Reunited at last: Mother brings baby to Malaysia to meet grandparents for the first time as VTL opens
KUALA LUMPUR: The last two years have seen major changes in Ms Shereen Cheah’s life. Based in Singapore, the 28-year-old Malaysian met the love of her life, got married and gave birth to her first child, Leah.
But even as things around her fell into place, it was hard not to notice the missing pieces in her life.
Being unable to visit Malaysia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it meant that some of her biggest moments in life had to be done without her parents by her side.
“It was really stressful being away from my parents for two years and having a baby,” said Ms Cheah, whose parents live in Penang, Malaysia.
“But even though we were apart, it didn’t mean that we were actually away (from each other). I kept in touch with my parents, talking every single day through WhatsApp and video calls,” she added.
“If my baby kicked me from inside, they would know because I would send them a video,” she said.
Despite being able to see her parents on a screen every day, it wasn’t enough to fill the void of separation.
More than anything, Ms Cheah longed for the day she could hug her parents again and watch them hold their grandchild for the first time.
On Monday (Nov 29), the moment she had waited months for finally arrived: Ms Cheah was able to travel home to Penang to visit her parents, along with her three-month-old daughter.
She was among the hundreds of travellers who had taken flights from Singapore’s Changi Airport to Kuala Lumpur on the first day of the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Singapore and Malaysia.
Announced on Nov 8, the VTL allows fully vaccinated passengers from either side to enter the other country without having to serve quarantine. Instead, they will be subjected to COVID-19 tests.
It was a smooth check-in process at Changi Airport Terminal 1, with mother and baby receiving help from an airport assistant.
“I was extremely nervous last night because it's the first time I'm travelling with a baby,” she told CNA.
Having seen multiple rounds of travel plans foiled due to the changing COVID-19 situation, Ms Cheah said she also had a constant fear that something might go wrong at the eleventh hour, preventing her and her baby from flying to Malaysia.
Travel guidelines were somewhat unclear – one country’s requirements were different from the other, she said. “I was really very worried that I might not be prepared, and that I would be bounced (off) the flight.”
Recalling the last time she saw her parents, the former air stewardess said she stopped by Penang for a few days in March last year after a long-haul flight.
She planned to return again later that month to celebrate her birthday with her family.
However, shortly after she returned to Singapore, Malaysia implemented its movement control order (MCO), effectively closing its borders to the world.
“I left all my belongings in Penang during the trip, thinking that I would be back a week later for my birthday dinner with my parents,” she said.
“But then, suddenly there was a lockdown in Malaysia ... and so I didn’t manage to go back.”
The months that followed were especially tough, said Ms Cheah, who was living alone in Singapore at the time.
“After I got back to Singapore, I was under quarantine because one of the passengers was a confirmed COVID-19 case and I was a close contact,” she said.
“My flights were being cancelled (at first for one or two months) and then gradually, the whole year,” she said. “So it was just a sad period for me.”
Each time Malaysia extended its MCO, the family had to grapple with disappointment as plans for a reunion were dashed.
Despite this, she and her parents remained hopeful that they would soon see each other again.
When news of the Singapore and Malaysia VTL broke earlier this month, Ms Cheah pounced on the opportunity to go home.
“I had been wanting to go back for a very long time and so, when Scoot launched its first VTL flight, without hesitation, we bought the tickets straight away,” she said.
However, just five days before she and her daughter were due to fly to Malaysia, Ms Cheah contemplated scrapping their travel plans.
“The (COVID-19 travel) guidelines were not very clear, so I wasn’t exactly sure if my baby would have to take a (polymerase chain reaction) test,” she said, adding that she had been told by KLIA that all passengers including babies would have to undergo the test upon arrival.
“I didn’t want to put my baby through it because she is so small and young, so we actually almost wanted to give up the flight,” she said.
Speaking to CNA, Ms Cheah’s husband Luke Loh said he was also concerned about his wife and baby taking the trip, as he could not accompany them due to work commitments.
“When I saw the requirements (that babies will also need to take PCR tests), it was a bit tough and sad knowing that my baby would have to go through this. And my wife would be alone travelling too, so she has to carry all the luggage,” said Mr Loh.
“But because my wife hasn’t been back in nearly two years and my parents-in-law haven’t met (the baby), I told my wife to just go ahead with it and not to give up,” he said.
“I knew it was going to be tough but luckily, it’s only a one-hour flight back and anyway, my wife is strong.”
In the end, they decided to go ahead with their plans.
“I really missed home and wanted to introduce my baby to my parents and relatives as well,” said Ms Cheah.
“My mother also said since we have gone so far, why not just go ahead with it and we'll see what happens next.”
At the departure gates at Changi Airport on Monday, Mr Loh bent down to kiss his daughter goodbye before wrapping his arms around his wife to give her a hug.
As the couple exchanged words, Mr Loh could be heard saying: “I’ll miss you guys, I wish I could go back with you.”
When they disembarked from the plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (klia2) at around 6.30pm, both Ms Cheah and her daughter looked relaxed.
“(My baby) slept all the way, that’s why she’s so awake now,” she told CNA. “The flight was alright too, and things have been going quite smoothly.”
After a more than two-hour wait for their on-arrival PCR test results, Ms Cheah could hardly contain her excitement as she made her way towards the arrival gates at the airport.
Outside the gates, her family waited eagerly for them while snapping photos with their phones.
Ms Cheah parents had driven from Penang to pick her and Leah up from the airport, a nearly four-hour car ride.
What followed was an emotional reunion, as parents, daughter and granddaughter pulled together in a tight embrace. For the first time in two years, there was no screen between them.
“She is so small,” said Ms Cheah’s mother, as she cradled the baby gently.
Meanwhile, as Ms Cheah’s father hugged his daughter again, he smiled and said: “I’m so happy she’s back, it’s been too long.”