Hello,

 

It's 30 March 2020 over here, and I hope you're doing okay. As spoken, here are a few questions to get things going:

 

  • How are you doing in these COVID times? How are your family and those around you?
  • Is there any particular thing that worries you the most?
  • Has the distance from Singapore weighed on your mind during this time?
  • Community, Distance, Time, Home: How has the meanings of any of these words changed for you in recent days?
  • What have you been thinking about most of all these days?
  • Is there a story of a person, a community, or a place relating to the crisis that you think should be told?

 

Anyway, it's been way too long since we last saw each other, and it looks like it will only get longer. Stay safe in the meantime.

 

All best,

Daryl

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你好。/nǐ hǎo/Hello./How are you?

你还好吗?/nǐ hái hǎo ma/How have you been?/Are you doing okay?

I

[ennairda, 16 April 2020]

 

 

How are you?

 

Oh no.

 

My mind whirls in the same confusion every time this question pops up, even before COVID or Work From Home or Circuit Breaker or Stay Home became part of our daily lexicon.

 

I’m great!

I like being at home really so I’m doing well. This isn’t that much different from my habits… Staying in, playing games, crafting, reading, and being quiet, on my own… Does she want to know that I have been telling meal delivery staff to leave the food at my door? (Yes, I have nice little hooks at my door for this purpose!) Does she want to know that sometimes, I plan ahead and not go out for many days in a row, even before this Circuit Breaker? It’s not too difficult and

          it’s really good for managing my fatigue.

 

I fidgeted.

 

I’m not sure, actually.

Should I tell her how I am concerned because as someone with a chronic condition and with lowered immunity, I’m considered ‘vulnerable’? I never thought I’d really be in this group at this age really. Would she want to know that I have already modified my habits as much as I could? Maybe I’ve already mentioned this to her before. I read about how some people with more serious conditions – those who are housebound or bedbound – and they are fearing that their carers cannot visit them anymore because of this. It’s really sad and really scary at the same time… I wish I could do something but I’m also really grateful

          I’m a mild case—

 

“I, er…”

 

I guess I’m alright?

I had to reschedule some of my medical appointments because I had a minor cough, and thought I should be ‘responsible’. And now my limbs feel like they are filled with lead whenever I’m a teeny bit tired, but I can’t do anything about it… because appointments in hospitals are reduced drastically and the next slot I have is not in another four months.

          there’s so much in my head—

 

Hey, are you okay? How are you doing?

 

Come on! Say something!

 

“I’m okay.

How are you?”

The pandemic starts so subtly. I was in Penang visiting my in-laws when there were rumours that it wasn't safe to eat prawns—some workers in one of China's famous seafood market in Wuhan had fallen ill. I brushed that aside as I dug into my Penang Hokkien prawn mee. It couldn't be the prawns, and it was all so far away.

 

I want to pick up new skills in my line of research.

 

Late January. It hits hard and fast. News reaches us that the virus is spreading rapidly in China. Rumours abound. It’s hard to tell what’s true and what isn’t. There are videos of people eating bats, which plays weirdly against my love of Batman. Not long after, Singapore has its first case. Late one night, as I’m editing a research paper, I tune in to a YouTube video to keep myself awake. It’s by an English teacher based in Wuhan and tells of the situation there, where once-busy streets are now devoid of life. He says that he uses his knees to push the lift’s buttons for fear of contaminating his fingers. One commenter even says: ‘omg we are living in an apocalyptic movie right now irl’. I am entertained but feel guilty for it.

Sometime in March, I begin to reach out to friends asking if they’ve been affected, if their family is coping, or how things look in their part of the world. Futile questions, because no matter what the answers are, I know that there is practically nothing that I can do to help them. In fact, before I started reaching out, I was tentative and considered simply keeping to myself. Then I realised that the point of it wasn’t so much the questions and the responses. It wasn’t action or ability. The voice was the work itself.

 

How are you? This isn’t normally work, but it’s important work now.

 

One of the friends that I get in touch with is Kah Wee. We’ve known each other for a long time, but we don’t converse that frequently because of the distance. With friends who are far away, I find that it is difficult to maintain the substance, the heartbeat of the friendship because we don’t share the same space or moment, but perhaps the mark of a true friendship in such a case is that it is able to subsist silently until called upon.

 

I contact him just as this project is also beginning to find its feet, so it occurs to me to ask if he would like to contribute. He agrees but explains that it’s something that he might struggle to come up with on his own. So instead, he asks me to email him a few questions.

