The Hospital

As i said in the last blog post, surely the arrival in China signalled the end of my woes, right? This was not the case, not the case at all. In fact, this was when the stress really began.

I’d already been told that on landing, officials would board the plane and check everything was as it should be before they would escort us off the plane and into the airport. This is, in fact, exactly what happened. But what nobody had told and what I hadn’t thought about was that having a hundred plus people on a thin metal tube was that things would get warm. Very warm. I started doing the one thing that you really don’t want to do when one of the main indicators for a worldwide pandemic is a temperature: I started to overheat. I could feel it happening, and fanning myself with the “What to do in an emergency” card didn’t help at all. Nor did taking off my hoodie.

I felt a little better when we were finally allowed off the plan and escorted through the airport, and I even managed to pass at least two infrared thermal imaging temperature check things that I passed through.

However, it also turns out that I have a physical reaction to stress, and that reaction is to get warm and having many well meaning but not understanding fully people trying to help me get an app and fill in a form that I already had and had already filled in, made me more stressed because of the not entirely understanding part, and the fact that all of the officials were in hazmat suits, multiple pairs of gloves, with a hairnet over the suit hood, and old style goggles that I last saw in my school chemistry class, a mask and visor. If they weren’t hot in all that get up themselves, then I’m a goose.

Finally, after an age of waiting I got to the official health check where I presented my phone to give proof of having the app as it had a required QR code on it, and I was given an old style mercury thermometer for my armpit. There were a couple of what were considered to be irregularities with my form, because I hadn’t included Finland, the stopover and in the interests of being entirely honest, I had included Exeter, the city, because I didn’t particularly fancy the $1000 fine. But, since these officials didn’t speak a lick of English, and in my stressed tired etc state, all Chinese I knew completely abandoned me, they didn’t understand Exeter, and after some back and forth with the help of a translator (device, not a person) in a bag, about whether it was a country or whether I had left England at all , other than Finland en route to China, it was removed.

My temperature on the mercury thermometer turned out to be 37.5˚C. The Chinese limit is 37.3˚C. I have no proof of this other than anecdotal – that I saw the temperatures of approximately 70 Chinese people every day twice a day for two weeks – , but it seems that the Chinese run at a lower temperature than Western people, as they would consistently record temperatures at 36.something low, and I couldn’t get my mercury thermometer below 37.9˚C (I therefore used my gun zapper thermometer) which I think is partially why they have a lower threshold compared to the British 37.8˚C.

This 37.5˚C didn’t budge, so I was taken away. Literally, I was walked down an arm where you’d normally board the plane and then down the fire escape to a concrete bunker, whereas everyone with a temperature below the beloved 37.3˚C went further into the bowels of the airport.

In the bunker, my passport was taken from me and I was doused in disinfectant. I will admit that by this point, I was crying. I wasn’t hysterical but I was incredibly scared and confused. I didn’t know what was going on and honestly, it was my worst nightmare. In all the planning and preparing to come back to China, this hadn’t really crossed my mind. My temperature had never been high enough for it to be an issue. Now I was thousands of miles from home, with no way to contact my family, not that they would answer anyway, since it was 3am UK time. I was tired, starving, overwhelmed and my release happened to be crying.

After disinfection, I was interrogated, for want of a better term. The officials asked me what date I’d left China, and although I initially gave it confidently, I then lost confidence in it. It didn’t help that when I tried to tell them that I’d gone from Shenzhen to Heathrow via Frankfurt, they didn’t seem to get the via Frankfurt part. From what I could tell, from the screen in Chinese, they seemed to be trying to find the passenger manifest, so they could corroborate my story, which they wouldn’t if I’d accidentally given them the wrong departure date, or if they were looking for a direct flight to Heathrow. They kept checking the date and city with me over and over and over and over and over again as if they were trying to find a hole in my story, but they didn’t exactly seem all that interested in my answers either, especially when I tried to clarify that I might have got the wrong date and that I went to Frankfurt, then London. This wasn’t exactly helping with the crying thing, either.

