Being on a cruise ship gives you the unique ability to tune out and avoid the world if you so choose. Internet is pricey and unreliable, there’s no need interrupt viewing the latest home reno on HGTV for BBC, and you rarely see an English news station when exploring the streets of a foreign country. When I walked onto the Westerdam January 16th in Singapore, I said goodbye to the constant news on the 2020 election, impeach briefings, and whatever sob stories mass media was over-hyping to get viewers, and I felt great about it.
I was happily bopping around Southeast Asia in blissful, rational ignorance about what was happening in the world until Jeremy said, “I think we need to start watching the news….”
Sure enough, the coronavirus was starting to get serious.
I got to googling, and immediately felt at ease. As of January 25th, there were less than 100 deaths and just under 2,500 reported cases. Out of 10,000,000 people in Wuhan, those numbers are extremely low, particularly when you can assume that those who died were unhealthy, old or young, and lacking access to medical care. The numbers seem even more insignificant when scaling it up to the total population of China. In 2019, the death rate in China was 7.26 per 1,000 people, meaning that there were 28,307 deaths every single day out of 1.425 billion people.
What seems more worrisome to me is the fact that an estimated 4,400 of those daily deaths were a result of air pollution. My brain struggles to comprehend the mass media freak out over a flu-like sickness while not mentioning the statistically deadlier issue at hand of the chemicals and pollution being pumped into the environment.
Since January 25th, the death toll of the coronavirus has gone up to 259 with nearly 12,000 total cases reported as of January 31st, which is still reasonably low when you think your way through the numbers. 2% fatality rate? I see a 98% survival rate!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how calm I am if everyone else is freaking out.
Everyone on the streets for the final Vietnamese ports of Da Nang and Halong Bay sported facemasks, and it’s unclear whether or not businesses were shut down due to the Lunar New Year Holiday or apprehensions of getting sick. Underlying notes of fear and panic were in the air, and passengers were starting to get antsy and worried. Based on the atmosphere, you’d think we were arming up to face the next bubonic plague.
Sure enough, the itinerary changed. Another day was added in Halong Bay while a day in Hong Kong was taken out, and the following cruise would be rerouted to Yokohama, Japan instead of Shanghai. I, the woman who handles chaos and disaster exceedingly well, admittedly started to get nervous. Would I be able to leave Hong Kong? Would I face 14 days in quarantine? Would Jeremy be safe on the ship?
So much for my 16 days of no worries and no news.
February 1st: Disembarking the ship.
I accidently booked my flight for February 2nd rather than the 1st. I swear I saw “February 2nd: Hong Kong” on some cruise tracker website, but I guess I also could have just made a mistake.
Rerouting my travel plans would have costed $600 plus the lost $500 from my already booked, non-refundable flight. My planner was blank until Saturday so there was no real need to rush back. Besides, worst-case scenario, I get sick, get quarantined, patched right on up, and proceed to write a memoir about the time I got the coronavirus.
Hong Kong seemed to be on the verge of lockdown, which I found shocking given the fact there were only a couple cases of the coronavirus. I decided to play it safe by staying the night at the SkyCity Marriot Hotel right near the airport, resisting the urge to stay in a cool hostel and run around the city for 24 hours.
Step one was the Holland America Line transport to get me to the airport. Then, I had to go through the airport to get to the Marriott shuttle, which required waiting in line, showing my reservations, and lugging my two 50 lb suitcases every step of the way. For kicks, I stopped by China Airlines to see if I could change my flight, and they rebutted with a $300 price tag which my frugal self couldn’t bear to cough up.
I met a couple from the ship who were headed to the Marriott as well. Their American Airlines flight had been cancelled, which made me start to rethink that $300. I queued up for the required temperature check to get into the hotel, which further confirmed my plan of a staycation as oppose to venturing out. The hotel was practically empty, and I got an upgraded room with a king sized bed and bathtub.
Frugal tip: just travel during a world health crisis for cheap flights and nice hotels! #logic
Left to my own thoughts, the reality of leaving Jeremy hit and the worry over whether or not I would make it home festered with news of airlines canceling flights and further travel bans being put in place.
While I had a hundred worries, actually contracting the virus wasn’t one of them. I’m healthy, fit, and young, and the flu sounds way worse anyways.
February 2nd: The Travel Day
I hit the gym, took a shower, and hopped on a 10:30am shuttle to the airport to allow ample time for potential mishaps. I looked up at the departures board, and a good amount were highlighted in red, indicating they were cancelled. Luckily, the 14:00 China Airlines flight to Taipei was still on. I had to sign a health declaration form stating I haven’t had a fever, cough, or flu-like symptoms in the past 14 days to get my boarding pass, then I had to get my temperature checked before going through security. Getting turned away was not an option, and that morning I took a couple IB Profin just in case a fever sprung up. Despite my racing heart, I made it through to my gate without a hitch.
