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Dear Covid 19

Dear COVID-19,

 

We would have all been in Singapore for the first time together in years if not for you. 

 

Errol Lim, entrepreneur and co-founder of Jublia, was supposed to get married in June.

 

Kelvin Ong, a consultant living in Barcelona, wants a change.

 

Sihan Tan, a writer based in NYC, has not seen either of his nephews in real life.

 

We have known each other since our late teens and watched each other wrestle with the excitement and demands of adulthood: the wild weekends from our NS days bleeding into bi-annual sojourns across new cities; our disparate careers, relationships with Singapore and other non-geographic, more somatic lovers, to the personal choices made entirely independent from each other. Yet having arrived in our early thirties, it was time to reconsider our once fluid notions of home. 

 

I’m no longer going to that hipster French bakery 10 minutes away for sourdough. It’s really good but it just doesn’t feel right eating the same thing l did when everything was normal.

VIRTUAL CONVERSATIONS AWAY FROM HOME – May 26, 2:35 a.m.

 

Sihan Tan: Anything else you think we should talk about or ask? You can add in here [Google Doc] first before you [Errol] sleep.

 

Errol Lim: I guess we could talk a little bit about the speech that you both are giving at my wedding :) Also, a bit of travel plans like how we did in the U.S… talk about how we missed the redwood forest when we were in California.

 

Kelvin Ong: Talk about that business idea we have?

 

E: Also about your love lives! Sihan, I can’t believe I’ve not met Hannah. I’ve no idea what she’s like. Kel, you know I’m always a fan of your escapades.  

 

K: It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there trying to look for love, my brother.

 

E: Also, for the wedding speech, whatever it is that the both of you are saying… please play nice. You know, happy wife, happy life. 

 

S: We’ll make you love us more than your wife, ok? What else? I guess we have to share personal details about ourselves. 

 

E: You can try… :) :) :) Your limit is M18 no R21 please. 

 

K: Talk about food? Tacos? Man, those tacos from Cali!!! WORLD CUP [2018] WITH MEXICO WINNING IN S.F!!!

 

S: We could talk about what we most look forward to after COVID-19. How we think life could change in some small or big way.

 

K: Or talk about what’s next for us? A crazy trip to Taiwan or China to explore the roots? A spiritual trip to India? The Himalayas? Things have changed so much in the intervening ten years: taking funky shakes in Bali, forgetting our passports in Malaysia, getting lost in Morocco, bull running in Pamplona, surfing in the Basque Country, getting tattoos in New York, road tripping in California. Though we’d probably go to India only to miss the Taj Mahal, like how we missed the redwoods in San Francisco, the most excitement from that was when Errol impersonated a bird!

 

E: Sihan totally fell for that and he still ain’t admitting it! Dude, do you remember our tour at Google’s HQs? That was pretty cool. But the Apple folks were such snobs, we could only tour their HQ via an online virtual augmented reality app? Very disappointing. I’m already missing Cali’s weather. It’s been your typical humidity overload in Singapore. I take like three showers a day now… I just like the feeling of running water on my body. 

 

S: Ok, what else? Talk about our jobs or you guys wanna keep it separate?

 

E: I think more separate? You already mentioned our jobs up there. I think that’s enough. 

 

K: Jobs are slightly lame. Come on dudes, we should share more anecdotes or common experiences together. 

 

E: True. Talk about any writing you [Sihan] are doing at the moment. 

 

S: Ok, what time do you [Errol] get up tomorrow? Wondering if there could be an hour where all of us are here. 

 

E: I could get up at say 10 a.m.? My day tomorrow looks clear. I can devote an hour for sure. Oh, hold up, my schedule tomorrow night is a bit crazy but I hope I should be able to jump on it with you guys. So many calls, man.

 

K: But that would be 4 a.m. for me! Also, since my lockdown just ended in Barcelona, I’m heading to the mountains [Montseny] for a motor ride tomorrow. I can still connect from my phone if we fix a time.

 

E: Okay, we’ll need one hour probably to write it together.

 

K: Or thirty minutes?

