Post coronavirus – lesser adventures in China

The massage was the last thing we did that wasn’t affected by the coronavirus, despite there being nearly a week left of our holiday. The hotel had BBC news 24 and CNN news and we had either one or the other on whenever we weren’t out for visits.

Saturday 26th January, we were due to go to Beijing Zoo. We had been told the day before that we wouldn’t be able to go to the Panda Enclosure, but the rest of it would be fine. This was not the case and the entire zoo had shut. But Tracy was a gem and she had arranged for us to go to the Summer Palace. It was the winter and therefore a contradiction of terms, but it was one of the only couple of places in the city left open, because it was all open air. Anywhere that had any sort of enclosed area was shut, because that was the more likely places for the coronavirus to spread. At this point the masks were now compulsory and we were weirdly getting used to them, as well as drying our hands out massively with the amount of alcohol gel and spray that we were using.

The Summer Palace is actually also beautiful in the Winter and we didn’t even get to explore all of it. The lake was frozen and, in the sun, I could see why the Emperors and Empresses liked it. It was also a great place to see the traditional pottery that always gets broken in the cheesy rom-coms where a normal girl ends up in a rich guy’s house and breaks some ancient Chinese pottery, and how it was made. Because we, not being rich guys, couldn’t afford pottery, we instead bought ourselves bracelets made in the same way.

However this was only a morning activity, so in the afternoon we explored the Hutongs, which were very similar to the Old Town in Huangshan, if busier, and the shopping mall next to the hotel, where I lost my hat, and we got very lost trying to find a specific restaurant that Tracy told us about that sold Peking Duck.

I was very disappointed in the duck as it was delicious for about three mouthfuls and then was very oily and greasy. I persevered but much preferred the duck from a couple of days previously. Never mind; at least we had a million sunflower seeds back in the hotel room.


The next day was far and away the worst day of the trip. Tracy assured us that while we couldn’t see the Terracotta Warriors, the rest of our time in Xi’an would be fine, and there wouldn’t be anything else cancelled. So, we hopped on another 5-hour train to arrive and be told by Milly, the Xi’an guide, that literally nothing was open and we wouldn’t be able to do anything. This was the scary part of the virus that we hadn’t really seen in Beijing. The region that Xi’an is in, Shaanxi, is next to the Hubei province. When we got in the car, we and our suitcases were disinfected. We were given more masks and told that we needed to change them every four hours. We were very worried that we wouldn’t be allowed to check in to the hotel, and indeed it felt like the hotel tried very hard not to let us check in. we had a temperature check, we had to sign a form saying we had not been to Hubei, we had to provide our train tickets to prove this.

Eventually we were able to check in, but had to eat in the hotel restaurant as it was the only restaurant open. Milly tried to persuade us to only stay in the hotel room, but we rebelled at that. While we wanted to be safe, Lauren would never be coming back to China, so we wanted to do as much as possible. The problem was that there was literally nothing to do. So, Milly booked our train back to Beijing for the next day, the Monday, rather than the Wednesday. And we had cocktails after dinner, because what else could we do, plus we needed to relax as best we could.

As the train was in the afternoon and against her better wishes, once we’d checked out, we got as close as we were allowed to the Wild Goose Pagoda, and got told off more than once for taking pictures. The streets were deserted and it honestly looked like those scenes that you see in apocalypse movies. It was surreal and something I know I will remember for the rest of my life, simply because it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I know the quiet of a deserted street at three in the morning, and it’s kind of peaceful. This was at midday and it was a frightened quiet. You could sense the fear in the air. You could see it in the half of people’s faces that weren’t covered by masks. You could hear it in the hurried exchanges between restaurant chefs and those who were buying their produce from them, as there was only one supermarket in the entire city of 12 million people, and the restaurants had stocked up for a Chinese New Year that basically hadn’t happened, and so needed to shift the produce. It was visceral. It was fright inducing. It was something that I never want to experience ever again.

