“14 days is not enough for quarantine!” complained Joani. “The HK government should make it 21 days.”
“Me too! I don’t think I can finish all my projects by the time we are done with quarantine,” echoed Olivia.
I didn’t expect to hear these words before we started our confinement to a small 25 square meter apartment for two weeks with 5 people. But even I am feeling stressed as I ran out of time as well.
Surprise #1: 25 square meter is pretty livable, even for five persons
Having used to living in a 150 square meter apartment in China, we were fearful of how we will survive as 5 adults each with a need for personal space. So after arriving in the house, we all immediately got to work to re-organized our things and put them away in whatever empty spaces we can find in the apartment. After two hours of hard work, we sat down, looked around, and had the biggest grins on our faces — the place is much bigger than we expected when everything is organized and put away!
There are surprisingly 5 “rooms” in this apartment: living room, master bedroom, bunk bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. We joked that we will each take one room for one hour alone time and then rotate every day! The 6 square meter living room became our “all-purpose room.” It is our dining room, exercise room, playroom, tv room, and bedroom for one person at night. The master bedroom is our “conference room” where we schedule calls or have quiet time. We now know how local families survive in HK.
Surprise #2: We ate well…very well!
At first we were afraid that we might be starving, not knowing if the security guard will let in online grocery order or take out. Or if our friends can come inside the building to delivery “emergency” provisions. So we brought as much snack, cheese, and spices as we can from China, ready to go on a diet.
Surprise! The past 14 days felt like a “food tour” of Hong Kong. Instead of going out, the tastiest food of HK came to us. We had as many friends delivering snacks and food to our door as the number of days we are locked up. BBQ pork, HK styled milk tea, roast duck, roast goose, cow stomach, fish balls, Mexican tacos and nachos, homemade ice cream, HK bubble waffle, bamboo rice, chips, fruit, instant coffee from Starbucks, chocolates from New Zealand, peaches shipped from Japan, and the list goes on. We felt so welcomed in HK and forgot that we were locked up.
Most amazing of all was an incredible friend that continues to impress and inspire us each and every single delivery of grocery. The kids call her affectionately, “Our Santa Claus”. Every time she came up, she has the biggest smile and carried 2 to 3 large bags of groceries. Before we had time to recover from the shock, she came back with another 2-3 bags of more groceries.
Besides the sheer volume, the origin of the food made our eyes light up! Pork from Denmark, fish from Greenland, milk, egg, and tofu from Japan, asparagus from Mexico, free-range chicken from France, mussels from Canada, ground pork from Spain, cherries from the US, potatoes from Australia, rice sticks from Korea, biscuits from Switzerland, olive oil and pasta from Italy, chicken legs raised in “evaporated cooling system” in Japan, and all types of organic vegetables and fruit from HK. 13 different countries! Need I say more?
Surprise #3: We were all busy “working” online
Pandemic has changed the way how people work and it has changed how we travel as well.
Joani signed up to be an online English tutor on www.preply.com. She was very nervous at first but her first student (a school teacher from Spain 20+ years older than her) turned out to be so easy to get along that she would say as if she is in love, “I love my student. It’s like chatting with a friend except you get paid!” Her first student like her so much that the student paid for the largest package possible of 20 hours of lessons with Joani. Now Joani has two students already, the second one from Brazil who is a medical student.
Enli interviewed with a school prep tutoring school in Vancouver through one of his friends. He sold himself as a human geography major student who has traveled to 66 countries and got the chance to substitute for other teachers. He got the chance to showcase his ability to teach social studies (the topic was Culture) for the past two weeks through teaching online classes to seven elementary-aged students. Enli was most proud that he taught them “how to think” instead of just hand feeding facts.
Olivia, who graduated this year from business school with an emphasis on Human Resource, wants to become a professional coach. To build her experience, she reached out and got an opportunity to volunteer at World Vision China as an online group coach to help staff build their confidence in using English professionally. “Look at the goals they set for themselves for the next 3 months. They are very concrete!” Olivia beamed with joy.
Annie has been “working” on counseling others online and also holding talks online or through articles sharing how we do family and marriage.
For myself, I am also working part-time doing coaching online and being an “ambassador” for World Vision China as we travel from country to country.
Surprise #4: We got along better in quarantine than out of quarantine!
Adversity brings people together. For us, quarantine brought us together figuratively and literally.