 

S: And another thirty minutes to polish everything up once we’re done. Just so it doesn’t look too anyhow. 

 

E: Damn, it’s almost 3 a.m. Send some pictures from your mountain trip, Kelvin? I honestly don’t mind if you guys wrote *some of my replies* and I’ll edit after since we know each other well enough. Just so we get some s**t going. If you want to. 

 

S: Last resort lah for all three of us. When is the deadline [for this article] again? Tomorrow, right? We can also talk about our different lockdown situations.

 

K: Guys, if we have a few more minutes, just rewinding back in time, some random memories that we can talk about. One, at the very, very beginning where we thrashed our friend’s vacant apartment during my sending-off party to NS, I ended up crying for an ex-girlfriend, drinking absinthe from the bottle and stuff like that. Two, half a decade later, we were fighting on the beaches of Bali, drinking bourbon from the bottle all night because we were too cheap to stay in a hostel. Three, another one not that long ago with fireflies rising out of the ground in a Tibetan restaurant in New York on the fourth of July. I mean, such different ideas of fun from then to now and such different people we are now.

 

S: That party was a mess cause we were just mixing drinks. I think it was Maotai, absinthe and vodka for me, and we were puking out from the 12th floor. 

 

E: Holy crap guys I haven’t thought about that for years. Yes.. we mixed every alcohol we could buy from Parkway Parade. There was Maotai even. And… remember that shady dude who delivered Absinthe to us? You’ll see the Green fairy, they say. Bullshit... I say. We drank a lot of that green stuff and I didn’t see any fairies. The next day we were rudely awakened by the owner of the house. Not the person who invited us to crash, but her dad. W-T-F. At 9 a.m. as well as after a hard night of drinking, puking, prancing around an empty house like lawless boys. We had Burger King for breakfast later. And then, Kel, you got enlisted. Man… we were “young and dangerous” back then. I hope we still are right now? 

 

VIRTUAL CONVERSATIONS AWAY FROM HOME – May 27, 1:01 p.m. 

 

E: Yo yo, are we good?

 

S: Time to get serious?

 

K: My connection isn’t the greatest, bros. 

 

E: Kk. 

 

VIRTUAL CONVERSATIONS AWAY FROM HOME  – May 28, 7:09 a.m.

 

S: How was your breakfast today? I’ve noticed I’m eating differently from before WFH. I’m no longer going to that hipster French bakery 10 minutes away for sourdough. It’s really good but it just doesn’t feel right eating the same thing l did when everything was normal.

 

E: Breakfast starts at noon these days. Oats. Just plain oats. Did you know it’s healthy to start your day with a warm glass of water? Apparently that gets your metabolism working. 

 

K: I’m a new convert to vegetarianism and healthy, organic food stuff, so breakfast is generally a very rich smoothie with kefir, nuts, spinach, guaran powder or American ginseng, and fruits. I thought I’d use the quarantine to clean up my body but now and then I do succumb to the temptation of the French neighbourhood bakery for buttery croissants! Errol, I’ll definitely have to try the warm water, I think my smoothies are maybe TOO rich even on the healthy living scale! 

 

E: I’ve been waking up later too because Netflix is keeping me up all night. I feel like I’ve watched every single anime film Netflix has to offer. Emails too. I’m bored sometimes. 

 

S: Netflix offers emails? I’ve definitely been getting skinnier and flabbier.

 

K: Maybe we can do warm water breakfasts when we reunite together, a far cry from the fast food breakfasts we were having in our 2018 road trip to California!

 

E: Haven’t you seen the movie You’ve Got Mail? They have that on Netflix. Do you like Tom Hanks? Did you know he had COVID? Crazy huh. My mum’s on a Tom Hanks marathon. She just completed the entire Dan Brown movie trilogy. She asked about you guys over dinner today. 

 

S: I can almost hear the warmth in your mum’s voice and damn, I’m glad she’s giving Tom Hank all the attention he deserves *wink*. How is she? I Zoomed with you the other day and there was Elias [Errol’s second brother], cheeky and chill as ever. 

