Balcony in Hong Kong

View From the Hong Kong Bubble: Quarantine and Beyond in 2022

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these life updates. It would almost be an understatement to say that life has changed drastically since the beginning of the “P” word.

Since effectively being grounded since March 2020, my life of gallivanting around the world and splitting my time between Hong Kong and Sri Lanka came to a screeching halt. Like everyone else, I had no idea that this time-out would painfully drag on for more than two years.

Street art on Graham Street in Hong Kong

“I’m sure we’ll be doing day trips to Macau and weekend trips to Taiwan soon,” I thought to myself foolishly. But as the borders continued to be firmly shut in Hong Kong we rolled with the punches. Because how long could it realistically continue on for?

Jardine's Lookout Hike in Hong Kong

From this gilded prison in Hong Kong we were conditioned into believing that this was all for the best. After all, Hong Kong was experienced with epidemic control – remember the SARS outbreak nearly 20 years ago? Hong Kong minimized the outbreak and prevented further loss of life. Surely the experts knew best.

Sham Shui Po Hong Kong street scene

Life continued in the “new normal” in Hong Kong from 2020 to 2021, masks were mandatory but hey – at least restaurants and shops were open and our movement was never too limited. “At least we aren’t in a citywide lockdown,” we stupidly reassured ourselves. You can see how the Stockholm Syndrome had started to set in?

For the first time in our relationship, my partner and I lived together full-time, in the same city! So we made the most of the time in our little bubble – we spent time with the dogs (Sam & Lola were elated to have us home 24/7 let’s be honest), discovered new speakeasies in Hong Kong, went surfing in the city’s far-flung national park, went on staycation after staycation after staycation…and got engaged!

Marriage certificate signing in Hong Kong

Because of the social distancing measures in Hong Kong we had a dozen of our nearest and dearest attend our tiny little marriage ceremony at the local marriage registry – friends and family overseas joined by, in true pandemic fashion, Zoom.

Wedding dinner in Hong Kong

Our post-wedding celebration was held at an outdoor terrace where we had to sit in groups of no more than 4 people per table – yet another arbitrary, nonsensical policy put in place. “It’s not so bad, we’ll have another wedding with all of our friends and family from abroad once we can.”

It wasn’t long before I fell pregnant and our little unit was about to grow. “At least no one else is really traveling, and we have so many antenatal medical check-ups so we wouldn’t be traveling even if we could,” we justified to ourselves.

We have boutique villas in Sri Lanka that sat empty with no guests as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean shut its borders, my partner runs a luxury surf camp in Sri Lanka, and of course Yoga, Wine & Travel relies on the travel industry working – at this point you tell yourself whatever you need to hear, as our travel-reliant businesses continued to suffer through 2021. “It will all be okay, travel will come back someday soon,” we thought.

During this time, Hong Kong (and many other countries in the world) had rigid quarantine policies – two weeks in a hotel room and multiple PCR tests. There’s no way we could have gone anywhere, even if we wanted to.

But all of that had to go on the backburner. Now heavily pregnant, Hong Kong had declared that it was going through a fresh wave of infections. The months leading up to delivering in a public hospital in Hong Kong was, in short, one of the most anxiety-inducing experiences ever.

Time to head to the hospital!

Birth partners and husbands had been banned from delivery rooms and mothers were being forced to deliver babies alone. “Luckily” for us, they relaxed this rule just a few months before and as long as my husband had a negative PCR from within 48 hours of delivery then he would be allowed in…the only issue? From 37 weeks onwards I could be ready to pop at any moment – this meant that my husband did a PCR test every 2 days for weeks on end, just in case it was go time.

Another lady in my ward said that her poor husband wasn’t allowed in because his PCR result had expired by the time she was moved to the labour ward. “At least he could be there for the delivery and got to hold our son,” we thought. That didn’t last long as he was shooed out of the hospital an hour or so after our baby was born.

Tim with baby in Hong Kong

The next few weeks were an absolute blur. We got comfortable in the newborn bubble, really leaned into it and focused on staying afloat among the diapers, feedings and naps.

Baby foot in Hong Kong

As new parents, travel was the absolute last thing on our minds. Plus, Hong Kong had unceremoniously upped the quarantine from two weeks to a shocking three weeks (21 days!!!) of incarceration in a hotel (at your own expense, might I add). Don’t even get me started on how they had flip-flopped from two weeks to one week and back to three weeks of quarantine in a matter of months.