They did, in their own inimitable Chinese way, try to comfort me once. They told me I didn’t need to be scared, that China was the safest country in the world, and that I’d be welcomed and surrounded by my Chinese family and Chinese family values (paraphrased).  This was, of course, not at all helpful, but I did appreciate their attempt. They took a break from the interrogation to give me a Covid test, which was a nasal swab that tickled my throat and triggered my cough response in an attempt to dislodge the intrusion. This was in both nostrils, because just the one was clearly not sadistic enough for them. I then got a face full of disinfectant and tissue, before they moved onto the throat swab which just so happened to trigger my gag reflex. They were lucky I hadn’t eaten in a few hours or they would have had to clean up my vomit. Yum. Next up, they told me not to be afraid, but they also needed to take my blood, which was honestly the easiest part. So long as I don’t have to look at the needle puncturing my skin, I’m good.

They tried a little more interrogation, but it didn’t really work as I had literally told them everything I could, so I was finally given my passport back with my entry stamp, and told to wait outside for the ambulance to take us to the hospital. I was with one other girl, a Chinese national whose temperature had been 37.4˚C. If they’d taken my temperature then, as I was sitting outside in 15˚C and a light drizzle with just a t-shirt on, I probably would have passed with flying colours, but it was clearly too late at this point.

Inside the ambulance
This is the look of an overwrought Englishwoman

We got lights and standard horn to the hospital, rather than the sirens, but it still seemed to work quite nicely to get us there. At the hospital we had to wait in the ambulance, presumably so that they had time to prepare our rooms and a crowd full on gathered while we waited. Some of them even had their phones out. I actually wondered if this was what it was like to be a celebrity. I also took a couple of pics myself. It was an experience, and I wanted to document it. On the ride, I’d also spent all of my phone credit on my English sim card to let my parents know what was going on, and I was still confused as to why my Chinese sim card didn’t work.

A curious crowd

When we were finally shown to our rooms, I told the nurse through the Chinese girl who had a very good grasp of English, that i had no internet and they made their phone a mobile hot spot for me for the afternoon. My room consisted of a hospital bed, bedside monitoring machine thing, a squatty potty and a sink. This was not idea, because the stress had also had a negative impact on my bowels, but I guess that’s just another Chinese experience to cross off my shower list (opposite of bucket list – the list of things you really don’t want to have to do in your life). they had also not provided loo roll, so I had to carefully ration my tissues and wet wipes. I did have a jug of boiling water and the promise to refill it whenever I needed.

Using the mobile hot spot, I was now able to talk to my mum – cue more tears, of course – and the company to tell them what was going on and the situation with my phone. It turns out, that if you don’t top up your phone for 6 months, the number gets cancelled so that was fun.

In the evening I had, of all things, a CT scan. It was focused (I think – I’ve never had a CT scan before and I got distracted by the pretty colours on the inside of the machine) on my lungs. Understandable, I suppose, given the nature of the virus. I also asked about my suitcase, as I had no idea where it was and I only had the clothes i was standing I and had been wearing for well over 24 hours by now.

At 8pm my Wi-Fi went off as the nurse whose phone it was had to go home, and at midnight, my suitcase was delivered. I had been trying to sleep as I’d also not done that in about 24 hours either. I’d managed to sleep a little on the London-Helsinki flight but hadn’t on the longer leg from Helsinki-Zhengzhou. But once the suitcase turned up, my jet lag kicked in and I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I ended up listening to several hours of Harry Potter.

The next morning, bright and early, I had another blood test and throat swab. This nurse decided that my best veins were in my wrist, and so took the blood from there, which hurt way more than the crook of my elbow and left me with a massive bruise.

I got an ouchie!

The rest of the day was spent in a haze of boredom and napping. I was afraid to sleep for too long or get too much out since, as far as I was concerned, I could be told at any time that I was leaving. My temperature had been back to normal since I had arrived at the hospital the day before and as far as I was concerned, I was Covid free. In the evening, I asked the nurse who came to take my temperature, when I would be leaving and she said that it would be the next day, as long as my morning test came back fine.

I nearly overslept the next morning, and had to rush dressing before the test when I asked again when I would be leaving. I was told the afternoon. By noon I had pretty much packed everything, and could be ready to go within a couple of minutes. At around 3.30pm, I was told to get ready to leave and I was allowed Wi-Fi for about another half an hour. I rushed to pack my last few bits and then lay on the bed reading on my phone, checking the door every few minutes to make sure that I wasn’t left behind (as if Chinese efficiency would allow such a thing).

