After waiting 8 months, it was finally time to move to my new home country – Hong Kong. Until now I had only read stories online and heard stories about traveling during the pandemic. To say the least, my anxiety skyrocketed when it was I who had to actually travel during these tumultuous times. Leaving Tokyo, a place I’ve called home for over 20 years, was incredibly hard, but on top of that traveling during COVID-19 was certainly not how I pictured my move, when I got married in the beginning of the year.
My husband and sister tried to prep me for it. They kept me in check and peace. It was going to be a long journey (which I mentally prepared myself for) but the prolonged waiting time was unanticipated.
So let me start from the beginning of my journey. It was August 18th and I was flying out of Narita airport – usually a crowded yet orderly airport, now an eerily ghosted airport with most counters closed and very few passengers. The check in, security and immigration went fairly smoothly. I had the whole security check zone to myself and didn’t have to rush or find the shortest line – like how it is when traveling normally (albeit I prefer reaching the airport a comfortable 3.5 hours before the scheduled flight time – LOL I can sense so many eye-rolls here, hi husband and sister Parikh).
I then proceeded to the immigration counter. I have to mention that, signing the custom form where I had to acknowledge that my return to Tokyo for the time being is restricted did scare me a bit. But, I went ahead, and signed it. The airport staff were super helpful and cooperative throughout.
Upon completing immigration formalities, I leisurely walked to my gate. As I passed by what would be duty free shops, everything was closed and I couldn’t spot anybody in my proximity until I reached my gate. Before boarding, I saw a SCMP notification flash on my phone saying that a T3 typhoon was declared. I didn’t pay too much attention to that, thinking it wouldn’t affect my flight; a usually acceptable conclusion, but little did I know what was to come.
Ok, let me not digress. So, I was onboard CX521 that departed from Narita with just a couple dozen people on board with me. I felt at ease having the entire row to myself and swiftly acclimated with all my (un)usual flight essentials – like a face shield, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer and alcohol spray (and of course I had my mask on since I left home!). I quickly sanitized my seat and belongings as I was extra paranoid. Our meal came cutely packed in bags with no additional refreshments during the course of the flight. The 4 hours on flight went by as a breeze and before I knew it, voila, we landed in HK!
Upon arriving at HK airport there was a maze of checkpoints we had to clear before making it to the holding area (which I’ll elaborate a little later). The procedure was very Hong Kong-like, systematic and efficient. The online health declaration form is the most important e-document to fill from which the procedures to follow are documented on. We received a tracking wristband that we cannot tamper or remove until 14 days of our quarantine is over and got briefed about the StayHomeSafe app that the government uses to track. We were then taken to do our saliva test. In small assigned cubicles we had to do the test and store our sample in the provided bottle. We were provided with concise and precise instructions on the sample procedures.
At the end we had to submit our sample. I felt relief thinking that this was it and now I just have to wait a few hours for the results. I was looking forward to going to a hotel for the night to rest before the next morning – little did I know that a T8 typhoon was cooking up a storm already! As the tropical typhoon Higos skirted the city, all inbound passengers were left waiting at the airport. Given a table and chair 1.5 meters apart, we had to stay put until further notice. And from there began the waiting game. I thought to myself, this may be it, a night at the airport!
I waited and waited. At around 2 in the morning, the typhoon signal 9 was issued. I could hear the sounds of gushing wind and pouring rain flogging the airport windows as I continued to wait…
The night felt long and restless. Exhaustion, coldness (the air conditioner decided to mimic Alaska) and sleepiness was all really kicking in. Trying to nestle and sleep on my flimsy chair and 1:1 table. My eyes kept opening as the cyclone winds passed in a gush and it continued to pour.
At around 7, my eyes opened and alas they offered me a blanket. Still cold. Wearing a denim jacket throughout the night wasn’t enough. The blanket we received also was passible, but it just felt comforting having something to wrap yourself in the cold.
At this point it’s been over 12 hours since I’m at the airport. Waiting and waiting. With no clear signs as to what’s going on, when we’ll get our test results and when we can go home! I felt slightly relieved as the airport staff said that around 11 a.m. once the typhoon signal would drop to T3 and we would get relocated to a hotel. The typhoon brought a suspension to the collection of COVID-19 test samples. While the wait at this point felt getting longer, I was a little appeased, so was my back, to get to stay at a hotel than at the airport. Imagine, if reading this feels like I’m dragging on and on, the wait felt like there was no end.
Well the semblance was completely different. At this moment it had been 16 hours sitting in the same place at the airport. No updates, no further news. We’re just dragging time. We don’t have our tests results or any sign of transferring us to a hotel.
18 hours into this waiting game, people dressed in PPE gear approached our holding area around 3pm. I thought now is the moment they’ll release our test results and we’ll get to go home soon. Sadly I was mistaken. They came to check our documents one by one and told us to wait here until further notice and our hotel accommodation was also canceled. The waiting time to our surprise was 6-8 hours MORE!
At this point we were starving and sleep deprived. It was quarter to 6 in the evening and we had no clue what time we’d be exiting the holding area. Not sure if frustration or anger would have helped, I was too tired to even bother.
Suddenly, as it turned 6pm, 21 hours later there was a lot of movement. The staff came back with a brown envelope and started meeting passengers individually and giving their test results back. Soon after we hopped on a bus and were taken to the other terminal. I swiftly passed immigration, collected my baggage and exited the airport. After hours of waiting, here comes HK Efficiency again. And finally I was on my home to home quarantine myself for the next 2 weeks.
To be honest, there was little the airport staff could have done in addition, though the lack of information and transparency was frustrating. There I was, in a taxi, on the way to an unfamiliar house; until I met my husband at the house, which now felt like a home. Though the ordeal at the airport was long, it was only an additional prolonging wait for the start of my married life; that was delayed by Covid-19 for 8 months.
I must directly address all of my readers, in saying that stay safe, be cautious, and we’ will overcome this Virus, the next virus, and every virus ahead.