How is everyone travelling?
Not very well? No one is. Well, not overseas anyway.
We've had our wings clipped.
This excludes New Zealand, of course. But, really, our bubble buddies don't count. We might as well build a super ANZAC tunnel and be done with it.
New Zealand is like the lifelong neighbours my family had when I was a kid. We were so used to each other that we had a gate between our yards. At some point there had been an attempt to erect a fence, but it was not much of a border. There was no need for it, which was comforting.
Us and them next-door had our own patches, which were respected, yet shared. Today, life is not so carefree.
Funnily enough, 2020 started as my most carefree year for, well, years. After a decade of annoying adult responsibilities (filed under "work and mortgage") I had finally saved enough to book a trip to a bucket-list destination: Borneo.
I mainly wanted to see orangutans and sun bears in their beautiful backyard. That mission was accomplished.
Looking back, my timing was spot on. I had booked a three-week tour of Malaysian Borneo for February, about two months before the virus started its own world tour.
Malaysia and Borneo had recorded no cases and, at that point, China was the only place in lockdown and the world's airports were still open for business.
When I arrived at Newcastle Airport to head for Brisbane, it all seemed normal. Some people were wearing masks, but very few. By the time I got to Brisbane, the mask quota had jumped considerably.
Waiting in transit, I amused myself by comparing the different face wear. It ranged from basic blue numbers to what only could be described as high-level respiratory devices used by handlers of hazardous materials.
At the time, it was bizarre.
One woman at the airport must have had a premonition as she appeared to be wearing hospital scrubs. I pitied the poor person who drew the seat next to that big, blue, rustling bag of humanity.
In a pep-talk worthy of Trump, I reassured my carefree self that it would be OK. The virus would not be that bad and it would all go away.
My round trip across Sabah started and ended in Kota Kinabalu. When I arrived, all was calm in the city. The hotel staff said it was quiet and that they were a bit worried, but generally optimistic.
But what a difference a few weeks makes. By the time I returned to the capital, the mood had turned. I lost count of the taxi drivers who said, while gesturing to the empty cafes and shops, "It's not good. No Chinese tourists".
I went to an island for a few days and the staff there were also at a bit of a loose end.
"It's sad. The beach is usually packed with Chinese tourists," a young waiter told me.
Even though the beach wasn't heaving with people, it wasn't deserted. Through my spoilt Novocastrian eyes, it looked like Bar Beach on a hot week day in summer.
It was fairly busy, but there was still enough room to chuck a chip to the seagulls without it landing on the nearest sunbather's towel.
I felt a bit guilty that I was enjoying sitting in a sparsely populated bar on a beach, watching the sun go down without any drunken commentary from a holidaying hoard.
My peace was the resort staff's pain.
Even the island's star reptilian resident, a giant monitor, seemed bored. I could hear him rustling my way. He stopped, sized me up from a distance, sniffed and wandered off. He couldn't be bothered putting in an appearance for just one Australian.
But, regretfully, I did catch the eye of some minstrels. To be fair, the all-singing, all-strumming trio had a narrow audience choice. There was me, a couple of Brits, a German couple and the lurking bar lizard.
I downed my gin and tonic and tried to make a break for it. Too late. I was trapped by the three amigos singing the complete Bob Dylan songbook with a few John Denver numbers thrown in.
With nowhere else to go, they serenaded me for about half an hour.
I ended the excruciating show by theatrically applauding and giving them all a tip. In a far from carefree manner, I ran off into the night. Being trapped by the Borneo Bobs was not on my bucket list.
So, on that eve of my flight home, I wasn't feeling refreshed or relaxed. All that polite smiling and foot-tapping had left me harried.
In more normal times the bar would have been crowded and the Bobs would have ignored me.
And, with that thought, I stopped, shook my head and muttered "Where the bloody hell are the Chinese tourists when you need them?"
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