By Eve Wee-Ang | 23 Sep 2020
In an earlier article, overseas Singaporean Eve shared about how her short trip back to Singapore earlier this year for the Lunar New Year turned out to be her longest visit home in a decade. With a golden ticket in hand, she is finally back in Shanghai after spending 7 months in Singapore, and shares her journey back with her family.
The night before my husband left Shanghai for work back in February this year, our family watched the hit Korean series on Netflix, Crash Landing on You (CLOY) in Singapore. In this episode, the lead actress, a South Korean heiress Yoon Se-ri was illegally making her way home after she crash landed in North Korea from a paragliding mishap. Escorting her is her love interest Captain Ri Jung Hyuk, a suave North Korean Special Force soldier who was buying time with her by taking the wrong foot path on purpose. When they finally arrived at the border and embraced, it was a tear-jerking moment as they may never meet. But this was only the 9th out of 20 episodes- of course they will meet again
Like most K-drama shows, I have always been a hopeful optimist. Therefore, when I sent my husband off at Changi Airport early the next morning, I didn’t insist that our kids wake at dawn to kiss their father goodbye since we were returning next month anyways. Turns out, Covid-19 proved everyone wrong. This was to be our longest separation ever.
There are many families who are apart by choice but it’s a different ballgame when you are forced to be in a long-distance relationship you didn’t sign up for. Dinnertime as a family has always been a sacred tradition for us as we offload each other’s highs and lows of our day. During our time apart, our evening ritual was replaced by sporadic WeChat videocalls as we tried our best to mask our diluted version of our lives with enthusiasm. As days bled into months and we each found ways to adapt precariously, the unspoken question remained hanging in the air: “When will we meet again?”
Finally, after months of prayerful vigil, we received the good news that we had been bestowed the revered PU – a government granted letter of approval for us to return to Shanghai. To this day, no one knows what PU stands for, but it was equivalent to the Golden Ticket* in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We are going home!
Armed with fresh visas and three exorbitantly priced air tickets, my kids and I braced ourselves for the long journey ahead by stuffing our bags with snacks, devices and chicken rice dinner. Friends who were in “Stuck”, a WeChat support group for Singaporeans in the same predicament, had reported long waiting times at the Shanghai airport. My family turned up in full force to send us off. This had been our longest stay in Singapore and their comforting presence at the departure hall brought me back to the day we left home 12 years ago. This rare and precious time with them had been a treat. Leaving Singapore felt bittersweet as no one knows when we will meet again.
At the holding area, a sea of white pervades as passengers transformed into their own PPE outfits complete with goggles, gloves and plastic shoe covers. I felt exposed, ill-prepared and underdressed in our scanty mouth masks. A bad mom moment crept up until my kids quipped, “Mom, it’s like we are traveling to the moon, and they are all astronauts!” Their sense of adventure calmed me down a notch.
Traveling on commercial flight now felt like a military one as airlines stripped away all hot meals and contact amenities like blankets, pillows and earphones. Without these familiar comforts, flight time felt longer than usual. When we finally landed in Shanghai at 10pm, a frisson of excitement washed over me. We are back…yet this was just the beginning of what laid ahead. We can do hard things…I chanted.
Pudong International Airport resembled a sci-fi movie set with several areas cordoned off and ground staff in medical suits. Everything was orderly and swift like a busy factory plant. Our phones had to be ready for scanning and filling e-forms as well as multiple verification of our passports and flight tickets. An army of staff is always on hand to assist anyone. Finally, the dreaded Covid-19 tests. According to the healthcare workers, the type of tests required that day depended on the number of imported cases. Ours must have been high alert as we were tested three times on the spot: Blood, nose and throat. My daughter sneezed, my son teared and I gagged. The worst was behind us.
When we were finally escorted to the hotel, it was 2.30am. Supper was served but we were exhausted. On the third day, we were told our tests were negative (yeah!) and we could return for home quarantine once my husband moved out and a door sensor had been fixed. On the journey home, I took in all the sights and sounds of our brief freedom that I would normally have taken for granted. China’s relentless and arduous fight of the virus has paid off as life in Shanghai is back to normal with zero community case and mask wearing no longer mandatory in most places.
When we arrived at our compound, we were accompanied closely by a security guard and a healthcare worker. We felt like A-list celebrities as we ambled towards the waiting car below our block. Windows wound down and for the first time in months, we met my husband. Tears rolled down our cheeks. This was real-life CLOY. We had waited for this moment for a long time, yet we weren’t allowed to touch each other. 12 more days to go…We can do hard things.
During home quarantine, we had two temperature checks every morning at 9am and after lunch at 2 pm by different visiting healthcare workers. I nicknamed them Tempzilla as they were business-like and a sure-proof way to wake the kids up in 3 seconds flat. When they rang the doorbell twice in the morning, their swift demeanor and commanding presence in their hazmat suits pointing a gun thermometer are enough to spring our eyes open and dashed to the door for attendance. All I had to do was yell, “TEMPZILLA IS HERE!!!”
When you are trapped at home and have no choice but to confront your space, decluttering is a perfect time-killing antidote and I highly recommend it for bored kids. The trick is to start tidying your own space and then marvel extra loudly how clean and satisfying it feels. Kids learn best by copying us.
Two weeks of confinement later, we emerged as Quarantine Graduates. On the night we were released at 10pm in accordance to our arrival flight time, our family reunited in a tight embrace after being apart for a total of 185 days. CLOY soundtrack was playing at the background as we held each other with joy and relief. In the final episode, Ri Jung Hyuk and Yoon Se-ri were blissfully together in Switzerland after a lengthy separation. As long as we remain hopeful, all is not lost.
*This article was written based on Eve’s experience in August 2020. China’s regulation for foreigners is subject to changes, and to date there is no longer a need for a “golden ticket” for Singaporeans with a valid residence permit. For the latest information, you may connect with the Chinese Consulate for Singapore on WeChat (WeChat ID: Chineseconsul_sg).
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About Eve Wee-Ang
Eve Wee-Ang was a fashion publicist before she relocated to Shanghai as a trailing spouse. She started the TTT (Thursday Tai Tai) support group for Singaporean mothers which celebrates its 11th anniversary this year. As Singapore’s first certified KonMari organizing consultant, she is a writer and speaker whilst trying hard to be a cool mom to her tweens.