As soon as my check-in is over, I feel an incredible relief. I know that leaving Malaysia gets real now and I’m yet another step closer to starting afresh in a new country. All the pent up tension starts to slowly dissolve in the excitement of flying towards new beginnings. Fresh blood pumps into my veins and I can barely stand the weight. But there’s one more obstacle on my way to freedom – the quarantine. Enjoying the unusual solitude of the flight, I have absolutely no idea of what lies ahead of me. But I will soon discover that most of my imaginations are flawed. The quarantine will be a tough enemy for sure.
“This way madam,” a member of the airport staff ushers me to the appropriate lane with his right hand stretched and chest slightly bent forward indicating respect and appreciation. ‘How courteous,’ I think to myself as I keep walking through endless corridors being gently directed by several members of the airport staff. These gestures accentuate the amazing serendipity and excellent timing of my escape from the painfully stagnant Malaysia. It feels dangerously good. But the rigidness of the process quickly bursts my daydreaming balloon. “Your QR code, madam” wakes me up at another checkpoint and I realize that this really is not the best time for reflection on the fate’s amazing going.
I move as quickly as I can squeezing my phone tight in my fist as every twenty meters I need to keep showing the QR code from my health declaration form. About ten checkpoints and four hundred metres later I still don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I just keep walking, eagerly overtaking the slower fellow passengers. ‘It’s endless,’ I tell myself recalling my trip to Hong Kong a couple years back, admitting that if nothing else at least it’s a very efficient way of using the space of one of the largest airports I’ve probably ever been to. By the umpteenth checkpoint I already feel like dropping my bags. Numerous lifts of my heavy laptop and incessant showing or receiving some documents is taking its toll on my stamina. It’s mental, but to be fair I silently admire how meticulously all this is organised. All works like clockwork. By the end of the whole process, when I am finally assigned a chair number in a waiting area, I am both knackered and impressed. A feeling of victory floods my tired body.
Out of boredom I push myself to read the quarantine papers I received. It says there should be water and sandwiches. This is optimistic news but it also means going to the other side of the airport hall. While I’m hungry to kill I don’t want to risk it. The recent Malaysian bureaucratic mayhem I went through and the mere thought of the possible chaos that would follow if I lost my passport or credit card or any other important documents in this very situation prevents me from being unreasonably adventurous and trusting. Envy takes hold of me when I notice people coming back with hands full of sandwiches and happy faces. But carrying all the bags another inch is not an option. I choose hunger. ‘After all it can’t be that long before I get to the hotel,’ I convince myself keeping the optimism levels high.
As I reluctantly pick up the quarantine documents again and skim through mostly boring stuff a brutal sentence puts my reading to a screeching halt and leaves me with my mouth wide open. I stare at the ugly lines in a state of shock and the blood in my vessels stops. I read and reread the sentence and still can’t believe it. Once you are seated in the designated area, you will need to wait for the results of your test. This could take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. Do not move from your seat and be patient. I keep staring at the paper dumbfounded. ‘Sorry, what?’ I talk to myself but that’s all I can do. It’s time to use my adaptation skills.
The long wait is rewarded with a negative test result and I am finally ‘free’ to move on. I am ecstatic as my hotel is directly connected to the airport which saves me another leg of the trip. A long hot bath and a proper meal are at my fingertips but I still need to listen to the super important quarantine instructions and procedures. I don’t understand most of them as by this point my brain has switched off already. I pretend to be listening but in fact I’m only blankly nodding as the guy explains it all to me. Finally he gives me the green light to go to my room, handing a bag with late dinner to me. I rush to the elevator with the heavy trolley, press 5 and intend find my room as quickly as possible.
It’s amazing. As I race through the silent and obscure corridor pushing the trolley fiercely I reach the door of my room. It’s open ajar which slightly puzzles me as despite my involuntary ignorance during the check-in I do remember vaguely the guy at the reception giving me plenty of instructions on how to open the door with the hotel card and pay attention to the fact that the key can be used only once. I find it strange that the door is open as it’s against the strict instructions but I am too tired to question anything and consider this to be a lucky coincidence. ‘They just left the room open for me,’ I brush if off and violently push the door wide open sticking my huge trolley inside. I am ‘home’. Finally!
