Figure in a hotel room

Three weeks in a hotel room with a child

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See-Lai's Diary: Fearless volunteer makes the ultimate sacrifice

MY ALMOST 11 year-old nephew in Canada was fed up with the strict curfews, lockdowns and online learning of his community. So he packed his bags and flew all the way back to Hong Kong to be with his cousins, aunties and grandparents. So desperate was he to get to the comparative normality of Hong Kong, that he was willing to endure the full 21 days of quarantine. 

There was just one problem.

No hotel would accept an unaccompanied minor under the age of 14. That meant an adult would have to be found to join him.

Uh-oh. Would any sane person willingly subject themselves to 21 days of quarantine in a 400-square ft room with an 11 year-old? 

His mother? Nope. My sister was busy making a living in Canada and couldn’t bring her boy to Hong Kong. 

His Hong Kong relatives? No. The rest of us had jobs or better things to do than be stuck in the company of a child who would want to talk about memes, Minecraft and Among Us… 

All. Day. Long. For 21 days. 

Grandma? No. My mom had already endured her own three weeks of incarceration just before Chinese New Year and was not ready to do it again. 

Would no one take on this heroic duty? “I’ll do it,” said my dad, volunteering for the job. We watched with a mixture of admiration and horrified fascination as he arranged the hotel booking and submitted the papers necessary to act as guardian of an unaccompanied minor. 

‘While other male parents were wined and dined, Dad entered his lonely cell.’

Then the trial started.

We got frequent updates via Whatsapp on the progress and activities of the grandfather-grandson duo. 

The first day of their quarantine was Father’s Day Sunday. Talk about ultimate sacrifice. While other male parents were wined and dined, Dad entered his lonely cell.


LATER THAT WEEK, I dragged my eldest through the dark side of Hong Kong to drop off a care package at the hotel. It included a Father’s Day cake, which also doubled as a birthday cake for my nephew who was turning eleven. 

We arranged for a Whatsapp group call at 7pm so we could all sing Happy Birthday to our nephew who was still adjusting to Hong Kong time and had slept through most of the day. He still had another week of Zoom lessons with his Canadian classmates from 8.30pm until late at night.

At the beginning of the second week, my dad expressed concern for his grandson’s possible weight gain and decided to put him through a rigorous series of hotel-quarantine-friendly exercises. 

We received videos of the PE Curriculum in progress. For aerobics, there was a dance-off to weird Japanese anime-themed music. Basketball was played with hotel-supplied water bottles thrown into a cardboard box. Martial arts involved nunchucks fashioned from towels and the endless supply of water bottles and aimed at more water bottles for target practice.

Tie water bottles together to make nunchucks: grandpa teaches grandson

The nunchucks video had us in stitches over my dad’s creativity and energy. He is patient, resourceful, and constantly thinking of fun ways to motivate children. Those three weeks of quarantine were an adventure for my nephew. 

When picking them up from the hotel, I asked my dad if he would join us later for the Released-From-Prison celebration. 

But even the most patient man in the world had had enough. “I think I’ll go home and sleep,” he said. “This staying-in-a-hotel thing is exhausting.”


Lisa Ip Baczkowski is a teacher and mother of four in Hong Kong. See-Lai is local slang for an archetypal Hong Kong housewife


Main image shows person looking out of a hotel window by Eunice Stahl/ Unsplash

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