We started hearing about you early this year… Singapore was one of the first few countries in the world that took you seriously from the start. We went Code Orange relatively early, in February. When this happened, I remember thinking that it was pretty “exciting and cool”. It felt like the entire country was on a mission together fighting a common enemy in a game (I have this weird tendency of seeing my life as a movie/musical) and I was part of this army. I found it exciting because I’d never experienced SARS. In 2003, I was living in Zurich and that was the only year we didn’t come back to Singapore for our annual visit back home. It was the year that I went without a haircut (Switzerland is very expensive and I grew up in a family where unnecessary expenditure was not allowed. I guess that included 40 Swiss francs (S$60) haircuts for an 11-year-old). I recall my 11-year-old thoughts wondering what it would be like to live through SARS – I was just a kid then so I guess I got very intrigued by the idea of school shutting down.
And here we are again, I guess my “childhood wish” came true. I’m living through the global takeover of SARS’ uglier cousin, YOU. We’re currently on Day 47 of our 56-day circuit breaker. It’s supposedly ending on 1 June but with most restrictions still in place, I’ve given up counting down.
I’ve never spent so much time at home before. The best and worst thing about work-from-home is the ability to wake up 5 minutes before work starts. It’s great because I can get slightly more rest, but at the same time, my long journeys to the office previously was the time I usually spent listening to a podcast or in prayer. The convenience of “getting to the office” has removed all barriers between my personal and workspace. However, I really do love the new workspace that I’ve created at home. I refer to that room as my office now to trick my mind that I’m going to a different place. It never works.
I live with my grandparents and the hardest thing during this circuit breaker for me has been witnessing the deterioration of their mental health as the days go by, while being so utterly helpless at the same time.
On any normal day, my grandparents come home later than me. They are way more happening than me and usually spend their time kai-kai’ing at Esplanade, enjoying local concerts or basically anywhere with crowds of people because Kong Kong loves being in crowds. When I was young, he used to force me to go to River Hongbao on CNY Eve. I don’t know the appeal of human stampedes but I guess we all have our own weird likings. You can imagine how depressed Kong Kong has been feeling during this period. He gets anxious at the sight of empty spaces and he hasn’t been able to sleep until 6-7am when he “has the peace to know that the buses are up and running that time”. During circuit breaker, he has continued to insist on visiting his go-to places, despite my advice that all such places have been closed. He’d rather kill time by checking them out to see if they are really closed, and then get into the same cycle of disappointment and sadness as his soul continues to be restless. My Grandma has no choice but to follow him, to ensure his safety. I see her feeling equally as helpless as I do and my heart breaks. The only thing that I’ve been able to do to alleviate the situation is to bring them on night drives, because my Grandpa likes to see buildings with windows that are lit up. He feels safer when he sees people are awake. He feels safer when he sees people in cars on the road as opposed to the empty buses and trains that he sometimes takes to nowhere.
There’s a mixture of anger and frustration when I hear my Grandpa complain and complain about our lives now. We are so fortunate to have a comfortable home to tide over this lockdown, but he’d rather sit on a bench outside. I know it hasn’t been easy on our seniors this period. In WhatsApp University, the people who get “stomped” for behaviour like tearing away safety tape or reacting badly towards social distancing ambassadors are usually the older folk. I secretly worry sometimes that the next person to go viral may be my Grandpa. I love my grandparents so much and I hate the virus for its effects on their well-being. It’s making this ageing gracefully concept pretty impossible for them right now.
My parents have also been severely affected by you. They live in Mumbai and have been on lockdown for 3 months now. If you compare our circuit breaker to Mumbai’s lockdown, us having it good in Singapore is an understatement. In the first month, my parents were not even allowed to step out of their housing compound for essential services. As they “eased” their restrictions, they were still stopped on the road for wanting to go to a better supermarket that was a further distance and were made to go to a nearer one that was less well-stocked. All my parents can do is follow my Instagram food account and drool as they eat home-cooked food every day using less-than-fresh produce.
My Dad works for Singapore Airlines and was not spared from a pay cut. They've been in India for 4 years and finally, 2020 was the year that my Dad got a new posting. They were so so so excited when we got the news earlier this year and now, this move has been delayed for at least 6 months. My parents usually visit every 4 months but obviously, with travel restrictions in place, this is not happening. Sometimes when the “I miss my parents!!!” feeling is very strong, I’d go to their room and sleep there for the night.
On a different note, I’ve actually been pretty ok during this circuit breaker. Probably way better compared to the situations that my grandparents and parents are in. Just before the circuit breaker kicked in, I started working at a marketing agency doing business development. I was worried about my ability to do my job effectively – I mean here I am, in this new position that is supposed to bring in new business, while the whole world is thinking of ways to stop spending money. By divine intervention, we managed to secure an opportunity to work on a project that I have been consumed with. It’s a project that is right up my alley, with stories and people at the heart of it, and a great mission in its hands. You may have come across it. Teehee.
A lot of people have had more time to kick-start new hobbies or take new courses. Unfortunately or fortunately for me, my time has been pretty swallowed up and I’ve ironically been busier than ever. Cleaning services have stopped (how is cleaning not an essential service though?!) and I now moonlight as a part-time helper. An extra job with no pay. It’s amazing how easy dust collects and I find myself cleaning every day now. I’ve always wanted to be a Rachel but I know that deep down, I am Monica. The difference between Monica and I is that I find no joy in cleaning. I just find joy in the by-product of a clean house. The two main banes in my circuit breaker life right now are my crappy WiFi and household chores. After I clean I become this grumpy spoilt bish that thinks the world owes me something, just because I mopped the floors and wiped the windowsills.
It seems as if church services will be put on hold for a long time. We’ve been attending church online and I was so heartened to see that my church has been converted into a literal home for the homeless.
While most of us can’t wait for life to go back to normal, I sometimes fear what back to normal means. It feels like I haven’t been in a group setting for so long that I don’t know if I still know how to socialise properly. My semi-avoidant nature kind of revels in the fact the circuit breaker has caused many things to be put on hold, yet anxiety creeps in thinking of an impending flood of things to deal with once we are given the green light to go back to normal.
All in all, I guess no one knows what normal will be anymore. Our pre-COVID-19 lifestyles may likely just be lifestyles lived and now lost. Whatever may come, I am thankful to be in Singapore, for our front-liners and for the multiple task forces set up, who have been working so hard to keep us safe. We will get through this. :)