Taiwan Quarantine – Day 14


Peace out.


In a way, it was rather anticlimactic. I already knew the odds of testing positive was extremely low. The whole system would be upended otherwise. But I didn’t even get official test results. I reported my temperature and lack of symptoms in the morning and the Taichung official said he did not yet receive the test results, which he had expected to be uploaded overnight. I suspect he must have been out of the office because he said if the test results are positive, I will hear directly from the Taichung police. 😶 (Wouldn’t that be you, sir?) But if I don’t hear anything, then my quarantine is officially over at midnight.

Given the state of disorganization at the hospital, my parents and I were not surprised back the lack of prompt results. My parents at least got a courtesy phone call later in the afternoon to formally be told that their results came back negative and their quarantine would be lifted at midnight tonight.

On the other hand, as dissatisfying as it was to not formally be told my result came free and clear, I suspect the opposite would have been the case had any of us tested positive. They would have sent the entire decon team, with police and ambulance vehicles swarming out front gate, everyone quadruple layered with PPE, Ghostbuster style. So, no news was good news indeed.

Next week is “self monitoring” week. We will continue to get the automated text messages we’ve received daily at 10, asking us to report our health status. But I think that is the extent of interaction unless symptoms arise. During this time, we are discouraged to go to public places, crowded events, and prohibited from having any non-emergency medical appointments or procedures (many Taiwanese return from overseas for medical care because they have universal health care). But what the definition of “public” means is very open to interpretation.

Some final thoughts:

I am extremely fortunate. I had the 7+7 option, a hotel room with a treadmill, and a large residence to roam. I had my parents going through the process the same time to compare notes and rely on their assistance when language was a barrier. I have a strong Auntie (and Uncle) network. It could have been a lot more unbearable. I went in expecting much worse, setting the bar low. That mentally allowed me to brace for more, which helped me treat the whole thing more as an adventure and maintain a sense of humor.

Taiwan’s quarantine process is heavy handed but, at a personal level, people are quite nice and not really that over the top. Yes, we had police show up, but they were acting in response to their monitoring system alerts. As long as we don’t try to bypass or change process, they had been generally understanding and reasonable. They just had a job to do.

Taiwan is unprepared for the influx coming in for the holidays. Their systems were in place, but the nuances like manpower and taxis have some catching up to do. Lunar New Year falls on 1 Feb, 2022. So they have to expect that larger volume of arrivals to continue growing for two more weeks. Because of these limited resources, I suspect those of us in the 3rd week will quickly drop off their radar as long as no one contracts a positive case during weeks 2 and 3.

Their focus is on catching what they call “imported” cases, basically arrivals like us. I think they’ve had only one domestic case since the fall, and that case was a lab infection, where they were testing and researching covid samples. They’ve made a point of differentiating imported cases to imply that domestically, Taiwan has it under control. And it’s working, both in terms of PR and in terms of catching the cases of delta and omicron upon arrival the last couple weeks.

It does rather feel like Taiwan’s “zero covid” approach led to a bubble where they treat any outsider like an infectious threat, even at the layman level. The way passersby avoided us and the way hotel staff decked themselves up with PPE, any introduction of outsiders was treated with extreme suspicion and extreme caution. Our relatives and friends were totally unsympathetic to any complaint of how heavy handed the quarantine was. The irony is Taiwan was slow to vaccinate, a combination of complacency in not feeling the need and limited availability of shots. Taiwan’s economy is doing relatively well as tourism isn’t a major industry and any loss was likely compensated by the growth of domestic tourism since people are disinclined to leave Taiwan and deal with quarantine coming back. So there is no motivation to scale back from their zero covid approach. It has led to some family separations, many of which are coming to an end with the 7+7(+7) option.

There is something to be said about this bubble, though. Right now, back home, omicron is surging and stampeding through. Here, as I walk out tomorrow, appropriately masked up, I’m not even thinking about the risk of covid. This is the least worried I’ve been about it since 2019.

Taiwan Quarantine – Day 13

Last COVID test day!!

This PCR test’s result is what either releases me from quarantine the day after tomorrow or wreaks havoc and creates mass panic. The latter being mass panic because there would be a lot of explaining to do as to why I would test positive after having taken three negative results in the last 13 days while living in the strictest, extremely controlled environments.

My Taichung police contact is much more on top of providing information than was my experience in Taipei. In my morning health status report yesterday (did I mention I was to report my body temperature and any symptoms before noon to him daily?), he replied with testing details. 11 o’clock, a taxi will contact me to drive me there and that if I haven’t heard by this morning, to let him know. The taxi driver did call last night to reconfirm what time my appointment is and said he’ll call when he is outside, with no pick up time.

