Kitty and Walter make the long journey to Mei-tan-fu on chairs and riverboats, speaking to each other little. Kitty often weeps at night when she thinks of Charles.
Occasionally at meal times, Walter will try to make awkward conversation with Kitty. She understands that Walter knew exactly how Charles would disappoint her, and she notices the contempt that he has for her and her former lover.
She wonders if he is trying to kill her by bringing her to Mei-tan-fu, but based on her lingering feelings for Charles she decides that you do not ever really desire the death of someone you love. Still, she is not quite sure, and sometimes wonders if Walter has lost his sanity.
They arrive in the bedraggled, plague-ridden city. A funeral procession is leaving the city just as they enter it, which disturbs Kitty.
Deputy Commissioner Waddington, a jolly and stout man, is waiting for them in the small bungalow. He greets Kitty and Walter warmly, and explains the present situation to them: the epidemic is devastating the city, and Colonel Yü is barely able to keep civil order. The nuns also remain in the city, where they continue their work of ministering to the orphans. Still, Waddington remains optimistic, even asking Kitty if she has brought any gramophone records with her. The three make plans to dine together that evening.
Waddington is an odd-looking man and he drinks heavily, but he is good company at dinner. He makes Kitty turn red when he says that he knows Charles Townsend, but quickly changes the conversation to the theaters of London. While the conversation is pleasant, it sharply contrasts with the plague-ridden situation outside.
On her first night in Mei-tan-fu, Kitty dreams of strange cities and of kissing Charles Townsend. She awakes and walks outside to watch the sun rise over the misty city.
Walter is nearly always gone, fighting the plague, and Kitty is alone most of the time. The situation is even worse than they imagined: whole families have been carried off by the plague, and the whole city is in disorder. Colonel Yü orders his soldiers to bury abandoned bodies, and even shot one soldier who refused an order to enter a cholera-ridden house.
Kitty dreams of escape, but has no idea where she would go: she does not have a good relationship with her mother, and Charles no longer wants her. She also imagines ways to get revenge on Charles.
When she finds herself alone with Waddington, Kitty brings up Charles. Waddington says that Charles wears a mask of charming ease, but in fact he cares about no one but himself. Moreover, he is quite stupid, though he knows how to play political games.
Waddington does like Charles' wife, however. She is an intelligent and supportive woman, and she often teases her husband about his sexual conquests. Waddington says that her main complaint is that the women who fall in love with her husband are always second-rate.
Kitty muses over Waddington's words, and begins to recall Charles' less flattering features. However, she still dreams of him holding her in his arms, and awakes with tears on the pillow.
Kitty spends a great deal of time with the amiable Waddington, who often tells her stories from Chinese novels and history. The two form a fast friendship. In some ways, Waddington has become more Chinese than English, and Kitty sees in this new culture a different way to live life.
Much to Waddington's shock, Kitty and Walter have a salad of fresh greens every night. The Chinese chef made it unthinkingly one night, and Kitty ate it before offering some to Walter. They eat it every night, partially to avenge themselves on each other and partially to flout their fears.
The journey and arrival in Mei-tan-fu are Kitty's dark night of the soul. She has lost her lover Charles as well as her comfortable life in Hong Kong, and heads into what she fears is certain death.
Kitty must also deal with a role-reversal. She had thought that she was Charles' true love, and his dowdy wife was just being strung along or forgotten. After her conversation with Waddington, she learns that Dorothy is aware that her husband has affairs and thinks that most of the women he sleeps with are second-rate. Kitty realizes that Dorothy was actually looking down on her.
In the beginning of Chapter 30, the entrance of Kitty and Walter into the city occurs at the same time as a funeral procession leaves it, which suggests that the only way out of Mei-tan-fu may be in a coffin. It may also foreshadow the actual or symbolic deaths of certain characters.
Paradoxically, Kitty - who is terrified of disease - seems to be courting it by eating her nightly salad. Cholera is spread through uncooked food and unclean water, so Kitty is taking a huge risk by eating raw vegetables. However, she is so careless of her own wellbeing that she is indifferent towards this danger. She offers the salad to Walter as well, forcing him to share in the risk of death with her. Walter insisted that the situation in Mei-tan-fu would not be dangerous if they took the correct precautions, but Kitty is flinging all caution to the winds.
This portion of the novel alludes to an incident from Dante's Divine Comedy. The Purgatorio section contains the lines "Pray, when you are returned to the world, and rested from the long journey, remember me, who am Pia. Siena made me, Maremma unmade me: this he knows who after betrothal espoused me with his ring." A tutor told Maugham that these lines were spoken by Pia, a women from Siena whose husband suspected her of adultery but was afraid to kill her because of her powerful family. He took her down to his castle in the Maremma and hoped that the noxious vapors there would end her life, but when she did not fall ill he threw her out of the window. Maugham was intrigued by the idea of a jilted husband who forced his wife into a dangerous situation, and what the woman might experience there. In writing The Painted Veil, he decided to bring this story into a modern setting and change the ending.