Third-Culture Thoughts

COVID-19: Stories of Travel, Goals, Failure, and Progress

It’s hard to believe more than a month has passed since my last post.

Before writing, in March, about free learning resources and ways to earn money online while in lockdown, I was in the middle of series on Cebu and Siquijor.

But it feels strange to write travel guides when no one can go anywhere, so I’m going to pick that up later—when countries like the Philippines will need tourism to get back on their feet.

Today then, I feel compelled to share some personal COVID-19 stories—perhaps just to talk myself through what’s been going on since the lockdown began.

A COVID-19 Travel Log

March 4: I return from a trip to Guam. Heading to immigration lines at the Manila airport, I pass through a heat-detection scan. Airports on both ends (in Guam and the Philippines) have signs up about COVID-19 and everyone wants to know if you’ve been to China in the past two weeks.

March 10: President Duterte closes all schools in Manila. My daughter is only nine days away from the end of her school year, and we are ten days away from our scheduled departure to the US.

These ten days are restless ones. The park and playground close; with a 6-year-old bouncing off the walls of our apartment, my partner and I are weighing up what to do.

I’m meant to ferry my daughter to her grandmother’s countryside house in Maryland, where she’s set to spend her summer break with her father. But is this the best time to travel? Then again, is this the best time to be in a two-bedroom Manila condo?

March 16: I receive a text message from the Dutch embassy: foreigners will have 72 hours to leave the country. I double check our intinerary: our flight is scheduled to leave in 71 hours.

By this time, my partner and I have decided: if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.

March 18: My partner was scheduled to fly to Kuala Lumpur, where he would begin a trip through India to Nepal. One leg at a time, this has all been canceled. My daughter and I, however, are still scheduled to fly out tomorrow.

We’ve found out that there are no taxis, ride services, or public transportation options available. (We’re Team Bicycle and love it for getting around in our neighborhood, but boy does GrabTaxi come in handy when you need to get to the airport six miles away.)

March 19: Our flight is at 9PM, so we leave the house around 1:30 and start walking. My partner is with us. He’s walking the bicycle so it can hold some of the bags, and help him get back before curfew later.

Now I need to pause, so I can say: Thank the good lord in heaven for this man. Only God knows where I would be without him.

The walk to the airport takes three-and-a-half hours, with our first obstacle being a checkpoint only thirty minutes in. We’re stuck here for awhile because the scanner says I have a temperature.

My forehead jumps from 37.6 to 38.1 to 37.9 to 38.3, and president Duterte says they can’t let me go until it’s under 37.5.

Well, I feel completely normal but I have been walking in the hot sun. So I sit in the shade, put my feet up to counter any symptoms of heat exhaustion, and wait for the triumphant moment when the scan shows my temperature at 37.2.

Minus the anxiety, the wait is made quite pleasant by the officers who share their vivacious smiles and bounty of fresh fruit, cold water, and iced tea. But as comfortable as they made it, we couldn’t be happier happy to wave a warm goodbye.

The temperature scan has gotten in my head, though: Will they have another at the airport? Will my body be even hotter by then, from the long walk? Could I have some kind of asympomatic fever? Wait, do I actually feel unwell? Oh man, maybe I do.

Arriving at the airport, we figure out where we’re supposed to be: at the end of a line that extends along and nearly beyond the taxi dropoff lane. The next hours are spent waiting, feeling nervous, and waiting.

My partner stays with us, guiding me through deep breathing exercises to help me relax. I’m wondering, will they let me on the plane? What if they don’t? What if they do but I’m caught with a fever in LA? What will they do with me, what will happen to my daughter?

March 23. Looking back, the panic was entirely unnecessary: I felt well throughout the entire trip and, oddly enough, did not encounter a single health checkpoint anywhere else on my way from Manila to Los Angeles to New York to Europe.

I’ve now been on five flights in as many days, making my way from the US to the Netherlands. My mom’s house here has been deemed the best destination: I can quarantine here while she’s at my sister’s.

Returning to the Philippines is, of course, not an option. I’ve learned, in our correspondence between stopovers, that my partner will have to leave—and the only place he can go is his country of citizenship. So he’s had his own series of flights, along with a new set of cancellations, and he’s in Australia now.

On Goals & Progress

And here I am, spending my sixth week in the rural lowlands, still very unsure when going home will be on the horizon.

But I’ve got time, and I’ve been blessed with plenty of work too.

Outside of work hours, I’ve been trying to follow my own advice: pursue some study goals and develop new skills. The two I’ve found myself focusing on most are Mandarin Chinese and public speaking.

Learning Chinese

For my Chinese study, I’m using a number of apps, including Pleco, Duolingo, HSKOnline, HelloTalk, and Memrise.

At the dawn of 2020 I set a goal: to reach HSK level 3. Though I’m not sure if testing centers will be open by the end of the year, I’m studying for it anyway.

What I still need to do: get back into face-to-face language lessons and stop shying away from conversation in favor of reading and writing. (But the characters are so fascinating!)

Joining Pitch Club

Next up: facing my fear of public speaking. The company I’ve been working for, Yodo1, hosts a weekly Pitch Club to help those inside and out of the organization develop their speaking and presentation skills.

Normally, these meetings are held in Beijing. But now, with COVID-19, they’re all online. Which is one of those coronavirus silver linings because it means I can finally join.

(So can you, by the way:

Yesterday, I did my first pitch. I was prepared but terribly nervous and, while I was happy I didn’t screw up, I failed to convey emotion in my presentation. So I’m signing up to pitch again soon, to get more comfortable speaking in front of a crowd.

Health & Wellbeing

As usual when unable to go to a gym, I try to maintain a home workout routine. In the past month, that’s translated to a 30-60 minutes pre-work workout, with a yoga mat, a six-pack of 1.5L water bottles (for lifting, that is), and an app.

Sometimes I follow a video on DoYogaWithMe or do a home martial arts training on YouTube. What I’ve been most consistent with, though, is a women’s workout app: short, sweet, plus easy to start and build on. (Also on Android)

Another goal I set was to work up to a 10k run.

With a 4.5 and 7k under the belt, I was feeling good about my progress. But joint pain and dreary weather caused me to shy away from the outdoor exercise.

With the cold being a lot more than I’m used to after a decade in the tropics, and running never having been a steady habit, I’ll need to ease in a little more slowly. I still hope to do that 10k circuit while I’m here and surrounded by such beautiful nature.

In closing, to those reading: if you have work but can’t see your family, stay grateful and stay strong. If you have your family with you but you’ve lost your work, I know how stressful that is too, but you’ve got to trust it will be ok and enjoy every moment with them you can.

And if you have neither work nor family to support you, reach out. We’re all here to bolster each other.

If nothing else, sharing your story helps.

2 thoughts on “COVID-19: Stories of Travel, Goals, Failure, and Progress

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