Mr. Brightside

July 19, 2022 10:46
Photo: Reuters

And so – I made it!

Managed to scramble (stumble) through the plethora of hurdles that stood between me and home – after flight cancellations, hotel cancellations, rebookings after a chase madder than the Mad Hatter’s, and a detour to one of my favourite countries (for travelling) on Planet Earth, I landed in Hong Kong on Sunday evening.

What ensued was, of course, quite the experience. Stage after stage, trial after trial, pass after pass where my very own pass and home quarantine order papers would be checked, rechecked, and then triply checked to ensure that I am not – infectious, positive, or likely to pose a liability to the immaculately planned quarantine process that has come to define the airport’s greetings to all incoming visitors. What had once been a 15-minute-tops process of clearing customs and collecting one’s baggage, has evolved into a sprawling, behemothic exercise of protracted queues, fastidious examination and re-examination, and documentation fetish. Each to their own with their kinks, I suppose.

The staff and officers were absolutely lovely. I do not fault them – and indeed I must thank them for performing the thankless chores of staying up for the night shift, working till the early hours of the day, in handling the influx of passengers. Ironically, as Hong Kong ‘opens up’ gradually to external visitors, the queues have only emerged to be longer – a cleaner at the hotel reliably informed me that the waiting times for travellers, “back when quarantine was, you know, 14 days or 21 days”, were ‘only’ 45 minutes. Yesterday took me over 120 minutes.

Hong Kong had been an open, welcoming, and cosmopolitan city – one where financiers could rub shoulders (if they wished to) with backpackers and tourists, and where international expatriates and local colleagues could mingle after work at non-socially distanced pubs and venues. Rugby Sevens was a fixture, and so was Clockenflap (could you imagine a socially distanced Clockenflap? Certainly not when The Vaccines are in attendance – after all, we’d all be vaccinated then. Sadly, this is clearly no longer the case. We have been stuck in a purgatory of COVID-19 and pandemic controls for far too long: the cultural and performance arts industry is all but decimated, and so is the tourism sector. Many have opted for reskilling and reemployment elsewhere. Perhaps the only silver lining through this all is that we’ve initiated structural reforms to our manpower and labour unwittingly through the COVID-19 aftershocks.

Confirming that I was a Hong Kong resident with a hotel address turned out to be more difficult than expected – multiple papers, paired with a yellow pass-tag, coupled with smartphone screenshots of bookings, were needed. By the time I ploughed through the seventh hurdle (I believe, ‘twas to show to an officer my hotel address, and my boarding pass) and on my way to getting through immigration (finally!), it was clear: all this is well and truly through the looking-glass.

Knackered. That’s how I felt when I’d finally exited the baggage reclamation space, with the anticipation that I’d be set free and allowed to hop on a bus to the hotel. Turned out I was doubly wrong – after two hours of extortionate walking (I clocked up a healthy few thousand steps in the process) that surely would prove to be too much for any elderly or frail individual – I was instructed that I had to queue in a line for the bus, to take me to an adjacent hotel. Such is life! But I, as with the all-time classic banger, am a Mr. Brightside… So here’s to a few more days of self-imposed isolation… The new Health Minister has pledged that the city would be reconnected with the world in time for the summit of financiers and who’s who in November. Perhaps, just perhaps, we’d open up before then.

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Assistant Professor, HKU