At about 5.30pm the nurses all came to my room and asked for photos with me. Given that Zhengzhou isn’t exactly a tourist destination, I was the only white person that they had treated. So i was an anomaly to their usual work day that they wanted to record. It has made me wonder over the last few weeks, in a way that I never have before, how often I’m mentioned to a spouse or a roommate as a weird or unusual thing that happened that day. Its rather unsettling to think about. But anyway, I dutifully posed for my new fans and snapped a couple of my own cheeky pictures, then got my things. Oh nope, not yet; I had to wait for the bus.

Welp, it wasn’t a bus but an ambulance and this time we were treated to the lights and sirens. But in fairness it was half an hour to the hotel through rush hour, so I hate to think how long it would have taken without them.

At the hotel I finally had permanent Wi-Fi and wasted no time in reporting on my new confinement chambers that had both a shower (I hadn’t been able to wash since England) and a Western style toilet. Now all I had to do was choose a bed and wait out the rest of my quarantine.

I’ve gained a story, and experienced a Chinese hospital (I’ve now had a few more, but that’s next week’s story) and all it cost me was a mere 3000¥ I didn’t have and my 482 day streak on Duolingo, which to be honest, I’m most annoyed about.

You’re Doing What, Now?

“You’re crazy.”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“But what about Covid?”

“What happens if something happens to you and you’re all that way away?”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“Is it worth it?”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“But what about your PGCE?”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go.”

“I really don’t think it’s going to happen.”

These are just a few of the things that I’ve said to myself and others have said to me in the last three months or so. Because that has been how long my return to China has been “in progress.” Perhaps even longer.

I was expecting to leave for China in the middle of august. I knew I had a two-week quarantine to complete, and I wanted to have that finished before the school term started on the 1st September. So, I handed in my notice at the caring job I’d managed to get in the middle of July. That was my first step, and honestly, it was the easiest one.

At this stage, I wasn’t certain that we would make it out to China, again. I knew that I wanted to go back, although I couldn’t explain why to anyone who asked. And believe me, many people asked. I just felt, deep within my soul, that I hadn’t finished in China yet, that I was meant to go back. And as someone who believes science above all other things, and who has been flirting with atheism for many years, how could I explain something that has felt like the closest thing to fate that I could get to?

Especially as the process to get back has been so frustrating, so difficult, so bureaucratic, that it sometimes felt like it wasn’t meant to be. I have been through the whole range of emotions to end up back in this country that I can’t help but love.

I would say, my mum, and my newest friend, Jo, were the two biggest voices of caution. And I don’t blame either of them. In fact, I thank the both of them, from the bottom of my heart, because if it hadn’t had been for their concerns, I wouldn’t be so certain in my decision now.

In fact, my mum was so unsure of my actual ability to return, (as was I, if I’m being truly honest), that she encouraged me to apply to do my PGCE, starting this September, as that was to be my final aim, come September 2021 anyway. It took a few weeks of encouragement and some fights, but in the end, I had a personal statement I was happy with. Now all I had to do was somehow retrieve my degree certificate from a storage locker in China, and decide which universities I wanted to apply to.

This was not as easy as it sounds. I picked three universities, and by the time I had come to hit send on the application, except for the personal statement, two of them were full. So, I picked a couple more. They maybe weren’t as prestigious but they still had places available. And they weren’t bad universities. I would be very happy to attend them.

Except, when it came to filling in the personal statement part and actually hitting send, one of them was full. At this point, I was willing to put in any university that still had a place. I think I searched nearly every university whose name I had heard of for an early years PGCE. And I finally hit on one, and sent off my application.

The interviews came in very quick succession after that, and, of course, they happened during the two hottest days of the year, meaning, I near melted while trying to remember how to do maths, after nearly ten years of the most basic maths if it was ever required of me, and trying to remember how to structure an essay style question.

Luckily the heat didn’t seem to affect me too much, and I got offers. Which meant that I then had one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Do I give up on my dream of going back to China in favour of pressing forward with finally achieving a career or do I potentially submit myself to doing the same thing again in a year’s time, with all the stress and anxiety that goes with it?

It turned out that I didn’t need to do either, as Winchester University, my first choice, said that I could defer my entry by a year. Which, with the deepest and greatest joy in my heart, I did. I could still go back to China, and even better, I had a place at Winchester university lined up for me when I got home. Talk about having my cake and eating it too!

This came at just the right time for me, as by now, TeachTEFLinChina, the company that I work for in China, were badgering me to fill in the online portion of my new visa application. Despite still having a valid visa, until January 2021, I was required to apply for a new visa. This caused stress in and of itself, as it was one of the most in-depth applications I have ever filled out. They asked everything, including what I had for breakfast and for my first born.