We went back to Beijing and were met by a very apologetic Tracy, but she had only known what we had known. We didn’t blame her at all, and made her aware of that. We were very appreciative of what she was doing for us. She got us back into the same hotel, although that was a very stressful experience too, not to mention all the train travel, which is almost guaranteed to be a hotbed of infection, especially for Lauren. For some reason, she was running a little warmer than usual. Stress, layers of clothes, and having gone from a warm car to a warm hotel meant that the temperature was running above 37°C and while that is a perfectly standard temperature for a human to run, they wouldn’t let us check in until it was below 37°C. even 37.1 was too high. We finally managed it, but it took a good half an hour, and we bought out the shop next door’s entire stock of masks, even if they were fashion masks and not medical ones because there weren’t masks for sale anywhere else. And it was essentially law to wear them in public places now.

Beijing was less scary than Xi’an. It still felt somewhat normal. They were fewer people in the streets and the malls were still empty, except for the supermarkets which were heaving, but it didn’t have the air of fear that Xi’an had. And restaurants were shut for Chinese New Year, and not for the virus in many cases.

On Tuesday, Tracy picked us up in the afternoon, after I had purchased myself a new suitcase. I’d been literally dragging the old one around for the past few days, but it was unmanageable and I was worried it would break further. Plus, it was at least fifteen years old so it had had a very good run. And I got a fancy new one with four wheels rather than two, and a solid shell, rather than fabric. It was very nice. And cheaper than I had feared too, thanks to the shops’ desperation to make any sales at all.

We went to the art district of Beijing, which like the rest of the city, was nigh on deserted, but the shops that were open were our kind of shops. Tracy told us that it was where all the young people hung out, and it was true that it had that vibe and Lauren and I would have been very comfortable hanging out there too, you know, if there had been more people. This was where we could truly shop for souvenirs too, in a way that we had desperately been hoping to do in Xi’an. I got my parents’ requested tea set, and a miniature set for myself, and Lauren was able to get gifts for her whole family, something she was getting slightly concerned she would not be able to do.

My virtual pocket very much lightened, we then were whisked off to the Olympic Stadium and the famous Bird’s Nest. It was a stupendous piece of architecture, as was the bubble-esque water park, which excitingly is being repurposed for the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022. They’re turning one of the pools into the curling rink and possibly also an ice-skating rink will be in there as well.

On the way back to the hotel, we drove past tomorrow’s attractions; the Temple of Earth, and the Lama Temple (yes, I did spell that right. Think Dalai Lama but not as awesome) where we wouldn’t be able to go in, but we would be able to look at from outside, and at the hotel, we started packing everything up as we would be moving to an airport hotel for our final night before we headed home.

Or at least, that was the plan. Lauren says, no calls that wake you up are good calls. we were woken up at 7.30am by her company contact. The Foreign Commonwealth Office had advised against any unnecessary travel to China, and so they were bringing her home a day early. Tracy would pick us up and we would go to the airport pronto. I would have to change my flight and bring it forward a day if possible, with Tracy’s help. All systems were a go, and we were both a little panicky.

It wasn’t as frightening as Xi’an but I would be lying if I didn’t shed a few tears, as we were on the phone to our parents to tell them the news after we’d got it ourselves, and again as I said goodbye to Lauren at her security check. I was able to get a flight that day, and for only an hour after Lauren’s took off but it wasn’t a great way to end my holiday.

That said, I saw some amazing things and after we’d had a few days in quarantine to calm down, Lauren and I did agree that we had done a lot even if hadn’t quite been the holiday we wanted or planned. And hey, it’ll be one heck of a story to tell our kids and grandkids.

Quarantine and Return

I was in Shenzhen for four more days before I decided it was time to come back to the UK. I was concerned; Guangdong region was the second most affected after Hubei, and quite honestly, I wanted to see my family for real rather than over the phone. I had planned on staying out there for much longer without coming back to the UK, but this was something beyond our ken and I wanted the security of being in my home country, where, if I did contract the coronavirus, I would not be hindered by a language barrier.

