Hotel quarantine in Hong Kong

From the 19th of January to the 10th of February 2021, I had to quarantine for 21 days in a hotel on arrival in Hong Kong. I published the following diary day by day on social media, as a glimpse into this peculiar time, hoping to resonate with a situation many of us were going through, at varying degrees.

Day 1/21 of hotel quarantine in a Hong Kong. Journey was fine. Breakfast came in a little white plastic bag. I can hear my neighbour is on the phone. I love that my bed is against the window.

Day 6/21 of quarantine in Hong Kong. I’m a giant watching over the city. The afternoon light is a gift.

Day 11/21 Nothing is too small to be enjoyed like the day’s event in here.

Day 12/21 I made a friend.

柚子 jau2 zi2

A pomelo.

There was a knock on my door around 1pm today. People coming to test me for the second time since I arrived. I panic. I want to hide a camera and film. I very quickly set it up and open the door. Two health workers stand there, covered from head to toe, PVC face shields on and on their side a machine that looks like a white hoover, but with a much larger hose. I sit on the white plastic stool they give me, put a bin next to me and a tissue on my knees, as recommended in the handout I was given on arrival. One worker speaks to me and I don’t understand, he flawlessly switches to English then scans my temperature by pointing an electronic thermometer at my forehead then steps back. His colleague comes forward and aims the nose of the machine at my face. I think it’s supposed to suck my breath in to limit contamination. I take off my mask and lay it on the tissue, put my head back. She delicately dips q-tips in my nose and throat for samples.

I put my mask back on. She takes her gloves off and throws them into my bin.

The man asks me if it’s the end of the first or the second half of my quarantine. I answer the end of the first one. “There’s another test on the 19th day”. They roll the machine to the next door, I get up, go back in with my bin, tie it with a knot, leave it against my door.

First in-person contact in twelve days.

Unfortunately the angle of the camera was not good enough, it only caught the door handle. But I get another chance soon. Good night, now.

Day 14/21 The meal bag ritual

My meals are delivered three times a day at regular time – lately I didn’t get up anymore for breakfast because I’ve been going to bed around 3 am. I usually can tell when they’re coming because of a discreet ruffle behind the door, meaning someone is hanging the meal bag on my door handle. Then there’s a ring at the door – sometimes one slow one, sometimes several hurried ones. When I open the door no one is in sight. I take the bag in and eat.

Each day of this quarantine I produced one bin bag of three meal boxes and two to three juice packs plus tissues and other waste.

One of the three meal bags becomes a bin. I tie it with a knot and leave it outside my door. If I do it before 2pm, it’s picked up and disappear.

I’ve got an entire drawer of plastic cutlery and I taught myself how to fold the remaining bags into neat triangles. It kills time.

Day 15/21 The rooftops

I’m very lucky to have a view outside my window, I was very scared to be facing a wall.

I can look down and there’s never nothing to observe.

I watch the laundry dry, the wind play and the colours change from one day to the other.

I’ve got neighbours who come to rest in the sun.

Today a family took its two pets parrots out to get some air. I watched them spread a blanket on the rooftop tiles, steady the bird table and intermittently spray the birds with water. Then open a board game.

Other birds fly passed above the rooftops, I think one of them is a black kite that must have its eyrie in the hills I’m facing. A couple times as well I’ve seen butterflies get lost at this height.

Now everyone has gone back in and the sun has set.

(…)

Day 16/21 What’s your name my friend and where do you live?

Day 18/21

I’ve been drinking more juice packs than in my entire kindergarten years. I never drank chrysanthemum 菊花 juice, but here. Only ever thought of them as flowers for the dead; I will have to learn more.

My neighbour took the parrots on the rooftop again and it looked like they were having a rencontre au sommet. Talking seriously.

A ray of sunshine made my plastic tub-plate look good, but I regretted not eating this orange right when I received it, it had dried a bit already.

Now the quarantine is almost over, how lucky I know it is. What would it be not to know.

I’m doing alright, not feeling any special excitement or preemptive relief, just ready to adapt again – and looking forward to work on the play and book I came here for.

