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June 14, 2009 / Mike Su

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).

sandwich anyone?

WTF? Why isnt anyone buying sandwiches?

tux anyone?

We are out of masks and smocks, how bout a tux?

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.


Ninja Conference or Swine Flu epidemic?

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).

prison yard!

Please ignore the drywall that is trickling down my pants

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!”

friendly staff!

Oh, you think it sucks here douchebag? Well, after you go home in 5 days, you know what I will be doing? STILL WORKING HERE!!

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:

iGoogle 2.0

Its kind of like iGoogle, but different

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!!!



Leave a Comment
  1. otherlisa / Jun 14 2009 8:39 am

    Ooooh, man….I’m flying to BJ in a couple of weeks. Thanks for the preview… 😉

    Anyone who coughs within three rows of me is in for it, I’m just saying….

  2. Huan Le / Jun 14 2009 9:00 am

    I feel for you man. Hope you make it back to the US soon. Great post BTW.

  3. Tina / Jun 14 2009 11:02 am

    Great couple of blog posts, Mike! You have me giggling out loud 🙂

  4. Jim Connelly / Jun 14 2009 1:00 pm

    Mike: ABC?

  5. aproductguy / Jun 14 2009 1:22 pm

    @Jim – American Born Chinese

  6. Jim Connelly / Jun 14 2009 1:24 pm

    D’oh!! Of course.

  7. Phillip / Jun 14 2009 5:34 pm

    Glad you’re posting about this. We’re scheduled to fly to Beijing from Bangkok (where swine flu is about to blow up) on Wednesday, and I don’t think I could convince my wife to take the chance if quarantine meant we’d be strapped to a hospital bed somewhere.

    Still trying to figure out a way to lower our temps right before landing (and those of everyone around us)…

  8. andy / Jun 14 2009 5:41 pm

    Awesome post. Just a a heads up, if they end up being Koreans, don’t tell them you know Frank, kim jong il’s kid.

    Our prayers r w u and ur family.

  9. warrock / Jun 14 2009 8:33 pm

    It’s a quarantine not a jail sentence…some of you sound like you’re saying goodbye after a conjugal 🙂

  10. bill / Jun 14 2009 10:48 pm

    will the starbucks across the street in the lido deliver?

  11. Ujin / Jun 15 2009 11:02 am

    Thanks, interesting article! Indeed, the Chinese language is the second study of complexity and probably the first to understand the complexity…

  12. Fawad / Jun 15 2009 9:05 pm

    Mike.. lets get you out of there soon. Have to say ..fantastic journalism Sir.. Let me know if you need me to take anything over to the family.

  13. Shantwo / Jun 16 2009 2:23 am

    Say hello to my son. He’s one of your fellow inmates. A smart, handsome, intelligent California kid: look around, you’ll find him. He’s there to study for the summer, and now, this happens! Tell him “Mom says hi” And take more photos, please.

  14. dave mcclure / Jun 16 2009 7:22 am

    damn mike, I don’t know whether to laug. or cry when I read these posts. it’s gotta be tough I’m sure… but side you are totally awesome for writing this stuff up (and it’s frigging hilarious… until I remember it must suck to be u right now).

    so sorry you got screwed like this, but I must admit you are becoming famous in my book for writing the whole story.

    much respect & props to you! hope you can join us quarantine-free for the next GeeksonaPlane trip 🙂

    • aproductguy / Jun 16 2009 12:37 pm

      dude, i’ve been crying for three days straight. had to put preparation-H on my eyes to stop the swelling before my skype session with you guys at TEDxSH…hahaha…it’s all good…a wise man once said: when life throws lemons at you…you blog about it.

  15. Jeff @ / Jun 16 2009 3:29 pm

    Hello. Great job. I did not expect this on a Wednesday. This is a great story. Thanks!

  16. Watch Year One Online / Jun 20 2009 8:00 pm

    The style of writing is quite familiar . Have you written guest posts for other bloggers?
    p.s. Year One is already on the Internet and you can watch it for free.

  17. Emmy Hsia / Jun 23 2009 5:37 pm


    I’m sure it sucks to be there, but you sure write good stories. This may be the beginning of your writing career. Look forward to seeing you out of there.

    Gan Ma

  18. salamandar / Jun 23 2009 9:26 pm

    Hey Mike! I finally got around to reading your blog. I’ve been blogging about all my experiences in BJ as well and I’m definitely glad to be out of there and resuming my normal student life!

  19. Tammy Lam / Jun 26 2009 2:02 pm

    Stumbled on this while doing some research for a project. Thanks for writing such hilarious posts. I’m laughing out loud, which is kind of embarassing since our office is in a fishbowl setting and I am supposed to be doing very serious projects haha. I’m going to Beijing in September, so good to know that the quarantine process is not brutal like my (paranoid Chinese) mom was hyping!

  20. Trisha A. / Aug 30 2009 4:45 pm

    I never ever post but this time I will,Thanks alot for the great blog.

  21. cody / Dec 16 2009 7:51 pm

    I was locked up there too from the 8th until i think the 14th of june. so i think i got out right before you got in.

  22. Bankruptcy Attorney San Antonio / May 30 2011 3:30 pm

    Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa? My website discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Wonderful blog by the way!


  1. The Seven People You’ll Meet in Hotel Quarantine « A Product Guy
  2. 3 down, 2 to go! « A Product Guy
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  4. Quarantine 2.0 « A Product Guy
  5. Swine Flu Quarantine Diary | cVillain
  6. The Uber Geek Friendly Westin Beijing Chaoyang « GeekGirl Dot Me
  7. The Top 10 Geeks on a Plane Experiences @ Tina Tran Blog
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