As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread all over the world, anyone returning to China is still required to undergo 14 days of quarantine.
Understandably, those who haven’t experienced quarantine in China before are anxious to know what it’s like.
Me and my friend recently completed our own quarantine after returning from Thailand and I wanted to share my experience with you.
The most important thing to understand first, however, is that no two experiences of quarantine in China are likely to be the same.
The problem is that by the time you find out which kind of hotel you’re in, it’s already too late to do anything about it.
With that in mind, it’s essential that while hoping for the best, you prepare for the worst.
1. Prepare for a Rough Landing
My experience might not be the same as everyone else’s, but what happened to us was pretty consistent with stories I’ve heard from other expat friends who have quarantined in China.
The plane landed and the passengers were let off a section at a time.
We first queued to have all our information checked by officials before being tested for the virus, even though we, of course, had already received a negative test result before we were allowed to board the plane.
In our experience, the test administered was a nasal swab and by far the longest and most intrusive of the four tests I’ve experienced so far.
The one consolation was that they allowed children to take the oral swab instead.
Next, we had our temperatures checked before passport control, after which we were finally able to collect our suitcases.
What followed was a long wait to get on a bus to a hotel, during which time we were instructed to register our details on a local app and hand our passports over to the officials.
We didn’t have any say in which hotel we would stay at or what area of the city it would be in.
It’s also worth noting that our movements were heavily restricted during the entire wait.
The whole process, from landing to getting on the bus to the hotel, took around three hours.
At the hotel, our temperature was taken again, we filled in another app with similar information as before, and we had our passports returned upon check-in.
The hotel rules were one adult per room. While they seemed quite strict on this policy, we did see an elderly couple being allowed to stay together because the woman had recently had surgery.
They also allowed one parent and one child to stay together, but did not allow two parents and one child in one room. I assume there must be other exceptions, such as in the case of one parent travelling with two children.
I was warned by others to expect to pay for the room in full in advance, and our hotel did indeed requested payment later the same day.
2. Clean Your Room and Keep it that Way
You should be packing many things for quarantine in China that you wouldn’t normally pack in a suitcase; wash cloths, wet wipes, trash bags, laundry detergent, surface cleaners and towels.
It may turn out that the hotel will provide some of these – we were given with towels and trash bags – but they very well may not.
We were pleasantly surprised to find our rooms looked clean when we checked in, but looks can be deceiving, and in the current climate it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful.
Regardless of how clean your room looks, you’re going to want to disinfect as much of it as you can.
Clean the sink, frequent touch-points like door handles, the kettle and the TV remote, and make sure to wipe down all surfaces.
Be vigilant. The last thing you want is to get sick because your room wasn’t’ cleaned properly before you arrived.
Once it’s clean, keep it that way. Don’t let the trash build up, keep surfaces clear, make your bed in the morning, and crack open the windows during the day.
You may as well completely unpack your suitcase, too.
Psychologically, it’s going to help you a great deal if your room is clean, tidy and has plenty of light and fresh air.
3. Bring Snacks Galore
Or you could get to your hotel and discover that you aren’t allowed to order anything in at all. During our quarantine, we were limited to packaged food from Meiyijia and Taobao deliveries.
As a result, we had little choice but to accept the basic set Chinese meals provided by the hotel three times a day.
If our experience of the food is anything to go by, you’ll want to pack your suitcase with as many snacks as your luggage space allows.
Bear in mind when packing that it’s unlikely there will be any sort of refrigeration in the room and certainly no way to cook.
The best you can hope for is a kettle. If you’re anything like me, instant noodles are going to be your new best friend.
Bread, spreads, nuts, and packaged cakes are another good way to fill yourself up, while pickles, hot sauce and the like will work wonders livening up a lackluster hotel meal.
While you should also definitely stock up on some comfort food like potato chips and chocolate, you might want to consider taking in some fresh fruit.
It probably won’t keep for the entire duration of quarantine, but the meals we were served weren’t so heavy on the vegetables, so the occasional apple may just save your digestive system.
I by no means want to encourage heavy drinking during quarantine in China, but you may also wish to pack some alcohol.
It seems alcohol is prohibited at most quarantine hotels in China and at ours we weren’t able to order in any liquids at all.
It may be worth sneaking in a bottle of your favorite whiskey to help you unwind if you start to feel the pressure of being isolated for two weeks.
Likewise, if you’re a smoker, you’ll probably want to get yourself a vape device and enough cartridges to see you through.
Probably best to vape out of the window or in your bathroom though to avoid any confiscations.
4. Have Entertainment at the Ready
One of the first things we did when I was preparing for our trip was to make sure we had multiple streaming apps set up on all our devices.
If we were going to survive for two weeks in quarantine in a Chinese hotel, we were going to need something to keep ourselves entertained.
The streaming apps will be useless, however, if you have slow or no internet at your hotel, which may well be the case.