So long x

Day 19/21 Scattered thoughts

A kite I saw the other day floating in the distance got caught in a balcony. Now it’s flying up and down as if it couldn’t leave.

I’ve heard this morning on the radio that children age six would start learning in the school curriculum the four offences written in the new Hong Kong Security Law: separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries. And that they would be taught it in classes ranging from economics and biology to music.

I got my third test today and sneakily got a few pictures of the procedure. Outside, the government has been organising “embush lockdowns” whereby blocks of flats are sealed off and all residents forbidden to leave between 12 to 48 hours until everyone gets tested.

Three more sleeps.

Day 20/21

First day the weather is overcast since I arrived.

Made me want to watch a film, I brought Goodbye Dragon Inn by Tsai Ming-Liang with me. About a decrepit cinema and the people erring in it.

Drinking a coffee, facing the screen, I’d call this hotel quarantine a form of luxurious control and care.

Two more sleeps.

Day 22/21

I could have left yesterday at midnight, but stayed overnight.

That’s it. My hotel quarantine is over.

It actually went pretty fast and I managed to be in a rush today. I didn’t even relish cutting my wristband – I was still packing at 11.50, to check out at 12. I left a tip on my table and felt gross to leave behind such a pile of rubbish. Another eerie detail as I was leaving: the hotel is so secured that the lifts don’t work unless the staff sends one to you. At the reception I was given a desk set as goodbye gift, which felt both cute and absurd because right now I’m rather dreaming of a giant teddy bear to hug and crush. Then I was off onto the streets – almost empty; it’s raining quite a bit. I dragged my suitcase to the nearest coffee shop for my first breakfast outside.

The smell of Hong Kong made me smile wide behind my mask. I don’t know what it’s made of, but to me the streets smell of food. It’s a salty smell, a bit warm and fat. I feel deeply happy to be here and slightly light-headed. I stayed up all night. If these weeks went by so fast it’s because to avoid focusing on the isolation and create a souvenir of this experience, I – I shot a short film. A first. The protagonist of the story lives in a near-future where it seems that hotel rooms have been repurposed as cells. They don’t know when they’ll be out and dive into watching films to escape until reality and fiction become blurred. Any ressemblance to an actual person is obviously coincidental. Here are a couple of images. I think I’m onto something. I’ve filmed entirely vertically, so it’ll be for watching on your phone. I hope to finish it in the next months. I must say I’m quite excited, I had a lot of fun and shot everyday almost non-stop.

Thanks for all the kind messages and support, I’d be lying if I said I’ve not heavily consumed likes, emojis and comments to get away from my own, sole company and feel a bit of, albeit digital, human warmth. Soyez remercié.es.

I’ll open soon my little blog about A Tidal Home, as I dive into the city. See you there I hope x

Day 36/21

Today I sacrificed the pomelo that was with me during my entire hotel quarantine. As an effort to get out of the room in my head. Until then it had sat on my fridge and its sight was comforting me.

Since I’ve been out of quarantine, despite having my first days of work and social life, I am still not quite there. Something curious – I wonder if anyone else has experienced it – when I got out of hotel quarantine, once in the taxi to the flat, I had a physical shock. I was doing fine and suddenly I felt very nauseous and asked we stopped. At first I thought it was food intoxication. But the nausea was constant and I didn’t have any stomach cramps. I woke up the next day and couldn’t eat anything, had intermittent short breath and vertigo. It then went away. I assume it was just the shock of being outside, after three weeks of being confined.

I’ve not managed to change my sleeping pattern and still wake up as if I was in France. I find myself struggling to go out and awkward to plan meeting with people. I spent a couple of days locked in. Last Sunday I went to the sea, it now feels I have dreamt it. As if in the hotel room I had not let go of my departure point, and now in the flat, as if I had brought the hotel room with me. Confusing places and times.

I’m realising as I write that the most familiar place outside of the flat by now is the supermarket nearby. And it doesn’t feel it’s outside. It also feels inside. As if I had extended the limits of the inside to comprise any place I get to know. As if I needed to digest the outside into an inside to make it possible to navigate, like when I used to pace in my hotel room.

Anyway.

I trust that now that the pomelo is no longer, maybe my perception will change.

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