Quarantine taxis are in short supply at the moment. My late change for a direct trip from the hotel to the residence took over an hour to find a driver, late into the evening hours the night before. When I relayed to the Taichung officer my bafflement at a lack of pick up time, he explained that they had more testing appointments than they had drivers. Being the first tranche of the holiday 7+7(+7) surge, we are pushing the system past capacity. Before the option was available, people were coming to Taiwan at a trickle pace.

Anti-epidemic taxis are assigned and highly regulated by the government. They are specific contracted taxi companies designated to handle all transportation of quarantined individuals around the island. Passengers cannot contact the company to request rides. All rides are ordered by the officials, which led to the long convoluted approval process for changing my hotel to residence transportation and panic from the confused taxi drivers thinking that I initiated the change myself. Violators caught trying to bypass process are fined heavily, with the fine levied not just on the company and passenger, but also the driver. So in addition to dealing with drivers who already consider us highly contagious specimens, they are even more fearful of punishment and likely loss of employment.

My parents and I were in different taxis, even though our test time was the same at the same hospital. Since we’re in two different systems, by this point, we knew better than to try to throw a monkey wrench and confuse everyone by asking for the same taxi. Taxis charged by the meter form pick up to drop off at the hospital, then return from hospital to the residence. I was pleasantly surprised that they did not charge for wait. My ride came up to be $525NT.

Leaving is always a novelty. And a chance for a glimpse of the town I’ve visited many times in my childhood. And be totally horrified at the sight of a large Charbucks presence. Boo.

Our testing location was the local hospital and they were not prepared. Unlike the cities of Taipei and Taichung, where they were more used to intake of larger quantities of quarantine processing, this small town was at complete disarray. They had a roster of at least 12-15 names, mine being very visible as the only one with English, and set up a general waiting area outside the ER entrance. Technically quarantine individuals were not supposed to mingle or come in contact with one another but no one was monitoring and if all of us showed up at the same time, we would have been packed into the small space. Dad’s name wasn’t even on the list even though both his police contact and the hospital had called him to confirm his appointment the night before.

A couple who arrived before me and I were the first ones there and after a 15 minute wait while the nurse gathered the testing materials, we were led around the building, weaving between passersby to the testing booths. After being within a few feet of each other and the public, they went through the trouble of putting us in these no-contact booths where we were completely separated from the nurse by a ceiling to floor plexiglass with arm-length rubber gloves attached to two cut outs so the nurse could handle the swab. I was handed the sealed testing tube and swab before going into the booth, where I opened each, handed each item to each hand of the nurse before she took the sample. I had to close the tube and insert it in a drop bag between the arms. I really wish I took a photo of that booth.

Because of Dad’s missing paperwork, my parents were stuck at the hospital for almost an hour while they sorted out the discrepancy.

OH! All three of us received the “you have left your quarantine. Return immediately!” texts when we left for the hospital. I ignored mine, thinking surely they knew they scheduled my test for that moment. My aunt living next door intercepted two police officers coming for my parents while they were gone. We know for sure they were looking for both Mom and Dad, not me, this time. 🤣

I later connected the dots: I had notified the Taichung officer I reported to when I had gotten picked up. I did not remember to let him know I got back (you’d think I’d remember by now but leaving quarantine is not a regular occurrence) but he did check in to make sure I was back.

My taxi driver was really chatty. Dad had come up to ask him whether the taxi waits while we get tested. When we drove off from the residence, the driver asked if Dad was my employer. I was a bit surprised and said, no, he is my father. Which seemed to confuse the driver even more. He asked if I was in Taiwan to work, to which I said no, I’m here for family. He got really curious, trying to figure out where I came from and what I was doing in the United States. I relayed the interaction to my mom later and she could not stop laughing.

Taiwan employs many Southeast Asian nursing assistants and caretakers. My own grandparents had Vietnamese and Indonesian caretakers. With my darker skin, botchy Mandarin, and foreign name, the driver had thought I was a caretaker. They were like the majority of foreigners the drivers probably had to interact with during quarantine in this rural area. His assumption was also probably confirmed by my dad walking up with a cane. 🤣🤣🤣

Also, check out his clever placement of the tissues 😂

Taiwan Quarantine – Day 12

I don’t have much quarantine-specific topics for today. We are nearing the end and are more or less on autopilot mode at this point. Yesterday’s restless seemed to have lasted late into the night as I couldn’t fall asleep. Dad made all day today an exercise of armchair diagnoses of why I was having problems sleeping. It was just *one* night. Yeesh.