After dragging my monstrous luggage inside I haphazardly drop all the garments and sprint towards the bathroom. Frozen like an icicle from the long wait at the brutally air-conditioned airport I fancy a long, hot bath. But opening the bathroom door quickly wakes me up from the dream. I am just totally paralysed. An apocalypse I’ve never seen before startles me. Scanning the royally dirty and greasy floor that I am already clumsily touching with my feet, my eyes take me to the darkest doom of all my bathing life – the bathtub. It has a jaw-dropping effect on me and I let out a very loud sequence of the F word and its multiple variations. I come back to senses super quickly as I stare at the dirt. Returning to the room by huge leaps I ring the front desk. ‘Someone is going to get a roasting,’ I get my hopes really high as I stand naked by the phone, holding the receiver firmly. But it’s futile, at 4am nobody is there to pick up.
I reluctantly return to the bathroom, mentally preparing for possibly the worst shower of my life. Luckily there’s a non-slip mat so at least I don’t have to step in the dirt full force. I quickly rub shower gel on my tired body bending backwards my face facing the ceiling, trying hard not to look at the stinky brownish contents of the bathtub. My face produces a lot of grimaces resulting from the utmost disgust. 30 seconds later I vigorously jump out of the shower and etch this is my memory as the quickest and clumsiest rinse of my life. My vivid bathroom fantasy evaporated into the thin air and beaten like a dog I slip into bed, venturing into the land of dreams at once.
A forceful knock on my door pierces the stillness of my sleep but luckily doesn’t wake me up completely. I’m exhausted but conscious enough to understand that it must have been breakfast, briefly remembering the instructions about meal distribution from the late night check-in. I wake up at around 11am. Relatively rested my first thought goes to the messy bathroom and how difficult my two weeks will be. Going to the toilet or a mere brief glance at the whole dirty thing reminds me of a trip to Tolkien’s Mordor. Partially recalling the conversation with the front desk guy at night I understand how strict the quarantine rules are but I must give it a try regardless. I energetically pick up the phone.
“Ehm… Hello this is Sonia. Room 5185. I…,” I calm down, thinking of proper wording. “The bathroom in my room is truly disgusting. Sorry to be so expressive but I really didn’t expect this. It’s terrible. Could you help me please?” I try to sound as desperate and urgent as possible.
“Madam, could you give me your passport number please?” the guy on the other side of the receiver kindly responds. I feel it could lead somewhere.
Upon providing the 6-digit number, I continue the gentle negotiation.
“You know, it’s really very bad. It smells too. Could you please do something about it?” I appeal gently trained from the off-boarding in Malaysia.
“Madam, you are calling from room 5185, correct?” he confirms.
“Yes, that’s right” I reply annoyingly and start growing impatient as surely he must see the number of the room I am calling from on his machine.
“Unfortunately, we can’t do anything for you under the current stringent Covid-19 protocol, madam,” he replies.
“You can’t be serious?” I follow but not raising my voice yet. “Then why on earth did you give me this filthy room if you knew how dirty it is? How fair is this?” I continue, adding more cadence to my argumentation, trying to appeal on the emotional side of it.
“How can a young lady bear this for two weeks? Please understand!” I keep pushing.
“Perhaps, you would like to speak to the manager?” the receptionist kindly suggests.
“Oh, yes, of course. Thank you I eagerly agree as I fidget with the phone cable.
“Hello madam, this is the hotel manager, how may I help you?” he quickly takes over.
“Well, as I’ve explained already, I’d like to move to another room because I don’t think I should use this bathroom,” I continue with hope in my voice rising.
“You are calling from room 5185, is that correct?” I roll my eyes and can’t believe this is happening.
“Yes, but it has a disgusting bathroom sir I can’t stay here,” I try to ramp up the effort but it’s not very effective. The manager replies he will get back to me and I have a feeling I won’t hear from him again.
I feel weird and cheated. But I also hear this inner voice telling me that something doesn’t add up though I can’t put a finger on it. Just the usual instinct which often borders with paranoia so I’m a bit hesitant to trust it fully. I still sit on the bed, rewinding the phone call I just had and feel frustrated. ‘How come I can’t move? What’s this nonsense?’ my mind keeps buzzing with the manager’s words – ‘We can’t move you now as it’s against the quarantine rules’ resonates in my head and try to force the image of ugly showers and toilet visits out of my mind, gazing from the room window which I can’t open. I haven’t been here even for a full day and I already feel as this could be possibly the worst Hong Kong entré I could’ve imagined. ‘But at least I am Covid-free,’ I calm myself down. After the unsuccessful negotiation I suddenly remember the powerful morning knock on the door so I rush to get my breakfast, hoping it’ll take my mind off of the whole dirty bathroom story.
