April 30, 2020

We will be reunited again. I say that with forlorn hollows under my eyes. It’s a constant thought that has been persistently running through my head. In a week’s time, I was supposed to be sunbathing on the terrace, contemplating floor plans and colour schemes for our new project—a cosy little B&B tucked away in the dreamy corners of Preuilly-sur-Claise. But life is a funny thing. In a blink of an eye, everything changed.

My boyfriend goes back to France tomorrow, and our reunification lies in the distant unforeseeable future. My dreams of suburban life in France are as hazy as my current mornings that typify how much whisky I drank the night before. Nights, I seem to be getting too familiar with.

It’s Wednesday. Well, it could have been Sunday or Friday even, not that it makes a difference. But just like any other day this month, it’s another day of finding little pockets of comfort to ease our minds and hearts. This week, I found comfort in attempting to cook hawker favourites in my tiny kitchen. I’ve knocked out a pretty stellar bak chor mee that I plan to recreate even in France, and made broth using leftover bones from my media luncheons (thanks guys for sending them over). The week before had me kneading dough by hand—Chinese chive biscuits, German apple cake—getting the precise measurements is like an act of mindfulness that instils peace in return.

When my editor told me to write a piece on how the circuit breaker measures have affected my life, I initially wanted to unleash a string of curse words. And possibly do a Britney Spears head-shaving moment as an ode to my frustrations. But in light of the struggles of health care workers, restaurant operators and minimum-wage employees that have been furloughed during the coronavirus crisis, complaining would just seem petty. Then it dawned upon me—this wasn’t a piece to air my trials and tribulations, it was a chance for me to express gratitude.

I’m thankful that we gave up the keys to our apartment two weeks before Singapore kicked into high gear. Because we weren’t going to get back the remainder of the balance if we had been a second too late. We moved into a shoebox unit in the heart of Balestier at the dawn of April, with our air tickets booked for Labour Day. The goal for the rest of the month was simple: eat, drink, repeat. Along the way, we would support all our favourite establishments before the relocation.

Then, the government announced the shutting down of bars and entertainment venues. All our plans went out of the window. It got worse when the circuit breaker came into effect on April 7. Party plans morphed into date nights in PJs with water mugs instead of wine glasses. Like so many things in life, the situation was far from ideal, but there was a silver lining in every dark cloud: my cleaning duties were significantly reduced in this bolt-hole. The kitchen became my sanctuary and I scoured the Internet for recipes every other day. Once you go down the rabbit hole… well, there is no turning back. To all those looking to try their hand at either cooking or baking, here’s my advice: The abundance of recipes can be overwhelming—compelling you to source for ingredients, but to avoid that, examine your pantry first.

In the midst of all this, my parents contracted dengue fever. Both my parents were hospitalised; dad had a low platelet count of 16,000 per microlitre of blood for two days and with hospitals restricting access for visitors, things weren’t looking up. I may have appeared to carry an impression of boyish insouciance towards the situation, but in all honesty, I was worried. All the time. If there was one major takeaway, it was the stark realisation that I have to treasure their existence more. Thankfully, they have both recovered and are back at each other’s throats at home.

Speaking of home, here I was, stuck in a 6 by 6m apartment for the next 30 days. I had no qualms about sticking it out. My freelance endeavours (for the past two years) had given me in a peculiar advantage—for one, I loved being alone. Secondly, working from home, holed up from worldly distractions, was a norm for me.

But I could not say the same about my partner. He even started to take showers every two days until the kid had to play the honest card. I still advocate a fresh shower and change every morning before you go about your daily tasks. It’s really what separates work from daily life. That and the first drink that touches your lips at 5:30pm.

To further challenge the separation of work from life was home-based learning. I have a newfound respect for educators; dealing with 20 screaming kids in a classroom can be tough, but dealing with 20 kids bombarding questions in unison on Google classroom and submitting their schoolwork in all shapes and forms (screenshots of misshapen volcanoes included) is insane.

I pondered over decimals, tackled garden fences and their perimeters before broaching the subject of creative writing; hooks, transitions, the main section and conclusion. At times, I felt like I was the one being punished. Cooking for a kid was also a struggle: three meals a day, and the occasional tea-time treat that I had to whip up on the fly. I might as well be operating a pop-up sleepover camp for picky eaters. Breakfast shakshuka would bleed into pizza lunches, and whatever’s left would spill over into snacktime with chiffon cake. It was all done in accordance to avoid the terrifying words, “I’m hungry.” In some ways, the ability to be a homemaker was what I’ve always wanted. Yet this was not how I pictured it happening. Where were the mid-afternoon runs in the garden and playing on a swing set?

Side note: Anything that tastes like a guilty indulgence to you, kids will love. Cheese, eggs and pasta are always a winner. And the important thing is not to give up; kids smell failure from far away and they emulate those actions and thoughts. I stifled my whimpers as he pushed Chinese ginger chicken around his plate (ginger is a bit of a tough sell). You got to widen your repertoire, build on what works and push the boundaries one step at a time.

Although every day felt like Groundhog Day, there was something strangely gratifying about its repetitive nature of cultivating good habits and contemplative thoughts. There also seemed to be a resurgence in knitting, gardening and even fermenting. For me, I enjoyed watching my scallions grow in glasses of water on the windowsill, with each centimetre to mark the days gone by. Then there was the fitness aspect which I’ve come to love. If someone had asked me if I could do 40 seconds of burpees continuously prior to this, I would have said they were delusional. But now, I could do that coupled with a 45-minute intense Tabata workout. Glistening in perspiration, the euphoria achieved followed by happy hour in gym pants and a high ponytail, was oddly satisfying.

We are in topsy-turvy times right now. But we can come out on top through our consumption choices, relationships, values and goals in life. Being in a confined space not only forces us to pause but also to re-evaluate, reshape, and re-examine ourselves. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we can get through the darkness together, and at some point, hope to announce, “See you on the other side!”