About Pandemic Prowling: In this series, Pandemic Prowling, I share stories about my travels across 4 continents (Asia, N. America, S. America, Africa) amidst the outbreak of Covid19.
(late March 2020)
Farewell SE Asia
It was early morning when my alarm clock rang. At 3 in the morning I turned on the lights of the 5 star hotel room I was staying in during my last night in SE Asia (which was discussed last post.)
Most everything was packed, it was just a matter of stumbling out of the hotel room. Having checked out, I booked a Grab (rideshare) motorbike taxi to get me to the Yogyakarta (in Central Java, Indonesia) airport.
It would be a long, 3 legged flight to the destination from Yogyakarta to Jakarta to Taipei & finally San Francisco.
The sky was still dark during the long motorbike ride there. I was a bit nervous riding in the back as it was nearly dark (& very windy) besides the headlights of the bike.
We got to the airport uneventfully. It was quiet with very few flights, I didn’t think too much about it as it was still early morning. Besides putting a mask on and getting my temperature taken, nothing seemed amiss.
“New Normal” Begins
The flight to Jakarta was without issue and I proceeded to wait many hours in the Indonesian capital’s airport for many hours for the next leg. As I waited, something peculiar happened. The airport employees began plastering every other chair with a “social distancing” sign.
I thought it was quite odd as they asked me to remove my bag (I like to spread out) so they can do the same for the chair I was sitting adjacent to.
My concern though was that of the reports of hand sanitizer shortages back home in the states. It was something that hung in my mind even as I could finally check in for the next flight and wait at the boarding gate.
I was waiting in line to check in when some of my fellow Americans were chatting and exchanging their experiences about being pressured to return home and flight cancellations. I turned around with an inquiry to build on what they were talking about.
My countrymen ( & women) gave me a good long stare with my mask on (they weren’t wearing masks) & observed that I don’t like like your average American (I’m Asian) which led to them giving me a cool, courteous response as if they were afraid of me.
The conversation died there but I didn’t think too much about it as I went to look for my boarding gate.
Desperate Times Means Desperate Measures
I came by a hand sanitizer dispensary and had a brilliant idea. I emptied my pocket sized hand sani bottle (expired)& proceeded to fill ‘er up with the stuff found in the automatic hand sanitizer dispensary.
The machine times out after a certain amount of uses so it took a good long while to fill up both my bottles. All the while I was looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching, moving from one dispensary to another as to avoid being noticed.
It must have took close to 2 hours.
Hard times call for tough choices right?
Travel Starts Shutting Down
Having made the next leg of the flight to Taipei, things just didn’t feel right. It was the early evening and the normally occupied check in counters were deserted with “sorry we’re closed” signages. I looked on the overhead monitors displaying scheduled flights and saw:
Flight to Bangkok: Cancelled
Flight to Manila: Cancelled
Flight to Phuket: Cancelled
And on & on.
It was eerie as I had just came from many of these places within the past month.
I tried to put these thoughts out of my head as I boarded the longest leg of the journey from Taipei to San Francisco.
The flight itself was relatively empty, to put it in perspective, I had all 4 seats in the middle column to myself (which has never happened before) lending to very restful sleep.
Arriving back stateside though once we landed in SFO (SF Airport) the atmosphere just felt different. There was a tense atmosphere with the international arrivals, it was a matter of clearing immigration without drawing too much attention to yourself.
The airport again was quite empty as after clearing border control I proceeded to the BART (train station) to get back to the city.
This homecoming I would soon find was going to look quite different from my previous visits to my hometown…