21 Days

So: why would I post a blog entry about 21 days spent continuously in a hotel room under “The Natural World”? In part, I suppose, because a ridge line is visible over the row of skyscrapers out of the window, and that is the only natural thing on view. The skyscrapers are apartments (condos), and, in front of them but to the left, is a huge construction site where they appear to be building yet another  Hong Kong’s public housing estates.

It’s a downer being here. I (and my wife) spent seven weeks in the UK and ten days in Jakarta. The UK was great, catching up with friends and renewing a couple of acquaintances, and Jakarta was busy busy busy. If it weren’t for the launch of my book, Price’s Price, on 13th November at the HKILF, I would have bought a ticket to Bali and hung out there until Hong Kong lifts its stupidly severe quarantine restrictions, probably some time in 2024.

I did five days’ quarantine on arrival in Jakarta (in London, no one so much as glanced at the vaccination or other documentation). Their airport was efficient: basically four queues, each one specialised in a certain type of document, and then a two hour wait before being whisked off to a hotel. The result of the PCR test was shoved under the door on day “5”, meaning that from check-in to check-out was only just over five days.

Not so our arrival here. There must have been ten different checks and desks, of which at least three served no purpose other than to look at the paperwork produced by the preceding check or desk. Almost as if subconsciously celebrating China’s three-millennia history of Bureaucracy, there was even a row of steel filing cabinets (all painted different shades of grey and brown) behind one area. At least the holding area was in the terminal building, so I was able to walk up and down on the pretext of going to the toilet. Our test arrived; we went to the hotel and were given a twin, not a double, albeit on the top floor. It’s now coming up to 12 and I wonder what lunch will bring…


Day -20 to -19


It’s 47 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver, where my laptop thinks we are, thanks to my VPN (which, in turn, is thanks to Hong Kong’s new ownership).


Lots of people everywhere have been through quarantine, and our particular stay is nothing new. I, at least, have lots of little odd jobs to do – I made a list of them and knocked most off them off rather too quickly. Two companies I advise needed a series of calls and I noticed that, just as there was no better way to get food in a slow restaurant to come to the table than to light a cigarette, there is no better way to get food to the room than for me to start a call.


Friends have been very supportive. Alan R has arranged a food hamper and, I hope, a walking machine. It is a sign of the depths to which I have fallen that I am seriously considering using a walking machine, but live life and adapt. Another friend has promised his wife’s fantastic Malaysian cooking, and so on – all very good as the food here turns up in plastic boxes and, although they’re doing they’re best, my main reaction after eating is hunger.


The construction site outside our hotel is at work today (six days a week). It’s going to be a public housing estate, it uses the same design that the Hong Kong Housing Authority have been using for decade after dismal decade, and the formwork (the moulds into which concrete is poured) are wood. That wood will be hardwood because it has to be strong, and that hardwood will come, probably most of it illegal rather than farmed, from the planet’s diminishing stock of rain forest. That’s sustainability in Hong Kong…


Day -19 to -18


Yesterday afternoon was marked by the arrival of our first food hamper – a load of goodies from M&S that made our fridge respectably stocked. Mostly with alcohol, of course, but some minor nice things such as food and cheese arrived, too.


The food is turning out to be quite alright, though it saddens me how much plastic (and food) this whole exercise is wasting. We augmented last night’s with a G&T for me, some dicey rum cocktail from the hotel for the wife, and a teeny bottle of white wine. Another friend has “leant” us his Netflix password, so we watched the second episode of a moderately daft thriller from Korea.


This morning’s big excitement was the swab test. We duly did them and left them outside, only to find out, when the people-in-hazmed-suits arrived, that they’d been mistaken for rubbish. We did another one (more plastic) and await the result with baited breath.


Yesterday afternoon, I made my first serious venture into social media, which I’m told is a Good Thing when it comes to selling my book.  I discovered all sorts of people on Facebook, and lots of photos of food. I wonder why people find this trivia so interesting.


Back to work….


