It is October 3rd, Saturday 5.23 am, still pitch-dark outside, and the alarm on my phone just went off. How do I feel? Tired and excited at the same time. I didn’t sleep too well, as I am always worried the night before I leave the country: “Did I set the alarm? Did I put all the important things in my luggage? What will I forget this time? Let me go through the important things again in my head… Did I set the 2nd alarm?” This time it was a little different, because of the COVID-19 regulations, some policies are more strict: You are not allowed to board the plane when you have a fever (>38 °C), don’t feel well, cough and you need to wear face mask. So, I was also worried that I might get a fever and would be denied boarding the plane, and need to postpone the plans. And in that case, because we are entering a 2nd so-called ‘wave’ in The Netherlands, maybe additional travel bans will be put in place again ‘until further notice’.
“How do I feel? Tired and excited at the same time.”Day #0
I took a refreshing shower, knowing that this ‘day’ could be a very long day, as I will need to fly for 13 hours and have no clue how fast I will find a place to stay in Taiwan. I cleaned the apartment like a whirlwind, closed the bags from my luggage and transferred them to my dads car. He offered me to bring me to the Amsterdam airport, preventing a longer journey by public transport including the higher risk to be contaminated with the novel Coronavirus. The drive to the airport was a smooth 90 minutes ride, especially because Saturday’s morning traffic density is very low. We chat during the trip while both wearing a face mask and when we arrived at the airport we ‘elbow bump’ because hugging, shaking hands is still not allowed.
At the airport, it is not too crowded, although much more passengers than I thought. Probably 90% of the people are wearing a face mask. The are a lot of signs that face masks are required when you want to check in luggage and go through security. Before I could walk to the check-in desk, a person from the airline company asked me to fill out some forms to declare that I do not feel ill etc. They also ask me to provide the certificate to proof that I am negatively tested for Corona.
The check-in desks were all equipped with a transparent plastic screen to circumvent the further spread of the virus. The lady behind the desk informed me that the plane was less than half full, and that the seat next to me was empty. She reminded me that I need to wear a mask during the whole journey, except when consuming food and drinks. After checking in my bags, I walked upstairs to line up for security. They changed the ‘body scan’ devices. Instead of the ‘pod’ with the moving doors, the had installed large screens that you need to pass through. Probably the ‘pod’ might be a higher risk for spreading the virus. Nevertheless, the process went smooth. The desks at the customs also had similar plastic screens as for the checking, and the man behind the desk asked me to remove my mask for identification. After strolling through the airport I went to the KLM lounge to enjoy some breakfast (see below). The options for breakfast were very limited, but I was happy to see that at least I could have something to eat and sit down.
The quality of the breakfast was good: bread was fresh, enough toppings on the bread, a well-cooked egg, yoghurt with fruits and a cappuccino. After the breakfast, I walked to the gate and lined-up for the boarding process, as usual, I am the first in line, as I do not care to wait for 30 minutes standing. Before the boarding procedure started, a person checked again our passports and requested to show our ‘negative result’ from the COVID-19 test. The person who checked the boarding pass (by the electronic scanner) before getting to the gate was located in a special transparent cubicle. The boarding process was very smooth, and I saw that most people really took care of the 1.5m social distance rules. My body temperature was checked and I was allowed to enter the plane. I was the first person to enter, and was greeted by a the cabin crew all dressed in their regular uniform, but this time they were also wearing a face mask, goggles (looked like the ones you will need for snorkeling) and white protective overalls.
The plane was filled fast with all passengers, and before the scheduled time, the aircraft was ready to take off! I felt a big relief, as I went successfully through all of the checks without any issue or problem. I also realized that I am flying with passengers that also went through the same process, and the chance that someone has the COVID-19 would probably be very limited compared to for example the city of Amsterdam. During the flight, we only got the ‘essential’ food and drinks, but no beer, wine, coke or other beverages. Only water, coffee and tea. It felt already like my imprisonment already started! Although, I should not complain! Food was okay, and better to enjoy food, than have nothing to eat for 13 hours!
