Two words you never want to hear. Hotel Quarantine. Taiwan mandated a 2-week quarantine + an additional 1-week called “self health management” for all returnees during this pandemic. It used to be a HOME quarantine, but the Delta variant ruined that starting in July. Now a home quarantine, which we previously dreaded, was looking pretty darn cushy.
We were warned of the logistics, but we felt we had good reason to travel for Jack’s gathering, plus it was also the only way to see Tatiana and Joe because both South Korea and Taiwan are not permitting entry to anyone who isn’t a resident.
For the Bigger Cause
Despite the complexities and annoyance, the quarantine process Taiwan crafted to keep the country safe is impressive and worth a spot in our special blog journal, even if it did trigger PTSD while writing it.
We booked our flight back to the USA only 4 days in advance. You know what they say, if you wait ’til the last minute, it only takes a minute to do! We had a lot to do in 4 days…
Pre Trip (9/5 Sunday)
First! Find and reserve an approved quarantine hotel. Sounds easy, but most were booked up through November. This was utterly time-consuming for several reasons. Most websites are in Mandarin and Taiwan at the time was protecting hotels from being permanently labeled “quarantine hotels” so they’re labeled, “hotel 1, 2, 3, A, B, C, etc.” on government websites which was challenging to learn much about them online. Taiwan has since started labeling Q hotels by their real names.
5 items we were NOT willing to compromise on:
- A window (believe it or not, some don’t offer them and for very low prices).
- A window that OPENS (some do not = INSANE).
- A hotel that accepts deliveries such as goodie bags from friends and Uber eats (some do not, can not due to staff issues).
- Smoke-free (smoking rules aren’t as progressive as they are in the states, so smoke-free is not always smoke-free if you know what I mean).
- A mini fridge (because we are going to need some happy hours to get through this).
We got a room at the Full Spring Hotel near our apartment for $125 USD/night. Quarantine isn’t cheap!
Next. Submit an application request to stay in same room. Rules were that everyone must quarantine separately, unless you have children under the age of 18 to care for. It made zero sense if you’ve already been traveling together, but Taiwan loves rules. One must acquire a “medical certificate” explaining the reason from your doctor. Fortunately… or unfortunately, I had already seen a Taiwanese doctor for anxiety and grief this year. She agreed that isolating is really tough and since this trip was for bereavement purposes she wrote it without hesitation. Then we waited, and hoped it would be accepted. We wouldn’t find out until we were in the USA.
PCR test (9/6 Monday)
Nose swab (aka brain swab). No one can leave Taiwan without a negative PCR test within 72 hours of your flight departure time, so off we went on that adventure. I think everyone will always remember their first covid nose swab.
Q TEAM PREP (9/7-8 Tuesday & Wednesday)
Activate the Quarantine A-Team: Michael & Michelle. Michael is a full-time Nike driver (25+ years!) and has been assigned to us since we got here 6 years ago. His main job is to get Scott safely to 1 of his 3 job locations during the work week. He also supports us during the week for anything that requires wheels. He is the best. Michelle is a wonderful sister-like friend, who lives 13 floors above us (also from PDX). These two plus Mike, Mary, Kathleen, Kerry, Sandy, Christine, and John made quarantine 1,000 times nicer in a bunch of creative ways. THANK YOU!
Aside from packing for Montana, we were also packing for quarantine. We made “go bags” that Michael and Michelle could help deliver to our hotel before we landed. Items such as: towels (due to covid, the hotel we booked was only offering large paper towels), a bike trainer for Scott, a bike, yoga mats, yoga ball, jump rope, weights, dishes, non-perishable foods, coffee, tea, wine, beer, lounge wear, drying rack (no laundry service), puzzles, ukulele, playing cards, binoculars, and a zillion other misc. items – as if we’re toddlers going on a long road trip.
Final Touches (9/8 Wednesday)
- Ask hotel if they can remove 1 bed, so we can have room for two desks and exercising. CONFIRMED!
- Does the window really open? YES!
- Get PCR test results. YES & NEGATIVE!
- Stock up on medical masks for us and family in the USA. CHECK!
- We spent these past 4 nights sleepless and debating if traveling was a smart idea, so we were a little frazzled by his time. BREATHE!
Go Time (9/9 Thursday)
After 2 years, it was a brand-new experience to be back in an international airport. It was eerily quiet, as most airplanes leaving Taiwan were cargo only. Water fountains were turned off to prevent viral spread, and very few options for food. Everything was beyond sparkling clean and disinfected, So Taiwan!
We flew United and splurged for Premium Plus. We had more than 6 feet of space between us and other passengers, which made everyone very comfortable. In fact, the plane was rather empty, so even coach passengers had entire rows to themselves!
This was the safest flight we’d take the entire trip because everyone had to test negative to fly. In 13 hours, we’d land in an alternate universe called Montana, a good ol’ hot spot (which remained a hot spot well into November when we finished this blog post).
