Day 1: Beginnings
Chinese New Year is a wonderful lunar based holiday that allows our family to travel within Asia. We are currently living in China and most Chinese work hard to go to their family homes for this holiday. This means that internal travel in China is expensive, booked up for weeks and not appealing for those that don’t aspire to be on overcrowded public transport. This year we chose to go to Japan and ski. We have lived in Japan previously and love returning to visit friends and familiar places that evoke a lot of memories and stories.
We travelled as light as possible, knowing that we had to carry everything between the five of us between planes, trains, buses and on foot to our lodgings at Nozawa Onsen. We were fortunate to have our very good friends from Australia join with us, so we planned for skiing, snow boarding, cooking together and enjoying lots of games, chats and onsens in the evenings. Bliss!
Having done this travel to Japan for skiing before, we were super organised and only packed essentials. Did I need to take my work computer with me for 6 days of snow time? No. Do my children need multiple pairs of pants and t-shirts? No. Our apartment had a washing machine. Did I need to bring my Australian wallet? No, we were in Japan, I needed my Japanese currency and ID. Do I need to bring my work diary? No. We needed to save space, weight and I really wanted to have a break from work. Did I need to empty out our fridge? No! We’d be back in 7 days, we could keep most things in that time ready to eat the following weekend. Did I need to bring in our bikes? plants? No. We weren’t away very long and our amazing house keeper was on hand to assist if we needed to. Should we turn off the hot water heaters? No. Last time we had a lot of issues reheating the house – better for all if we just turn it down a little and keep the house warm for our return in 6 days.
Pack up. Passports. Credit Cards. Essentials. Let’s go.
Ski. Ski. Ski. Snowboard. Snowboard. Eat. Eat. Eat. Onsen. Laughing – all good. (I learnt to snowboard – and I loved it – so good to do something for the first time)
On scanning news and generally paying attention, we were noticing that things were getting interesting and potentially scary in China. The Coronavirus had started drawing a lot of attention. A phone call to our return flight provider and a young man assured me that our flight was on time and on scheule. We packed up, farewelled our friends, and bussed to the train station. Tickets bought, coffees at the ready but then Google Flights alerted us to our flight being first delayed and then cancelled. Another phone call and a different but equally positive young man told me that the flight had been cancelled and that the next available flight was not for 10 days. We discussed our options and decided to return to our apartment with our friends, we had one more night paid for, Japan is expensive!
We made phone calls, got onto emails and texts from our school/work in Beijing, and after some reflective conversations and phone calls, we booked to fly to Canberra, Australia where family could have us until we could work out what to do next. We could not get a flight to Beijing and we couldn’t stay in Japan.
We arrived in Canberra on Feb 4th 2020. It was 40 degrees and we were in our Ski gear holding helmets, snow shoes and with only the essentials. We were lovingly picked up by my parents who had already been out to buy some summer pyjamas and to help us with the shock and gravity of our arrangements. We borrowed stuff from everyone who would share it with us – computers, bikes, clothes, shoes, toys, games and more. We assured them it was temporary and we really thought it would be.
We were so very niaive. I wish that I had thought more about this when we arrived and had taken the time to go slowly with our family but life was untouched in Australia and we only come here for holidays, so to be here in ‘usual’ school time was so very strange. It is the greatest gift to spend such quality and quantity of time with family and friends in Canberra but it is also a marathon of uncertainty and stress as we try to work out what is best for each of us and it changes sometimes on a daily basis.
We have been in Canberra for 11 weeks this week and our Summer plans (to come to Canberra for 5 weeks!) now look like they will just be an extension of our current elongated stay.
I am so very grateful to my parents and my brother and his family for being so supportive and generous to us. I am grateful to our school for providing us with guidance and clear focus on what is happening and what they know and don’t know as it changes very quickly. I am grateful to my children for being so fluid – I am not sure that they will realise how amazing they have been – to have not seen their friends for 12 weeks, not to have had school or sport or been in their homes with their things – amazing resilience and positivity. And I am grateful to my husband for being so calm, for living with my parents and with me and being eternally optimistic and upbeat and of course very funny.
I want to use my writing to be more positive during this challenge and to see the upside and opportunities in this current state of awful pain and suffering. I also want to remind myself that we can be resourceful, we are loved and can love in return and that this is a wonderful way to Pause and spend time with those we love the most.