I was planning to leave to Hong Kong right at the beginning of the year to start the semester there, but I decided to postpone my departure since the compulsory quarantine extended from 14 to 21 days because of the slight increases in covid cases during late 2020. After a month more waiting the covid situation seemed pretty good in Hong Kong again so I decided to wait a bit more if the quarantine requirement would be shortened back to two weeks and therefore I started my exchange period from the distance in January 18th. Luckily that wasn’t a problem, because all their courses were arranged online anyways. Only harm was that some lectures started at 3.30 am Finland time due to the 6 hour time difference, but I managed to participate on those and didn’t even fall asleep many times during lectures (only twice). I realized that I was the only exchange student in my selected courses, but later I got to know there were a few others in our department but they were not studying food & beverage side.
I was really excited to get to start the period finally, even though I was still at home. It felt also slightly challenging at first because I realized soon that local students had a really different English accent, so it was a bit difficult to communicate at first. I also felt that I struggled a bit with expressing my thoughts in English since I hadn’t been speaking it a lot lately. Luckily both of those things started to become easier all the time, like always with languages and communication. Lectures were clearly presented and easy to follow and the English skills of lecturers were perfect to nothing to complain there. Besides studying, I did the last arrangements and prepared for going, which was getting already a bit tiring for me and my partner because of all the postponing. Originally our plan was to leave together and go by Trans-Mongolian train, but due to the world situation I naturally had to go by myself and by plane. Nevertheless, I was so excited and nervous that I was finally about to leave.
So, the quarantine requirement was kept in 21 days but I decided to go after all because there were relatively small amount of corona cases, and the last departure day of my visa started to get closer. My student visa said that I have to be in Hong Kong at the latest February 19th and had to leave from Hong Kong at the latest in May 31st, even though I applied the visa for only 3 months, so that was really nice and left some room for flexibility. Quarantine itself required some arrangements to do, like filling some forms about my health situation, and also searching and picking my desired hotel from the designated quarantine hotel list. There were tens of options, but all the cheapest ones were already taken at that point, and actually now after the experience I’m glad I didn’t get the cheapest option. So you had to pay the quarantine hotel by yourself and it wasn’t very cheap, but it wasn’t a reason to cancel going.
In February 11th I finally got myself transported physically in Hong Kong! After travelling 9 hours in an almost empty plane (which felt very wrong) and going through many safety procedures (including a covid test) in the airport, I was drived to my quarantine hotel by the same bus with one other exchange student who went to a different hotel but appeared to live in the same student apartment with me later. It felt so exciting to see a little bit of the city from the bus and to arrive to the hotel even though I had prepared with mixed feelings for the upcoming weeks.
So there I finally was, in the quarantine hotel where I had to stay in my room for the whole three weeks without a permission to go even to the hallway, under the threat of 25000 HKD (about 2600 €) penalty or even up to 6 months imprisonment. Besides the penalty you would have been transported to the so called quarantine camp, where due to this hotel had apparently been sent already 9 people. Those motivated quite well to stay inside. I had to measure my temperature twice every day and write them down to one of those many forms I had to fill. I also got a bracelet with a QR code and I had to download this app called StayHomeSafe, which asked me a few times a day to scan the code from the bracelet. A few times I didn’t manage to do that in the 30 second time frame that they gave, but not any consequences were visible. Maybe they strengthened my monitoring after those, you never know.
So, shortly said I sat and ate three weeks. Okay I managed to do some studies and tried to stay physically active too, but doing anything felt pretty difficult because staying only inside can make you feel really tired and frustrated all the time. Quarantine package included three meals a day, but they were really poor and it wasn’t allowed to order anything from outside the hotel, so that got very annoying at some point. Also communicating with the reception was very frustrating, because after some of my basic requests they said “okay okay”, but usually nothing happened. After all I survived the three weeks and it felt very long, but it actually wasn’t as claustrofobic that you possibly could imagine and you could kind of enjoy about the privacy too. You usually get kind of used to even some weird situations overtime and this was a good example of that. I actually was even worried about how I can live with other people in the student accommodation after that. Without the access to internet full of entertainment and possibility to stay in contact with people, it would certainly be a lot worse.
Next week I will tell about getting finally free!