Our fateful vacation plans

13 new year pics malaysia

Bashir’s son watching the dragon and lion shows at a mall in Malaysia for Lunar New Year.

Courtesy of Imani Bashir


It’s customary for people in China and expats to take a vacation during Chinese New Year since it’s the most important and longest local holiday. (The festival began on January 25 and lasted until February 8, about 15 days in total.)

Since it’s such a popular time to travel, it’s best to plan ahead, so I had booked our flights out of Wuhan nearly six months before ever hearing about the coronavirus.

On December 31, I received a text message from our landlady saying that there was a potential “pneumonia outbreak” in the area. It didn’t make sense to me; I had no idea that pneumonia was a contagious thing. (Editor’s note: Certain types of pneumonia are contagious.)

In the various expat group chats we were part of on WeChat (a Chinese app similar to WhatsApp), most people were laughing the outbreak off because we truthfully didn’t think it was a huge deal. The main message was wash your hands with soap and be merry.

We boarded our plane to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, on January 14. Although we heard that people had already been confirmed dead because of this mysterious pneumonia fiasco, we weren’t privy to the full depth of what was happening until our plane landed.

At the airport when we arrived, there was a separate section where people who had come from Wuhan had to go to get their body temperature taken via the forehead. Anyone with a fever and/or coughing was supposed to go to a different area. Luckily, we didn’t have to go through any additional screenings after they took our temperature.

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