Flying home amidst MCO & CB : from Changi ghost town to a hospital/army camp KLIA to quarantine
27 April 2020 // Singapore - Kuala Lumpur
Saturday : Shit. Extension rejected. Three days to leave; Sunday : PACK!!!; Monday : Back in Malaysia and quarantined.
Cloud image source : Stanislav Kondratiev.
I thought my internship stint in Singapore would end, I don't know, peacefully?
But certainly NOT in a desperate plight. My application to extend my short term visit pass was rejected on Saturday, to a packing flurry and supply run, and an 8.30am KL-bound flight on Monday morning. Phew! Thank god for all that quick packing training in college.
I originally had other articles planned, but as I sit here in my new home for the next two weeks, my head still spinning from the day's events and a major lack of sleep from the insomniac nights and adrenaline rush of the past few days, my brain/hands REFUSED to type anything else other than the day's events. So here goes.
I am a planner-kinda gal. So the ever-changing flight schedules, the new permits and so forth to cater to the many Malaysians trying to return home from Singapore, and the circling rumours of halls/campsite-ish spaces being used as quarantine centres left me rather anxious. Anxious, because I had no idea what to expect. And admittedly, a teensy bit excited because what an adventure this would be! (I was a huge confused jumble of emotions the entire weekend.)
I never imagined that flying home would be like packing for some kind of camp. And this was, by far, the most 'kia su' packing I've ever done. I ditched most of my books and about 50% of my clothes to fill my bag with cleaning supplies, toiletries, and food.
For anyone going into quarantine, here's what I stuffed my bag with.
(sorry, bag!) And seriously guys, most of it came to good use.
1. T-shirts, shorts plus other lightweight clothing.
2. Toiletries (we are allowed to order toiletry delivery at our own expense, for Same-Sama Hotel at least).
3. Laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid and a sponge, Dettol cleaning liquid, packs of antibacterial wipes and tissue, and a ton of hand sanitiser and moisturiser. (!!Essential!!)
4. Masks and gloves.
5. Bananas & apples. Packets of nuts. Peanut butter and a naughty bar of chocolate.
6. A variety of tea and UHT milk packets. ( I'm still able to make matcha latte / milk tea! )
7. Tupperwares and clips. ( These are very useful to save food from meals. I have also been snagging rubber bands that came with the food packs- good for food storage.)
7. Portable cutlery.
8. And of course, my laptop, and iPad (with kindle!) to keep me occupied.
- Departing from Singapore -
It was a bittersweet night : bidding goodbye in the most awkward way possible to the three boys who became little giant brothers, as they tower over me despite being 3 - 9 years younger. And me being emotional me, became nostalgic over the past seven months, and the fact that it was my last night in that room, ever.
I did not sleep a wink the entire night. My head throbbed with fatigue, but my brain refused to shut up in its persistence to imagine different scenarios, or worry over another flight cancellation (like the past four times). When my alarm rang at 5am, I jumped out of bed: not in a 'Yay!' way, but in a 'can't-force-my-lids-shut-any-longer-damn-I'm-STARVING' kinda way.
Another flurry of goodbyes. Heavy silences after bits of conversation on the Covid-19 situation, or the fact that I had been living with them for seven months now. Empty roads. Too fast, we had arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 3. The only terminal open. Mask on.
Immigration gave way to a palpable silence. In the years I've travelled through this terminal, even at midnight, it would be bustling with people, sounds, light, life. It was like stepping into a mirror : the shops were all there, lit, but closed, with plastic covering the goods, or the shutters down. Gone were the people, the chatter, the laughter : replaced by masked, drawn faces.
We boarded and took off ahead of time. That one hour in the sky was a short, sweet escape from the reality that had become of us. The plane sailed through billows of clouds, oblivious as they blanketed the earth. The sky a beautiful bright blue, and the morning sun, for once, comforting instead of glaring. Is Mother Earth smiling, do you think, out of relief that we, the greatest threat to all that she is, are finally stopped in our devious acts? We, oblivious to her cries and now, finally, paying the price.
- Arriving at KLIA -
'Wait here. Keep one meter apart from each other. Follow me.'
We strode behind the police officers. Immigration was no longer a hurried frenzy to get through the electronic gates and proceed to suitcase hunting. Immigration was rather efficient. Snaking lines led to the first station : a row of tables and soldiers wearing makeshift plastic gowns over their uniform, attending to us individually as we filled a form of our personal and health details. The form was handed to a counter at the end. After a swift information transposition, names were called to a partitioned section that smelled like a hospital. Swab tests.
I did gulp a little, having seen how deep the swab goes. I focused on the ceiling. In the nurse's soft apologies, I felt it enter. Too deep. Like opening a door, it stopped in an area I had not known existed in the nasal passage. My eyes teared, my fists clenched. And then... done. It was over faster that I thought. The discomfort left my teary and sniffly, but ended just as discomfort bordered on slight pain.
Another waiting area. An officer herded a group of us for a toilet break. Another officer led us to where all the suitcases had been gathered. Walking out to the warm, humid exit of the airport, they gathered our identified bags and sprayed it all with disinfectant before loading them into plastic-covered vans that took us directly to the hotel.
- Disclaimer -
Sama-sama is a hotel that I booked and am paying for on my own salary. If you wish to book your own accommodation, you can book before landing, but Sama-sama Hotel is your only option.