We spent 9 days in Montana for my dad’s memorial celebration which you can read about in this blog post, Jack’s Celebration or carry on to this exciting part…
A Second PCR Test
To get back to Taiwan (and South Korea for Tatiana & Joe), we needed to prove a negative covid test within 72 hours of flying, again. This proved to be a little more challenging than in Taiwan, but we found a hospital in Bozeman that satisfied Taiwan’s rules and charged a small fortune of $150/pp. These test results were the cause of general underlying anxiety the entire time we were in the USA. If we tested positive, we would have to cancel our flights until we could test negative, and you know… we’d have covid. We’re all vaccinated, wore masks just about the entire 9 days (even inside our house), did not enter any public stores or restaurants, ate meals in our yard as much as possible, minimized contact with people we didn’t know (potentially unvaccinated), and only hugged each other. It made for a strange trip, but the stakes were high to behave any other way. Montana was EXPLODING with covid cases during our stay, and with “no-mask” mandates in place it didn’t surprise us.
Return to Asia (9/20 Monday)
Two domestic flights (BZN to DEN to SFO). These were dreaded and dreadful. No social distancing at airports. Airline employees pulled their masks down to talk to us. Masks worn below the nose. No one enforcing anything. No proof of vaccine or negative covid test required. Bars and restaurants open as if there was never a pandemic. Beverage service on both flights, which were both under 2 hours. Mind-boggling. We did not remove our masks to eat or drink until we got on our international flight.
Arrival in Taiwan (9/20 still Monday)
SAFE! Once we landed back in Taiwan, it dawned on us just how not safe we felt in the USA. The two cultures we bridge are stark polar opposites, and we didn’t adjust to it in only 9 days. We know we will at some point, but for a short trip it was jarring.
The virus isn’t politicized in Asia like it is in the USA. There’s unity on public health measures, including vaccines; everyone behaves in a way that is seen to benefit the whole of society, and there is no conflict about it. This “way” is something we didn’t know was possible or even existed while we lived in the USA. Living abroad exposed us to so many new ways of thinking.
Upon landing, every person is greeted by a “helper” who waits for your cell phone to receive a text message from the CDC. Because we had to arrange and prove our quarantine hotel accommodations prior to leaving, the government was already looped in on our whereabouts. It’s pretty cool technology.
Aw shucks. The CECC Cares!
After immigration (which is a ghost town) and luggage pick-up, we proceeded to another queue for another covid test (saliva based) which was set up outside for fresh airflow. Our last test was 3 days ago in Montana, so if we did catch covid on those 2 domestic flights, Taiwan wants to know.
After spitting, we got stickered and shuffled along to the taxi zone. Assuming we passed the saliva test?
Taxi Time (9/20 still Monday, 8 pm)
Spray & Go! Everyone must take a sanctioned quarantine approved vehicle to their hotel (bus or taxi). Drivers receive subsidies from the government for doing this job, so pricing is set for passengers and very reasonable for our 2-hour ride to Taichung. The airport has taxis queued up and waiting. No friends/family are permitted to pick-up or even enter this area. Each taxi driver gets out of their taxi and sprays their customers down with 70% alcohol, head to toe, including luggage and shoes. They place everything in the vehicle, check your government approved Q hotel address and off we go.
Quarantine Check-in (9/20 still freaking Monday)
We arrived at night and in retrospect that was a good thing because the hotel was run-down and dingy which was very apparent when we checked out 15 days later in daylight. On the bright side, there was a fake Christmas tree to greet us in the foyer because it’s always Christmas in Taiwan.
Take It Nice & Slow
The hotel was very quiet. We checked-in quickly, given our first meal in a to-go bag (rice curry) and told to escort ourselves to floor 6. We enter, close the door, too exhausted to unpack, and really what’s the rush? There will be NO RUSH TO DO ANYTHING FOR 15 DAYS.
Yep, 15 days. Taiwan doesn’t count anyone’s first day. This is a proper full 14 day isolation! Taiwan is very buttoned up on rules (unless it’s traffic or smoking). Pro-tip from Michelle: land late in the day, like we did so “Day 1” is short.
Welcome Kit Goodies
Party time! We got a local snack package (4 were quite yummy), fun red masks, a thermometer, & self antigen tests for day 10! All other meals and deliveries would be placed on this sad chair outside our door. The hotel staff would text us after a delivery was complete, minimizing contact. As you can imagine, working in a Q hotel is not a desirable job, yet the staff was always attentive and friendly.
2 weeks, 2 people, 1 room, 1 fire
On our second night our biggest quarantine fear occurred and it wasn’t getting covid, it was a fire alarm! We woke upp to this recording blaring above our bed, and everywhere else in the hotel.
Backstory: Two months prior, there was a quarantine hotel that killed 4 people. Because it’s a rule following culture, many were afraid to leave their room thinking they would be fined, because there are fines for breaking quarantine. It’s a tragic story.
“This is not how we’re gonna die, baby!” We darted out of that room so darn fast, Scott went bare-footed. As predicted, others on our floor were cautiously peeking their heads out their hotel doors as we ran down the hall, down 6 flights of stairs. We were the only ones going for it. It was a little sad that people were nervous to leave. We sat outside for at least 10-15 minutes until people trickled out. No hotel staff in sight to explain anything. Bizarre.
