AFTER nearly two-and-a-half-years, I finally set foot in tanah airku.

The journey home from Beijing took three days, filled with uncertainties as China tightens control measures to achieve its Covid-zero policy following its most serious outbreak with the Omicron variant.

My flight from Guangzhou to Kuala Lumpur was rescheduled many times until it was finally fixed at 10.30pm on May 2, one day before departure.

(There is no direct flight between Beijing and Malaysia since China closed its borders in 2020).

Then, the flight – together with all others from the Chinese capital to Guangzhou were cancelled at the last minute due to the “semi- closure” of Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport after some workers came down with the virus.

Before the pandemic, the journey home on a direct flight took only 6 1/2 hours.

I can only blame this on bad luck and bad timing.

After all Beijing Guangzhou flights on May 2 were cancelled, I bought a plane ticket to Shenzhen, about 130km away from Guangzhou.

This was the beginning of my balik kampung drama.

As more residential areas in the Chinese capital were put under lockdown amid the Covid-19 outbreak and fearing mine would be next, I left for the airport at 2am last Monday to catch my 9am flight to Shenzhen.

In Shenzhen, I took an ehailing car to Guangzhou and on the way, the driver told me that the airport had been placed under “strict control measures” and all domestic flights were cancelled.

“International ones are not affected but you better check,” he said.

Upon checking, I found that mine was on the cancellation list but it was too late to do anything. I carried on with the journey.

On arrival at terminal one, which caters to domestic and some international flights, it was strangely quiet.

I could not believe what I saw as all the check-in and ticketing counters were empty; no one manned the inquiry desk and service booths.

This is the airport that handled over 6,200 flights with some 886,000 passengers during the five-day Labour Day break last year.

Apart from a big group of passengers checking in for a flight heading to Iran, there were about 100 others resting on the benches or wandering around the premises.

“Don’t stay here for too long, it is a pandemic zone, your code will turn yellow or red,” an airport staffer warned.

Once I lose the “green code”, it means that I cannot go anywhere or even stay at a hotel.

Unable to reach the airline’s customer service, I waited until the scheduled take-off time, hoping that someone would show up.

While waiting, I met three other passengers who were on the same flight as me – a Chinese businessman, a Chinese student studying at Universiti Putra Malaysia and a Penangite.

At 8.15pm, two people wearing full protective suits approached us.

“Airline staff are not allowed in. We are here because we never left the airport, otherwise, we cannot come in, too.

“They requested our help to notify passengers on the flight cancellation,” said one of them.

Later, I found out from other airport workers that most of their colleagues and airline staff were taken away for quarantine or lockdown at their apartments, and a lack of manpower was one of the reasons most international flights were cancelled. The four of us discussed our next move.

If I returned to Beijing, there was a possibility that I could be rejected from entering because I have stayed too long at a pandemic zone.

And if I stayed in Guangzhou, I may end up paying hefty hotel fees as there was no way of knowing if the flight, which flies once a week, would be resumed on May 9 (today).

Then we bumped into a Chinese trader who told us her flight to Singapore, scheduled for the following afternoon, was confirmed.

The Penangite suggested we buy a ticket, priced at 9,917 yuan (RM6,500), to Singapore and I agreed with him.

But our two new Chinese friends could not join us because they needed a visa to enter the Lion City. They returned to their respective hometowns.

A few more passengers joined in and we spent the night at the airport. There was no food because all shops were closed.

Running around with two bags weighing a total of 35kg and two backpacks, I finally landed in Singapore where I took a night bus to reach Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday morning.

Although tired and smelly since my last shower was on Sunday evening, I have no regrets coming home to be with my dad who had undergone an operation on April 29. I feel blessed to be back.

There are many homesick Malaysians in China who could not make it back due to the high travel cost and strict requirements to re-enter China.

A China-Malaysia-China air ticket can easily cost over RM35,000, in addition to the 14- to 21-day hotel quarantine and seven-day home quarantine for international travellers.

I thanked my company and colleagues for the support and help in making the trip possible, and the new friends I met at the airport who kept me company and helped this non-tech-savvy aunty obtain the SG Arrival Card to enter Singapore.

And I hope the journey going back to China will be a smooth one.