 

K: Not to mention Mr. Tony Lim’s [Errol’s father] curated wine collection that he always shares with us gladly. Errol, did you tell Tan about Elias’ budding internet business? Entrepreneurship runs in the blood!

 

E: LOL. She’ll cook up a storm for the both of you when y’all get back. Soon I hope. Definitely before the year ends? And what local delights are you missing most, guys? I’m gonna learn how to cook. Elias has been flipping kicks. He has like over 10 pairs of JordanOnes. Also… I hate to tell you this but... I still have your [Sihan] sister’s Glossier items from my trip to New York last year :p I hope makeup stuff doesn't have an expiry date. 

 

S: You know what’s the difference between makeup stuff and friendship? One is made-up and the other has no expiry date. Right, guys? Right? 

 

Errol: Ha...ha...ha 

 

K: -_-" Sihan's sense of humour strikes again... to answer your earlier question, Errol, if all goes according to plan, we’ll be reunited in November at the latest.

 

S: As you both know, that’s what I’m targeting too. To spend at least a month or two in Singapore and avoid winter in the East Coast, then we’ll take it from there. Also, can’t wait to see your new place, Khong Tak.

 

E: Damn... I just got news that the renovation at my new home sweet home will be delayed again. We were supposed to move in this week. Right now, mid-July would be a miracle. 

 

K: No wedding, no house. Dude, 2020 is really laying waste to our plans.

 

E: Totally. I have a Swede interning with me at the moment (no Kel, it’s not a she, you don’t have to ask) and he planned to travel around SEA during his stint here. That totally didn’t happen. Imagine the number of times he’s been to MacRitchie Reservoir. I’ve suggested Mount Faber. He told me he’s been… three times. LOL.  

 

K: Dude, I met him in person when I was at your workplace in my annual "Work from Errol's office" week. And we already did the sawatdeekap instead of a handshake.

 

S: Is visiting Mount Faber three times considered a lot? And Kel, if I’m not wrong, you have been back consistently every CNY, right?

 

K: The past 3 or so, yes. As we age, the draw of family gets stronger. Before that I was doing once every 1.5 years or so. By the way, guys, do you feel that the circuit breaker will leave an imprint on the collective psyche of Singapore? Or will it be like the previous bird and swine flu breakouts?

 

E: Well you know just how “big” Mount Faber is. Poor dude is bored stiff. Probably has seen most parts of Singapore in the last 6 months already. I told him to check out other places like the farms in Kranji. I hope they are still there. Kel is right about family getting stronger as we age, even in my context here. We’re having more “adult” conversations with our parents. It’s weird in a nice way, heart warming. This circuit breaker is kinda a special time for me as well. I realise that I’ll be moving out almost immediately after this ends. So this is literally the last few weeks of staying with my folks – Singapore style. I’d really miss the Keris estate man. This is my favourite part of Singapore #eastside. Kel, how’s Edwin [Kel’s brother] man? Any updates from Amsterdam? It’s not such a s**t show in northern Europe I guess. They have large spaces and people are more educated, which means more socially responsible. 

 

K: Amsterdam isn't hit as hard and from what we see, life has been going on more normally than here in Spain.

 

S: So have you been packing up your days now that you’re free, Kel?

 

K: Since when have I been free? More work than ever! 

 

E: BULL. You’re jumping on this on your bike from the mountain side.

 

S: As in free from confinement lah. Since Spain is easing up earlier than Singapore and the States.

 

K: Well, it's Day 3. I can say that I've started hitting the cheap cañas [draught beers] every day on the sunny terraces.

 

E: Singapore’s Phase One is technically still lockdown… I miss going out to eat. And I miss Spanish tapas. Do you remember what I used to call them .. ang moh dim sum

 

K: It's true! With olive oil instead of pork lard! 


 

VIRTUAL CONVERSATIONS AWAY FROM HOME – May 28, Midnight. 

 

K: Sihan, as a writer, what do you think sticks the most or shines through throughout the past few months? 

 

S: Ah, remember that Aldous Huxley book you gave me maybe 10 years ago? 

