When the COVID-19 pandemic first started, many found themselves suddenly stranded abroad. As borders began shutting down, Shine Hou, a Taiwanese national who had been working in the Maldives for five years, began searching for a way to return home.
Shine had journeyed to the Maldives for work five years ago and accepted a job as a Chinese-speaking receptionist at a resort. After getting her scuba diving license in the Philippines, she became a certified scuba diving coach and she has since spent the past five years working on different parts of the islands.
In an interview with The China Post and 4-Way Voice, Hou first listed two reasons she didn’t, and couldn’t, return to Taiwan when the outbreak started.
“The first reason is because borders began shutting down overnight without warning, and the other reason is it’s extremely difficult to buy a plane ticket on such short notice,” Hou said.
As she had only started work in January, she needed to list out her leave of absences in advance and get permission from her employers.
With such short notice, Hou didn’t have time to do that.
In addition, Hou revealed that “transportation” also posed a big problem. From the island where she worked, she would need to take a 3-hour boat ride to get to the airport.
Hou said that even those who were lucky enough to grab plane tickets also found themselves stranded on the island as flights got cancelled.
When the Maldives entered lockdown on April 17, life became increasingly difficult for foreign workers, with most facing lay-offs or unpaid leaves.
Hou counted herself lucky as her company still provided regular meals of good quality, as opposed to other colleagues who had to eat curry for endless days or food that had gone bad.
A few days later, word came that a flight was available and those stranded on the island decided to take their chance on May 15.
However, as luck would have it, Hou found herself in the middle of the worst storm the Maldives had seen in 10 years.
The relentless weather broke their boat and cut off her only means of heading home.
Hou said that though the flight was available, her only way of getting to that flight had disappeared before her eyes. This was a very difficult time for her as she didn’t know when the next opportunity would arise.
As of the tally recorded today, the Maldives currently has 2,065 confirmed cases and 8 deaths. This is quite serious for a population of only around 500,000 people.
Combined with the lack of advanced medical care in the Maldives, getting sick there would mean less chance of receiving proper care.
Under gradually dire circumstances, Hou seized another opportunity to return home—this time taking a connecting flight from the Maldives to Sri Lanka and Japan, and then finally, back to Taiwan.
The out-of-pocket fees costed her around NT$60,000 (US$2,023).
Although the trip home was bumpy to say the least, the ending made it all worth it to Hou.
Hou credited Deputy Director Liu from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in Chennai as her biggest ally for getting her home.
Hou said that Liu would often call and check up on them while also taking care of seeking more flights and arranging for transportation and passes to get to other islands on the Maldives.
On the day Hou was supposed to get on her flight home, she was held back by police when trying to disembark the boat to get to the airport.
“Apparently, something was wrong with the papers and they didn’t get my flight information in the system,” Hou said.
She then immediately called Deputy Director Liu for help and within minutes on the phone, the police let Hou through to catch her flight.
With Liu’s help, Hou did not encounter any more inconveniences on her flight home.
When she finally arrived in Taiwan, Hou was surprised to discover the intensity of Taiwan’s virus-prevention measures.
Aside from being double-checked by health authorities of her identity, she was also tested and transferred to a quarantine facility set up by the government upon arrival.
Hou added that her quarantine life was relatively peaceful and all her meals were delivered by special personnel.
“Coming home was an amazing feeling as people were reaching out and asking how I was. I was touched by the phone calls from friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while, and I’m so happy to be home.”
As for her plans for the future, Hou said she will use this time to think carefully and decide her next steps.
馬爾地夫工作日誌：擁有夢想的工作-Shine your life