After leaving the Chinese city of Zhenjiang because of the COVID-19 situation in January, former B.C. resident Mark Conway spent two months between Thailand and Myanmar, waiting for things to cool down.
Now, Conway has finally returned to China. His friends started messaging him a couple of weeks ago telling him he had to get home — China felt safe again.
Conway was a server at the Beach Club restaurant in Parksville on Vancouver Island for five years and moved to China to teach at a university seven years ago.
The journey home from Myanmar was surreal for Conway, who said he was greeted by customs agents in hazmat suits and transported to his home in a “quarantine van.”
He left China on Jan. 29 for Thailand and Myanmar. He returned this week, first stopping in Kunming, China. Customs agents came on to the plane to check passengers, who were then able to take off a couple of hours later.
“One person had a scan code that everyone could scan that did two things, first it could track where you go, and second asked very detailed questions regarding your current health status and where you have been for the past couple of weeks,” he said. “When they came to me, I did tell them I scanned the code, but they had no English version, so they just nodded their head and moved on.”
During his layover, he got off the plane and on to a bus that drove him and the other passengers to a different part of the airport. Conway said there was one other foreigner, a Canadian from Montreal, and the rest of the passengers were Chinese citizens.
“We waited in this part of the airport for another hour-and-a-half, and then we basically answered the exact same questions, temperatures were checked, and then we went to the official health/quarantine customs part of the airport,” he said. “When it was my turn to go through the check they asked to see my QR code app, and of course I never completed it, so they provided me with English paperwork with all the questions I had to fill out.”
At that point, Conway thought he might be in trouble, but they ended up letting him through. He and the other passengers were exhausted — it was 5 a.m. by this point.
“We all waited there until everyone went through, and then I looked back and noticed the other Canadian guy wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t make it through,” he said. “My guess is that he was in Thailand only a week before, and I was in Myanmar for the past three weeks [where there were still zero cases at that time].”
Conway said getting into the actual airport was “unreal” — large numbers of police and even more people in hazmat suits.
He was worried he might be quarantined in Kunming for 14 days. The province he lives in, Jiangsu, just changed their rules for quarantine.
“Just heard today that the Jiangsu province has changed the rules for foreigners entering,” he said. “They must do their 14 quarantine and at an assigned hotel. I was so lucky I got home when I did.”
Instead of quarantining at a hotel, Conway was able to go home to his apartment and his cat.
After getting off the plane in Nanjing, a 90-minute drive to his Zhenjiang home, he was driven home in a “quarantine van” behind a police car escort, complete with flashing lights.
“When I arrived at my home, there were two security guards, the uni HR guy, a guy taking pictures, and I think a nurse or an additional doctor,” he said. “So all in all, seven people. I felt like a rock star.”
They taped up the front door of his home, where he is required to stay for 14 days. Conway said he’s lucky — he lives on the first floor of a building with a little backyard, so it’s easy for friends to drop food off.
After a long time away from Zhenjiang, Conway is relieved to be home.
“While I was in Thailand for my first month away, my foreign friends were all saying how jealous they were of me, and that I totally made the right choice. Everything was locked down, and it stayed like that for about a month. Nobody went outside, and all business were shut down,” he said. “About three weeks ago things slowly started to change. I was told, ‘Hey Mark, you should come back to China soon… things are good here’. Then about two weeks ago I was told by my Chinese friends that I NEED to get back to China because it’s safer than the rest of the world.”
Conway said everything is back to normal now, schools are set to open back up on April 13. Although, his university has been doing online classes for a month.
The first thing he’ll do when he’s done with quarantine is go check on his e-bike he left at the train station when he had to leave China.
“I thought it would just be two weeks or so. My gut tells me it’ll still be there, we shall see,” he said.
His parents and pregnant sister still live in Parksville and since seeing the COVID-19 situation play out in China, he’s worried for his family back home.
“I miss my family during this time, but hopefully will be back this summer, but now who knows,” he said. “Maybe it will be safer to stay in China. Put it this way, I’m not going to buy my plane ticket anytime soon.”