Usually I schedule some tasks in the plain to maintain sane while ‘waiting’ in my chair for such a long time: sleep, think, write and watch movies. I know that a lot of people have a problem to sleep in an aircraft, but for me is a kind of challenge to get in to a kind of ‘Zen’ mode, and sleep as soon as possible for about 1-2 hours. I watched the movies ‘The Platform‘ and ‘Kim Ji-young: Born 1982‘. I do recommended both of them! The journey to Taiwan was smooth without heavy turbulence. During the trip I could see a super bright full moon and after about 11 hours I saw Hong Kong before landing at Taoyuan international airport on time around 6 am.
The offboarding process went surprisingly well as most of the passenger kept the 1.5m social distance! At the airport there were a lot of people wearing a uniform with ‘Quarantine’ on it, to guide us through the next process. The Taiwan government needs from every passenger a ‘Health Declaration Certificate’ that you need to apply for at the airport using QR-code. Part of the process is to provide a Taiwan phone number and the address where you will stay. I realized that everyone already had a place to stay either at a pre-booked hotel or at home. For me that was a little strange, as I have requested couple days before the local authorities and they recommended me to arrange a special ‘Epidemic Prevention Hotel’ at the airport, and not earlier. Luckily, there were enough people to help me, and a lady provided me a list of the hotels and she asked me which one I want to stay (see picture below).
I can read some Chinese, but I realized that it is annoying to check each individual hotel if they have a room with a balcony etc. So I decided to ask the lady to pick a hotel and reserve a room. After the confirmation, I uploaded all information to the government website and got almost immediately the ‘Health Declaration Certificate’ by phone. The government will use that phone number to check the GSM signal, and check that you will stay put for 14 days (actually it 14 days plus the day that you arrive). I bought a 30 days SIM card for about 30 USD. After that, a person checked and approved my certificate and said ‘Welcome to Taiwan’. I walked to the customs and before arriving at the desk my temperature was scanned by a camera (usual procedure). As I was one of the last passengers from the plane to go through the customs, it was completely empty. I picked my luggage after the ‘green lane’ I entered the ‘other side’ of the security of the airport. Strangely, nobody took care of me, and I realized that anyone could ‘pick me up’ as I was not controlled or tracked by the police. It felt like a strange kind of freedom, knowing that I need to be ‘locked up’ for 14 days…… I could run away, and escape the 14 days quarantine! But of course, I will not do that for a couple of reasons: 1) IF (!!) I would have the COVID-19, I might infect people, and those lives could be risked; 2) probably they will find me unless I will be somewhere hidden in the forest, but in that case I prefer the 14 days of quarantine ;). I walked to the taxi lane, and a person with a manual spraying gun, sprayed 75% alcohol over me, my luggage and sprayed under my shoes. I had to sign up, probably to track me and the taxi, and could enter the taxi. The tariff was set to 1000 TWD instead of the metered tariff of about 1300-1500 TWD for Taipei City.
I was surprised that the taxi did not have any special ‘plastic screen’ between the passenger seats and the driver. It felt like just any other taxi in Taiwan! The taxi stopped in front of the hotel, located in the middle of Taipei. My credit card was not accepted by the driver’s machine, so I handed him the 1000 TWD note. He helped me to put the luggage on the sidewalk and drove to his next destination. There I was, completely alone again. I could again run away; or hug a random stranger on the street that was passing by; or have a breakfast at a traditional Taiwan breakfast shop. No I should not to that, I should follow the rules! I walked from the sidewalk to the entrance of the hotel, and rang the bell. A door next to the entrance opened and a man told me that he would be back very soon. After a while he opened the door, but this time he was wearing overalls, ‘ snorkeling goggles’, hair protection and gloves. He sprayed again all the luggage, me and the bottom of my shoes with 75% alcohol. He handed a package with two transparent bags designed to be used as shoes to circumvent that my shoes will touch the surface. After signing in by showing my passport, he gave me the instruction that I have to walk to the 5th floor while he will take my luggage to the same floor at meet him again.
