The former Loraine Ong has returned to Upland after six years in China with two additions: a husband, Max Hemingway, and a dog, JoJo.
Loraine and Max met at a party for fellow expatriates, hit it off and married in 2017. This spring they were ready for a change. Loraine, 28, missed her family, and China’s COVID situation had her and Max concerned. It was time to go.
They had a heck of a time getting out, particularly with a dog. More on that in a bit, as there were a lot of tears and drama. Loraine arrived May 8 and Max followed with JoJo on June 1.
Max, 30, is from England and had never lived in the States. Everything is new to him: the Dodgers, the San Gabriel Mountains, the food options, even skunks, coyotes and hummingbirds. And American life, he’s learning, is super-sized.
“Cars are massive, houses are massive, roads are massive,” Max tells me over dinner the other night. The first time he’d ordered the “regular” soda at a restaurant, he gaped, wondering, “Are you trying to drown me?”
At the Upland Lemon Festival in early June, he got a turkey leg that was about the heft of a bowling pin and began gnawing on it. “I felt like a barbarian,” he admits. He and Loraine shared it, then took home the rest and split it for dinner.
“He doesn’t complain about the sizes at In-N-Out,” Loraine jibes. After getting off the plane, she says, “his first request was In-N-Out. He had two Double Doubles.”
“In-N-Out is great,” Max agrees. He explains: “It was the first proper meal I’d had in three days. Yes, I had two Double Doubles. And a chocolate milkshake.”
Why had he barely eaten? I’ll get to all that. First you ought to know why I was speaking to the couple, who are now — apologies to Ernest — my favorite Hemingways.
Loraine and I had met professionally in 2008 when, as a Claremont High student, she competed in a flavor-combination contest at an ice cream parlor. Hometown news, folks. There’s nothing like it.
She messaged me in mid-March 2020 from Weihai, the seaside city of 2 million in China’s Shandong province where she and Max lived.
After two months of physical barricades, morning temperature checks, bag and ID checks, and mandatory masking, the lockdown had ended with only one recorded death. It seemed like a triumph, and she wanted to offer hope to Inland Empire readers just as our own restrictions were starting.
I wrote about the couple long distance that month. Not long after, she and a friend, Tansu Philip of Redlands (owner of San Bernardino’s Viva La Boba), sponsored a GoFundMe dubbed “PPE for the IE.” They raised $1,100 that bought 700 KN95 masks and 400 pairs of latex gloves for essential workers at Redlands Community Hospital and Upland’s San Antonio Regional Hospital.
Finding a way to contribute from afar, Loraine says, eased her “feeling of helplessness.”
When she messaged me recently to say that she and Max were now in Upland, I proposed dinner and suggested Dumpling Master in Rancho Cucamonga. Its style of food, it turns out, hails from the Liaoning province, not far from Shandong.
As we feasted on dumplings, pork buns and tomato and egg noodles, Max remarks, “A lot of this is stuff we would order in China.” What were the odds?
Things had gone well in their province the past two years, with zero cases of COVID reported from April 2020 to February 2022. While that might seem unlikely, the couple, both teachers, would ask around and nobody knew anyone with coronavirus.
Then came the Beijing Olympics, after which cases exploded and a lockdown was instituted that made them miss the first one. “This time we weren’t allowed to leave our building,” Loraine tells me. Weihai flew surveillance drones to ensure the streets were empty.
The couple began to worry what would happen if they caught COVID. In China, you are taken to a government facility to isolate. And what if JoJo were left alone? There’s talk that authorities simply kill pets rather than deal with them.
“He is sweet. He was abandoned,” Loraine says of the dog they adopted in 2017. They didn’t want him abandoned again.
They moved up their timetable for departing. Exiting was even more complex with a dog. That required approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. And of the few airlines flying in and out of China, from a scant number of airports, even fewer would transport a dog.
Loraine interviewed virtually for a health communications job in Southern California, got it and left in May, but only after a limbo period during which her first flight was canceled, then her second. She had hoped to be in Upland for her father’s birthday but missed it.
Meanwhile, the CDC’s approval arrived but was good for only 30 days. That set in motion a frantic month.
“We had to sell everything we had. What we couldn’t sell, we gave away. What we couldn’t give away, we had to leave in the apartment,” Max says.
There was a problem with the microchip that ID’d JoJo, and the 75-pound Retriever also had to go on a diet to meet the airline’s weight limit.
Those hurdles were resolved. Then came a grueling 26-hour drive to the proper airport, a distance equivalent to driving from Southern California to Louisiana.
Max needed to pass a COVID test 24 hours before boarding, and the only way to accomplish that was to test at the airport a full day before his flight. The first leg was to Seoul. If he’d missed his connecting flight to Los Angeles, the CDC pass would have expired.
Between the drive, the time at the airport and the twin flights, JoJo was caged for most of 72 hours. Not every dog survives a flight because of heat, dehydration or stress.
“I have to be honest, I was so scared,” Loraine confides. She chokes up for a moment.
“Korean Airlines was fantastic, by the way,” Max interjects quickly. “On my flight there were five people with dogs.”
Upon arrival at LAX, JoJo was fine. And for Max, a Double Double, two of them, awaited.
David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday. Get back, JoJo. Email email@example.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.