It’s good to be back in Mexico, where Corona is a beer, not a virus.
The Coronavirus, now officially renamed COVID-19 (I suppose so not to be confused with the beverage), has made a mess of my travel plans these last few weeks -- costing me some money -- while trying to make an orderly change in plans for a speedy exit from Southeast Asia.
I knew I’d be coming back to the U.S. in June, so when it became clear that the virus was nothing to trifle with, I hastened my plans to get back to the Americas.
In early January, before there was widespread notice of the Coronavirus, I was planning to fly to Singapore for a week or so, then take a long train trip north from there through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and mainland China. I was thinking of taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow and on to Europe. But the tricky logistics of getting the visas and reservations on relatively short notice gave me pause, and now I’m glad they did. Otherwise I could have found myself in a tough spot right now, like quarantined in China or somewhere else down the line.
I booked a flight instead to Singapore, which did not seem to be having problems at that point, and another flight to Hong Kong, where I had a friend I would have enjoyed seeing. I also booked a flight out of Hong Kong to Los Angeles.
Then I started reading news about quarantine centers being set up in Hong Kong and decided that wouldn’t be a good place to be. (I have another friend who was teaching English in Guangzhou, China, who left on vacation during a school break in mid-January and is now in limbo in Hong Kong, unable to get back into China to resume her work or even to pick up her stuff and get back out of China. Chances are now she’ll be quarantined wherever she goes when and if she does leave Hong Kong. She’s in a real pickle.)
Singapore Airlines let me cancel the Hong Kong flight reservation but charged me a “fee” of $130 on a flight that only cost $178.
American Airlines, however, refunded the entire amount of my Hong Kong-to-Los Angeles flight without question when I explained why I was canceling the trip. Thank you, American Airlines. That ticket cost nearly $800.
But the virus situation then started getting dicey in Singapore, so I tried to cancel those plans as well so I could head straight back to the Americas.
But Scoot Airlines wouldn’t budge, even though I appealed to their sense of humanity, goodwill, good health, and the exceptional conditions that were prevailing. The airlines' only reaction was essentially, “uh, nice try, Bud, but you have a non-refundable ticket.”
I also had a room reservation in Singapore and the hotel's response to my cancellation appeal was equally accommodating. Forget it.
So I stocked up on masks and hand sanitizer, and boarded the flight to the emerging hot spot, Singapore. The nine-hour haul was not pleasant, either, with people sneezing and sniffling like a waiting room in a free clinic. I wore a well-fitting, but not entirely comfortable, N95 mask the whole way.
After that 13-hour jaunt on the plane from Singapore to Mexico City on United Airlines, and a few more hours by plane to Culiacan, I finally made it to where I had made many friends early in my journey three years ago. Thank goodness, the virus has not been an issue here.
By way of travel notes, Scoot, a budget subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, doesn’t provide water as a courtesy to passengers on a 9-hour flight. That little luxury costs you EUR 1.40 for a measly 330 ml bottle, which is practically more plastic than water. You must also buy their inflight meals or go hungry. I expressed my concerns to no avail; a flight attendant advised me with a smile to take my complaint to the company. The fine print also says you can’t bring your own food on the plane. But on that one I admit to flouting the fine print with impunity. Screw the company.
I did find some vindication at the hotel in Singapore, however, when I found the room I’d booked to be woefully short of what had been advertised. I complained to the desk clerk with vigor, repeatedly, and was awarded a substantial upgrade that suited my expectations. Thank you, South East Asia Hotel -- not great, but responsive.
I had already decided to cut my brief Singapore itinerary short by a day in light of growing Coronavirus concerns, but packed quite a bit of enjoyment into two-and-a-half days.
Be prepared, however, if you decide to visit the city when this virus mess blows over, Singapore is expensive, one of the top 10 expensive cities in the world, I recently read. Quite a shock after all the budget destinations I'd become accustomed to.
But man, am I ever glad I canceled that Hong Kong trip. Singapore, though it had a few cases of virus victims, did not start to get really bad until after I left. So I got out of there in the nick of time.
Along the way I was questioned by immigration officials in Singapore, the U.S., and Mexico about whether I’d been to China recently. The U.S. guy even wanted to know if I’d ever been to China. Yeesh!
I’d been wanting to go to Singapore for a while, however, my desire resting on the island city-state’s reputation for fine art and modern architecture, and I was not disappointed even with the abbreviated stay.
So I’ll just post some photos of some of the sights seen, and let the pics do most of the talking while I enjoy my current stay in Culiacan, delighted so far to avoid being sick or quarantined.
Next stop, paradise, Hawaii!
NOTE: I was going to add the photos below but there were more than a few so I made a separate gallery, "Singapore," that's accessible under "More" in the pulldown menu above.
Quotes For A Good Life On The Road
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
-- Anthony Bourdain
Now see my complete collection of travel quotes online by clicking "Quotes For The Road" under "More" in the menu above.
Solas "Best Travel Writing" Awards
Saysha: What Happened?
13th Annual Solas Awards for Best Travel Writing
(Read it here)
'More About Me?
I'm an award-winning travel writer and retired journalist from Hawaii who tired quickly of retirement and hit the road as a slow, solo world traveler in August 2016. I've spent time in 20 countries on four continents. Currently I'm in sunny Merida, Mexico, waiting out developments in the coronavirus crisis before moving on. Meanwhile, learn more about me and my travels at Nomadic Matt, and Expat Focus, and in a great story by veteran Borneo newsman and prolific author James Ritchie about our meeting in Kuching, Malaysia, A Confluence of Adventure Writers .
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