I flew home on a very expensive flight, and I want to thank everyone who donated to help get me home. I appreciate each and every penny donated.

Lauren welcomed me into her home for two weeks, where we served out our self-imposed quarantine as, if in the worst-case scenario, we had contracted the virus, we didn’t want to pass it on to anyone. Lauren happened to have a friend who was a journalist and who wanted to talk to us about it. We decided to do that interview, and it spiralled. We ended up on different local radio stations multiple times and even made it onto BBC Midlands Today to talk about the fact that we decided to self-quarantine. We didn’t want this fame, if you can call it that, but we did want to stress that we were doing it to be better safe than sorry.

Towards the end of the quarantine, we did get tested for the coronavirus, and it increased my agitation and need to leave Lauren’s house more than ever since as soon as we had negative results, we would have been free to leave. Eventually we did get the results. Officially, neither of us have the coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it is now being called. And while quarantine was boring in a way and claustrophobic in others, Lauren and I are still best friends, and are grateful to our families for helping us out during, and after.

This is my last post now until I go back to China. This blog is primarily about China and my experiences there, and while I am back in the UK, nothing too much of note is happening.

This is also my 25th post, being posted on the anniversary of my arrival in China, so it feels fitting that for now, it goes on hiatus.


As started in the previous episode, after Hong Kong I was headed home, ostensibly for Josh and Maggie’s wedding, but also because I’d promised my re-eneactment friends that I’d go to Evesham in a beautiful circular event, being that the Battle of Evesham last year was where I’d met most of them and where I’d first enquired about joining a medieval battle re-enactment group and was what set the ball rolling to me actually joining the group later in the year. So I had to go.

But first, I had to get back to Worcestershire from London. I landed in Heathrow at a godawful hour of the morning, except that it wasn’t because also – time zones. I had no idea what time it was or how long I’d been awake, or whether I should be awake or not. All I knew was that sleeping on a plane was neither comfortable nor conducive to deep sleep, and I was cream-crackered.

After a mild panic waiting for my bag to arrive (typically, it was one of the last off the plane and so I endured approximately forty-five minutes of heightened anxiety, thinking that it had been left in Thailand (where I’d transferred)), I finally heaved it off the travellator, briefly remembered the toddler that made the news for fulfilling all of our childhood dreams, and then set off for the Underground station.

Travelling through London during and after rush hour was interesting. I was lucky that I alighted the Tube essentially at the start of the line, and didn’t disembark until after the train had entirely filled and then emptied again with glazed-eyed commuters, and so was able to unashamedly occupy a squashy seat that I was utterly unaccustomed to, being that the seats on the Chinese Metros are metal. Travel took me around two hours to get to Matt, Sean and Pippa’s house, which was then a fifteen minute walk from the station, which I was absolutely going to walk since I was now trying to pinch my pennies, not knowing how much money I had in my bank account and only having about £80 on my person, which may have to last me until Monday or longer (this was Wednesday morning).

Matt, being the darling he is, had left me half a loaf of bread and Marmite for me (although I did have to go on a super-quick foraging mission for butter at the nearest corner shop) and I was able to eat toast and drink squash to my heart’s content. I have been telling everyone who’d listen, and those who wouldn’t that I really miss real bread when I’m out in China because they use sugar instead of salt to preserve it and so it tastes sweet and wrong. So I had myself a lot of toast and made a nest on the sofa to wait for people to come home.

This was basically how I spent the next couple of days in London. Vegetating happily, almost speaking Chinese to cashiers, and catching myself at the last minute, and watching a lot of television.

On the Friday morning, I got up what would be considered early but because of the joys of jetlag, I was waking up at stupid o’clock in the morning anyway, and caught the Central tube line from one end to another of it, so that Lauren could collect me and bring me home.

I have the best friends ever, and needed them because my parents, unable to predict that I would be moving to China and needing a lift home from the airport at this particular time, had decided to book a two week holiday in Kyrgyzstan and so were inconveniently unable to pick me up. I had waved to them on the way over and they were landing that same day, just at a time that was not acceptable to me.