I want to enjoy more music. I want to read the Witcher books.

 

February. Cases in Singapore are on the rise. DORSCON Orange is declared. Memes of Aunties with shopping carts full of instant noodles, rice, canned food, and other necessities make the rounds in my WhatsApp circles. We’re told not to wear masks unless we’re not feeling well—and not to rush to stock up on supplies. Daily temperature measurements are expected by the University. I’m proud to say that I’m kiasu enough to wear a mask when I use public transport but not kiasu enough to stock up on stuff at home. It’s still life as normal, with more washing of the hands and caution with what I touch. I find myself pleased at having committed the steps to a successful handwashing to memory.

I want to dabble in resin art. I want to dabble in origami.

 

Social distancing measures are put in place and telecommuting is now encouraged. In-camp training and IPPT will be suspended. My IPPT aspirations immediately become moot. I see many colleagues not appearing at work and our meetings are moving online. “United we fall, divided we stand” is printed on notices put up by the lab manager on the office walls. It’s a bad joke. I worry for my friends whose salaries are reduced and who face uncertainties in their jobs. I worry for the undergraduates I work with as they graduate and begin their job hunts. I worry for the friend who has just started to expand his Thai milk tea business. I pass by a gaming shop one day and find that the prices for handheld consoles have risen. Shortage of electronic parts from China and high customer demand - the shopkeeper told me. I worry for the people who need entertainment and distractions in this time but are unable to find the means to do so, while being relieved that I have purchased my gaming set a few months prior.

I want to pick up cooking. I want to get started on calisthenics.

 

Now. Non-essential services and workplaces are to be closed, and schools will now conduct lessons at home. Dining outside will soon be ceased, allowing only for takeout. Soon, I won’t be able to visit my brother, my friends, my board games club. It seems prudent to hold on to my current job and make the best of what I have.

 

I want to play D&D online with my friends. I want to set up online gaming accounts with my friends.

I hope that we’ll turn a corner soon, that the COVID-19 pandemic makes its way out of our lives. They say that we don't know how long we'll have to fight this. So I gear up to weather the remainder of this year. So I make these contingencies.

 

I want to…

 

So I make a list.

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II

[Nicholas Cheng, 4 April 2020]

 

At the turn of the year, as festivities draw to a close, I make myself New Year’s resolutions. They say to keep it simple, so I keep mine to two: to get a Silver grading for my IPPT and to do well in my work.

[Teng Kah Wee, 30 March 2020]

 

Stay safe too Daryl

 

How are you doing in these COVID times? How are your family and those around you?

There has been a shelter-in-place order in the San Francisco Bay Area since March 17. A few days later, California state declared stay-at-home order. To keep myself busy, I collaborate with my coworkers through Slack and Zoom. To keep myself sane, I do social distancing walks or runs every day. I also called my family and friends in Singapore to catch up a bit more, given there are more common topics like COVID-19 now more than ever. My friends here in the San Francisco Bay Area since moved hanging out to virtual means due to the new orders in place.

 

Is there any particular thing that worries you the most?

My aged parents. They are more susceptible, and they aren't as vigilant in Singapore yet.

 

Has the distance from Singapore weighed on your mind during this time?

A little, however, I know that my brother is still in Singapore, and I can count on him. I continue to Facetime my girlfriend regularly and she made plans to visit San Francisco at the end of April. Now I'm just concerned the flights may get canceled or new orders may be in place to discourage movement.

 

Community, Distance, Time, Home: How has the meanings of any of these words changed for you in recent days?

Definitely for community and home. I start to realize the community is people and businesses closest to me. I donated to causes in San Francisco to help out the neighborhood. I also supported local restaurants (particularly in Pacific Heights) through Uber Eats. I also learned that home is both San Francisco and Singapore. I want to continue to believe both cities can tide this through. I think a lot about the shops I patronized and the connections we made. I don't want COVID-19 to make this go away.

 

What have you been thinking about most of all these days?

Mostly my girlfriend and how we can go through this year considering there's so much uncertainty.

 

Is there a story of a person, a community, or a place relating to the crisis that you think should be told?

There are so many little stories. I can't think of one particular incident. Some of the things I am thinking about include

  • my cousin who works for an Asian airline which might not survive this and they have to take unpaid leave soon
  • my friend whose company shut down and she had to find a new job before her visa expires
  • one of the senior homes which is affected by this crisis

III

[Teng Kah Wee, photos from SF, received 1 May 2020]

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