Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) during Coronavirus Lockdown

As Malaysia goes into a period of lockdown from 18th March to 14th April, I will be publishing a new post on this blog everyday to keep all my friends back home company. This post is part of the #Lockdown series.

I am sorry about my absence in the last few days. Absence makes the heart grow fonder they say, so I surmised that if I am going to be here for as long as Malaysia is in lockdown – which by the way, has been extended from 31 March to 14 April (?!!?!?!) – I might as well be a little tactical… OK let’s not lie. What happened was I had been travelling and busy settling myself into life on GMT+8.

And if you haven’t already guessed, I am now in Malaysia.

I have been unpacking the 17-hour journey

30 minutes from my flat to Heathrow, 7 hours from Heathrow to Dubai, 3 hours of waiting and recovering from the headache I got from smelling all the candles at Bath and Body Works, 30 minutes of snacking on KFC and cucumber sticks, then boarding another 6.5-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur. If I didn’t die of corona, I could have died from travelling.

Some of my friends thought I was crazy. Aren’t you worried about contracting the virus at the airport or on the plane? What if YOU are a carrier? Why can’t you stay at home? Your home in London!

I can. I just didn’t want to.

I was anxious, I wasn’t thinking. So, as soon as I received the approval from work to work remotely from Malaysia, I booked the next flight out.

In hindsight, it was a terrible decision. It would have been better to ride it out alone, but any reasons in the world right now are good reasons to justify one’s irrational reaction to coronavirus.

What’s the label on your bag?

It’s easy to call someone selfish, mad, distressed, impulsive or all sorts of things at a time like this. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to what’s happening around us or stand on a moral high ground, imposing our opinions on others’ decisions, thinking what is good for the society must be right. The truth is, everyone is bound to react differently in such an unprecedented time because what is important to you may not be important to others.

I have friends who’d still go out for a run or to walk their dogs once a day to keep their sanity in check, but I suspect, mainly to keep their households functioning. I thought that’s a good thing because if one is happy, one is healthy. As long as they take precautionary steps and keep themselves at a distance from people, there really is nothing unacceptable. I also have friends who have been staying at home for the last two weeks and would only leave the house when it’s absolutely necessary.  Very disciplined and also very altruistic!  

I was chatting with Amber yesterday and she said how we feel now is akin to when we go through a break-up. Our body first experiences a shock and then we hop on the emotional roller coaster, feeling upset one day, angry the next, then confused, relieved and lonely. Sometimes, all at the same time. It’s understandable because all the plans and promises that we have been looking forward to have gone out the window and weekends are no longer the same. We are hurt. There’s uncertainty and we do not want to change. So we make irrational decisions and we dye our hair green. It’s a wonderful analogy I thought, except in the case of a break-up, you would feel like killing your ex; but in the case of corona, the virus kills you.

The Plane

The plane from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur was full of Malaysian students. The majority of the people onboard wore face masks and gloves. Some even had their lab goggles on. I asked what happened to classes and life in university, they say they now have to stream their lectures online and attend tutorials remotely. It was extremely disappointing, having paid an exorbitant amount of tuition fees to experience student life in the UK, but now have to learn from the bedroom that they had just left 6 months ago.

At the Airport

None of the shops at the airport was open.

Everybody had to go through a thermal scan where body temperature was taken before passing the Malaysian border. We were also asked to fill in two declaration forms to confirm that we have no symptoms and have not been in any high-risk countries, such as China or Italy, in the preceding 14 days.

With the forms in hand, I then joined a long queue of people and waited for a one-to-one briefing about self-isolation. (If I had corona and hadn’t contracted it on the plane, it would be at this bloody queue. So, thank you Malaysia.) Each table at the customs had a big bottle of hand-sanitiser in the colour of syrup bandung, chained to a leg of the table using nothing else but our iconic and indestructible orange rubber bands.

The queue moved quickly and about 3 minutes later, it was my turn. After asking where I have flown in from, the man insisted doing the briefing in Malay. He said, “You orang Malaysia ya, jadi faham Bahasa Melayu. Saya orang Malaysia juga, jadi saya tak nak cakap Inggeris.” You are Malaysian, aren’t you? So you must understand Malay. I am Malaysian too so I refused to speak English. Okay I thought, easy Tan Cheng Lock, we no speak England.

“Pertama, you kena quarantine selama empat belas hari. Tak boleh keluar jalan-jalan tau? Kalau kena tangkap, you kena masuk penjara dua tahun. Kita ada rekod kat sini jadi jangan cuba melanggar peraturan negara. Kedua, apabila jumpa ibu bapa, jangan peluk, jangan cium-cium eh. Virus ni sangat sirius, kita kena tahan diri….”, Firstly, you have to quarantine yourself for as long as 14 days. You can’t be out and about. If you get arrested, you will be put behind bars for as long as two years. We keep a record of all the arrivals at the customs (What surprise I didn’t know they do), so please don’t try to break the law. Secondly, when you see your parents, please do not hug nor kiss them. This is a serious virus, so we have to control ourselves. He finished the briefing with “thank you very much”. I replied, “Sama-sama”.

I changed into a fresh pair of clothes, soaked myself in sanitiser and left the very quiet airport.

With love x

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