For the most part, since our arrival 12 days ago, temperatures in Taiwan have been high 50s, low 60s (Fahrenheit). Since we’ve returned to my grandparents’ place, it has been blustery windy as well. Many of you may be thinking that’s a very comfortable climate. Nice cool dry temperatures. And for the most part, yes, it is very comfortable. During the daytime.

Central air is pretty unheard of in Taiwan. Maybe the new builds today would have them, but houses don’t come with built-in heat. At best, the wall air units can do either heat or cold air. Taiwan is hot hot hot in the summer and very warm for most of the year, so construction has largely been concrete with stone finishes, which helps keep interiors cooler. So I’ve actually been sleeping in 60 degree ambient temperatures in my drafty third floor corner bedroom.




There is an old rusty plug-in electrical radiator in the room that I refuse to use. It looks like a fire hazard more than anything. Three floors is a long jump down. My parents have a much more modern space heater so they’ve been cosy and toasty. Having my dogs snuggle up on me would have helped. I do miss them.

A good chunk of my steps comes from going up and down the stairs in this house. As quarantine restlessness settled in, I move around to different spaces a lot. One day I counted 17 round trip up and down the stairs, at least.

Finally, the dogs. 小黑 (translates to “Little Black” which I’ll just say “Blackie” because it’s easier) and 小黃 (translates to “Little Yellow” but I’ll call her “Brownie” because, yellow, really…) are both girls, indeterminate ages, at least 7 years, probably more for the Brownie.

小黑, Blackie, is my project this week. She is chubby, in a very unhealthy way. She is a Taiwanese hunting dog breed, normally very athletic and active. She clearly loves to explore, getting very excited each time I reached for the leash. How disappoint she got each time she realized we weren’t going out the gate, but just doing loops in the yard. A lot of loops. So many loops until she starts panting. Girl, we’re in this together and going to both get our steps in together.

Trying to play around with my fixed focal length lens. I am so used to having optical zoom options.

(Day 12 puzzle progress)

Taiwan Quarantine – Day 11

Not much to report. I’ve hit a wall today. Not a whole lot inspiring me today. SO close. But not yet.

I’m going to recap some finances.

Quarantine is expensive.

SIM Card: For tracking reasons that we all now know they do, we are required to have local SIM cards. They were sold at the airport, starting at $1000NT. My plan is 30 days unlimited data but prepaid minutes. So I’ve been stingy with my calls and utilizing Line when possible.

The hotel stay is out of your own pocket. And price ranges fluctuate wildly. Since Taiwan added the 7+7+7 option, the demand went up and the prices went up accordingly.

For the holiday season (Dec 2021 – Feb 2022), some ball park figures based on when we were searching for our quarantine hotels:

Class HotelPrice per night (in $NT)
4 star (International Chains)$6000-$8000
3 star $3500-$6000
2 star$2000-$3500
Government facility$2000

As of today, bank exchange rate is $1US = $27 NT. These rates assume single occupancy. Double occupancy rates are higher and approved on case-by-case basis. By the way, being the frequent traveler, I did ask about earning points. Most hotel chains will not give you points. 🤬 While not applicable to my case, hearing that irked me.

Quarantine hotel payment are made in advance of arrival. Cancellation policy varies by establishment. The hotel I had allowed cancellation up to 14 days before arrival. If you caught covid two days before departing for Taiwan, you would be SOL in the hotel payment, along with all other kinds of hurt.

Actual service is minimal, usually use daily trash pick up and meal deliveries. The bulk of their workload is cleaning between visitors and coordinating covid tests, but I would say significantly less manpower than a regularly services hotel stay with daily housekeeping. The hotel establishments are reaping in major profits by opting to be a quarantine facility. Their biggest risk is the disruption and deep cleaning that happens if they find out they have a positive case of covid.

One of my aunts also returned from overseas for the funeral and arrived three days before the 7+7+7 option and her rates were significantly (by as much as $1000/night) lower, but she stayed the full 14 day stay in the hotel room.

We were fortunate to have a residence in which we could continue the second phase of our quarantine at minimal cost. However, most families are not this fortunate or wealthy. In those cases, the quarantining individual has to stay in their room, not share a bathroom and eat separately while the local family members need to be vaccinated to stay in the same home. The local family members also need to each take two covid tests, out of pocket, during that week.