We knew ahead of time that it will be tough. So having agreed ahead of time to the list of “minimum standards” and “boundaries” was a great help (see Part 1 of the blog). We kept each other accountable when we talked too loud to friends on the phone or were listening to our earphones during family time. Surprisingly, most of the time no one got upset when being reprimanded.
We also continued the habit of starting each meal with sharing what we are thankful for. During the quarantine, we added one more — sharing what we appreciate about each other.
After we cooked our first meal, we shared what we appreciated about each other:
Jonathan: “I appreciate Olivia for helping out with food prep and washing dishes, Joani for designing an exercise regiment to flatten my stomach, Nathan for boiling water for us to drink, and Annie for sewing the broken Spikeball bag.”
Nathan: “I appreciate mom for cooking a delicious dinner.”
Joani: “I appreciate each person for putting in the effort to live peacefully and unified and being quiet.”
Olivia: “I appreciate everyone for putting up the curtain (Olivia likes sunshine) and to Joani for letting me do the coloring book with her.”
Our Secret to Survival
How did we survive? I feel it was a combination of God’s grace and having two quarantine experts in our midst. After all, Olivia and Nathan had already done two 14-day quarantines in Taipei and Shanghai. This is the third one, believe it or not.
First of all, we were well prepared. A week beforehand, Joani order her survival items from Taobao: Color-by-number book, 3D wooden puzzles, two cross-stitch patterns, bullet journal, and sketchbook. She downloaded 25 movies, 5 TV shows, 15 workout videos, 6 books, and 500 songs.
Olivia brought her scrapbook and sign up for an online Bible class from The Bible Project. Enli brought his paperback books. Annie bought a painting set. I bought a new DIY 1000 pieces puzzle of our travel photo.
Second, we implemented structure to our quarantine life. First thing Olivia did was to designate one of the bed room as the “conference room” and put up a time sheet where we quickly fill up slots for our calls, alone time, and work time. I put up a time sheet for each person to take term cooking either breakfast, lunch, or dinner each day. We also put up a time sheet to schedule our meetings with friends after our quarantine is completed!
Third, to keep us healthy and sane, Joani led us in daily exercise twice a day, once before breakfast and once before dinner. Joani got accepted to the University of British Columbia’s School of Kinesiology after which she hopes to be a physical therapist or fitness trainer. Naturally, she became our quarantine personal fitness coach. Joani hired Olivia has her business manager (Olivia graduated from business major this year) and convinced me to pay for a personalized fitness training regiment. I negotiated a pay-for-performance deal where for every centimeter I lose from my waistline, I pay her USD10. Spoiler alert: at the end of 14 days, I paid her USD20 – $10 for losing one centimeter, $10 for helping me to shape my abdomen into “5 packs”!
We Are Freed!
Time flew and it was the last day of our quarantine! We had mixed feelings. On one hand, we want to see HK not just through the windows and want to have the choice to go out when it is really needed. On the other hand, it has been a good 14-day rest and peace in our family dynamic.
During our last quarantine meal, Joani proposed for each of us to share one thing we have learned, one thing we liked, and one thing we hate about quarantine:
“I like this quarantine the most because I have much more social interactions and, for the first time after a very long time, five of us really ‘lived’ all together all the time. It’s fun to see all of us hanging out in the living room.”
“I felt the quarantine helped us to pull together as a family, which we sorely need and I learned that what matters is not how big or small a place is but how hard we are willing to make things work and how organized we are.”
“I made a lot of new friends, had some major breakthroughs, time to focus on myself, and a time of most growth since I can’t escape from my problems.”
“I did at least a little of everything that I brought for this quarantine! And there were a lot! I also watched 12 movies and 20 episodes of TV shows. I also got two new students for my online tutoring job!”
“I love not having to spend time running around buying groceries. I opened the fridge and ‘ding’ there is stuff to cook. I felt a lot of love from our friends in HK.”
Finally, we waited until midnight on August 5th to celebrate. We took out the scissors and ceremonially cut the tracking wrist bands off. It took us a while to get out because we can’t find our shoes after not wearing them for 14 days! We were like five moonstruck wolves running around the street at midnight. Guess what was the first thing we ate after getting out? A delicious plate of scrambled egg over beef rice noodle 滑蛋炒河粉！
“I am going to write a book on ‘100 Days of Quarantine’!” shouted Enli. “I have a feeling this will not be our last one.”
I wonder if our original “One Year Travel Around the World” will turn into a “One Year Quarantine Around the World”?