Life in the Big House
Being quarantined by the Chinese government for any given amount of time sounds pretty ominous, particularly if it’s over what the World Health Organization has declared a Phase 6 pandemic (whatever that means). So I figured I’d shed some light on life in the Big House (aka Hotel Quarantine, aka YanXiang Hotel, aka Tha Big Hizzie).
Apparently some time about a month or so ago the Yanxiang Hotel was turned from a 3-star hotel into Quarantine HQ. The hotel has 7 floors and a bunch of now defunct retail stores (tried to write a Yelp review for them, but Yelp doesn’t have coverage in China).
When you arrive, the staff at the front desk “check you in”. It’s a little weird, cause everyone everywhere is wearing surgical masks. You don’t really appreciate seeing people’s faces until you go for days on end without seeing someone’s actual face. It feels kinda like you’re at a secret Ninja convention, except nobody is killing anybody.
There’s a nice little Chinese garden area (except, of course, it’s just called a garden here) where you can walk around and stretch your legs. This is the equivalent of the prison yard. Once I order my Rita Hayworth poster and chiseling set, this is where I will walk out the debris from chipping the hole in my room to spring myself free (Shawshank, people, in case you missed the reference).
The staff is super friendly, and always smiling and always relieved to learn that I am fluent in Chinese because, as far as appearances go, I look like either a total ABC or possibly Korean. Not that you can really tell with a mask on. It’s pretty incredible that the staff is as friendly as they are, considering, as far as I understand, a month or so ago they were just regular workers at this hotel, and suddenly they’ve been told, “Hey, got a new job for ya, which is pretty much the same as your old job, except you have to wear quarantine gear top to bottom, and cater to spoiled Americans that may or may not be contaminated by swine flu. Service with a smile!”
We get fed three square meals a day. Each meal you hear a knock on the door and they slide a tray of food under your door is served buffet style in a big dining hall. Except there’s no seating, since the idea is they don’t want people to congregate and spread their viruses. So you have to take it back to your room to eat.
The first day I showed up in the dining hall I just went to the line and picked up a plate to start serving myself when a guy screams across the room “STOP!!! STOP!! DO NOT TOUCH THAT!!!” I thought I was gonna get sent to solitary confinement. But turns out they have to serve the food, so that my nasty-potentially-contagious fingers don’t pollute the food.
As far as food goes, it’s not too bad. Each day there’s a variety of meats and veggies. They always throw in a few western dishes such as french fries (for the French, of course) and pancakes. Last night I also talked my way into a couple bottles of beer (note to any future quarantinees, be nice to the lady that greets you at the dining hall). Apparently you can also order from pizza hut, which I think I will do one of these nights. But any other outside food, for some reason, is a royal pain in the butt. They have to send a health inspector to the restaurant to watch the food being prepared, and when they bring it, it needs to be signed in and inspected in case you have a filing knife or shiv hidden inside, and then it has to be eaten within 2 hours, which all strikes me as odd, as it would seem to not matter what gets brought TO here but rather what gets brought OUT of here. But what do I know, if I were so damn smart I wouldn’t have sat in front of a swine flu victim.
Well, *fun* may be a stretch, but there are a number of activities available to help shake the day up. To find out the events of the day, there is a nice helpful bulletin board:
Available activities include fishing games for kids:
Tai chi for adults:
And spear surfing for quarantined shaolin monks:
Over the first couple of days they’ve proven to be a crowd favorite.
Much like prison, the standard greeting is “how long you been here?” (we’ve dispensed of “what are you in here for”). Another great conversation starter is “so, how’d they find you?”. Otherwise, there’s really not that much else particular to the culture here. Handshakes are not allowed. In fact, greetings, in order of preference, are:
Handshake < high five < fist bump < nod
And, of course, the omnipresent mask. Here's me rockin my mask:
Finally, before I wrap this post up, I want to really send a shout out to Sean Kelley and the entire staff at the Westin Chaoyang Beijing. They have handled this as well as any hotel could possibly handle one of their guests being quarantined. The day it happened they loaded a bag full of english magazines for me to read. Yesterday they delivered a DVD player with a bunch of DVDs. And each and every day so far they’ve given me a call to check in on me. You really couldn’t ask for a more professional and courteous staff that consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty. You guys are awesome!!!