Meals during the hotel stay are included. Some 2 star hotels charge service fee to bring things up from the lobby if you order your own UberEats or additional food or grocery delivery. I know my breakfasts cost about $75NT each day. Lunches and dinners are likely $100-$150NT each.

At the residence, you are on your own if you are by yourself. You will be relying on family, friends, and delivery to provide you groceries and meals. If you know how to cook, you can definitely keep costs low by loading up on groceries and preparing your own meals. The good part about the residential stay is the kitchen. Even if you don’t cook, you have a fridge, prep space, and microwave.

At our arrival time, all covid tests except for the last PCR test are included. For individuals opting to do the 14-day hotel/facility quarantine, all tests are covered. Those of us on the 7+7+7 have to pay for our last covid test because they are being conducted at the local hospitals instead of the quarantine test bus.

It wasn’t the case during the summer of 2021 and earlier. Back then, arrivals had to pay for all their own tests, at least two PCR tests and one rapid antigen self-test. PCR tests cost about $3000-$3500 NT each and self-test kits currently cost about $400-$500 NT each. Who knows if the tests will revert back to being included, especially if they clamp down after the holiday season.

Taxi from the airport to a Taipei hotel cost me $1000 NT. The actual meter rate was $1600 NT due to rush hour traffic but that first taxi ride is capped at $1000 from the passenger, with the government paying the difference directly to the driver. I had to sign a meter receipt as his proof of meter.

Taxi from Taipei to Taichung cost me $6300. Had I taken the bus, it would be significantly cheaper, meter from Taipei hotel to Taipei bus station, then Taichung bus station to private residence.

For tomorrow’s final PCR test to hopefully officially free us from quarantine in two days, we will have to pay for our taxi meter to the hospital and back. Fortunately, as rural as I keep calling this place, our test site is only 15 minutes away.

Personal supplies:
My quarantine bag took some planning and was in addition to my normal packing. Fortunately in my case, my shopping for the bag was pretty minimal in terms of additional expenditures on top of things I already have around my home. The only purchases specifically for my trip are multi-vitamins and a replacement travel yoga mat. My previous one had a strong strange smell in the rubber material so I gifted it to a neighbor and bought another one for $30 US. The vitamins cost me around $25 US (multi and vitamin C, I brought both). Everything else – clothing, foam roller, disinfecting wipes, toilet paper, coffee press and ground, etc, I already have around the house.

We arrived on Dec 15. The day after our arrival, there was a cluster of delta cases identified in one of the hotels. Taiwan then added more controls and testing for all arrivals on Dec 16 and later, to which we have not yet been held. With omicron variant spreading rapidly and fast becoming the dominant strain in most countries, I would expect more reactionary measures and adjustments as Taiwan’s CECC catches more cases coming in the holiday surge.

Finally, quarantine is really three weeks long. Two weeks of true quarantine where you are isolated in a hotel or residence from the rest of the population. But there is also a third week called “self-monitoring,” details on which I’m still hazy. General basis is that we are not to go to crowded public places. In other words, two weeks of not being allow to go out, we will now not be allowed to go places. 😷 Will report more on this week 3 once I have better details.

Taiwan Quarantine – Day 10

GAH. I got the same “return to quarantine home immediately!” text at 7 in the morning. I was still in bed!! Turned out my Dad got TWO of those warnings today. Who’s in trouble now (if you missed yesterday’s, er, visitor)?! My parents keep talking about dead zones in the house. No, coverage is just fine. I speculated that they calculate the distance of the phones from the cell towers and because the cell towers are further apart in this rural area, the range of error in accuracy is higher. In a city, towers are so densely populated they can pinpoint location of phones with pretty good accuracy. Unlike his foreigner daughter, Dad didn’t get a visit from the police. Instead, they just called him and took his word that he is at home. 🙄

Me, I think I’ll just hang my phone outside.

Today is self-test day. We were provided self-test kits to take with us when we arrived at the airport. My Taichung police minder reminded me to take the test and report the results. He only needed me to text what result I got, no image or additional proof of test result. Other than this phone monitoring, there is a lot of faith in the honor system here.

My parents were assigned a single point of contact in the local police department. He checked with them daily, asking how they are feeling and if they had any questions. He didn’t ask for their test results. I don’t think he even reminded them to take it. They just seem more relaxed. I don’t see why not. By the time we’re allowed in the second stage of this quarantine, we have already been tested twice. Dad did ask about the text messages telling him he has violated quarantine and the police officer said to not worry about it. The local department is aware of the rural environment and knew that the cell towers were further apart, resulting with false alarms, confirming my speculation of what was setting off the alerts.

