(Cover photo source: Ha Vi Do Ngoc)
Under normal circumstances, getting from Shanghai to Hangzhou should be an easy process. You could take a car, and there are at least a couple dozen trains everyday. Unfortunately, we were not living under normal circumstances in Shanghai. Having been in lockdown for about the past few months, a lot of students were looking forward to being able to go back to their home cities or countries, including me. With how large of a hassle the process of coming back was, however, I wondered whether it was truly worth it to go home.
The trouble started before I had even left the Jinqiao dorms. With how tight restrictions were, train tickets were difficult to buy. I had to wake up at around 5:30 AM several times just to check if the tickets were sold out yet. Exiting the compound was not easy either. I had to get a nucleic acid test the day before I left, along with a certificate stating I officially left the compound, and therefore could not come back if anything went wrong.
Getting up at eight in the morning for a train at four in the afternoon was irritating, to say the least. Nonetheless, I got on the bus with a couple other students. Arriving at the train station was an incredible experience. Outside the station was a long line stretching across the width of the entire station. The inside of the station was packed. I immediately got separated from the other students, and eventually found a patch of ground I sat on to wait. And wait I did. From ten in the morning to three in the afternoon, sweating profusely, terrified of taking my mask off, and staring at my dwindling phone battery.
The train ride was the fastest part of the entire trip, taking only an hour. Upon arrival at Hangzhou East Station, I had to wait another 30 minutes before workers corralled us down a series of temporary paths closed off by metal rails. People stared as I lugged a suitcase about three fourths my size down these narrow passages. I felt a little bit like livestock. Even more so when we were fenced off in different sections based on district. It was humid, people were loud and everywhere, and all the workers kept urging us to go faster and not keep the lines waiting. I was one of the lucky ones. Having my address memorized, I was allowed to go on ahead while those who did not have a permanent address had to stay behind.
I felt myself losing a bit of composure when I was in line to get on the bus that would take us to our district. My arms ached from wrangling multiple suitcases, and I was practically dripping with sweat. I started wondering if all this was really necessary, spiralling deeper into negative thoughts as they were actually being voiced aloud by another person in the front of the line wearing a hazmat suit. He was shouting furiously at the workers while the rest of us looked on. Eventually, security was called and they managed to calm him down. I did agree with some of the things he was saying. This entire process from arriving at the station up till the bus had taken about two hours, and we were nowhere near done.
The bus ride was spent admiring the scenery of my hometown and wondering why people were not wearing masks. We arrived at a little testing area with metal benches and hordes of mosquitos, and was told to wait for another couple hours. Smaller buses and cars started taking us to hotels. It felt like a lottery, and I clearly was not winning. I boarded the last car, and it took us to a tiny hotel about a 15 minute drive from my apartment. Escorting us to individual rooms, the workers made a show of sanitizing the elevator and having us go one at a time when they had made all of us use the same pens to write our names down not an hour before. The hotel room itself was small and void of any necessities save for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and they charged us 330 RMB per day. At 11PM, I finally fell onto the bed and passed out.
I am home now, with my family. My apartment is familiar and comfortable. When I think of the way I got here and the frustrations I went through, I find myself appreciating all the little things that I never did. Things like always having new towels, or never having to worry about picking through food. This entire experience has been exhausting, enlightening, and extremely eye-opening, but I know for sure, that I never want to go through it again.