Quarantine On The Friendship Highway, Part II. The bed was damp. I was curled in a fetal position under the covers, trying to keep warm. The door creaked and I my eyes eased open. I had just woken up from my first sleep in medical quarantine in Tibet near the border with Nepal. I slid up in bed and looked agape as three creatures entered my room. Two men and woman stood in front of me. That were clad in cheap HAZMAT suits and were armed with thermometers. Their darks eyes peered at me and the lone woman silently outstretched her hand with the thermometer gripped in her gloved hand. “Nee hen mai (you are beautiful),” I offered, attempting to get a rise out of her. I clamped the thermometer firmly under my tongue. And locked eyes with my roommate Jessica. Jessica was the younger sister of my roommate from college. And through the magic of social media, I had assisted her in getting her trapped in this motel. She had posted on Facebook looking for advice on Nepal for her upcoming trip. We conversed and realized our trips overlapped to Nepal. I then convinced her to join me on this overland adventure to Lhasa.
The alleged medical worker grabbed the thermometer from my mouth, and I was soon to get a brief lesson in the metric system. The new number that mattered was 37 C, not 98.6 F. And this number was going to be drummed into my skull ad nauseam since our temperature was taken 5 times a day. I peered at the clipboard of the Yeti (we ended up referring to our medical caretakers as Yetis since we were located in the Himalayas and they were clad in white), and noted thankfully that my temperature had come in near 37 C. Any deviation from this number and I might be isolated in a hospital room for suspicion of H1N1.
No morning showers were to be taken since we were apportioned an hour of hot water a day. The crisp mountain air made everything chilly and our beds damp. My fellow travelers shuffled out of their rooms and we huddled in the lobby. The motel lobby was not going to win any design awards. A single couch and table anchored the sparse room. Chewy our guide entered the lobby and shared an update with us. Frustration was beginning to simmer. When were we going to be released? We wanted access to a phone and computer to reach out to family and friends. Chewy informed us the Italian woman on our bus who had been taken to the hospital with an elevated fever. The government was waiting for the test results. The groups’ collective feathers ruffled further. When will the test results come back? Chewy was a vapid vessel, and simply did not know anything. He offered that someone from the government would soon provide us with an update.
And then I realized we had an issue. And that issue was named Crazy Frenchie. I mentioned in Part I, in a group of this size there is always going to be one problem case. Crazy Frenchie was actually Polish. And looking back, I am not sure how we came up with her nickname. Well, I know how we came up with the crazy part of the name but not Frenchie part. She became aggressive, waving her finger within an inch of Chewy’s face, explaining to him, how China was breaking the Geneva Convention by illegally detaining us. Chewy stared back with dull cow eyes, not knowing how to respond. After 5 minutes, her verbal harangue petered out. I was to learn later that she was employed by a NGO, being sent to global hot spots like places like Afghanistan. Taliban, beware! You might have met your match: Crazy Frenchie is coming.
We started to fall into a routine centered on our three meals. The government graciously provided us with three squares a day which they liked to remind us of. Four local ladies would show up three times a day to provide us with food. I deduced that they worked at a local hotel or restaurant.
I noticed a glaring inconsistency with the locals we interacted with. The medical workers were protected by their HAZMAT suits and appeared to be legitimate if you negated the fact that they were wearing dress shoes. The food servers were wearing their normal clothes with the addition of a cartoon festooned face masks. And Chewy, our guide, was able to come and go as he wished and addressed us in his clothes sometimes without even a facemask.
(photo credit Mathias)
The girls slopped out the local delicacies onto cheap metal trays. Yes, it is fair to make the comparison, it felt like a prison movie. I am one of the least adventurous eaters and Chinese food is not one of my favorites. I picked at the rice, and simply poked at the other unrecognizable foods on my silver tray.
I decided to employ some old school American ingenuity. A bribe. Thirty minutes later I was drinking a coke and eating a tin of Pringles. Of course, sour cream and onion. I slipped one of the yetis some cash and was rewarded with this culinary treat.
I heard some laughs erupt from one of the rooms. I poked my head into Mathias’s room, a Dane. A handful of the group had gathered in his room to watch Weeds. Wow, I was impressed this shitty hotel had satellite TV. Not so quick, it appeared that the Danes might be even more ingenious then the Americans. Mathias had been lugging around some counterfeit DVDs of Weeds. And Mathias had also given some money to one of the Yetis, but to buy a DVD player so they could watch Season 1 through 3 of Weeds.
Time to watch Weeds! Where is the popcorn. (photo credit: Mathias)
I felt my competitive juices start to percolate, I didn’t want to be beat by this Dane’s ingenuity. In between temperature takings, I cornered one of the yetis with a stack of Renminbi. He slipped out the door and retuned with a case of Lhasa beer, ice cold.
I reasoned this was a perfect solution. This dingy motel felt like a dorm, hanging out with a group of my friends during the first couple of days of freshmen year. The only difference was there was no option to leave. I was now the cool kid with the fake ID that got a case a beer. I plopped down on the ornately festooned dragon couch in the lobby and motioned over to Shin Shin, PJ Pants, and Frenchy (not Crazy Frenchy, just Frenchy). It was late morning and we cracked open the first beers of the day. Nick names were already beginning to take form. Shin Shin was actually Sean, an engineer, from Australia. PJ Pants (who you might guess was very fond of wearing his PJs during the day) was a Dutchman who had been living in Nepal as a volunteer. And Frenchy (non-crazy), surprise, was from France.
Shin Shin, PJ Pants, Gaz, Frenchie (non-crazy version)
After several beers, the group transitioned to my room, where my roommate Jess was hanging out. Others were attracted to the cacophony and I was joined by Vlad, Alba, and Leonard. Vlad, a lawyer, and his wife Yuliya had joined the trip from Kiev. Alba was a free spirit from NYC. And Leonard, a Singaporean Navy man, who spoke Mandarin, and ended up being a great resource as a translator. We all traded stories as I quaffed the Tibetan beers at a rapid pace.
Jess, Leonard, Vlad, Shin Shin, Gaz, Alba (photo credit PJ Pants)
The yetis entered the room to take our temperatures. One of the yetis appeared to be admonishing me in a stern tone. Leonard informed me that the yeti advised me that I should stop drinking. The yeti was concerned that my heavy drinking might affect my temperature reading.
A surprise visit from the Yetis to take some temperatures
The day eventually came to an end. More slop, more temperature reading, more hanging out with my new friends. Everyone drifted off to their rooms, with dreams of being released the following day.
Quarantine On The Friendship Highway, Part II