Days -18 to -16


Yesterday passed in a blur – a good blur – with calls and a new micro-project and and and. I can’t say that we’ve settled into a routine, but the daily pacing averages out at about 5km per day, the food comes and goes, the wine in the fridge is depleting (though not every night), and I dare not think about The Future.


The construction site opposite the hotel has placed some huge steel sheets over the road. On one of them, a friendly construction worker (I guess), has inscribed the words “LOVE U” directed at those of us in quarantine, which is nice.


Today’s big interaction with those in the outside world came when the PCR testers dropped by this morning. All the other PCR tests I’ve had, including those on arrival here, have been quite low-key affairs with the testers in hazmed suits. These guys (girls, actually) had a machine that, I think, sucked clean air from behind them in the corridor and blew it towards me in the room. According to an article in yesterday’s Financial Times, this quarantine regime is destined to go on until November, 2022 – I can’t imagine how the impact on Hong Kong as a business hub and tourist destination will be anything other than deleterious.


The walking machine should be arriving soon, which should up my daily pacing to well over 10km / day. Onwards…


Day -16 to -15


The walking machine arrived. It is better than pacing the carpet, which was starting to moult, but it’s rather weird getting off because, after all that walking to get nowhere, the mind is still moving forwards even when the walking is over (a bit like “the sways” when long-ocean sailors feel they’re still on board even after the boat has come to port).


Our PCR tests came through: negative once again. I really, genuinely struggle to understand the logic here. I’ve had PCR tests once every three days for almost three weeks now, they’ve all come back negative, and I’m being confined because… because fucking what? Tell me someone (no one will of course). Just to add to the general cruelty, the HK government decreed last night that anyone who has covid and recovered will, after their recovery, be confined in some forsaken shithole for a further 14 days just to make absolutely sure that they’re not infectious. As a comment on the Big Lychee’s blog the other day said, there were six suicides and two attempts in the previous week; seven people died from illegally imported lobsters, and so on. Yet there hasn’t been a single local infection, let alone a death, in months. And the people who run this city are Catholics, so presumably full of the compassion of Christ’s teachings?


Everyone who lives here knows what the real reason for this over-reaction is: face. The HK and Chinese governments have painted themselves into a corner. Covid will never go away, but these governments have told their citizens that it will, and so go to ever greater contortions to bend reality to their wills. That’s never been tried before, has it?


Days -15 to -13


The treadmill has proved a blessing. Although it’s a little weird walking on the same spot, and although I still feel as though I’m moving after a session, it gets me off my butt in front of the computer.


Yesterday marked our first full week of this pointless confinement. A friend helped us to celebrate by sending over some Malaysian noodles in soup. They would have been outstanding under happy circumstances, but were spectacular after a week of the hotel’s food. It isn’t that the hotel food is awful – it’s quite tasty – but it is a bit same-ish. (Just to ameliorate the descent into becoming totally feral, I unpack the hotel’s food from the box to a plate.)


We’ve almost finished the first series of the Korean series, Squid. It’s rather gory, but the premise works: a whole bunch of folks who are desperate, mostly in debt, volunteer to participate in a winner-takes-all series of games. The losers die. As the games progress and the numbers diminish, the darker side of human nature emerges. I’m not sure I could do a second series, though. I suppose we’ll have to find some other distraction.


Our first quarantine zoom party’s tonight. I think we have just enough alcohol in the fridge to get through it, then we run dry. Worse things have happened…


Days -13 to -8


Saturday night was my wife’s birthday. It made me realise how valuable the support from friends has been: a whole load of food turned up, alcohol, a cake from the hotel (nice touch) and the like. It cheered us up.


Work has kept me busy. More PCR tests. More long walks to nowhere on the treadmill. I’ve been trying to workout what the attractions of Facebook and Instagram are, and have made almost no progress. Though blogging to an audience of zero is rather pointless, too. So enough for this post. I don’t have anything original to say about quarantine. It’s unpleasant, we do it, we get over it. Post closed.