By Melanie Ham
In this series, Shanghai Mamas features some of the amazing people within our community. You may have seen their names in WeChat and now you can learn a bit more about them and what makes them thrive in Shanghai.
Currently the process to enter China from overseas is very daunting, and easily overwhelming, with PU letter, special-issued visas, quarantines, and lots of QR codes to scan – it is truly a maze of changing regulations and evolving policies. Thankfully there is an amazing team of volunteers to help in the process, and Janette Seach, Nikki Malek, Bebe Jacobs and Ariel Lee have rightfully earned the title of ‘Patron Saints of New Arrivals’. We talked to Ariel Lee about her endless patience and deep commitment to supporting the international community as one of the admins of the various ‘Shanghai Arrivals’ and ‘QuaranTEAM’ group chats. We are in awe of how she can unflappably answer the same question so many times and maintain an encyclopedic knowledge of changing rules for anxious travelers to China…all while being a full-time mom to a very busy 18month old.
It was one of the first groups I found when moving to Shanghai from Singapore. It’s a great way to make friends and get connected to the mom community here. I love the way the Shanghai international community is so inclusive, friendly, open and diverse. It was so easy to find friends here.
I arrived on a rainy March 28 just as the border was closing. The process was a bit different then and we were taken to a big gym in Xuhui to be tested for the virus directly from the airport. We had to wait there for a really long time until the results came back and then we were delivered home.
Home quarantine with a very active toddler was not easy, but I found ideas for sensory bins for him to play with household items so he wouldn’t get too bored. He loved just normal things like the spatula, peeling stickers off the windows, and playing with spaghetti noodles.
While I was in quarantine, I got involved in the arrivals group that had originally been created by Bebe Jacobs, Nikki Malek, Janette Seach since it had so much useful info. I found I could help since the group really needed a Chinese reader to translate documents and help stay on top of the government document releases since everything was changing so fast. Now there are over 40 networked groups (based on region in China and country where travelers are stranded) that are run by dedicated volunteers.
All of the admins for the Arrivals groups in different regions in China have a WeChat group where we share info and cross-check sources. If someone has a unique case, we discuss and learn about the outcome together. Often times we have more updated information than the airlines and consulates around the world! There have been situations when we can send a traveler an official document that will allow them to board a flight when the check-in agent of the airline was blocking their reservation. It’s really an amazing knowledge collective we have on the process to travel to China in 2020.
I think it helps to come from a place of empathy and understanding. People don’t like to be annoying and lots of time they just joined the chat so don’t have access to the info that was posted earlier. I always say, ‘Don’t apologize- it’s the first time YOU have asked that question.’
To keep things organized, we created PDF documents of frequently asked questions, flow charts, photos of quarantine hotels, updated travel restrictions, quarantine packing guides, etc. (Boarding a Flight to China 20200917, Health Code Guide (In China) 20200917, StrandedOutsideChina & Arrival Groups 20200917, and SH Arrival & Quarantine Process V1 – Thanks to the QuaranTEAM group- Janette Seach, Nikki Malek, Bebe Jacobs, and Ariel Lee for creating and sharing these documents.) We also have the most comprehensively updated listing of all the quarantine hotels compiled by travelers sharing their personal experience. We update them as the process changes and more information becomes available.
Helping others is the big drive. I understand the anxiety and worry that everyone has when they have to go through the long difficult process to return to China. Starting with getting the PU Letter until you receive the quarantine clearance papers- it’s a lot of steps in the process in where things can be confused or misunderstood. It causes a lot of stress for people and we can help make it easier by giving them accurate and factual information, instead of horror stories and rumors. I have a few people that I have been helping one-to-one and it’s really rewarding to see them return and have their families reunited.
Get in contact with your Juweihui 居委会 prior to traveling if you hope to have home quarantine. You should let them know when you are traveling, ages of people in your family, where you are coming from, and flight info. They need to approve home quarantine in advance, and it requires a lot of resources on their side so they may not be able to do it. Some people assume the HR (Human Resources of the company) will take care of it, but it’s a lot easier for them to reject a third-party than a resident or landlord who directly makes the request since they don’t have the relationship with them. If the request is denied, don’t take it personally or feel that you aren’t important or cared about. There are a lot of complex reasons why home quarantine is rejected and it’s not because you have done anything wrong…but it definitely helps to have your landlord, property management committee (wu ye 物业), and neighborhood committee on your side to advocate on your behalf.
It’s really helpful to remember there are things in your control and things you can’t control— focus on what you can control! Travelers can’t control the quarantine hotel they are assigned and the length of their stay, but they can control what they pack. It’s best to prepare for the worst and how to make the best outcome if that happens.
A huge worry for parents is what if they get separated from their children if someone tests positive. Again, focus on what you can control and remember you are taking the risk to fly back, but you can protect yourself by wearing PPE and getting tested prior to the flight. For instance, when I made the trip, I had my son’s supplies separated into his own bag and detailed notes about his sleep schedule and feeding schedule so the nurses in the hospital could take over his care and I would know they had what he needed. It was hard to do, but it made me feel like I was prepared if the worst happened.
We always have room for more admins! For those looking for less of a time commitment, if you have the knowledge to answer a question in the group, please jump in with as much detail and facts as you can. There is so much hearsay and rumors that is not helpful- we want to get the positive stories out there about families being reunited and people making it back to their jobs in China. If there is a horror story or the worst-case scenario, get the facts first and details about how other people can prepare for that situation instead of indulging in speculation and gossip. We want to give reassurance and success stories.
In addition to being the patron saint for new arrivals, Ariel also has a gorgeous photography and travel blog that she has maintained since 2013. Check out her beautiful images and stories here.
Thank you to Janette, Nikki, Bebe & Ariel for sharing these helpful documents and for your hard work to support the community!