On 27th March, Eleanor and I were again subjected to the swabbing of our throats and back passages. There is a difference in the size of swab sticks used, as Eleanor found out when she was given the wrong one! Thankfully it was quickly rectified and 12 hours later we had the results that we had again tested negative for the virus. The results of the chest x-ray on Saturday 28th would allow us to be free to roam.
Friday afternoon I packed up our suitcase. It is fair to say that we left quarantine with more stuff. That was because school reached out to us and gave us the option of a supermarket shop with EperMarket, a supermarket based in Shanghai that would deliver to Suzhou. Essentials that were purchased included yoghurts, ham, bottle of Prosecco (to celebrate the reunion) and more water. 7 bottles of water that were left were put in my suitcase really weighed it down!
Friday night, we had our Last Supper. IF it had been hot there may have been some hope. I left quarantine 1.5kgs lighter! I opened the last bottle of McCann’s Northern Irish medium sweet cider. I drank while participating in an online “pub quiz”, my teammates were in Suzhou and Malaysia. It was different, but Zoom was a great online tool. I felt connected with my quiz colleagues, and while there were a few connectivity issues and while we didn’t come close to winning, the four of us in our team had a good time.
At the end of the quiz, a person in my health WeChat group confirmed that our results were again negative. Massive sigh of relief. I hoped that the chest X-ray would be confirmation and indeed it was.
At 9.10am on Saturday 28th March 2020 I got a text to say that we could leave our room. We left the way we came in – through the car park. The slope that we had walked down with ease, reduced us to panting and being out of breath as we made our way up the slope. But finally we made it. A final view of the hotel and we hopped onto a public bus that has been requisitioned. It had a shower curtain up to separate the passengers from the staff! 7 people made it onto the bus including fellow members of staff from the junior school, a Korean couple and a Chinese man. The Chinese man would become essential in completing our paperwork. Two public buses travelled in convoy with two ambulances to the hospital that we had been at before. There was an order as to who had the x-rays first, and my name was on the top of the list followed by Eleanor. Despite us being first off, we were the last to leave!
Once everyone was tested, a hazmat suited worker (complete with umbrella to protect him/her against the rain) gave to us pieces of paper to complete. Already chopped/stamped they were the confirmatory letters that we had successfully completed 14 days of quarantine healthy. The Chinese man on the bus explained the gaps were for our names, passport number, phone number and our next of kin. Though the last bit I didn’t complete and it was accepted. (I wrote me down and my phone number and no one picked up on it). There was a slight panic when I realised that everyone had filled in their form twice – one for the hospital and one for themselves. They had only given me two pieces of paper – which I had completed one for each of us. They gave me another two and let everyone else go, while I hastily completed the form again. And that was it. No one checked that I had completed the second form. Eleanor and I got off the bus and into the rain. No fanfare, no celebration. We made our way to the front of the hospital and called a Didi (uber). I wondered whether anyone would want to collect us from the hospital, but that thought didn’t last long. A driver accepted us, loaded up our luggage and off we went for our reunion with Martin and my colleague Shannon who had been holed up in the Howard Johnson (HoJo) for having seen us on the 14th/15th March.
Eleanor and I squeezed in the back with some of our luggage. We were separated from the front of the car with clear heavy duty plastic sheeting, velcroed to the ceiling and the floor. ( I started this blog a week ago, and while every car we had taken had this barrier, the cars taken on Friday/Saturday 3/4th April, none of them have had the protective screening).
We got to the HoJo. Checked in again. As soon as we had had our paperwork I had sent our super support staff the “freedom paperwork” which would hopefully be the key to release the HoJo Two. But when we arrived at the HoJo, sadly the HoJo Two were still not allowed out. It took 3 hours between our paperwork being sent, and their release. I know the wheels run slowly, but I couldn’t understand why the HoJo where letting us back in but not letting the two out. Eventually a reunion was had, a bottle of Prosecco popped and a steak dinner at The Butcher’s Hook. I only had three requirements for dinner 1) It was HOT, 2) It was on a plate (not in a plastic takeaway container) 3) I had real cutlery and I suppose 4) – I didn’t have to wait for the doorbell to ring to go and collect the food.
The food that we had had at Hotel Quarantina, was okay. I am glad not to be seeing kidney beans with every meal though. Equally the highlight was chicken nuggets with a side of chicken breast and salad. A veggie in the hotel was given a lettuce sandwich. The rest of us had a ham and lettuce sandwich. As Westerners we either had cold chips or pasta. You could only get rice if you ordered Chinese meals.
What kept us going was a WeChat group of staff members from across the two Dulwich schools. Some people could see the comings and goings of the entrance, others like me had the lake view. Some could even see the clock tower of school. Two people even brought binoculars with them (!) But we all kept the camaraderie going – mainly about the dinner or the shocking internet. A few videoed their exercise regime including a time-lapse of 555 lengths of the room run which equated apparently to a 5km run!
