On August 6, 2022 more than 80,000 tourists were stranded on the Chinese island, Sanya, also known as the Hawaii of China. The city shut down all transportation, including flights, trains, and even didis (Chinese Uber) as an effort to control the latest Covid 19 spread.
Sanya is or should I say was, a popular tourist destination for Chinese and foreign families in China, especially after 2020. With the difficulty of traveling outside of China, people all over China came to Sanya as a way to “escape”. Lounge on the beach with a coconut in hand during the day, and a seafood bbq in the evening.
The idea of a lockdown in Sanya never crossed anyone’s minds – despite the new pop up of cases.
People thought, oh it’s Sanya, we are fine. We are safe.
No. Big. Deal.
After all, its August 2022, the economy in china just took a huge hit with the 3 month lockdown in Shanghai – there is no way Sanya would ever lockdown.
Boy were we wrong.
Friday, August 5th, 2022
It’s still dark outside as I roll my suitcase across my apartment community to meet my didi driver. It was barely 5 am and I was heading to the airport. My flight was scheduled to depart for 7 am – now I don’t usually fly that early, but I wanted to get to the beach. I was only going for the weekend, I needed a mini last beach trip before I began my new job.
I had this gnawing feeling in my gut – like maybe I should back out. I did hear about some new covid cases popping up on the Island. But I pushed any worry out of my mind. It’s Sanya. There is nothing to worry about. All I wanted to do was lay by the pool and refresh my tan from my earlier beach trip at the beginning of the summer.
The didi arrived early. We loaded up my bag that only contained the beach essentials: sunblock, tanning oil, and a variety of swimsuits and cover ups. It was days later that I realized I hadn’t even bothered to pack a bra.
The airport was a breeze – one of the best things about an early flight. I checked in and was through airport security ordering my Starbucks breakfast within 30 minutes.
After I got my morning coffee I walked to my gate. It was pretty empty, which didn’t really concern me, after all this was a 7:00 am flight, and one thing I have learned about living in China, is that the Chinese are not early risers.
I think the point where I felt my gut gnawing at me again was when I was seated on the plane. It was a large plane. And I mean large. There could not have been more than 30 people flying that morning. We all had our own row and window seat. No one was seated in the middle sections of the plane.
I thought this was a bit unusual, but again it was 7:00 am.
We finally arrived, and having just been to Sanya in early July I already knew what to expect. I opened up my Hainan health code, filled out the necessary forms, grabbed my luggage and let someone in a hazmat suit swab my throat.
The usual. At least for China.
The second I stepped outside the heat beat on my skin and I was sweating in minutes as I waited for my driver. All I could think about was how fast I could change and get into the pool. It was barely 10:00 am but I was ready.
I checked in as usual, showed my recent 24 hour Covid test, and got an upgraded suite with a view of the harbor as opposed to the fire station outside.
After meeting up with my friend who had already been there for 2 days, I found a sunny spot by the pool.
Again, no concerns about what was happening in Sanya.
Things seemed pretty normal, with the exception of bars and restaurants being open. But I was like “eh, no worries, I am here for the pool anyways. I will survive”.
The Next Morning…
I should’ve have sensed something going on when I walked down to breakfast. I noticed quite a few people in the lobby with their luggage, ready to check out. Of course this isn’t not normal for a hotel, but it was feeling a bit empty already in the hotel.
After breakfast I changed for the pool but that was when I started seeing different messages on Wechat. I spoke to my friend and after I was finally added into a Sanya Wechat group, I realized that shit was about to hit the fan.
People were rushing to the airport, flights were being canceled and others were making plans to go to Haikou. I looked at my friend and was like what should we do?
We spoke to our agent who told us that our Monday morning flights were not canceled…yet.
Not so reassuring. We started looking at flights out of Haikou and how we could get there.
But by this time roads were already being closed off.
There was no leaving.
I laid by the pool, feeling uneasy and unsure.
I wasn’t stranded yet.
But I felt it coming.
With no where to go, my friend and I decided it was safer to just wait it out at our hotel.
It wasn’t much later that it was official, our flights for Monday morning were canceled.
We were told that after 7 days of testing, we would be able to leave.
Luckily the pool was still open.
The government made it so all hotels had to give guests a discount, 50% off our check in rate -which wasn’t a bad deal – but if you are going to make 80,000 plus tourists stay on the island – against their will – why are we paying at all?
August 7th, 2022
The pool closed.
And the rain started.
No literally – it rained. A lot. This was probably the worst time to even choose to come to the beach ( without covid).
My friend and decided to order some essentials: Snacks and Wine.
We also met 3 fellow expat couples who found refuge at the hotel. One family was also from Chengdu – what were the odds. One couple was from Shanghai, the other from Beijing.
Man – I feel for that Shanghai couple.
Can you imagine choosing to stay in China after a 3 month lockdown – no leaving your apartment- yes for 3 months, then come on a holiday to the beach only to be locked down again?
Yea I couldn’t either.
At this point I have to admit I was pretty calm considering the circumstances and that I hadn’t been on my anxiety meds all summer. Sure I was anxious and a bit panicky, but I was holding it together.
Each day started to blend together. Wake up, order breakfast, Covid test, go read by the pool. And vigorously scroll through the wechat messages looking for when we might be able to leave.
My travel agent was able to rebook our flights for the Thursday – August 11th. I was very doubtful we would be on them, and no surprise by Tuesday the flight was canceled.
At this point I started to break.
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