Bird set free
This post chronicles my time spent in quarantine in Hong Kong back in February and my subsequent release and first month free in March 2021. The title of the post is inspired by Sia’s song Bird set free, although I must admit that I know why the caged bird sings (by Maya Angelou) was a strong contender for a title as well.
Flying from BE to HK
As I detailed in this post, I spent the latter half and the first month of 2021 or so in Belgium, back home, and loved it. But I was also getting excited for moving to Hong Kong for my new job at HKU. This was not an easy getaway. Not only did I have to apply for the work visa and all other necessary documents; but in times of covid I would also need to have tests taken at the right time within the right window to even be allowed to use the plane ticket that I also paid for.
So there I was, within my 72 hour window before my flight, lining up outside, between the cars in the drive-through covid test site in Brasschaat. The cold made the depth reached by the unnecessary long stick up my nose hurt even worse and I felt a phantom pain as I was making my way back.
Fast forward two days. Hooray, a negative test, now off to Brussels Airport, where I had to take a fast test to enter the Netherlands, which was unnecessary and stupid, but required. 40 minutes later this also gave me a negative test result and I could finally board the plane from Brussels to Amsterdam. Going up. Going down.
Then I had to wait for quite a while and finally got ready to board. It didn’t look like it was going to be a full flight, but maybe a lot of people were late? Anyway, we had to show yet once again all the million test results and right documents, so we could board the plane.
As it turned out, there were only four passengers, and 10 crew members. Unfortunately, one of the four of us had decided to pay for an upgrade to business class while right before boarding and that meant that he got to enjoy all the perks that came with that, while the remaining three of us had to stay in economy. Later, on of the flight attendants told me that if he hadn’t done that, we would all have been upgraded for free. Yet, all things considered, it was a joyous flight. Here is a picture of me expressing my joy.
When we arrived at the airport, it felt like we had just entered a ghost town. A long guided trail led us from station to station. We had to show our test results, show that we had the necessary documents to enter, show that our tests were not just photoshopped, show this, show that …and finally got tested again (within my 72-hour window!!). Then we were sat at tables to await the test results and fitted with fashionable wristbands that we could not take off for the following 21 days of quarantine.
After being fitted with the trendy covid fitbit, I was taken to the hotel I had booked for 21 consecutive nights. I chose L’Hotel Island South – now rebranded as the Nina Hotel Island South – and honestly, it was a good experience, given the circumstances. People following my instagram (@simazhi y’all) could see daily updates on the food + ratings. Here’s a small selection.
My room had two beds, but luckily also wifi, a bathtub, tv, a minifridge and a nice city view.
Oh yeah, I should probably also mention that by this point it had been 2.5 months since I had had a haircut, due to the restrictions in Belgium and also quarantine. So expect to see some wild hairstyles in this post.
I was surprised a number of times during my stay at the hotel, two of which had to do with the wonderful care packages from my current boss Dr. Youngah Do. Words cannot express the happiness I felt at receiving this.
Emotionally, though, the lack of real world contact was quite hard. It’s one thing to see other people on a computer screen and interact with them, but I was so happy every time I caught a rare glimpse of a hotel staff member delivering food. And the tests on day 17 and 20 were also kind of enjoyable, since I got to interact with real humans, who talked back to me, in real life and proximity. There was also a fun little gimmick in the hotel: a delivery from a robot.
I mean, the robot delivery was a fun activity but real interaction is still best. And it didn’t help that I could see people from my window, all the way down (I was on the 23th floor) in the distance. I tried to still my feelings about this aspect of life that had suddenly been taken away from me by not focusing on the world outside, even though the weather was so good those days. My cage was a physical containment, but the mind can wander and I developed a meditation practice, but also watched like half of Netflix.
Bird set free
Finally, the day came that it was my final day. When the clock struck 00:00, I did not lose my glass shoe but instead took off my covid fitbit tracker, deleted the Stay Home Safe app, and felt a huge weight lifte off my back.
