Our preparations for our trip to Sydney last month to see our children, our siblings our parents and friends began months ago. Initially, overseas travel was out of the question. The multiple PCR tests, the heightened risk of catching COVID, the quarantine and the expense seemed insurmountable in 2020. Then the risk of outbreaks which could rapidly lead to lockdowns within Greater Sydney and inevitably across state borders made the idea of trying to see our children spread across three different states and territories seem impossible.
2020 moved into 2021 and we watched the Christmas outbreak in Sydney quashed, closed borders re-open then vaccinations gather pace. The quarantine program entered a mature phase, I was following quarantined Australians stories and advice on a Facebook group and the days wore on. I came to realise more and more Australians were visiting their hometowns then flying out back to their jobs in different countries. Still we waited. I feel like I am always waiting these days, don’t you? An apprehension that something is going to happen, something will change and then it just doesn’t. The quarantine program became more entrenched across Australian states and more jobs became available within it, Quarantine wasn’t going anywhere soon and neither it seemed, were we. We began to discuss the month long quarantine we would need to take to spend time with our children in Australia. Two weeks in a Sydney hotel, roughly two weeks with our family and two weeks quarantining at home back in Seoul.
Let’s wait it out we said as we made up a list of pros and cons. The worst negative we thought was actually catching COVID19. The isolation that would be necessary with the illness would mean all our effort and expense would be for nought. But as the weeks turned into months we thought we could still be having this conversation about whether to go or not next year. We made a list of things to do in order to travel, Then we booked our flights and ticked off the list.
Incheon airport, our portal for our travel to Sydney was empty, echoey and eerie. The screens mostly blank, the checkin stations cordoned off. The staff, in full PPE, outnumbered the travellers. We wandered around the duty free which was surprisingly open then we headed to the Asiana lounge. All the magazine stands were empty. There was some drinks and food available but we didn’t touch it. The few people in the lounge were widely spaced apart and of course masked. Of course.
Our flight had about 17 people in total on it. We had a whole row to ourselves. We transited in Singapore and along with about nine other passengers were escorted to a transit area that was cordoned off completely. All staff were in full PPE. We did as we were told. Changi airport, one of the busiest airports in the world was completely silent. There were social distancing markers all over the floor. The basins in the washroom had every second one out of use. In the weird makeshift transit area, drinks were provided and the coffee stirrers were in a cup, unwrapped. I didn’t touch them. We kept our face shields on, we sanitised our hands.
Our flight to Sydney had a few more people on it. I slept with my face shield on. We walked through the airport, past the automated passport control which was cordoned off. We went through customs manually , were questioned by a nurse, then had our names ticked off by some military personnel and sent to a bus. The military helped us load our bags onto the bus. It was all terribly efficient and calm and we were very obedient. Each person had their job and each person had a quiet authority and confidence. I felt safe. The quarantine process is now a well oiled machine, in good working order. The bus set off with our masked driver saying nary a word. Our silent driver took us on a tour of the city past many unmasked faces on the streets, a sight we found strange, risky even. as we moved closer to our mystery location and we only found out we were staying at the Marriott Sydney Harbour for our mandatory two week quarantine when the bus pulled up at the entrance. A very young police officer read the orders to us from a sheet of paper ending with we would be released by order of the Commissioner of Police when our quarantine was over.
We ambitiously asked for a balcony but there were none at the Marriott. We asked for and were given an upgrade that we paid for in advance. We entered our room, which also had an ante room to our great relief and expansive views of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House. Sydney’s best, laid out in front of us. Tantalisingly close. We set ourselves up. The two rooms were good, we could work separately and talk on our phones in private. I acknowledge we were very fortunate to stay at the Marriott and to afford an upgrade. I acknowledge how easy the time was for us because it was merely we two, no small children to entertain. I acknowledge we are in good health physically and mentally, save for some anxiety I carry and some stress we both carry.
It rained for the first few days, rivulets of water streaming down the large windows turning the harbour into an impressionist painting. As the evening descended on the first night, the opera house turned green and it looked like the Northern lights but below me instead of above. A ferry silently drifted across the dark water behind the opera house, a ghost ferry suspended in the blackness. To my surprise I felt very calm, a feeling that stayed with me for the entire two weeks. I had such trepidation before I left, for weeks I worried about being in one space for so long and when I finally arrived in that space all the worry fell away. The city busied itself below me and I observed her wake up and fall asleep every day and every night and it was quiet and it was beautiful.
Staying put for two weeks is my national duty. My part in keeping the virus at bay. That was my role for two weeks. I had complained bitterly prior to the stay about the lack of ventilation, no balcony, no opening windows. Fresh air is integral to staying healthy and avoiding the virus. We were at the most risk in the hotel and yet. And yet. It was a time for reflection, talking and just being. A rare opportunity to indulge in existence. There was a knock on the door at regular intervals heralding our meals. We waited two minutes to give our couriers time to scurry away and then we opened the door and took the food which sat on a tray outside the door. It was like magic. Sometimes the knock meant a covid test. We endured them, they were uncomfortable but fast. I took a proper bath every day. I meditated, did yoga journaled, talked and walked around the two rooms, finally ordered a treadmill and did some study. Took some courses. I sat and contemplated nothing. I felt grateful all the time. I had developed a patience I never knew I had. I knew after two weeks I would see my adult children and my family and I was very fortunate to be able to do so.
Back in Seoul now, and not quite halfway through home quarantine. It will be some time before we can visit Australia again. Australia is Utopia compared to the rest of the world. South Korea too, is keeping the virus at bay but there are still cases here. We must be mindful, follow restrictions, wear masks. India has the highest count of cases since the pandemic started. This is so sad and terrifying. It’s not over.