Closed off playgrounds in Hong Kong
A war on children’s playgrounds in Hong Kong

The absolute uncertainty of travel policies, endless document checks, expensive hotel quarantine, family separation (yes, really) and a newborn meant that there was zero chance in hell that we could risk traveling abroad and leaving Hong Kong in 2021. Would you risk being thrown into one of these makeshift quarantine camps if you or your family member tested positive? What if one of the dogs had a medical emergency and I wasn’t able to make it back in time? Things could go wrong every step of the way, and we had too much to lose.

Baby on Explore the World playmat in Hong Kong

So we happily plodded along. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and soon we had a 1-year-old toddler on our hands. Like all other parents in the world, we thought to ourselves, “where the heck did the time go?” Our little bubble had kept us all “safe” from the virus, even though friends and family around us had been, *gasp*, infected. Thankfully, they all recovered without too much discomfort.

By this time, countries had started opening up. My peers were going on press trips again. My husband’s surf camp had reopened in Sri Lanka. And we were still painfully stuck and being left in the dust.

So at the end of May this year we made the brazen decision to bite the bullet and head back to Australia so that we could finally see our family down under and so that they could meet their new family member.

First plane ride to Perth

Something in both of us had snapped – it felt like groundhog day, we had been running on the spot for two years. It constantly felt like we were taking one step forward and two steps back. We had to get out of this bubble for our sanity. So, we planned the trip fully prepared to undergo a weeklong, stupidly expensive quarantine back in Hong Kong, not to mention the endless string of mandatory PCR tests during and even after quarantine.

Pizza at Swings and Roundabouts in Margaret River region Australia

I think we always knew that the world had moved on, but it wasn’t until we landed in Australia at the end of June that we really understood what that meant. No fear of being locked up if you catch the virus, no fear of having to beg to stay with your family.

Scarborough Beach oceanfront in Perth Australia

I can’t quite describe the relief and weight that was lifted off our shoulders as we once again spent time with family and went on adventures through Western Australia, Bali and Singapore.

View of the beach from La Brisa Beach Club in Bali

Despite the lack of sleep and being woken up by a screaming infant at 4 AM every morning, the trip was exactly what I needed to fill my cup and feel somewhat rejuvenated.

Surfing in Western Australia

Beaches were open (not the case in Hong Kong!), masks were not mandatory, friends and family were gathering, playgrounds weren’t fenced off with stupid red tape (literally).

La Brisa beach club in Bali

Looking back now, I think we needed to get away more than we had even realized. But all good things must come to an end, and it was time to go home to the precious pups – we had been away from them for two whole months!. Thankfully (there’s the Stockholm Syndrome talking again), during this time the government had changed the mandatory quarantine requirements from 7 days to 3 days, as long as you tested negative on a PCR prior to departure, negative on arrival, negative on day 2, negative on day 4 (yes, even after you’ve finished your hotel quarantine), negative on day 6 and negative on day 9.

Nina Hotel South quarantine in Hong Kong

Landing back in Hong Kong felt surreal, as if we had somehow time traveled back to March 2020 with everyone in head-to-toe PPE gear. Our poor nostrils had been poked and prodded so many times, and we had been treated like we were radioactive. The hotel room door even had a large sign warning people from stepping one foot out the door or risk a huge fine and potential jail time (seriously).

View from Nina South hotel quarantine in Hong Kong

Lo and behold, we were negative even after day 9 of arriving back in Hong Kong and spending 3 nights cooped up in a 30 square meter room (“at least the hotel staff were friendly and accommodating, the room was clean and the food was mostly acceptable,” – yet another justification to ourselves for spending thousands on this outrageous experience).

It’s been a month since we landed back in Hong Kong, and I’m only just now coming down from the adrenaline of jumping through hoop after hoop to get back home. Despite the fact that we’re elated to be reunited with the dogs and to catch up with our friends and family who live in Hong Kong, we’ve already booked tickets to leave and go back to Sri Lanka next month. Today, the Hong Kong government has finally relented and announced that they will remove mandatory hotel quarantine after nearly 3 years. After all, what did it really accomplish?

Though there are still several hoops to jump through (there are still multiple mandatory PCR tests), the light at the end of the tunnel has finally started to peek through, and we are catching a glimpse of normality in Hong Kong (or whatever normality will look like with a toddler in tow). Next month, I’ll be in Singapore for an industry event with tourism boards and tourism stakeholders, and then we will be back at work in Sri Lanka and catching up with friends there.

Wine glass at Tegallalang Rice Fields in Bali Indonesia

It felt like such a waste not to document this tumultuous journey over the past two and a half years, for the first time in a long time I’m once again excited. Excited about the future of Yoga, Wine & Travel, excited to show my son the world and new cultures, excited to get our livelihoods back. Thanks for sticking around – I know that things have been quiet on this front, but I hope you’ll stay tuned for where our adventures take us next.

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