Yet, the next day, as I prepared my luggage for leaving, I felt a bit 捨不得 ‘reluctant to say goodbye’. I once again took pictures of every corner of my room, and to this day still think of the gingo leaf painting that was my only fixed view for 21 days. But then it was time to prepare the bags and take a picture with the hotel once I was out.
Outside, I was being picked up by my friend and colleague Dr. Arthur Thompson, who kindly offered me a place to sleep for the unforeseeable future, while I looked for a place to live. So we went to eat ShakeShack (first post-quarantine food) and then took the ferry to Lamma island, and then took a sunset pic on the beach.
Don’t worry, it’s not a nuclear power plant.
Nesting at HKU
The day after my release on the 28th of February, we went to the University of Hong Kong, where I got to meet my new boss in real life again. It was very joyful and bound to lead to a good cooperation. Here is a picture of the three of us in our small iconicity and ideophones team. As well as a view from the grad students office on the 9th floor where I would take a seat for a while.
I’m planning to periodically write about the research that we’re doing so stay tuned for that.
I got a haircut at some point, which was perfect to take sunset pictures with.
The homefront has told me they want to see more pictures so in this section I’m just showing a few places I went to visit in these first two months. Perhaps it is also useful to link to my first visit to Hong Kong in 2013. If you can read Dutch then this is really a gem of a blogpost. It also lays the foundation my tourist impression of Hong Kong and explains why I visited Chi Lin Nunnery 志蓮淨苑 and the adjoining Nanlian Garden 南蓮園池 within the first few weeks of being here.
For my travel companions and myself in 2013, this garden really was stunning and a well-deserved cover of the contemporary Lonely Planet guide. I find that strolling in the garden really enables me to put my mind at ease. So I’ve returned to it with CJ and Arthur in subsequent visits.
Let me know if you want to see more pictures of this idyllic place on earth. But Hong Kong is not only Chi Lin Nunnery, lol; there’s also lots of temples. For instance, there is the Man Mo Temple 文武廟, dedicated to the god of writing and literacy Man Tai 文帝 and the marial Mo Tai 武帝. Fun fact, tai in Cantonese, or dì in Mandarin means ‘emperor’ as well and there are lots of emperors throughout history who posthumously are referred to as Wéndì 文帝 and Wǔdì 武帝.
When I first visited the Man Mo in 2013 I was a bit disappointed, not a lot was going on and the nice spiral incense cones we were promised in the guidebook weren’t lit at all. Things were different this time around. The day I happened to visit the temple it was super busy, and I also offered some incense to the deer statue. Deer are an interesting animal and I’ve come to appreciate them increasingly in the past few years, for instance on my trip to Japan in 2019 (for which I did not write a blogpost??).
Also, here I am with the Choi Hung “Rainbow” station!
I also love going to see some art (mostly painting or sculpture). And discovering that HKU has a university museum with exhibitions was kind of nice. I got to see Ng Lung Wai’s Painting across the threshold, where he uses a folding paint technique. Very cool effect.
There was also an exhibition on Congolese artists, “Colours of Congo: Patterns, Symbols and Narratives in 20th-Century Congolese Paintings”, which was very beautiful and interesting. I learned a lot from the selection of paintings they had, and the pointillism style really appealed to me.
If you’re in Hong Kong, do go check these exhibtions out!
Roosting on Lamma
It became clear quite early on that I was interested in settling on Lamma Island. And even though this island has snakes, bugs and wild boar, it’s also quite vibrant and fun to escape the city on a daily basis. I still love the ferry commute, although it’s quite a journey to go to work, but I love the view of seeing Hong Kong in all its vertical concrete glory rise up as I approach it.
So I hope this was a fun read for you. More adventures in the future and stay tuned for April and May in June! Baibai from the rooftop of the IFC, looking at Kowloon!