 

K: The Island?

 

S: Yes, the idea of isolated utopias has always stuck with me but I’ve been reading up on isolated communities in Antarctica and uncontacted tribes, and have also been in touch with a friend who works for the CBC in Iqaluit, which is part of the Canadian Arctic. So I have been working on a short story about a group of people forming a Party in order to push for a very specific bill: the right to die. The bill is passed. They say their final words, get their lethal jabs. But they wake up in a cave that leads to an isolated pomelo grove, a play on the “Peach Blossom Spring”.  Now, they’re faced with the decision of “to keep living or to die again”. 

 

E: I wish I had done more reading. I was packing my room the other day and found an old book that I loved – Roald Dahl: Completely Unexpected Tales. Also remember that book that you passed to me? The Snow Leopard. That’s very enjoyable too, especially because I’ve literally trekked in the Himalayas twice! I’m in the middle of a rather boring book right now – Heroic Leadership. Reading is such a lost art. I’m easily distracted these days with Netflix, Instagram and recently, Pinterest. Another classic excuse is work always gets in the way. I’ve definitely been putting in way more hours. It feels like A-Levels these days. Sleep. Study/Work. Eat. Repeat. Oh… and I’ve been playing CS [Counterstrike] to de-stress haha. Getting quite good at it. 

 

K: Honestly for me, it's gone how it should have. I am learning French, python programming, and reconnecting with friends that I don't call so often. How about you guys?

 

S: Oh man, remember when we would spend hours playing CS, Battlefield or L4D? When we were sick of drinking or clubbing on weekend night. Good to hear you’ve both been occupied! I have also been reconnecting with friends but more so with friends outside of NYC. Besides that, I spent a month working on building a sustainable materials library for architects. And I succumbed to Football Manager since there’s no live football.

 

E: That is super cool. You’ll have to share more about that library you’re building. We’re doing a tonne of research on house reno. And could always use more inspiration! Ping has architecture genes running in the family. Oh right, we used to play at Chambers, wasn’t it? 

 

S: I think it was that place near P.S? We used to play there. What’s the name of that place with a hotel and food court and pool? A dollar an hour.

 

E: Dammit I can’t remember the name of the place. It was opposite POMO, right? Kel? The hotel… before Plaza Sing. Rendezvous Hotel. Starts with the letter … U? 

 

K: Gallery hotel, wasn't it? Didn’t you guys used to go to Pah Games at Parkway when I was in Amsterdam? Also, why do I feel like this now rambling interview is the precursor to the speech we will give at Errol's wedding LOL? Anyway, Sihan, as overseas Singaporeans, we've been very lucky to be able to reflect on our identity from a distance. I think we both have some sort of longing for it in Corona times – how has your perception changed or not after years in NYC? Errol, how do you see us? Are we strange?


S: Well, I’m Sihan Tan here, not Tan Sihan. I haven’t been back since 2017 but the last time I was in Singapore, I remembered playing the role of a tourist at home. I’d explore parks and other places on weekdays and thought that the green everywhere looked particularly sun-scorched. I mean, I was in the NCC and went through NS so I should be very familiar with the tropical green. Anyway, I left Singapore after college for many reasons but one of it was because I felt like I’d experienced every aspect of life in Singapore. Singapore, to me, was the government and its people. And having lived in the UK and now NYC for five years, there really is so much more out there. Which means you can be whoever you want to be year by year, start anew, dabble with different groups and hobbies, find a new neighborhood, meet strangers in bars although it’s always the same bloody rugs and bed sheets from IKEA! In NYC, everything is politicised whereas in Singapore, politics is just taken for granted with no such thing as the Left or the Right. We trust in the government even though we like to complain. Here, there is a lot of individual freedom on paper but everyone is either chasing something or running away from something and you almost feel trapped within this tightly wound, self-absorbed chamber of anxiety and the fear of not being happy enough. I mean I live in Brooklyn and everyone here, no matter how old you are, is some sort of a lost kid. My middle-aged Puerto Rican neighbours party harder than I do! The middle class folk ask if they can be forgiven in therapy. And NYC is the all-giving mother, lover and God. Why else do New Yorkers read, watch and talk about New York every single day? It’s a great place but it forces you to be a certain way and I guess I’m a little over all that. And I’m saying this as someone who has received more from the State of New York than Singapore.

