A lot has happened in the nearly six months Melanie Ham-Ye and her family have been living atop Cowee Ridge outside Highlands, high above US 64 and a stone’s throw from Whiteside Mountain.
Ham-Ye’s husband Michael, who stayed behind in Shanghai on Feb. 3, when a travel lockdown had been imposed in the Far East after the outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus, and spent nearly all of 2020 separated from his family, is in the U.S. now, arriving on Monday, July 20.
His globe-trotting trip was an incredible journey.
“It was a long string of canceled flights and frustration but United Airlines was finally able get him on one of the two flights per week they are permitted to fly,” Ham-Ye said. “China has been really strict with allowing flights into and out of the country.”
The Ham-Ye family story is one from which Hollywood blockbusters are made, and it’s not over yet. Now that the family has been united, it’s time for them to make their way back home.
“We want to get back home, we have a dog and cat we haven’t seen in six months,” Ham-Ye said. “Right now, the earliest we can get a flight out is Oct. 31.”
The Ham-Ye family – Melanie, Michael and their kids Anna Belle, now 16, and Micah, 12 – live in Shanghai, China for 10 months of the year. They usually spend the summer in their home in Highlands.
Melanie, Anna Belle and Micah made it out of China just in time, arriving in Japan and bound for a flight to South Korea on the day the U.S. banned all flights from China.
They have been in Highlands ever since, waiting for the word to return to China and reunite with Michael, who remained behind.
“It’s been 24 weeks since we last saw Michael,” Ham-Ye said, who could count down to the hour and minute her family has been separated.
Michael Ye works in banking in Shanghai, and opted to remain behind for his job. This summer, he was granted a family leave of absence to reunite with his wife and kids. The trek, which took him from Shanghai to Seoul to San Francisco, before his flight’s final stop in Atlanta on Monday.
Ye said the toughest part of the journey was leaving China.
“In order for pilots to avoid a mandatory quarantine in a controlled facility, they never enter South Korea,” he said. “We have a layover in Seoul but passengers never leave the plane. Only the pilots.”
They turnaround and board another flight back to Shanghai, sequestered from any interaction with the public.
“This helps them avoid the quarantine, otherwise they would have to wait two weeks before returning,” Ye said.
The biggest problem getting out of China was due to the constant cancellation of flights.
“We had been trying to get Michael over here since May,” Melanie Ham-Ye said. “Two flights in June were also canceled. We were booking flights with multiple airlines and even booked a ticket on a chartered flight for families with pets, but United Airlines came through and he was able to flight out last weekend.”
The total flight time was between 36-40 hours Ye said, including an overnight stay in San Francisco.
Their reunion was quick, Ham-Ye said.
“I picked Michael up at the Atlanta airport curbside and we had to get in the car and drive,” she said. “We kissed and hugged, and got out of there, and drove all the way from downtown Atlanta to Highlands.”
Since he has been back to Highlands, Michael Ye has maintained a low profile.
“We’re doing social distancing and keeping a low profile, our own self-quarantine,” he said.
As for the kids, Anna Belle and Micah, they grew up a lot over the past six months. Anna Belle, now a high school junior, turned 16 shortly last week and now has her driver’s license. Micah is getting ready for seventh grade.
“We thought about enrolling them in school here and even took a tour of the school,” Ham-Ye said. “But uprooting them from their current school would be too much, so we’re still learning digitally.”
Until Oct. 31 rolls around and a hopeful return home to Shanghai, the Ham-Ye’s will enjoy their time atop Cowee Ridge in their Kite House, a home designed by the late James Fox, a Frank Lloyd Wright protégé.
“We would fly back to Shanghai and do the two-week quarantine in a controlled facility,” Ham-Ye said. “We want to get back home.”