It felt like darkest hour of our time.
This hit close to home, and the stories and experiences are from friends, families and strangers who might have shared the same MRT to work or dined in the same hawker centre.
Our daily routines, plans and freedom were tossed into disarray as new norms set in. It is a wake‐up call and a moment of reflection on the lives we lead and the relationships we have.
The situation has brought about a certain emotional fatigue and detachment to the mortality rates of COVID-19. It has become a statistic. The news and opinions surrounding the situation are riled up by highly strung emotions. It is an anxious and stressful time, compounded by more news of political unrest, social inequalities, racial injustices, climate change, natural disasters…
It seemed like the darkest hour of our time.
Yet looking back, my parents have been through hard times – SARS, 2008, and 1997.
If history has shown us anything, humanity, with its flaws and virtues, will prevail, crisis after crisis. A turbulent time in this lifetime might just be a tiny ripple in the universe’s timeline. Such thoughts and awareness of the scale of things, at times offer a reminder to keep a cool head in the current situation.
It helps take some of the worries away and instead, allows me to find focus to make sure I make use of the limited time I have to have more empathy for others, focus on the work I wish to do, and make small goals to achieve.
COVID-19 in the short term has taken away the freedom of travel down to the planning of it due to concerns of possible racism abroad and even the disruption of transportation. Instead, I try to look inwards again at Singapore, which helps me find a destination and create small milestones to achieve by cycling to places and overcoming the distances that I thought I could not have covered in the early mornings of the circuit breaker. It is like being a resident tourist and rediscovering Singapore (and my childhood in some circumstances) when I chanced upon the Mamak shop I visited with my sister in Katong or a shophouse along Serangoon Road.
These help me find a certain purpose and motivation for my illustrations as well. Like how some found solace in photography, poetry, music and writing. Drawing is my sanctuary. The cycling trips and drawing serve as motivation for each other as I sought to visit some of the places I drew earlier in my career for a book entitled Sayang Singapura in 2014. Being able to visit and make such mini‐stops makes the next day and the day after something to look forward to. Most importantly, I think having something to work towards also provides a healthy distraction from the endless news cycle on the pandemic: they can be overwhelming or misleading at worst, while baiting for emotions which in turn provide fuel for a noisy social media landscape that hampers constructive and productive solutions. Pursuing personal projects and having some work to pursue has helped me take myself out of that cycle.
I doubt the norms of pre‐COVID-19 will resume anytime soon, it could be next year or years after. It is a chapter that reminds me of the many things I had taken for granted in the past: being able to dine out and have coffee at the crowded hawker centre, being able think and plan for trips with certainty, or just being able to people-watch and see others having a good time. I will miss these.
However, I do not blame COVID-19 for these changes and disruptions. We had it coming. COVID-19 is not a new crisis, we went through something similar before. The causes are understood and the knowledge is out there. Complacency and several misplaced priorities in Singapore and beyond simply built up to a perfect storm that gave COVID-19 its window. From environmental damage that leads to ripe conditions for viruses to develop, ineffective communication, deep-seated distrust in communities due to policy mishandling, social discrimination, the issues surrounding and giving the pandemic its virulent explosion is known to us. I hope in our lifetime, there would be more concerted and pragmatic efforts to deal with the many issues that need fundamental changes. But then the resilient nature of the human species that gives it strength to overcome crises could also be its weakness – the stubbornness to adapt and change.
On the positive side, however, COVID-19 does bring to the surface a host of issues that has been dragging along before the pandemic hit – the need for healthy personal finances, the spending habits of individuals right down to organisations, the situation of migrant workers, the benefits of working from home, the issue of rental for small businesses, the need for proper health care and so on and so forth. Many of these issues have found occasional limelight from time to time but with the pandemic, the involved parties are forced to tackle it head on. I hope there is concrete effort at last to deal with these.
After more than 50 days of circuit breaker, I found myself settled into working from home: learning to cook more, cycling around my neighbourhood and finding something to look forward to for my illustrations, and being more mindful of my finances. Being able to tackle these and feeling more settled down, I also find it possible to be able to give back to the community with charity donations, sending care packages to friends who are down in this period, and using my platform to help my peers in illustration as well as the arts.
When this pandemic finally settles down, I look forward to being able travel and having Chuan Kee satay and a sugarcane drink at Old Airport Road with peace of mind.
This too shall pass.