The Chinese saying of “moneyed or not, return home for Chinese New Year” (有钱没钱回家过年, yǒuqián méi qián huíjiā guònián) endures as proof of the importance of the tradition of the annual holiday family reunion. And in years past, in the lead-up to the holiday, I would hear Chinese colleagues burst with excitement while talking about the tickets they purchased for trains or flights, the road trips they had mapped out, or even the vacation home in southern China where they could enjoy a little beach and sun.
This year, however, whenever I ask my colleagues about their Chinese New Year plans, they offer the same perfunctory response, delivered with a certain resignation and often a sigh: “I’m not going home.”
Among the rituals I observe every morning when I arrive bleary-eyed to work, nothing perks up my senses more than the moment I open the little light-blue canister in my desk drawer and take that first whiff of West Lake Longjing, or Dragonwell, tea leaves. The aroma of those lightly roasted leaves recalls memories of fresh tea on the bushes while walking through high mountain fields. Even just wandering through those fields in my mind, prompted by the sight and scent of Dragonwell tea leaves, delights me on the most dreary of days.
No other tea will do. My allegiance to the stuff runs so deep that I always prepare a stash of it whenever I travel.
I hesitated to type a response to my friend back in the US, as the latest media reports of the virus situation over there — over 250,000 deaths and over 12 million confirmed cases — still circulate through my head. When I eventually type out that “Things are nearly back to normal”, a part of me flinches within, wondering if I just sent her the message equivalent of a gut punch. Is it ever polite to tell someone living in a bonafide disaster zone that it’s no longer a problem where you live? Even if it’s the truth?
I breathe a sigh of relief as she responds without any apparent annoyance, and I do my best to quickly shift topics to something else. But my guilt remains tenacious — the guilt that comes from living in a country that has nearly restored life to the new “normal”, as friends and family in the US, my home country, face a frightening surge of cases and deaths.
I wish my family and friends didn’t have to live with the threat of COVID-19 stalking them so close to home.
It was less than 24 hours before my flight to Ningxia was scheduled to take off from Beijing Capital International Airport, and already I found myself grappling with a new form of travel-related anxiety.
What was it like to go through the airport in China in the post-COVID era? Did I have everything I needed to ensure a smooth check-in, security check and boarding experience? Would I have a harder time as a foreigner?
I was already bracing for delays and hiccups, after being advised by a colleague to arrive at the airport at least two and a half hours ahead of departure because he said processing foreign passengers was “more trouble”.
So imagine my surprise the following day at the airport, when I breezed through every procedure in record time, without so much as an unexpected holdup of any kind. Going to the airport in China in the post-COVID era proved far easier than I expected.
Here’s a rundown of what I experienced while going through airports during my trip — to help you know what to expect next time you do any domestic air travel in China.
Call me “Helpless”, but after watching the live-stage performance of the musical “Hamilton”, I simply had to write about Phillipa Soo, who originated the role of Eliza Hamilton and also happens to have a Chinese American father and a European American mother.
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