“Are you aware that once you leave, you can’t come back,” said the Chinese border officer to Annie.
“Yes, we know,” I told the border officer. “That is why we are traveling for one year.”
We all laughed.
We were at the border crossing between mainland China and Hong Kong. Traveling for a year sounds rediculous when every country is re-shutting its border and most travelers are just trying to get back to their home country.
“Why are you going to Hong Kong when everyone is rushing to mainland China right now from the largest outbreak in Hong Kong since the start of the pandemic?” asked the border officer again still puzzled.
“We are going home,” I said calmly holding up my HK permanent ID.
We all laughed again.
Even we know we look ridiculous. We have 5 big backpacks of different colors, 5 small backpacks, and 4-5 bags of cheese, cooking spices, spike ball, ukulele, puzzles, art supplies, and other quarantine survival items. We looked more like refugees than a HK family going back home.
Why did we travel to Hong Kong?
It was not an easy decision to travel to HK as our second leg. We knew we would need to be quarantined for 14 days. We knew it would be the five of us packed into a tiny space. We knew HK is not a cheap place to go. We knew that HK was just starting its largest COVID outbreak yet since the pandemic began. We knew that our first leg traveling in China as a family of five adults was not easy — so to be stuck in a tiny place with no personal space was voluntarily putting ourselves in an extremely volatile environment. So Why?
Despite many people warning us not to travel, Annie and I felt God telling us to keep moving. That was His design for our family. Don’t get stuck in a rut. God will help us overcome the challenges in front of us one by one. As we pass through one door, he will open the next one. Amazingly, the kids were all in agreement as well. Flights out of mainland China were either all booked or too expensive due to the government restriction of allowing only one flight a week per country. Hong Kong has overseas flights every day. Plus, we were able to find a free apartment to stay in Hong Kong thanks to the generosity of a long-time friend. What more confirmation from God can we ask for?
After our 15-day “testing the water” family travel in mainland China, we knew we desperately need more counseling as a family especially if we are to quarantine together in HK. We sat in front of our counselors and let out our frustrations from the past two weeks:
“I am hurt and I don’t trust you.”
“I feel you don’t care and I don’t matter.”
“We did not travel together as a family. Is traveling as a family the best way to restore our family relationship? It is too challenging.”
“I need to draw my boundary so that I don’t become a punching bag and bear scars that will make me not want to care about you anymore.”
It was a difficult 3 hours of letting out our emotions. But we were glad that with our counselors as the “referee” to enforce the rules, we felt safe enough to say what we were feeling without saying things that we will regret. At the end of the session, our homework was to agree on the “minimum standards” for how we should act toward each other and “boundaries” on what actions we each will take when our own boundaries are violated when we are traveling or under quarantine.
It took us three times over three days to finally agree on the minimum standard and boundaries. The first two times were unfinished due to heated arguments. Finally, we agreed to the following:
- Keep our voice and music down especially during the quarantine.
- Have alone time for devotional time every morning.
- Have daily light-hearted, chilled, fun, laughing, normal time
- After conflict to write directly to the person or talk in person.
- Have the choice to leave when someone is venting.
- As adults, give agency to make decisions, freedom to make mistakes, and respect one another.
- As adults, we should bear our own consequences for our mistakes or decisions during travel.
- When one decided to join activities, one should be expected to be engaged as part of the group. However, as adults, we can have the option of not joining certain activities with the family during the travel if communicated ahead of time.
- Don’t put pressure on this Family Gap Year trip as all or nothing if someone decides to leave or the family has consensus that someone should leave. Should set a date in the future to reconcile and give the person a reasonable way to leave.
- At least once a week, have a family meeting to discuss unresolved issues and once a month to evaluate what is working or not and adjust accordingly.
- We will not give up on each other. Need security to know that we will not waiver on our commitment between each monthly evaluation.
Throughout this painful process, there were moments of anger but also moments of reconciliation. There were shoutings but also crying. In the end, we decided to pack and the kids said goodbye to their home for the past 12 years. It was especially hard for Joani who was born here. She took photos with her favorite street vendors and played basketball at her favorite court for the last time.
Su Family “Quarantine” Adventures began
Our adventure started at 5:30 AM on July 23, 2020.
The day before Annie was not feeling well. She didn’t have a fever but was feeling weak and tired. I told her to just sleep the whole day hoping that she will recover quickly before our flight to Shenzhen for the border crossing. Fortunately, when she woke up in the morning, she felt better so we were able to go ahead with the flight. We got on the taxi to the airport and passed the multiple temperature checks at the airport with great relief. We had to stay extra time on the plane because we had trouble showing our green health QR code because we don’t have a Chinese ID but luckily we got by.
The usual airport bus to Hong Kong was no longer operating so we had to take the slow local bus to get to the Shenzhen Bay border, which took 1.5 hour. Before going through both the China and Hong Kong Custom Control took a total of 10 minutes, but this time it took us 1.5 hour even though we were pretty much the only people crossing the border.
“Five people in one room, altogether?” the Hong Kong border officer asked me for the third time.
“Yes, five people in a room,” I responded confidently on the outside, while inside feeling anxious that they won’t allow us to have five people together.
In Hong Kong, we are required to go through 14 days of quarantine in either hotel or apartment. Each of us also has to wear an electronic wristband which would detect if any of us left our quarantine room. Luckily the officer didn’t say “no”, although I can tell that he was quite shocked at what we are doing.
After filling lots of forms, checking that we have installed our wristbands correctly, we arrived successfully in Hong Kong! Again, the usual border bus was not operating so we had to take another local bus and the MTR to reached our final quarantine destination with the miraculous help of a HK gentlemen who happened to be heading to the same district. Our backs were all hurting from the long walks we had to take in between the different transportations. We were also not used to the hot humid weather of HK.
We have one final hurdle before we can breathe a sigh of relief – getting into a friend’s empty apartment without being noticed!
Although it is not unlawful to be quarantined in a residential apartment, some building managers or residents might not be happy knowing someone is quarantined there, especially when we might be misunderstood as coming from the US. So we devised a plan to repack our bags into many small bags so that we don’t look like we just came from aboard and we took multiple trips in and out of the apartment building with just 2 or 3 persons each time often just as the elevator door opens so the security guard didn’t have time to ask us questions. Two friends kindly and generously met us before we enter the apartment to give us cooking equipment and groceries for our quarantine.
Finally, at around 6 pm, 12 hours after our adventure began, we were safely locked inside the 25 square meters “box” — the SPACE where a family of five will sleep, eat, work, call, play, exercise, and not go crazy for the next 14 days — a perfect “social” experiment.
See you in 14 days!