I had all of about an hour at home; just enough time to shower and gorge on my favourite meal in the world, before I was heading to Evesham to be a medieval peasant and slaughtered mercilessly by the Royal Army for having the gall to be called up by my Lord to fight for him. You know, the casual peasant problems that every one has.

But first was the obligatory squealing and running and hugging of all my friends whom I had not seen in six months, despite their being what they call sweaty. I soon disabused them of that notion – sweaty is when it’s dripping off your chin and leaving a layer of salt build up on your cheeks – and as soon as the tents were put up, we got down to the business of catching up, while eating fish and chips, and drinking cider, as we didn’t have to be filthy peasants/nobles until the next day.

And filthy we ended up being. While the English summer barely holds a candle to the humid mess that is the Chinese summer, I was running around a field, flailing a sword and wearing a quilt. And I was lightly dressed. So, the by-now-familiar sensation of sweat trickling down my back and further was unpleasantly present. But at least I’d worked for it, whereas here, all I need to do is stand in the shade for a few minutes.

Not only that, but I didn’t care. The adrenaline was flowing and I was forcefully reminded of how much I loved doing re-enactment. I’d been reminded just by seeing my people the night before but nothing compares to the blood pumping as you scream and charge at a wall of shields.

The fights themselves were, on both Saturday and Sunday, were frustrating, but I was still having inordinate amounts of fun. The icing on the cake was that my parents came on Sunday to see what I was doing in my free time and brought my grandparents with them, and I felt truly supported by them, the cherry being that my Dad bought me (for Christmas) my own longbow and four arrows to practice with, as archery is something I’ve wanted to do properly for a long time.

And when I got home? Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Am I spoiled? Quite possibly but everyone deserves a little bit of spoiling every now and then. And I was only home for two weeks.

The rest of my two weeks were busy but fairly uneventful. I had a lot of things to do and not much time to do them. Doctors appointments, cross-stitching to get framed, train, bus and plane tickets to book, pictures to look at, relatives and friends to visit, washing to do and bags to pack.

Oh and a historic hall to visit, because no trip to the UK would be complete without it. The trip was arranged by Free, who had just said to me “Oh, I’m going to Aston Hall on Wednesday, do you want to come?” And the answer was yes. The answer is always yes. It helped that Rik, one of our other re-enactment friends was one of the guides there and we went on Wednesday specifically because we knew we would be working that day, and luckily for his job, he proved to be a most adept guide. Aston Hall was built in the 17th century by a man who’d just bought his baronetcy from King James I in the first time a title was able to buy, and it has seen a lot of history since then. Having gone through the pictures I took, it seems I have none of the exterior of the property… Oops.

And then, on the final day, when I was writing a blog post. I talked about using my flat key to open a bottle of cider, as you do, and I thought idly to myself, you know, I haven’t seen that key since then…

Cue frantic searching, and emptying all my bags that had been so carefully packed. Cue being on the edge of tears all night as my parents got in on the hunt. Cue elevated heart rate. Cue low panic levels. Cue not really sleeping as I racked my brain for any and all memories of when I had at last seen that key. Had I actually shown it to my mum in the kitchen, or had I shown it to her over a WeChat call while she was in the kitchen?

I still don’t know the answer to that. I emailed the AirBnb host from when I was in Hong Kong, I emailed ThaiAir, I messaged the London folks to see if they’d found it, I messaged Charlie to ask if he’d left yet and to see if he’d be able to pass a key onto me, since it was not anywhere that we looked in the house. And. We. Looked. Everywhere.

After a mildly sleepless night, Mutti and I were up at the crack of cuckoo, in order that she could get me to the airport and home in time for her first patient, even though my flight to Amsterdam was actually at a fairly pleasant time of day. It meant that I sat in the way of the doors blowing cold English air all over my now maladapted body, since the only seats the wrong side of baggage check in were there, as I waited for it to open for my flight.

And then I was off on the next step of my European jaunt – the Mainland!

And that’s a blog for next time.