai. One covid negative result and many bags of murukku later, I boarded the connecting flight from Chennai to Delhi with my husband in the tow. In keeping with the tradition of Indian Stretchable Time, the departure of our flight from Delhi to HK was delayed by the time it would take a proud Bangalorean to reach Chennai.
In between enduring several tales of the home schooled children by their parents, my husband bowed to the inevitable and beckoned me to join him in the Starbucks waiting line after a failed search of any open Indian eatery within the immigration area sans Starbucks. For those of you reading this who are baffled by the apparent Starbucks animosity, I will quickly digress for a brief explanation. Being a phenomenal chai lover, the chai latte at Starbucks has been my go to fix outside India, so much so that, my husband has spent many weary minutes in places ranging from Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and needless to say Hong Kong, queuing up with me outside the varied Starbucks outlets. After several hysterical tweets (Including a few from this author) targeting the airline and a cacophonic massing at the airline counter, the boarding commenced, and the flight took off the Delhi landscape.
For those of you not in the know, Hong Kong enforces a two-week hotel quarantine on all international arrivals. Upon arrival and after the GPS wrist banding needed to enforce the quarantine by the authorities, we proceeded to the holding area within the airport for the next eighteen hours while we awaited the result of the Covid test taken upon landing.
The next few hours were a study in contrasts of nationalities. The Indians who arrived via the same flight and in the same broader quarantine holding area, occasionally moved around for stretching their legs while the children true to form, ran around chasing and laughing. The women, many of them in typical colourful dresses, true to Indian fashion sensibilities enlivened the drab airport background. Quite a study in contrast to the arrivals from the flight from another Asian nation dressed in formal black and whites in another holding area who stuck true to their seats with blank, vacant expressions. Many instant coffees and teas later, we met varied, masked friendly individuals, some from my home city of Chennai with whom we exchanged happy Diwali tales, along with a few others who were engaged in dueling discussions of the superiority of the choice of their quarantine hotel selections.
The identification of two covid positive cases amongst a young couple set the floor abuzz. When the rest of us were finally given the permit to go forth on our hotel quarantine, it was with a reminder of another test on Day 12 and to abide by the rules of the quarantine order.
Seven days of endless gazing into the city landscape and its famed skyscrapers from my hotel room has taught me one thing – travel would never be the same again, at least not in the immediate future.