Notes from Hong Kong Hotel Quarantine: Days 1, 2 & 3

Silence, food deliveries, and a mid-morning movie

Adele Barlow
5 min readDec 3, 2020

39 hours. Door to door, from my London flat to this Hong Kong hotel room. I’m here. I made it. A hometown that has felt borderline fictional in my head for much of this year — it’s real, it exists, it’s here, and so am I. Barely. When I first landed I felt like a photocopy of myself, I was so tired.

While the HK airport process was rigorous (to say the least), the benefit is that you enter the city feeling a level of security that I haven’t felt all year in the UK. Here, the safety systems seem stronger than the virus. Sure, you have to wear a government bracelet on your wrist tracking your location, but if the system works, you’re more likely to follow it.

What I’ve noticed is that in HK, there seems to be an assumption that you’re potentially infected until proven otherwise. In the UK, there are stricter temperature checks at my gym than at Heathrow, and overall an assumption (or a hope?) that you’re virus-free until proven otherwise.

After landing in HK comes a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine. I’d joined the Hong Kong Quarantine Support Facebook group to see how others found the process, so I sort of knew what to expect.

So far…

Day 1: Barely counts as I spent most of it at the airport, then I was so brain fried that I pretty much crashed into bed once I reached the hotel.

Day 2: In the morning, I cleaned, unpacked and rearranged the hotel room (no housekeeping staff are allowed into the rooms) and in the afternoon, there were so many work calls that it felt like I was back in London.

My brother and his partner sent flowers. That was a highlight. As was getting food delivery, a.k.a. The Most Exciting Part Of The Day—I’d heard this in the Facebook group, but it really is true. The hotel staff bring the delivery up from the lobby to your room and leave it outside the door.

Day 3: I woke up and had a call with my friend Mallory who is helping me create a new website for my books. Her dog Sherman and husband James popped into the frame. I thought about how much I wanted a dog and how I already missed my boyfriend and wondered if that made me pathetic. Then, after we finished up the call, there was… silence.

So I watched Happiest Season. A woman wants to take her long-term partner (also a woman) home for the holidays, but she hasn’t yet come out to her parents; which makes it awkward for everyone. So many movies tend to reduce gay characters to one-dimensional stereotypes. I loved how these main characters were hard to make up your mind about.

And then there was more silence.

So I logged onto slack. I did some work. I made a birthday card for my Mum.

I waited for her to drop off some stuff I’d asked her to bring — she drops it at the concierge, then they drop it outside my door. I am grateful to have a family who sends flowers and cupcakes and fruit and advent calendars.

Then after Mum’s drop-off had arrived, it felt lonely. I wasn’t sure what to do with the feeling, so I just sat with it, and then I realised… when you’re locked away from everyone for two weeks, it’s normal to miss them.

I wished I could open the windows.

Then there were some work calls, and I felt like I was back in London. Then some non-work calls, seeing familiar faces on Zoom and FaceTime, a new land that we’ve all been introduced to where all our friends live now.

Some people might treat this as a meditation retreat.

I tried meditating yesterday… but as usual, my mind started wandering towards a ticker-taper to-do list.

I considered treating this like a writer’s retreat. Maybe I’d set myself a set amount of words to write? But then — why? I’ll write when I write.

Maybe the true exercise, like for a lot of this bizarre year, is about making it through. Sometimes productivity is a great coping mechanism but sometimes it’s not. “Setting an intention” was a suggestion that came up from a friend and I liked that.

My intentions: to process and let go of a lot of the hard stuff that came with 2020, to get some rest, to wrap up work, to get over the jet-lag. So that when I finally do get to reunite with my family, I can make the most of the time I have with them.

This year is strange, as is this situation. But I am here. Even if I’m in a temporary fishbowl at the moment.

Things I loved reading today:

  • Let’s See How Alive We Can Be: Elizabeth Gilbert’s brand of magical thinking — “If any of these women voted for Donald Trump, whose election to the highest office in the land was the cause of the breakdown Gilbert is describing, you can’t tell by their tear-stained faces, which are turned toward the stage like plants toward light.”
  • Industry’s self-righteous, ultra-judgmental supporting cast is its secret weapon: “First, there’s a hilarious cameo by Jessie and Bebe Cave as two uber-posh Corbynistas: ‘We’re just living…’ announces Jessie’s character breathily, sitting in front of a besuited Harper in performatively quirky glasses, dungarees and plaits. ‘We love that you’re a working woman, though.’”
  • How Dominic Cummings wasted the greatest opportunity of his life: “…he laid out in measured tones his views about ‘fundamental aspects of the way the world works’. This involved a helter-skelter tour of disciplines such as astronomy, entomology and neurology (Stars! Ants! Neurons!). Quite what this amounted to was hard to say, but he spoke with the confidence of a man who thinks that everyone appreciates how right he is.”