Before the plane landed at Shanghai Pudong International airport, we were all instructed to stay in our seats after we arrived at the gate. The ground crew would tell us when to deplane and in what order. We had to keep our customs health QR code ready for inspection. That was the code we got at the airport by filling out the http://health.customsapp.com/ form, not the health code that we got from the consulate. This wouldn’t be the last form I had to fill out or the last QR code I’d receive that day.
Not too long after we arrived at the gate, business class was told to deplane. I picked up my roller bag & backpack and exited the plane as you normally do. The folks at the gate were all in full PPE suits and didn’t really care about the QR code that was on my phone. My first impression was that this was more for show, but I was very wrong about that.
Walking through the terminal I noticed how quiet things were. Typically, the Shanghai airport is buzzing with people but not this time. At the end of the terminal, we arrived at a check point where you had to scan your QR code. You were then directed to a long row of small desks (mine was 31) where folks interviewed you about your health form. Of course, all the airport employees were in full PPE the whole time. Suit, masks, face guard, the works.
During the interview they asked to see my vaccination record and also my tests records. I only had electronic copies of the test documents, so I had to show them on my computer, but they were ok with that. Apparently, in my confusion at the airport I had selected that I had not received the tests. I was surprised I did that, and I could have sworn I selected the right answers. Perhaps it was reset when I was dealing with fixing the Chinese error messages, so make sure you check the form before you hit submit. It wasn’t a big deal though; the official fixed the answers for me.
The next step was to get a COVID test, the nasal swap version. Walking to the testing center was challenging with my heavy luggage. You had to descend many stairs along the way. At the testing center I was again assigned one of the many booths and there a nurse in full PPE stuck a nasal swap far up my nostril. She pulled it out, looked at the swap, wasn’t quite content with what she had collected, and up again it went. I had to control the urge not to sneeze right into her face. She also took two throat swaps and then sent me on my way.
Following the same path up, this time with working escalators, I went on to immigration. Before I arrived at immigration there was another check to make sure you didn’t skip your COVID test. After that they let me into the immigration area. Immigration was very quiet unlike my previous arrivals in China where its typically a madhouse, and I passed without trouble. The immigration officer did want to know my Chinese phone number which was a first for me.
By the time I got to the luggage carousel my bag was already there. I picked it up and walked through the nothing to declare customs lane, scanned my bags, and I was surprised how smooth this all went. Less than an hour. Normally I do it within 30 minutes with my APEC pass, but given the circumstances an hour wasn’t bad at all.
The next step was to find my quarantine hotel. There is a common misconception that the government will assign you to a random hotel and that you have no choice in the matter. That is true if you didn’t select a hotel before your trip, but there is an option to select a hotel. I wasn’t aware of this either until a week before my departure when someone told me about it. I immediately asked my company’s China team, and they were able to book me into a 5-star quarantine hotel. The impression I got is that the government contracted a set of 1–5-star hotels that are retrofitted to handle quarantined travelers. Among this set you can preselect your quarantine hotel.
I got the hotel instructions from a colleague over WeChat, but they weren’t very precise. Follow to signs to Shanghai and find “Yangpu District/杨浦区” help desk. The staff at the help desk will lead you to the shuttle for Wyndham hotel. Before I even saw a sign to Shanghai, I ran into another check point and you guessed it, I had to fill out another online form. Mind you, all these forms have the same information in them: Name, ID type, ID number, contact info in china, nationality, etc. Each one of them is from a different authority. It would be nice if they’d integrated their systems. Once I submitted the form I got another QR code, and I could proceed.
Further down the hallway I did find the signs pointing to Shanghai and eventually I found the helpdesk. The police officer behind the desk spoke very little English which was a bit problematic later on. At this point though she asked for my passport and QR code. She was processing this for minutes and I got a bit worried that I would end up at a different place. I tried to ask her what was going on and all she said in heavily Chinese accented English: “I know who you are”. That sounded sinister enough to me, and I decided to call my Chinese colleague to help with the translation. It turned out I was already in the system and all I had to do was sit on the bench and wait for the shuttle to show up. It was going to arrive soon. At this point it was 8:30pm.
Two more people joined that needed to go to different hotels but that were on the same shuttle route as my hotel. Still no shuttle though. At 9pm I asked the police officer when the shuttle was coming, and I got the answer between 10-11pm. I sighed and returned to my seat and waited for an hour while WeChatting and IMing folks around the world that I had arrived in Shanghai. At 10pm, no bus. At 11pm still no bus. I asked the official again. The bus was now coming at midnight. You guessed it, at midnight no bus. Around 12:30am, the two other travelers and I were getting restless and started to complain. At that point they told us, the bus is coming and we will take you downstairs. Before they could do that, they had to scan our QR codes again and then we waited for the bus to arrive. Another 25 minutes or so.
It turned out that they were waiting for another delayed flight to come in so that they could pick up those passengers as well. All in all, I was dropped off at my hotel around 2:30am on Sunday morning. A friend of mine on the same flight, who had a hotel assigned to him by the government, and left much earlier than I did, told me the next day that the wait was well worth it after I sent him some pictures of my hotel.
The arrival at the hotel was surreal. I was led into the poorly lit back service entrance next to the freight elevator. Remember, everyone is still in full PPE. There they asked me to pay 80元 for a COVID test. I’m still not sure which one but I think it was the one at the airport. To pay this fee they just pointed to a WeChat QR code. I told you WeChat was indispensable here. Once I paid the fee, they pointed me to another QR code and that was their contact information on WeChat. Any request I had, for the room, medical issues, etc. they all needed to be asked through WeChat. They then made me sign a form that I promised that I will pay the 7000元 at the end of my stay. With that out of the way I was given the room number, 1903, and an access card and I was pointed towards the service elevator. I went up by myself, found my room, quickly unpacked some basic things and around 3am I was asleep. This had been a long day.