Enjoy this sunset view from upstairs.

(Day 10 progress on puzzle)

Taiwan Quarantine – Day 9

First order of business: bai bai (拜拜), an ancestor prayer/worship that is deeply seeded in Taiwanese culture. There are traditional times when people go to the temple to bai bai such as Ghost Month and Tomb Sweeping. Many Taiwanese practice what is a blend of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The gods in the temples can be tied to one or all three belief systems. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, is the veneration of ancestors. The belief of an afterlife and that one’s ancestors are looking down and over us. Many people have a small ancestor worship space in their homes, usually the highest level of the residence. As my grandmother now has joined the ranks of those passed, now that we are home, it’s our time to bai bai to her.

Updating my to-do list. My magazines are all read through and tossed. Now that I have some movement within a larger property, I want to play around with the macro lens I bought a year ago and never really put to good use.

The house has an old stairmaster. Not a treadmill but still a way to get my steps in. I’m still holding to the 15,000 steps. I was surpassing that number in the hotel but here I have real stairs. Three flights of stairs multiple times daily.

Our relatives left fully stocked fridges in the home. My grandmother was hoarder of food items and the practice continued even after she stopped cooking for us. Mom kicked into cooking mode automatically. As much as I could help out, cooking traditional Taiwanese food just wasn’t my forte so I stuck to cleaning up. Mom is always an amazing cook, self-taught but I rarely had the opportunity to eat her Taiwanese cooking. In the States, the food was adapted to what ingredients were available. Our relatives also left a staple of frozen local specialties like zhong-zi, Chinese sausage, and mantao. I will be eating well.

By now, I’ve dropped a lot of hints about the level of tracking the Taiwanese government put on the quarantined individuals. Bottom line, they are tracking our cellphone signal. Those of use who had foreign numbers had to buy a local SIM card upon landing and attach it to our pre-flight health registration. That registration had to be done before departing our country of origin and includes having to upload our vaccination record.

On Day 3, my phone battery died and I forgot to plug it in the charger before it shut down. Sure enough, by the time the phone was charging and powered back on, the hotel called me. The hotel receptionist called to say they were having trouble reaching my phone and I was momentarily confused. “The phone you are calling to right now?” He said they weren’t able to reach me via the hotel line, which never work since I checked in. With him on the cellphone line, I fiddled around with the cords and plugged the hotel phone back in to confirm receiving a dial tone. We were doing a back and forth dance about phones not being on when the 💡 went off in me. I asked if this was about the fact that my phone battery died just recently? I then heard a chorus of “Ooooh” which keyed me into the likelihood that the police were physically in the lobby talking to the hotel staff. Sure enough, I then heard the hotel receptionist relay my explanation. Oops. 🙈 I got a reminder to keep my phone on *and* charged.

Today, I got the same message I got when I was in the taxi leaving Taipei.. “you have left your residence. Return immediately!” and that left me scratching my head. Given my tendency to drop phones, I have left the phone on a side table in the living room all day, walking over regularly just to make sure I didn’t miss any messages or call. Otherwise the phone has not moved at all. I told myself we’re about to find out how the follow through works here in the countryside.

6:30pm, dogs were barking, the landline ringing. Dad picked up and I could tell there was confusion abound. They asked for my uncle, the registered owner of the home. My father explain he is said individual’s brother-in-law and after some back and forth and yelling on my hearing-loss father’s part, we realized someone was literally standing at the gate and calling from there.

Yup, they sent reinforcements in the form of a solo provincial police officer to check on me. And we didn’t even know how to open the industrial motorized gate. It was already dark so mom was fumbling around for the remote than fumbling around the buttons of the remote to try to open the gate. We must have been a sorry sight. I can’t imagine what was going through the police officer’s mind, overhearing us yelling loudly at each other and trying to talk over one another. If anything, it might have assured him there was no way we violated quarantine by leaving the residence since we clearly simply did not know how to open the gate, let alone go out.

The police officer was surprised to find not one but three of us in quarantine. We explained we had the house to ourselves, my uncle opting to stay in the city. He asked specifically for the status of a phone number. Surprise. It was mine. Dad looked at me and said either “You are in trouble!” or “you are trouble!” He probably meant both! 🤣

We said we never left the residence and my phone, along with person, was home the whole time. In any case, he was already dispatched to check on me so there was no point arguing why their monitoring system thinks I left the residence other than to tell him we were here as required.

No oops on my part! I did nothing wrong! Stupid phone and stupid monitoring system 😜