Countdown to Beijing

A month ago it would have been unthinkable to drink coffee at nine p.m. Now it was necessary fuel.

The Martian, Andy Weir

I chucked to myself after reading this passage. I feel the same way, except my month has stretched into eight.

In what feels like a lifetime and countless cups of late-night coffee later, I’m now set to return to China on the first of November barring I don’t test positive for Covid three days before my flight *knock on wood*.

A Long and Lengthy Process Back

Following China’s lockdown back in the Spring of this year, only diplomats and businessmen were allowed back into select cities with the issuance of a PU letter.  The private school I work for appealed to Beijing’s Foreign Ministry and somehow secured our PU letters early. Then another setback came with the US’ closure of the Chinese embassy in Houston, not to mention Covid’s wild and crazy spread through the US and lots of other political drama in-between. 

A PU letter of approval is as good as gold right now.

Fast forward to Mid-August, and I was finally able to hear back from the Chinese embassy in DC. They no longer allow appointments or phone calls, so all contact has been an extremely slow email and snail mail correspondence. In spite of all this, having my residence permit expire while being out of the country due to the pandemic actually worked in my favor for getting it renewed!

A month and a half later, I finally have a visa! My next concern now is making sure I am on my flight with all the necessary paperwork. The very last thing I need to do before flying is getting tested within 72 hours of my flight and then rush to have the negative result stamped for approval by the Chinese embassy.

A note on flights – one way ticket prices are insane right now! I’ve never seen flights so expensive. It gives me a chill just thinking about it. My school wanted me back ASAP, but no way was I shelling out $3k-$8k on a one-way ticket even with a promise of reimbursement. I have student loans yo! Heck, I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than $600 for a one-way ticket into China in the past ten years.

Needless to say, I found the cheapest and earliest (and fastest!) option I could, which was to fly into Shanghai on November 1st. This is where I’ll also have to quarantine for two weeks. Once I get my certificate of completion, I will wait for my special personal health QR code to turn green, and then catch a domestic flight back up to Beijing and hope I don’t have to do any additional quarantine there and that there are no glitches with the health app *more knocking on wood*.

This pic off Wechat made me laugh. It’s awfully cute they allowed workers to doodle on their suits.

I can’t say I’m looking forward to quarantining and all the perks that come with it. Thank goodness I’m not bringing kids! There’s quite a few stories of families being split and no winning for picky eaters or those with dietary restrictions. From what I’ve heard and seen shared from other expat groups, it’s really luck of the draw on the quality and pricing of the hotel you’re dragged to straight out of the airport gates. I’m fine if mine doesn’t allow deliveries or whatnot, I’m just hoping whichever hotel I get has an electric kettle and a decent WIFI connection.

Mid-Autumn Came and Went

It hasn’t really hit me yet that I’ll be heading back to life in Beijing soon. Usually, by Mid-August, I’d be on the verge of clawing my eyes out to get away from rural America, but this year my husband, Mark, has graduated and moved to a new state- Maryland! It’s been a lot of fun helping to move and explore a new area. It makes me a bit nostalgic for when I lived in DC. Having an upgraded non-grad-school-feeling apartment here has been a big plus, too. Had I been stuck longer, I’m almost positive Mark would have probably caved in and let us have a cat, but that is a dream for another day.

Mooncakes arrived on time thanks to the online shopping gods.

Missing Mid-Autumn Festival was a bit sad, I can only imagine how hard it was for Chinese abroad. I reminisced on the Chang’e and bunny décor you’d find at all the stores, and boxes upon boxes of gourmet mooncakes everywhere. I remember being so excited last year to find that all the Starbucks in Beijing sold pumpkin spice lattes! Ah, the perks of living in the big city.

Moreover, it was around this time last year that my colleagues and I were prepping for a five-day field trip to Confucius’ hometown in Shandong Province, but this year’s trips are canceled so far for good reason. I also do still miss Lishui a lot and feel guilty I wasn’t able to fulfill my promise of visiting yet. Hopefully there will be a vaccine soon and domestic travel gets better in China next year.

Funny enough, I should be back in Beijing for Thanksgiving! Maybe it’s the military brat in me, the fact that I’ve been doing this rodeo for four years now, or maybe because I’m reading The Martian at the moment, but the thought of being in China for 260 odd days seems so short… 

In other news, Mark and I made dumplings over Mid-Autumn! It was a weird saga trying to find ground pork. I used Anita Lo’s recipe from Epicurious, sans the shrimp. They turned out well despite my lack of a rolling pin! Why in the world Shoprite doesn’t sell them is beyond me. Shout out to my friend, Kaela, for recommending using a glass to roll out the dough!

Forward March

Right now it’s a matter of stocking up:

  • Snacks for quarantine
  • Random necessities (it’s ironic you can get deodorant now in China, but only weird liquid sprays – none of the good solid bar stuff unless you shell out a lot of dough online)
  • Souvenirs (why Chinese people covet Chanel No. 5 is beyond me. I swear it smells vaguely of baby powder and old lady)

In the meantime, live classes are keeping me busy at night. Zoom fatigue still sucks, and I can’t wait to never do this much online teaching again *pounds on wood*. During our free time, Mark and I have been playing all the Halo X-box games (except for #5 as it doesn’t have co-op). He says I’m getting better, but fps games still make me slightly dizzy. Apparently hypersusceptibility to simulation/motion sickness is an Asian trait. Outside the apartment, we’ve had a lot of fun exploring the hiking trails nearby. I never thought I’d get into mycology, but it’s really fascinating what fungi pops up after the rains! I am also really stoked to be in the US during my favorite season: Halloween!

Here’s some pretty hiking pictures:

Flowers along the Joe K Trail in Havre de Grace, Maryland

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