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  • Writer's pictureHannah

Stranded in Penang - Part 1

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

Emily, (my almost five year old daughter) and I said a tearful goodbye to the other half of our family on 10th January 2020 as we set off on our 3 week trip to Europe to see family and friends, especially our new niece/cousin: Isla. We were not aware of the recent discovery on 31 December or earlier by the late Chinese christian Doctor: Dr Li Wen Liang of the novel corona virus, (now called covid-19). Do pray for his now bereft young family, it's quite a shocking shame how the authorities initially reprimanded him for voicing warnings about the new virus but he faithfully carried on in his role and sadly passed away after catching it himself.

So while we were breathing in the crisp clean air of the Swedish countryside, enjoying sister company while cuddling baby Isla over Fika in cosy coffee shops, the boys in polluted Suzhou, (our China hometown), began to witness a rapid lock-down response to the outbreak of the new virus. Compared to the measures taken in Wuhan, the epicentre, Suzhou was not quite as strict but this usually buzzing city of around 10 million did begin to resemble a ghost town. Local authorities advised all schools to remain closed after the Chinese new year holiday for the forsee-able future. Businesses remained closed, all public gatherings including church services and organised runs were cancelled up until at least April, exits from the highway between Shanghai and Suzhou were closed with temperature checks for those in transit at various points along the road. Some larger stores did remain open, such as Decathlon and some supermarkets but customers were only allowed in once their temperature had been checked. When the boys', (I'll call them Mike and Gideon because those are their names), food deliveries were cancelled and they realised they weren't allowed to leave their compound without wearing a mask and holding a permission slip proving they lived there, they considered the time was ripe to get out while they still could. By the 29 January, Emily and I were in a dilemma as to whether to return on our pre-booked flight to Shanghai on 31 January or to stay in Europe until the the virus epidemic had blown over or to try to meet up with Mike and Gideon elsewhere. Desperately missing the boys and not having a home other than the uninviting, mouldy Suzhou one meant that the third option won the vote.

So, considering the world our not yet covid-19-ridden oyster, we looked into flights and possible locations to reunite. Although numerous airline companies had cancelled all flights into China for the next month or so, thankfully flights elsewhere did not seem to be badly affected. Due to a combination of factors, including distance, economy, attractiveness and having a friend willing to help, we decided upon Kuala Lumpur as a meeting spot and subsequently Penang Island as a base for the indefinite future. Mike, (another one), is originally from near there and is a friend of Mike, (my Mike) through trail running in Suzhou and helped us find accommodation. So we cancelled Emily's and my flight back to China and booked a flight to Kuala Lumpur from Copenhagen on 30 January. I was secretly, now not so secretly relieved at not having to fly Air China and fly Qatar Airways instead!

Stay tuned for part 2...

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