On the other hand, you do not have to pay if you choose to follow government quarantine. However, you will have no control over where you go.
The room and meals pictured below are included in the package I paid for. Government quarantine may differ.
- Quarantine in Sama-Sama Hotel -
This is bound to be one memorable hotel stay indeed.
Staff were in suits and plastic gowns.
The lobby was closed, save specified lanes for entry and exits.
Checking-in was the most arduous passport scanning and form signing I've ever experienced in a hotel : involving temperature checks, health forms, hand sanitiser, gloves and numerous plastic folders such that neither party actually touches the forms and passport.
I showed myself to the 7th floor. To a completely plastic-covered man (save the eyes) sitting at the lift lobby, issuing the quarantine rules and pointing me to my room. White bags lined the hallway as I walked to my new home : Room 704.
- Voila : Welcome to my new home, Room 704 -
As soon as the door swung open, my OCD kicked in hard.
Shoes off, bags by the door. Janitor mode activated.
It took three hours. Armed with a bottle of liquid Dettol and antibacterial wipes, I started from the corner by the window. I cleaned every nook and cranny, every surface, even the window sill and in between all the gaps of the office chair. I wiped every menu, tray, lamp, phone- anything I saw basically. I even cleaned the bathroom. And went over everything with an alcoholic sanitising spray.
Step two was unpacking. Then disinfecting all my bags and even my shoes. I then washed all the cups, and kettle before washing my clothes from the airport, and showered. Ahhhh bliss. By then, I was starving.
Unpacking and arranging to make this room mine, it felt like college again.
Top : My bear... was not given a choice. Quarantine it is.
Bottom left : My pantry/tea corner! And I hid my other snacks to prevent my college mistake of displaying them all which led to over-snacking. At midnight. Oops.
- Lunch Delivery!!! -
Halfway through the intense cleaning, my doorbell rang. And I actually called out 'COOMMIINNGG~' to realise there was no one. Odd. Thank goodness I finally sat down to read the rules and procedures to realise that THAT was my lunch delivery. Hung by the door in a white plastic bag. I think the delivery staff probably ran away when he/she heard my call.
Anyway, the food was surprisingly, pretty good:
Fried fish in a tangy sweet and sour sauce, paired with vegetables in a coconut broth, over way too much rice. A packet of cup noodles. Two bottles of water. And *eyes shining* papaya.
*Properly reads instructions*
Food is delivered at 8-10am, 12-2pm, and 6-8pm. Other than that, there is a 24hour room service serving various cuisines, with the usual exorbitant hotel in-room dining prices. But with a 25% discount.
Food and garbage are to be left outside the door to be picked up, as we are not allowed a step out of this room for the next two weeks.
And every Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, there is a number to call for essential items delivery, including toiletries and... snacks, instant noodles, soft drinks and ice cream. Living the foodie life of a true Malaysian.
And, a 30% discount for toiletries, and 20% discount for food. Wow. And I lugged a big bottle of shampoo all the way from Singapore...
- Dinner -
I have two single beds. One shall be my napping bed and the other shall be my nighttime bed. Other than making this MOMENTOUS decision, taking a nap, and writing this post, day one pretty much passed in a breeze. By 6.45pm, I heard a rustling of plastic.
Do you know Birchbox? Makeup/beauty boxes tailored to your profile, sending you a few samples from various brands each month? Guilty as charged, I subscribed to that for a few months in second year. And every month, it was a thrill to receive my Birchbox. With bated breath, my friend and I would open our boxes, not knowing what to expect, then either squealing in excitement in receiving our favourite brands or a disappointed sigh. These food deliveries feel a bit like that. How very exciting to unpack that bag.
Again, I'm impressed. On the menu :
Traditional Malay Ayam Masak Merah (literally translates into chicken cooked red) : a sinfully sweet chicken casserole. Stir fried cabbage with... I was not sure what it was but it was good, served with too much rice. A side of watermelon, a small packet of dates and peanuts that I saved for later, a juice packet drink, and a slice of red velvet cake topped with white chocolate frosting. The cake was possibly freshly baked- it was warm and smelled nice. The meal was so satisfying.
And to be honest, I came expecting food shortage, hence all my dried foods, so this was great.
- Day 1 is over... that's fast! -
Honestly, I was pretty impressed with how careful the government is, how tightly controlled and efficient the whole process through the airport was, and people uniting to help curb this pandemic. Walking through that airport, I felt proud to be a Malaysian, to see how hard our country is fighting against this virus. The amount of courage health workers have to be on the front lines daily, working overtime to save lives. There are also others who are risking themselves : the police, the soldiers, the staff who are still going to work, having to intercept so many people in airports, to transport them to designated quarantine centres, and working to support the quarantine system. To all the health heroes and the people whose efforts are less sung, thank you.
I'm happy that I'm finally home (almost). I have two weeks to figure out how to get home home. On a lighter note, I intend to document this memorable, historical even, hotel stay. I don't intend to come across as ignorant, seeing that these are desperate measures against a pandemic, but I figured I need to stay positive and we all need a nice distraction from the current world situation at times. The way I see these coming two weeks: it's an adventure. Stay tuned for more quarantine diaries to come!
And on another note, stay safe and stay healthy!