It has been an interesting year for Highlands native Melanie Ham-Ye and her family.
Ham-Ye who lives in Shanghai, China, for 10 months of the year with her husband Michael, and two kids Annabelle, 15, and Micah, 12, came home to the U.S. in January to avoid a confrontation with the novel Coronavirus.
The Ham-Ye’s 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 husband and father Michael, who remained behind.
Melanie said in a Thursday, March 26 phone interview, while she and the kids miss their patriarch, they were coping just fine.
“Up until Jan. 21 when everything got thrown in the air, we were in Japan when it happened, when the headlines really starting crashing around us,” Ham-Ye, the daughter of local Motoring Festival organizer Steve Ham. “My husband, headed back to Shanghai, Feb. 2 and on Feb. 3, my kids and I flew to Highlands when the travel ban went into place.”
The nearly 24-hour flight took Melanie and her kids from Shanghai to Seoul, South Korea, where they transferred flights to travel from Seoul to Atlanta.
“Upon arrival, we were advised to quarantine, and it was a soft order, but we took it very seriously considering where we came from,” she said.
The Ham-Ye’s imposed a two-week self-quarantine with no trace of COVID-19.
“My parents loaded up our fridge before we got there,” Ham-Ye said of her Cowee Ridge home, informally known as the Kite House, a Jim Fox home.
The kids are “managing” about as well as teenagers can be expected. Annabelle is 15 and in high school, while Micah turned 12 on the first day of the family’s two weeks of self-quarantine.
“Annabelle is managing about as well as can be expected, Melanie said. “It’s been difficult. She’s able to do teleconferences and connects with her friends back in China despite the 12 hour time difference.”
Micah, she added, is doing just fine.
“He’s probably the happiest. He’s kind of a home boy.”
The biggest adjustment besides the time difference, is doing school work from home.
“E-learning has been kind of intense for us,” Melanie said. “The kids have 12 subjects. Drama, PE, music and art, and school goes until the end of June.”
Ham-Ye, who has been living in China since 2003 said living abroad has been a great way for the kids to grow up.
“To have grown up bilingual and living in a multi-cultural environment has been good for my kids,” Melanie said. “We live in a real warm and welcoming community.”
She does not regret her decision to come to the U.S. when she did.
“We were not planning to come here at this time,” Melanie said. “We normally come during July and August, but leaving seemed like the prudent thing to do.”
The lockdown in Shanghai was very aggressive, she said. “Very strict.”
“I’ve talked to friends over there and shops are re-opening. People are going out to cafes.”
Ironically, China, where the coronavirus originated, now has too much protective equipment they’re looking to export.
While life abroad has been fine with the kids keeping up with their school work, the Ham-Ye’s want to return home and reunite with their family.
“Right now, we don’t know when we will be able to return home,” she said. “Just recently, China has banned all foreign nationals from returning until the COVID-19 crisis has passed.” Until the travel ban China’s flight rules were limited to only one flight per airline carrier per country per week. That has effectively shut down air travel.”
Plus, there are a lot of Chinese students stranded here in the US and they needed those tickets to get back home.
Melanie is hopeful the ban will be lifted soon, but during the interim she and her family plan to enjoy their time here.
“I’m so happy to see what the town is doing in regarding self-quarantine,” she said. “It’s good they are taking this seriously.”
China bore the international brunt of blame with the spread of COVID-19, something Ham-Ye said wasn’t justified.
“It’s so unproductive to point fingers. People here in China are heartbroken in seeing what’s happening around the world.”
Now that China has appeared to crest the hump of COVID-19, there is a lot of surplus equipment left behind that could be put to good use elsewhere.
“There is so much protective equipment to get from China to the US,” she said. “We need to relax import and export regulations or find a creative way to get this protective equipment to those who need it.”
Melanie Ham-Ye and her kids are stuck here until they can catch a flight home. Until then, they will make do the best they can.
A small blessing, Melanie said, was their decision to foster a Cashiers Highlands Humane Society dog during their stay here.
“We’re fostering Mona, a Pit Bull and Boxer mix and she’s so stinkin’ cute. She is the therapy dog we did not know we needed. We have her until we leave.”
Until then, the Ham-Ye’s are staying put on top of their mountain.