On Christmas morning, while Santa was sliding down chimneys wearing a red Haz-mat suit and mask, I got a present better than a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle.
I found a boarding pass to China in my stocking.
It was a complicated gift, full of hoops, forms, the grace of God and nail biting, and hopefully, no returns.
The international flight originated in San Francisco on Friday, BUT to make that flight, I had to fly from Detroit to San Fran on Tuesday for a Covid test on Wednesday morning. It was at the My Doctor’s Medical Group downtown San Fran, which was a Ghost town due to Covid restrictions.
This wasn’t a drive-thru operation. The clinic charged $600 a test and was one of the handful of clinics approved by the Chinese Consulate, and would get the coveted QR code needed to get on the flight.
This entry code to China is the globe-trotter’s equivalent of a Willie Wonka Golden ticket.
The clinic was filled with other hopeful passengers, everyone with tickets on the same flight, but everyone with different stories of why they were going. My mother is sick in Shanghai. I’ve been stuck in Orlando since March. I live in Las Vegas, but this is the only flight in America available.
The test wasn’t as awful as I had thought. The nurse, with a Crest smile beaming under her plastic shield, took a little blood and a lit bit of booger. We returned to our hotel rooms, watched the Christmas Story, and waited for an email confirming the results were ready. These lab results had to be uploaded to a portal by the Chinese Consulate. And if your Chinese is as atrocious as mine, this can be a daunting process.
If the results are approved, you’ll get a coveted green code with animated sparkles. But of course, there is a glitch. My code was RED. Flight information was also required, which, they don’t tell you until after you get a red cod and have a mild heart attack. The clock was ticking. Santa’s elves were already preparing the chicken or noodle meal options for the plane.
TIP: If you are flying to China during Covid and are about to embark on this process, make sure you use your phone to generate the QR flying code instead of your laptop. You’ll have to show the sparkly code several times and the link might not transfer from your laptop to your phone. It didn’t for me.
The day started out with a gorgeous sunrise and cold pizza, left over from the night before.
The airlines had loosened their dress code for the holiday. Ticket agents were adorned in gaudy Christmas sweaters and flashing necklaces. One had an antler hat. Some had Santa beards. Meanwhile, the passengers, ninety-five percent Asian, were decked out for a Covid ball, some even in full Haz-Mat suits.
BUT another code was required by the airlines to get a boarding pass for the international flight. This code had to be completed with jittery fingers with three hundred hopeful passengers sharing a one bar WiFi signal.
The flight was not full. There was literally breathing room. This contrasted to the flight from Detroit to San Fran, which was a can of sardines and kissing fish sitting in front of me in seats 17 A and B. Blankets are no longer given to those in economy class, so bring your own Snuggie or expect to freeze. Only those who get the lazy boy seats in first-class find blankets and pillows on their seats.
The plane stopped in Seoul to allow the United flight crew, who was not allowed in China, to swap with a crew that was permitted.
Two hours later, when we landed in Shanghai, where quarantine mode was in full operation.
You know, that quarantine station that is always closed, that precedes the border control guys with the beefy biceps, that makes you wonder, why do they bother having a quarantine station? Where the only exciting thing that happens is that your temperature lights up, similar to when you drive 35 miles in a 30 miles zone?
This time, the quarantine booth was front and center.
Shanghai’s Pudong Airport might as well have been the moon. Hundreds of employees in white marshmallow uniforms similar to space men in old movies. Several were squirting industrial size canisters of disinfectant. The terminal reeked of bleach as passengers stopped at several stations to fill out forms, show QR codes, and get a manual temperature check.
Good thing no one was checking blood pressure.
The highlight of the gauntlet was the nose swab testing station. It was a make-shift lab on the tarmac.
Unlike the $600 one in downtown SanFran, this one hurt. On a scale of a one being a pap smear and ten being a root canal round of Novocain shots, this was a ten but without a script for Tylenol Number Three. I felt tears form in my eyes as the Covid Q-tip tried to find an emergency escape hatch to my brain.
There was one more station left: getting my assigned quarantine hotel. In China, it is decided for you if you will be staying at the Ritz Quarantine, the Bates Hotel or the Shady Rest.
My luck of the testing straw was the Hotel Vienna.
The lobby floor was sticky with disinfectant. Our luggage was sprayed. The fancy counters were closed, and concierges in Haz-mat suits were stationed at fold-up tables. One collected forms, another scanned codes, and a third passed out a plastic bag. The bag of goodies included a thermometer, two bottles of pills, and other medical looking stuff. And of course, Chenglish instructions of what to do with it all.
It was another three hours before I swiped the key on my door to see the pillowy bed and TV remote.
Since my body was in What-Time-Zone-Izzit-Hell, I took time to read the Chenglish instructions. I knew what to do with the thermometer but what about the pills? Are they vitamins? Aspirin for all of the stress?
Guess again. They were defecation tablets. See number five below:
The instructions read:
Please yourself after each stool, into the disinfection piece, each time 4 pieces, toilet lid soaked for 1 hour and then washed away.
The second translation added a bit more clarity:
Please put ten piece of disinfectant tablets before each defecation. Soak the toilet cover for one hour and rinse off.
I was ready for quarantine, in spite of the lousy WiFi that a marshmallow man had to help me with WiFi at three am in the morning and the poop handing instructions.
The powering up the planet will be slow process, similar to Apollo Thirteen, which every disaster is always compared to. Deboarding one international flight during Covid-19 is a huge undertaking, requiring the coordination of medical personal, airport staff, hotels, countries, and QR code generating monkeys.
Thank you for all that made it possible for me to use the defection tablets and add one more stamp for my collection. This is the best Christmas present ever!