To make sure you’re not staring at a blank wall for two weeks then, it’s important to top up your mobile phone data and download a bunch of movies and shows before you fly out.
We got lucky in that the internet was good at our hotel so streaming wasn’t an issue, but I’ve known others who had to rely solely on their mobile phone data for 14 days.
Of course, watching movies isn’t the only way to entertain yourself.
Quarantine is a great time to read the latest book from your favorite author or finally get around to listening to that podcast your friend recommended.
With space at a premium in your suitcase, I suggest bringing a Kindle so you have unlimited books at your fingertips.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could even pack a gaming console and some games.
That’s a lot of weight in your luggage, however, and you may run into issues if the television in your room isn’t compatible with your device.
The bottom line is: prepare as many different forms of entertainment as you can think of.
5. Take the Opportunity to Work on Yourself
While it’s tempting to view two weeks in quarantine as some sort of cruel and unusual punishment, you can also see it as a unique opportunity.
When else in your life are you going to have 14 days where you’re completely alone with no-one (apart from the hotel staff, of course) telling you what to do?
With a proper structure in place, quarantine can be a fantastic chance to work on yourself.
Since you’re most likely coming to China for the first time or returning after a long time away, what better time to work hard on your Mandarin?
You may not be able to talk to people in person, but you can work on your characters, practice reading on learning apps, watch Chinese soap operas on TV and listen to Chinese podcasts.
Did you eat one too many snacks during lockdown this year? You may not be able to go out for a run or play sports, but there’s all the time in the world to do some HIIT routines, take a YouTube exercise class or practice some yoga.
The meditation element of the latter may also come in handy in quarantine…
Although you aren’t likely to finish that novel you’ve been planning or get perfect abs in just two weeks, what you can do is set in place the habits and routines that you can continue with when you return to normal life.
The best way to do this is to set yourself a schedule and block out your day.
This will also help the time go faster and give you more purpose. Who knows?
You might look back on quarantine as a turning point in your life.
6. Catch Up with Old Friends
While quarantine is the polar-opposite of social, it does in fact provide a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family over the internet.
How many of us are guilty of never finding the time to ring our parents because the week just passed us by? Or of losing contact with that college buddy we used to do everything with?
Now you have all the time in the world to chat to the people who mean the most to you.
It may be a bit excessive, but I went through and made a list of all the people I wanted to talk to during quarantine.
Over the course of the two weeks, I managed to catch up with the vast majority of them, which turned out to be very uplifting.
With all that’s happening in the world right now, it’s more important than ever to reach out to those we care about, even if it’s been a long time.
It’s good for them and it’ll certainly be good for your mental health in quarantine.
There’s nothing like the boost you get from reconnecting with an old friend.
7. Don’t Give Yourself too Much Pressure
Being in quarantine for two weeks certainly serves up some opportunities, be it to get in shape, study, or reconnect with friends.
That being said, however, it’s equally totally okay if you just want to use your time to binge watch your favorite show, read some trashy novels or surf the net.
I personally tried to use the time for self-improvement, but when I started to feel pressure to meet the targets I’d set, I took a step back.
I reminded myself that the goal was just to get through these two weeks. If I achieved anything else, that was a bonus.
The priority should be to look after yourself mentally. So if that stress does start to creep in, take some time out to read a book or watch some television.
At the end of the day, you’ve just got to get through quarantine as best you can.
Do the things that are going to make you feel good. If that’s working out, fantastic.
If it means rewatching your favorite movie, that’s great too.
8. Have Patience and Respect for the Staff
There’s no denying that being in quarantine in China is a challenge.
The abrupt withdrawal of human contact can be tough and restrictions placed on what you can do frustrating.
As a result, it would be easy to direct some of that frustration towards the staff at your hotel.
Before you blow your top when your dinner turns up cold, however, put yourself in their shoes for a minute.
While we spend two weeks in quarantine and then we (hopefully) never see that hotel again in our lives, the staff there come in day after day, dressed head to toe in PPE and risk exposing themselves and their loved ones to COVID-19.
I remember the day we arrived at the hotel.
I was dead tired from all the travelling and just mentally exhausted from the waiting around and uncertainty on arrival.
When we reached the front desk to check in though, I looked at the receptionist’s face behind his plastic shield.
His skin was so dry that it had started to flake off around his nose and eyes from wearing a mask all day long.
When he spoke, his voice was shot to pieces, most likely from having to answer the exact same questions multiple times a day.
Quarantine is going to be tough. There are going to be times when you get annoyed at the rules.
There are going to be times when you’re going to be sick of eating the same food over and over.
But before you take it out on the staff, just remember that they’re just doing their job, and it isn’t an easy one.
If you’re extra nice to the staff, you may even become a favourite and find yourself enjoying some unexpected perks.
Prison rules apply in quarantine, so always make nice with the authorities!