 

E: We’re all same same but different I guess. The essence of the both of you have been pretty much the same to me, values, innate interest, zeal and zest for life (in whatever capacity that you’re pursuing). The biggest difference is probably the lack of hair that we all have right now (to varying degrees, haha). To be honest, I like how the three of us have progressed so far. I don’t think we’ve settled for anything lesser than what we’ve always wanted to do. I remember tearing up when Kelvin left to study at the University of Amsterdam, when you had a place in NUS with me. We were sitting at Lecture Theatre 11 a week before that declaring how we’ll “rule the damn school” haha such ignorant fools were back then. Then Sihan left for Edinburgh and that was hard to stomach too. I mean two of my closest mates left within two to three years of each other. I felt like you guys had abandoned me. It was a difficult time, I had to make “new” friends and I did go through a very weird phase then. Thankfully short-lived. I was selfish to have wanted the both of you to stay behind in Singapore with me. Looking back, that [the both of you staying in Singapore] never would have worked out. I’m so glad that we have the kind of friendship and love for each other that transcends time and space (sounds cheesy but it can be taken quite literally as well). Just remember that the race isn’t over. It’s not how you start, it’s how you end and we’re entering a totally new milestone for all of us. I know I’ll see you guys at the finish line. 
 

K: From my side, I definitely think that the three of us get very amused at laughing at and about ourselves, I hope this camaraderie touches people. Although time and space separate our lives, it’s crazy how I still feel the connection that brought us together as boys. Errol, I remember Uncle playing the Alan Tam song Peng You maybe more than a decade ago for us, does he still sing it? I've added it to my playlist and every time I hear it, I'm reminded of that moment. (Also have "if" by Bread on that playlist that you used to OWN!). One day, perhaps we can run a winery business of sorts based on our cross-cultural and continental experiences, regaling clients not just with great, little-known wines but also with tales of our intertwining lives in three cities.


E: I’ve been telling you guys we should totally do it. I could run the business management part of things. Ah Tan can be the creative juices behind the enterprise – the writer, the conceptualiser, the stylist. And Kel, you could just drink beer and f**k fear like you always do. HAHA. You’ll be business relations and key accounts. I’m telling you we have complimentary skill sets. What we lack… is motivation to pick our lazy asses up and get on with doing something. Commitment. Speaking of which. How’s the concept of commitment coming along for the both of you?  


S: Some question! I feel like for most of my twenties, I swang between being afraid of commitment and over-committing, and I was on the verge of doing whatever I want again when you [Errol] came to visit for a month for a business trip last year. I either took things too seriously or treated everything like a game. So thank you for snapping me out of that tortured-artist-in-NYC bubble. For the most part, I have been fortunate enough to have something fall my way and to coast but I would very much like to own whatever it is I am going to commit to – with conviction alongside the commitment, because no one else is going to believe and care about what you do but you. 


K: I've always thought commitment was tough for me, but suddenly it's a bit of “Hey look, 8 years and counting in Barcelona! 3 years on the job!” This city is so good in so many ways and I've had a thousand different faces in this time, from skater raver to hipster art indie music guy to proper Catalan integrant, but something is missing. I can't really put a finger on it but I'm guessing that my time committed here hasn't by default turned into an intellectual, emotional commitment. Is this just how expat life is like? After all, it is said that to some extent, when we travel and base ourselves elsewhere, we leave home to look for something we didn't have, novelty, or escape… I'd hate to fall into clichés but our commitment should be to challenge ourselves to become better people and not just stick to the status quo, something often said but rarely truly done due to external attachments or obligations. I think one of the reasons I love you guys so much is because we understand this and have never held each other back in our individual journeys, instead, only having lots of admiration for how we are forging our own paths.

Errol, Sihan, Kelvin

26 May 2020