Free and with no need to get up at 8.55am to do a temperature check, there was no alarm set for the following morning. On Saturday night, I went to bed at 8am. I was tired, I was unsure about being around Martin, we were no longer isolated, but it was odd being around someone else that was not Eleanor and not my parents. Eleanor and Martin watched a film. I slept which was needed… because at 11pm when Martin did come to bed, I was woken up by his snoring. I went to sleep undisturbed on the sofa.
Sunday morning dawned, and 9 of us left the HoJo having been in quarantine for 14 or 15 days to go and get our SIP pass. A green slip of paper that will be needed by school to demonstrated to the Education Bureau that all staff have been in Suzhou quarantine for 14 days. Each community area has an office and so we all traipsed off on a scavenger hunt following photographic instructions that Martin had sent us. We found the building, entered it, and were stopped. We had to each complete a sheet with our name, mobile number and temperature. Before getting into a lift – restricted to 3 people at a time, with each corner of the lift marked out as to where to stand. The lift button panel was covered in plastic with a box of tissues on the side to take a tissue, press the floor number and then dispose of the tissues in the bin which was in the corner. Up on the 6th floor we all congregated. Eleanor and I showed our piece of paper received from the hospital, I also had to show our green health QR code which demonstrated that we had not been in contact with anyone with a fever, and that in the past 14 days had not travelled from a high risk country. We also had to scan a QR code attached to our mobile phone provider which would show a history or where our phones had been. I had had to do that on arrival at the HoJo on 13th March which had shown that I had been in the UK. With everyone jumping through these hoops we all got our SIP green card. Since getting it, we haven’t needed to show anyone apart from school, as many of the shops and residential compounds are more interested in seeing the green QR code.
Getting our green passes meant that we could return to Alleyn House, our boarding house on campus. Our home. I packed up our HoJo apartment which had been slept in for the total of 4 night and while Eleanor and I had left China with 1 suitcase, we had returned to China with 3, and we left the HoJo with 4 suitcases. Martin left with 2. I had packed up all the food that Martin had brought for us, and I also threw out a ton of food that had been left festering in the fridge and fruitbowl for 2 weeks. No one had been allowed in our room when we had been escorted out.
We managed to get into a 6 seater car and arrived back home. The heating can’t be turned on, but thankfully we have hot water bottles and 2 heaters. In the past week the sun has come back out and has gradually warmed up our apartment. To the point last night that we didn’t sleep under 2 quilts and a blanket – we just slept under one quilt.
Martin and I are getting back into our relationship. Talking more, sharing our feelings (something we routinely didn’t do before this). We had both been angry at each other for different things during the past 9 weeks of isolation, and so we are not only making time for us, but we are also respecting our need to have space. Eleanor is enjoying time with Martin too. She needs to have the two of us obviously, but she and Martin need to get their father/daughter time. Mother/Daughter time after 9 weeks is now only necessary for a bedtime hug and a chat.
While Eleanor and I may not be horse riding anymore, we treated Eleanor to a new bike so we have been out most days. I have been out to get my hair done, and legs waxed (important things), had a picnic by the lake with a couple of teachers that were in Hotel Quarantina with me, we have been out to dinner a couple of times, and our Friday online Zoom “pub quiz” had our team being all in one room! I am aware that my beauty routine is now only what people can dream of at home.
I have also done a radio interview with BBC Radio Ulster, as part of their Stories in Sound documentary. This is only my extract. 38 minutes of my interview was reduced to 5 minutes (ish). A few things don’t make sense due to the editing but it was cathartic process to do. Like my German GCSE oral exam with Mr. Blair at Larne Grammar School many many years ago, I had to do the interview twice because the audio when replayed was not good quality. The BBC producer, Johnny Muir had recorded the interview his end the first time. But an hour later he contacted me, asking if I could record it my end and send it. With my phone held to my ear listening to the questions, I had Eleanor’s device at my mouth recording my every word. It was odd listening to it, but my biggest supporters (my parents) listened to it live and said I was clear and very good.
Today (Sunday 5th April 2020) we got confirmation that Dulwich College Suzhou will reopen on Tuesday in a phased return. 3 months after Eleanor left her classroom, she is to return to it on 13th April 2020. In my interview I said 4 months! Online learning is still going to continue for the students who have not returned to Suzhou. Martin and I, however, still have no date for our school to reopen. Drills have occurred, inspections continue to happen and we continue to set work to be done, despite the fact that our students will not sit their IGCSE and A-level exams, data still needs to be collected in order to make sure the student’s school academic records are complete.
We take each day at a time. We have taken time for ourselves and for each other. We are going to be ok. Counselling services have probably never had so much business – indeed, one counselling service in Suzhou has no spaces currently. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. We know that we are loved by a number of people, people who are there for us. Who will listen to us, no matter what time of the day or night. Thankfully my night is someone’s day.
On Saturday 4th April 2020 at 10am, air raid sirens went off and flags were lowered across China. China observed a three minute silence for “martyrs who died in the fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and compatriots died of the disease, according to the State Council.” It was eerie listening to it, and I suppose it can be likened to the clapping for the NHS that has happened in the UK. Look after each other.