The airport was eerily quiet, and I was one of the only people not wearing a facemask. The ventilated contractions sported mostly by Eastern Europeans seemed a bit excessive, but in hindsight, I probably should have gotten a basic one to create the appearance I was doing my part to stop the virus.
With 2 hours to kill, I did a few laps, fan-girled over the fact there was Lululemon, and got a Korean hot stone rice bowl. I anxiously eyed each departure board I passed, just waiting for my flight to be cancelled. By 2:00pm I was sitting on the plane, only partly relieved.
Even though the flight was a simple 1hr jaunt over to Taipei, China Airlines served a box with a few prewrapped bread products that were dry and tasted horrible. At least the gesture was nice.
After turning in yet another health declaration form upon arrival in Taiwan, I made my way to the new terminal and gate with ease, and was very impressed with the Taipei airport. Any place that has an Adidas store next to exercise equipment will win me over.
Then things started to go downhill.
As I lined up to show my boarding pass, I heard the lady ask each person a question in Chinese. The only thing I could make out was “China, Hong Kong, Manilla”, and I had a feeling I’d be in trouble. It was my turn, and she asked if I had been to China, Hong Kong, or Manilla in the past 14 days. I said yes, and she showed me a sign saying foreign passport holders who have been to those places would not be allowed in the US. I pointed to my US passport, and she said something along the lines of “Maybe, ma’am, they will escort you to your home to be quarantined.” My heart sank.
I did some googling, and only found news that those who had been in mainland China would be subject to quarantine. While there was nothing about Hong Kong yet, I had 13 ½ hours of limbo ahead of me, not knowing what my fate would be on the other side and what news would develop.
Despite my unrelenting anxiety, I was happy with my window seat and thankful for the impressive amount of leg room.
After reaching maximum altitude, I was offered a choice of shrimp and noodles or chicken and rice, and I went with chicken. The meal consisted of rice and chicken drenched in salty sauce, a roll, a beet/veggie pate of sorts, and a prepackaged cookie/biscuit. The entrée was edible, and I was pleasantly surprised that the roll was warm and soft as oppose to being packaged up. A highlight was the little mound of beats and veggies that looked like a pink tuna salad.
A little serving of chocolate gelato was later passed out, and the smooth, chocolatey goodness eased my nerves for a couple minutes. If I had to go through an extended period of crisis, I’m uncertain as to whether I would come out at the other end obese or with every single bone showing.
The lights went down indicating bedtime, but I knew I wouldn’t be one of the happy snoozers with an eye mask on. For those of us awake, the stewards brought around water and a turkey and lettuce hoagie, which my knotted stomach kindly passed on.
In the past year, I have made six longhaul flights lasting more than 11 hours, and this one felt the longest by far. I couldn’t sleep, my left arm kept getting tingling, and my racing mind wouldn’t quiet down. I rejoiced as the lights hit a shade of blue then red before coming on, signaling breakfast time. I picked the frittata over chicken fried rice. “Frittata” wouldn’t quite be the word I’d use to describe the meal. It was more so a yellow block of what I assume was egg, mushroom, and cheese. It came with an average pasta salad, a random small piece of lunch meat, two apple slices, an orange slice, and a yogurt. Knowing ordering Ubereats later would cost me money, I ate the free meal. I am the definition of frugality.
The end of the journey….
The plane landed an hour ahead of time, and the anticipation would soon be over.
Upon arrival, there was no temperature check and no health declaration. Only Asian people were wearing masks, and there was no signage about washing hands and being cautious.
My heart picked up as a I went through immigration. The officer asked me where I was traveling from, and I begrudgingly said Hong Kong with the disclaimer about coming from the ship, reiterating the fact I had not been to mainland China. He mostly didn’t care, and I breathed out a sigh of relief as I was given the okay to go through.
The coronavirus seems to be low on the list of worries in the US while it is front and center in Asia. I understand that the declared state of emergency is intended to prevent the virus from spreading to underdeveloped countries with poor health care that are ill equipped to handle a mass epidemic. It also stems from the fact no one knows what the virus is capable of and how it will continue to develop, and it’s always smart to err on the side washing your hands as oppose to coughing all over the place. But is it the right thing to do for media to hype up the virus to a point of inducing global fear?
After experiencing the perception of the virus from both sides of the world, it poses the question of whether or not the coronavirus is something we should be legitimately worried about, or if the hype is another case of the media using fearmongering for self-gain and profit. It’s always better to be cautious and healthy, but I rather not be anxious and overly stressed if it isn’t warranted.
I’ll be curious to see how it progresses and unfolds, and let’s just say, I’m happy to be watching from very, very far away.