1. Kevin from Taiwan to Shanghai
In January 2020, my family and I went to Taiwan, and we planned to return to Shanghai at the end of January. Then I was informed that the start of school was postponed due to the covid-19, so I took courses online for a while. At first it was fine, but by March it was a too long stay. However, at that time my family didn’t agree to my return to Shanghai because they were worried about the covid-19 there.
Then mainland China went into lockdown and my visa in Taiwan expired, so I had to keep going for extensions and had eight stamps knocked on my passport.
So actually, I have been staying in Taiwan for the first seven month of the covid-19 pandemic.
Around October 2020, the first semester of my sophomore yearI was ready to leave for Hong Kong, since I had family members working in Hong Kong and it was said that family members were allowed to enter Hong Kong.. But when I arrived at the airport and bought my ticket, I was informed that the rule of “family members can enter” was only for juveniles, so I had no choice but remain “trapped” in Taiwan.
I finally returned to Shanghai on 3 January 2021, after spending New Year’s Eve in Taiwan, and began my 14+7 days of quarantine.
There was a strong smell of sterilized water in the quarantine hotel. I was charged 100 RMB/day for three meals. The food was not good, but at least not as bad as I thought it would be. Breakfast was usually an egg, two vegetable buns with very little filling, and one shao mai. Milk was given once every two or three days. I was hungry until noon in many cases, so I particularly look forward to lunch. The walkway outside the room was regularly disinfected, so if you didn’t pick up your food in time, you would be eating a meal that smelled like disinfected water. Also, the wifi connection in the quarantine hotel was really poor.
The quarantine took up almost the whole of my holiday. School started the day after the self-health monitoring ended, and the routine for these 21 days was basically playing games, sleeping, reading books and having video calls with my family. From Taiwan to Shanghai, I had taken 5 nucleic acid tests in total. The nucleic acid tests in Taiwan cost about 1000 RMB per test, and each time I had to wait almost half a day at the hospital to have them done because the patients were given priority.
I thought I would be able to live a normal life once the quarantine was over, but then I encountered a lot of unexpected problems.
On the day of Move-in, I was told that “your name is not on the dorm list”. It was no use showing the staff the relevant declaration form and the move-in email that I had received. Instead of figuring out a good solution, they just asked me to email Student Life. After an hour or so of going back and forth between Tower 2 and Tower 4, I finally moved into the dorm, carrying my four suitcases. Afterwards I found out that many international students had suffered similar experiences — they have been told that their names had been removed from the dorm list when they returned, which was confusing and distracting.
The day after school started, I went to apply for a transfer visa. However, the immigration office in Shanghai did not recognise the passport I had signed in Taipei, and one of the staff members was very condescending, just repeating that my passport could not be recognized without explaining why. I spent the whole afternoon trying to solve the problem and was worried that I would be deported, but fortunately, later I was accompanied by a staff member from Student Life to apply for a new passport in Shanghai and the dust finally settled.
Looking back on the journey, actually I was prepared for the hassle before I decided to go back to Shanghai. But other unexpected things such as not being able to move into the dorm, the passport issue and so on, really messed with my mind.
2. Stephanie from NYC to London to Shanghai
On November 4th, 2020, coincidentally my 21st birthday and the best birthday present ever, I landed in Shanghai after being away for nearly 11th months. My Chinese teacher at the time, Bi Jinghong, thought that it would be fun if I documented the process and made a vlog. I had never made a vlog before, but knew that this was going to be quite the trip and a perfect time to start.
The trip from New York to Shanghai went smoothly. This was back before health QR codes, and I walked through an airport with no less than six hard-copies of my officially stamped health declaration from the Chinese Consulate in New York. Let’s just say – – I was not leaving ANY chances.
Unfortunately, my checked bag did not make it to Shanghai on our flight. Me and my two fellow NYU Shanghai students, Declan and Carter, waited over an hour trying to figure out where it might have gone which I think consequently got us the short end of the straws for the quarantine hotel. My nickname for it quickly became “Motel 6.”
As I write back on my experience in quarantine nearly 4 months later, I have difficulty remembering the fine details of it. I am a very experiential person, so since my days were more or less the same for 14 days, I remember going to grab breakfast around 8am when I would wake up. At promptly 11 AM nearly everyday, my lunch would come. 12:30 PM the hazmat suits would appear as they came pounding on my door for the temperature check. 5:30 PM, I would get the final knock for the day as my dinner arrived.
There were two exceptions to this monotony, however, which made the time bearable. The first night, I received a care package from Milly and Lili from Student Life sending me things like soap, shampoo, underwear, and changes of clothes since I would have to wait four days for the next flight from London to come with my suitcase. On the third day, some of my dear friends, Etienne, Wenxin, and Qilin, came to visit us through the window from the street below our 3rd floor room. They also came with gifts. I was so overcome by emotion seeing them. I had been away from Shanghai for so long; one of my favorite cities in the world with some of my favorite people in the world. It was only in this moment, seeing them, that I felt as though I was truly back. Everything up to that point, the stress of gathering all the paperwork, obtaining the visa, the COVID tests, the airports, it didn’t quite seem real as we were trying to accomplish the impossible in our journey back to Shanghai. When I saw them, it was finally real.
Fourteen days after arriving in Shanghai, we were released to our next holding cell: self-isolation. Since we were the only international students in all of China to be allowed back in Shanghai, and I was among the first ten, we were given special ruling by the SHanghai government that we needed to complete an additional week of self-monitoring. From the school, we were given two rules: don’t go to school, don’t see your friends. Logically, where would the school give us accommodations? The closest physical property to the University that we were not even supposed to look at. At least the school absorbed the cost for the week.
Twenty-one days after landing in Shanghai, we were finally free. Once again, me and my traveling companions gathered for the last segment of our journey: the dorms. The first person that I was able to hug outside of Declan and Carter in Shanghai was one of my first-year students (I was an Orientation Ambassador), Roccio. It was completely coincidental that she happened to be walking out of Tower 3 as I was walking to Tower 4, but I am so glad that she did.
The next day was Thanksgiving. I hadn’t even realized it, but November was spent in two rooms, and I didn’t even realize the holiday was coming up until it arrived. The school hosted a marvelous Thanksgiving dinner, and I was finally reunited with many, many friends and greeted with so many open arms and smiles. It was surreal seeing so many people in the cafeteria all together in one place that night after coming from the United States where, at the time, no more than five to ten people were recommended to gather together. I had much to be thankful for that Thanksgiving.
Much like the international students who were unable to return home to their homes and families for the December holidays, many of our Chinese friends were also unable to return home for the Lunar New Year. I know how important the holiday is for those who celebrate it, so I wanted to make it as special as possible for my roommate, Kexin. I surprised her with some decorations （春联）the morning of 除夕。 We planned a glorious layout of traditional new year dishes such as fish and dumplings and made many other things as well. We, along with our suitemates, watched 春节晚会 together, rotated our 福 （福到了），and played 麻将 through the night.
Fast forward to today, February 2021, life in Shanghai is amazing. I have the opportunity to play soccer almost everyday, I can explore the city at my leisure, I have found an internship for the spring, I am able to attend classes in-person, and my friends in Shanghai do not have to fear the threat of COVID. I am so happy to be back, and truly hope that everyone else still trying to return is able to do so as swiftly and safely as possible.
This article was written by Jie Min currently based in Shanghai, China. Please send an email to [email protected] to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Pinterest