As soon as I was finished, I told the company, and they told me that I would probably be going to London on 14th September to the visa office and to hand in my passport. I told the Care company, as I had indefinitely extended my notice, because I needed the monies, and gave my last day. This was on a Saturday in early September. On the Thursday the company contacted me and asked me how I was doing with my visa. I very nearly head-desked and sent them the same information I had sent them at the weekend, and then I asked them when I would definitely be going to London. A week later; the 21st. I wasn’t exactly happy but, in the end, it couldn’t be changed, even though I had wanted to have been in China for a month by this point. But this is how things work. Apparently. I contacted the caring company and got a week’s more work. of course, by the time I’d gone to London twice, once to drop off the passport and once to pick it up, I was told that I didn’t need to have done that, as the new regulations meant I could have got in on my old passport. So all that stress of finding the cheapest and easiest way to get to London, making sure I got there and got on the various trains on time, trying to eat and drink while wearing a mask (the second trip I had half a bottle of Fanta and two Pringles all day), desperately hoping that I had the right paperwork as the three people in front of me were turned away for not having it, not to mention the added stress of travel during Covid Times, was for nothing. Gotta love bureaucracy.

Then comes the most frustrating part of the whole experience. The booking of the plane tickets.

It was a nightmare. Literally, figuratively and metaphorically. I couldn’t escape by sleeping, because I was also having nightmares about it.

I looked for flights that were a) less than £1000, b) didn’t criss-cross the entire world, and c) didn’t involve “self-transfer”. The worst hyphenated word in existence. If you’ve never come across it, you’re lucky. Now, surely, these criteria are not too difficult to apply, right?

You’d think. What actually happened was that I found flights that would go to Hong Kong, have you hanging around in the airport for a mere 18 hours before going on to Shanghai. I booked the tickets twice, spending nearly £1000 each time, through one of these intermediary sites that supposedly finds the best flights and prices for you. A few hours later, I’d get an email telling me that they’d been unable to book the tickets for that price, but if I gave them another £1500, they might be able to do it. Or I could request a refund that would take up to five days to process.

I requested the refund. I got a loan from my parents. I tried again. I cried. I got the same message. I cried a little more. After all this effort that I’d gone through to get this far, would I really be denied at the last hurdle?

I’d been trying for a flight in the first week in October, and it seemed impossible. Spoiler alert: it was.

I contacted the company to tell them the trouble I’d been having. They got back to me to tell me that someone else had found a flight to a city called Zhengzhou, via Helsinki on 12th October. And even better? The layover was only five hours. Small fry compared to the prospective 18 I’d been gearing myself up for.

And, success, at last. I booked the tickets. Not that I could relax though. Relax? Don’t know her.

I still had to get a negative test result within 3 days of my second flight, which wasn’t as bad as it had been at first with the whole 18 hours thing. Both my flights were at least on the same day. But guess what had been in the news for the whole month of September?

Don’t be silly; I know you know. Who hasn’t been aware of the news for the past 8 months? It was the lack of tests and delays in the results, of course! So, I stressed about when to get the test, my mum stressed about when to get the test, the company stressed about when to get the test.

I had to get it in enough time to get the results to email to the Embassy and get their reply (oh, you didn’t think it was just about the result, did you? My sweet summer child!), but also have it within 3 days of the flight. And the Embassy “work at the weekends, but don’t expect any answer from them during Saturday or Sunday”. My flight, was predictably Monday morning. My results could take anything from 24 to 48 hours to come back. I would have to contact them at the weekend.

Honestly, I don’t think my heart is ever going to recover. This process may well have cost me years of my life.

I took the test late on Thursday evening. Trying to book it through signal gaps while deep in Devon didn’t help, but I got it eventually. I got the result about midday Saturday. The Embassy sent me the Certificate of Health around midday on Sunday. And sigh.

All my ducks were finally in a row. My suitcase was a little heavy, full of food that I couldn’t get in China. I was ready.

The flights themselves were fine. Fun fact: I was on the inaugural first flight between Helsinki and Zhengzhou, which was exciting. Another fun fact: all the crew, except for the pilots wore hazmat suits. I had my temperature checked four times before getting on the flight. Once again when we were on the descent.

The crew in the background, chilling in their hazmat suits…

And finally, we touched down. I was in China. I had made it. This was it. I could relax, right?

Oh, if only that had been the case…