I walked upstairs, opened the room and my eyes were confronted with a space, as small as a big bath room, with barely space to walk. The ceiling was just high enough for me to walk, but I could not jump without touching it. The room did not have any proper chair, only a small stool suitable for children. No table to work; no space to do any sport exercise. I thought about the lady at the airport, who told me that I could not change the location of the hotel. I felt miserable, almost had to vomit, I knew I had to be locked up in this cabinet, not for 1 day, but more than 14 days. This was too much for me, I was afraid I was going to get mentally insane when they would lock up me in here for so long. Meanwhile the gentleman was moving my suitcases from the lift to my room. He saw my white face, with a small distance between my head and the ceiling. We were quiet for some seconds. The only thing what I could do is kindly request another room. Luckily, he immediately understood, but told me that they did not have any larger (and higher) rooms available. I rephrased my wish and he requested me to walk back downstairs. I had to wait while wearing the shoe protection in the front of the hotel, just behind the entrance door. While he was calling to another hotel, I saw other staff members packing fruits for their customers. I also saw a matrix representing all the rooms including the names of the individuals who are being ‘ locked up’ in this hotel. It felt so surreal, it felt like I was character in a bad movie.
The friendly gentlemen informed me about the availability of a room about 10 minutes away from the current location. He showed me some pictures and I could immediately see that the room was significantly larger! I immediately told him to reserve that room. Next step was to contact the Taiwan ‘ CDC’ (Centers for Disease Control) and check what kind of paperwork needs to be done before I can be transferred to the the other hotel. Luckily, he helped me out, and could book a special ‘ Corona taxi’ to the other hotel. While waiting for the taxi, I saw that the inside of my protective shoes were completely wet! My sweat from my legs and feet could not get out. I felt relieved, I felt like he saved my life in a way! 10 minutes past, and the taxi arrived and there I go again, moving my luggage on the sidewalk back to the taxi. It was a short drive in Taipei, and saw many buildings and sidewalks that I know from many visits to this area. The taxi arrived at the hotel, and there I was again, lonely outside. I felt like a prisoner who could escape again! People were passing by while I was waiting for the hotel entrance door. It was so tempting to walk away! To grab some food and enjoy the beautiful mountain area of Taiwan!
A lady opened the door and started again the procedure by using the spray gun to spray 75% alcohol on me, my luggage and under my shoes. I had to put on again the protective shoes, and she requested me to walk to the 10th floor while she was bringing my luggage to the room. I walked upstairs, my heart was beating faster and faster. Not only because of climbing the stairs, but I was afraid that the pictures of the room were not presentative of the real deal. I tapped the card onto the lock, and heard the unlocking sound. I pressed slowly the door and I was positively surprised by this room. The room was equipped with too single beds, a small refrigerator, desk, tv, chair, lounge chair and of course a bathroom and toilet. I hoped for a room with a balcony, a room with large windows, but unfortunately, this room had no balcony and only 4 small windows, each with a width of about 15 cm. It felt like a prisoners’ room, but compared to the room I visited before, this was heaven! This will be my room, this will be my ‘ house’ for the next 14 days.
Shortly after I was admiring the room, the lady brought me my luggage. She gave some more instructions:
- I am not allowed to exit the room for the next 14 days.
- No one except me is allowed to stay in this room for the next 14 days
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served by them by placing the dishes on a special tray in front of the door (see picture). They will on knock the door, so I can take it from the tray and enjoy in the room
- I need to provide the front desk at 9 am at 8 pm with my body temperature for the home quarantine record
Then, I closed the door, I knew and realized I would not leave this room for the next 14 days. I felt everything in front of my eyes was getting black, dark, pitch-dark.