'Painful' watching normal life in NZ, Whanganui ex-pat in Hong Kong says

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A Whanganui expat in Hong Kong says Covid-19 means visiting his home country will be too difficult for the foreseeable future after almost 12 months away.

Jack Judd, a school teacher, has tried to get back to New Zealand four times since February but said the two-week isolations on either side and the cost tied to them made it not worth it.

"I've spent the last year thinking, 'Yeah it will fine, in six months it will be fine and we will be able to travel'," he said.

"There's no point even trying to predict when we will be able to travel. So I've basically stopped trying."

He admitted it was 'a bit painful' seeing social media accounts of people in New Zealand experiencing normal New Year celebrations compared to many other countries around the world.

"It absolutely killed me watching people at festivals and travelling around the country. That's what life was like ... it's just weird.

"Everything closed at 6pm here on New Year's. We were here 'til 6pm and everyone did a fake countdown. It was 5.59pm and we were counting down, it was so sad."

Judd who grew up in Whanganui and went to Whanganui High School, started his teacher training here before jetting off to England in 2013 for work.

After six years working in London, he and his partner Josie wanted a change and began looking at options. Hong Kong stood out as it was rich in job opportunities as well as being a major travel hub.

The two packed their bags and arrived in June 2019. The timing of their arrival couldn't have been much worse.

\At the time, the country was in major distress because of the recently proposed Extradition Bill, which would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

Hundreds of thousands of locals took to the streets in protest, causing physical and psychological damage to all involved.

"To be fair, we didn't realise the protests were going to be as bad as they were. The world media didn't pick up on it big time until it got really, really bad.

"We arrived and boom, it was like a war zone."

He said it was absolutely crazy looking back, as their apartment was situated in the middle of it all.

"The whole street was covered in bricks, debris. You couldn't even walk on the paths, because all of the protesters were taking all the bricks from the pavement as weapons. All night sirens are going, there is yelling and screaming."

While it was intimidating, Judd said, apart from a handful of occasions, he felt reasonably safe through the ordeal.

He noted the three times he and his partner Josie were shot at with tear gas by police on their way home.

"We walked down an alleyway and police turned around and start shooting tear gas in the alleyway we were in. That was the one time where I was just like, 'What the hell?'

"The locals were trying to help us and give us water to wash our eyes out; you are just so disorientated."

He estimated the protests varied in intensity and lasted around six months.

"Essentially a couple of months after that, Covid hit. We had November, December and January period which was normal. Then by the end of January, Covid hit us and China."

Judd, who is head of year at Hong Kong International School, said apart from a few weeks here and there, they had been working online for almost 12 months because of Covid restrictions.

"It was an absolute shambles to get around it. Our kids have loads of technology and helpers at home, so that was a positive.

"By now, we are pretty good at it. We teach the same contact hours as we do in school, it's full on. It's relatively effective besides the social side of things."

He said, unlike New Zealand and England, Hong Kong opted against lockdowns, instead implementing differing levels of restrictions.

"That's been going on for a year or so now. The government here can't shut everything down because it's one of the top economies of the world, so they just put huge restrictions on."

Restrictions include restaurants and bars not being open past 6pm, having to wear a mask wherever you go, and socialising is restricted to groups of two.

"Our life has been a mask for the last year as well. It sucks, it really sucks. Teaching with a mask on really sucks."

As well as the restrictions, temperatures are checked at every store.

"That's just a normal thing now, temperatures get checked everywhere. We check the kids' temperatures five times a day [when we were at school]."

Judd has tried to come back to New Zealand four times over the past year, but has acknowledged that it won't happen anytime soon.

"We came back for a wedding in February 2020 and then we got engaged with our family, which was great. We came back to Hong Kong and within the next week, everything locked down.

"It's just impossible with work. There is two-week quarantine in New Zealand and two-week quarantine in Hong Kong when I get back. I don't have a month to lose."

He said it was hard missing out on the Kiwi summer, Christmas with his family and friends' weddings.

"I was supposed to be a best man for a wedding in a month's time, but that obviously won't be happening."

Logan Tutty
Whanganui Chronicle 9/1/21

(*) Last Reviewed: January 10, 2021

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