Four fire trucks showed up. It would be an hour until we were permitted to go back inside. Apparently, a smoker didn’t ventilate properly in this “non-smoking” hotel. After this incident, we made a “go station” by the hotel door of clothes, sneakers, face masks and a hotel key. This event made us feel nervy, which is a crummy underlying feeling when you’re stuck somewhere. On the bright side, we did get to leave our room for a short period!
As we settled in it reminded us of “camper van living” minus the amazing New Zealand views, delicious healthy foods, fresh air, and sunlight. We had a little kitchenette, a snack drawer, and a small sink to wash dishes and clothing in. Just like camping!
Every day, the CECC (Central Epidemic Command Center) texts every single person in quarantine to see how they are. You must reply with a 1, 2, or 3. However, if you press 2 or 3 an ambulance will arrive with sirens a blaring as truly happened to our friend who simply had a stuffy nose. That’s another story we don’t have time for, but it was one of the best Q stories in our circle.
In addition, each person is assigned a local officer who calls you each day to verbally check in with you. Ours was Officer Ken, a soft-spoken, sweet man who was assigned to everyone in our hotel. We looked forward to his call every day and one day he forgot to call us, so Scott called him. It gets lonely in Q.
Our phones had to be on the entire time so the CECC could confirm our location was at the Q hotel via GPS. A local officer will be knocking on your door within minutes to check on your safety if the GPS signal goes dark.
Day to Day
Our view looking exactly west and east. Pro-tip for future Q-ers. Don’t book a room that faces directly north because the lack of bright vitamin D is a real bummer.
If we squeezed our head out the window each evening we found we could catch some sunset beams!
And in the morning we found that the sun reflected off the metal air conditioners across the street, causing a beam of light to shoot into our room which lasted approximately 3 minutes. It’s the small things that brighten your day in here!
Visitors, Drop-offs, Uber Eats
One of the best highlights of being locked up is when friends visit, meaning they stand across the street and wave to you while we talk on the phone. The Family Mart became “the social spot” for such hellos. One of the first hellos was a bunch of girlfriends out on a bike ride ❤️ Huge mood lifter!
Goodie bags could be left in the hotel foyer and the staff would deliver them to our sad chair. As dingy as this hotel was, they staff was great and delivered items quickly.
Each quarantine booking comes with one meal set a day (1 breakfast, 1 lunch, and 1 dinner). These are VERY Taiwanese meals, which means NO coffee for breakfast. Only extremely sweetened cold soy, cold black tea, or cold mung bean showed up. We were VERY prepared with our own coffee and tea making supplies.
After a week, we asked if we could get the vegetarian option. No problem! Sadly, it wasn’t much of an improvement. Everything was equally overcooked, alongside a mysterious flat protein. Thankfully, we had Uber Eats at our fingertips. We craved anything fresh, especially fruit.
Move it, Move it
Michelle said late afternoons were the roughest, and she was right. We made a point to always start the day with something that resembled yoga and then around 4 pm do something cardio pumping. It helped.
Scott typically had work calls throughout the day, I had some freelance, and then we’d dawdle, eat, wash dishes, puzzle, work, work out, repeat.
Until the last 2 days, we only watched tv at night (impressive, huh?) Our line-up: Ted Lasso, Money Heist, The Morning Show, The Dirt (Motley Crew Movie), Jelle’s Marble Runs (thank you, Evan).
On day 10, the CECC makes you take a covid self-test, which they provided at check-in.
And on day 12 just one more test, another PCR. They changed the rules while we were here. They used to let you out for a “field trip” to a quarantine testing bus or hospital. Now, six, SIX! fully suited healthcare workers show up and stand exactly outside your door and jam a swab up your nose.
Almost Mission Impossible
Freedom (10/5 Tuesday)
Check-out was anti-climatic. At 12:01 am on your release date, you’re free to go. We didn’t want to screw up our sleep, so we left at 7 am. We simply walked out of our room and outside where Michael picked us up, along with ALL our stuff, which barely fit in the van. No one saw us leave or said a goodbye. Dropped the key on front desk. It was strange.
To our surprise, our release day was the hardest, both mentally and physically. We hadn’t seen the sun in 15 days and so seeing the sun for the first time triggered a wave of tears, as did seeing our bed at home. We realized we hadn’t allowed ourselves to think much about Montana or my dad while in quarantine because our brains are clever and protect us from overload, which is handy. Our brains were just trying to keep things on the up and up and get through the day to day. Once out, that protective guard drops a bit. It hit us hard. Physically, our bodies felt trashed from not moving normally. One word that perfectly describes it all is shell shock.
A couple perspectives that shifted for us during Q:
- Solitary confinement in prison is cruel and should be banned, everywhere. No human deserves to be isolated mentally and physically like that.
- Same for animals in cages at shelters, zoos, and even home for long periods of time. If you wouldn’t like it, they probably won’t either.
We had one more week of “self health management” which is simply staying away from crowds and continuing to press 1 to the daily text check-ins. After that, we were free to roam the island.
Love from the covid-free island of Taiwan,
Pickles & Passionfruit