A strange journey to work

Mia Poutanen Published Date 30.9.2021 7.40 Blog

I started working as the Nordic Counsellor in Police and Customs matters in China in early July. I will tell you more about my work in later blog posts, but this first post is about my journey to the new posting in Beijing. It can serve as an example of the complex and varied situations that Finnish police officers may encounter in their office. 

From Finland to China

Let’s start with the fact that my journey from my home to my new place of work in early July took longer than any other journey during my almost 30-year career. The journey involved 7,400 kilometres and lasted 21 days. 

My new position and office are situated at the Embassy of Finland in Beijing, the capital city of China. I spent the first week of July in Finland, under the excellent guidance of my predecessor, who introduced me to my work. The flight to the posting was scheduled in about one week from the date of starting in the position. I actually moved to Beijing because the duration of the posting is two years. I packed slightly more than usual: three suitcases of mostly clothing and necessities. My intention was to buy the furniture for my future apartment at the local Ikea. 

I’m quite familiar with travelling, as I’m sure many of you are. So there’s nothing unusual about that. Just put the luggage in the hold of the plane at Helsinki Airport and take a direct daily flight from Helsinki to Beijing, which would take about eight hours. A couple of films and some sleep during the flight. From Beijing airport, 40 minutes by car to my accommodation and, after a good rest over the weekend, off to the new workplace on Monday to present myself to my new colleagues and ready to take on varied and interesting assignments.  

However, this time it was not that simple. The COVID-19 pandemic, or informally the coronavirus, put several spanners in the works. 

No direct flights to Beijing were available, so I flew to Shanghai, which is about 1,200 kilometres from Beijing. As there was only one direct flight per week, the date of the flight was chosen on the basis of when there was a flight and if there were seats available, not on the basis of what would have been sensible and appropriate for my purposes.

Alone on Mars

The coronavirus protection measures specified by the airline and the authorities at my destination started well in advance in Finland. The vaccinations against the coronavirus and other vaccinations had to be in order, coronavirus tests negative and certain electronic health certificates completed and approved well before the date of the flight. My body temperature was taken when boarding the flight, during the flight and at the airport in the destination country. Face masks have, of course, been standard on flights during the pandemic – as they were now.  I was tested for the coronavirus again upon arrival at the airport in Shanghai. The test was taken both from the throat and the nose. 

In Shanghai, I had to quarantine in isolation for two weeks in a special quarantine hotel that I could not choose myself, and I was not permitted to leave the hotel room for two weeks. I was transported directly from the airport to the quarantine hotel.  

The only person I met during the two weeks of quarantine was a Shanghai health care official, dressed in appropriate protective gear. This person came to my door twice a day to place a thermometer on my forehead. Each visit took about half a second. 

Food, chosen in advance by someone else, was delivered to my door three times a day. I could not even dream of a standard hotel breakfast, let alone a lunch or dinner at a restaurant, or even a home-cooked lunch, during the quarantine. However, I didn’t have to cook for myself for the whole two weeks. Luckily, I had been informed about the quarantine conditions in advance, so I had packed my own Nescafe and a Moomin mug in my suitcase – the quarantine meals didn’t include coffee. The only cooking equipment in the room was an electric kettle.  

Somehow, I identified with prisoners in Finland during these two weeks – but the difference was prisoners get to leave their cells for outdoor exercise at least once a day – I didn’t.  

So, the first 14 days of my posting were spent in isolation in a magnificent city of 26 million inhabitants.
The time in isolation went surprisingly well. The network connections worked reasonably well, and I had also downloaded a lot of things to read and films on my tablet, just in case the connections didn’t work.

The Martian, by Andy Weir, was one of the books I had chosen to pass the time during the journey. It was easy to identify with the lead character in the book as I explored my new country of residence by watching the life of the city dwellers through the window. 

The views from that isolated room were magnificent: through the window on the 18th floor, I could watch, from morning until night, the spectacular eight-kilometre long Yangpu bridge across the river Huangpu. It never looked the same, depending on the time of day and the weather. 

Towards a normal everyday routine

During the day, I did some work as well.  Police network connections function worldwide—something I have noticed before during my career. In the evenings and on weekends, I “jogged” in my room and lifted weights (cases of water bottles) and did workouts to pass the time. On the best day, my step count in the 17 square metre room was 12,000. 

Before moving to the country’s capital city, and my actual workplace, I had to spend a third week in Shanghai, in supervised quarantine in another, standard hotel. I was allowed more freedom to move about during the third week of quarantine, although, for example my body temperature was monitored on a daily basis. Shanghai is a fantastic city, so I enjoyed my evening walks tremendously, after spending two weeks indoors. 

But that week did not go as planned either. Early in the week, a typhoon hit the city, forcing me to stay indoors for another couple of days. Luckily, the hotel restaurant remained open and I could have my meals there.  By mid-week, the typhoon had calmed down into a tropical storm, with rain and high winds. I didn’t mind those and managed to go outdoors a little.  

Three weeks after arriving in the country, I could finally move to my destination in Beijing. The flight from Shanghai took about 90 minutes, and the transfer from the airport to my accommodation took 40 minutes and, finally, I could resume a normal life in China and start the next phase in my career. 

I wonder whether it has occurred to the state occupational health and welfare officials that government officials may have to spend time in quarantine while at work? Never before have I been ordered into confinement for two whole weeks during my career in the police force. And never has a journey to a workplace taken three weeks.  So, there are a wide range of things you get to experience during a career in the police. 

Mia Poutanen

For the next two years, the author will work as the Nordic Counsellor in Police and Customs matters at the Embassy of Finland in Beijing, China. In Finland, the author’s most recent positions were Assistant Police Commissioner at the National Police Board in the emergency response and law enforcement unit, and Chief Superintendent in specialist tasks of immigration matters. 

Poutanen’s previous positions include the National Bureau of Investigation and the Police University College. In addition, she has worked at the Police Department of the Ministry of the Interior, the National Board of Customs, in international positions with the United Nations’ peacekeeping forces and the European Commission’s Schengen evaluation tasks. 

Mia Poutanen National Police Board The National Bureau of Investigation en