As I open the door I notice once again the weirdly sterile, uniform corridor with chairs covered in plastic and a picture of me ploughing through with the luggage just a few hours ago runs through my mind. When my gaze locks on the chair attached to my room, I suddenly feel how deep in the quarantine apocalypse I am falling. Instead of a hearty breakfast all I see is a small plastic bag containing two tiny apples. “They can’t be serious!!!” I scream as I violently smash the door. I throw the apples on the table angrily and can feel blood running into my face. I am getting seriously pissed off. So not only do I need to practice medieval age showers but I am also on a forced diet now. “This must be a joke! What is this madhouse?” I shout in the room trying to release the bad energy cursing like a sailor which aggravates with every gaze at the tiny plastic bag containing the apples.
When suddenly this ‘something is off’ feeling comes back. I sit on the bed again, look around the room and notice a piece of paper stapled to the plastic bag with the apples. I try to focus on it. I says 5085 – my room number. A minute passes as I gaze at the white paper when suddenly I exclaim “Jesus Christ!” and the penny drops. A heavy one. The sound is debilitating. As if hypnotised I run towards the door and open it as wide as possible. I stick my head outside, regulations or not, look at the number and it reads a shocking 5085 too. ‘Damn,’ I scream on the inside as I return to the room to look for the key card recalling the whole messy check-in experience. By the time I violently pull the key card out of my pouch I already know what’s happened. Firmly holding it in my hands before my eyes I notice a huge, loud 5185 on it as if it was carved. “Jesus Christ, Maria, bloody marry, holly moly, holy mishmash, what the hell” I exclaim as it finally hits me. “Boom, boom, boom I am in a different room!!!”
Still in a state of shock from this brutal revelation and incredible detective work on my part, I grab the receiver and prepare words. ‘This time I am moving to 5185,’ I encourage myself.
“Hello,” I start energetically. “This is Sonia again. I am calling from 5085.” I enunciate the numbers as if it was a holy grail. “Listen to me carefully please,” I appeal on the woman. “I am in a wrong room!” I continue fiercely. “Please move me to 5185 because I don’t think I can stay here.” I finish as I catch my breath.
“Madam, sorry what did you say?” the receptionist I talk to this time tries to understand.
“I’m saying that am in a wrong room. 5085 is not my room. I am supposed to be in 5185. Your manager knows. Please move me,” I collect all my powers to remain calm.
“Madam, but… Oh my Gooood!” the receptionist finally wakes up. I can feel the panic at the end of the receiver. This is clearly an unexpected problem. She tries to suggest they clean the bathroom for me but after a couple minutes calling me back and forth she luckily explains that I indeed can’t stay in 5085. Even the hotel management understands that the bathroom is hardcore. “Madam, please pack and we’ll come to move you in 15 minutes. Please take everything and make sure you leave no possessions behind”
I nod and agree with everything she says and spring energetically to make sure I do as she says. ‘Finally a victory’ I pat myself on the shoulder silently as I collect the few unpacked belongings and quickly put them back into my luggage in no specific order. ‘Oh God. I won!’ I repeat in my head as I happily pack it all.
When I am finally in 5185 I feel like a giddy girl who’s never been on holiday before. I repeat yesterday’s drill with the luggage in my new room and eagerly check my bathroom. Spotlessly clean. I get undressed impatiently and finally indulge in a long, hot bath. I feel like a Goddess. I can’t go anywhere but the bathroom victory fills me with such joy that can certainly last for more than two weeks!
It’s going to be tough but a clean bathroom means I can handle anything. From that point many fierce knocks on the door follow, announcing regular arrivals of bland food served in plastic. Days go by and I feel lucky that I took those tiny apples with me as they are probably the only fruit I manage to eat during the whole harsh two weeks of imprisonment. Quarantine rules, Covid tests, work in between, heaps of plastic waste, routine, madness, tension. Rinse and repeat. Occasional occurrences out of the norm are welcome. One day around noon I hear someone trying to get into my room. I immediately suspect what’s going on and rush to the rescue. Once I open I see a tired and ultimately confused elderly woman. ‘Quarantine madness doesn’t spare anyone,’ I think to myself. I smile compassionately at the woman and point at her hotel card and my room number hoping this will help her notice the mistake she’s about the make. Nodding in a sign of relief and understanding, the woman turns around and sets to find the proper room number. I certainly hope that she won’t fall into the same trap as me and will enjoy a nice hot bath right from the start.