How seeing friends cope with the pandemic on the other side of the world challenges your worldview.

This won’t help, honestly, just stay in

Current view: one child on an iPad, one snuggled up with me. Lego strewn like an elephant graveyard. Empty coffee mugs and unread books on my shelves looking accusingly at me and my quest for self-improvement during these times of confinement.

My world view is small, so small that it barely exists outside these four walls. It’s not that I’m not thankful, I genuinely am. What passes as British summertime is streaming through the window, the sun picking out an alarming amount of cat fur currently residing on the windowsill. The back garden is a welcome respite from the confines of the living room. A work in progress, it provides exercise, fresh air and a lot of imagination to keep us digging, pulling and chopping.

Soggy Balloon

There are no words I could write here that would adequately convey the situation we are in right now. The word “unprecedented” has been thrown around like a saggy water balloon. Pop it and out tumbles a flood of fear, confusion, panic, stoicism and yes, maybe even opportunity.

My business might be suffering, it’s hard to write hard hitting features when you’re trying to remember how to convert decimals into fractions but letting go of any semblance of control is the new normal. Adaptation is what all the best-dressed humans are wearing.

Hunkering down, batting down the hatches and taking it one day or hour is our survival mantra. Yet we know the challenges some families and individuals are facing. My heart goes out to those women and men locked up with an abusive partner or parents of children whose additional needs or health concerns make staying in a perpetual source of tension and stress. The reality is that we have little in that currency we once loved: choice. Pub or movie? Which restaurant? Soft play or bike ride? That’s gone. Deal with it or…don’t. That remains a choice at least.

Time and Tide

Globally, each country appears to be handling the pandemic in their own unique style. The UK with its phased approach to getting everyone in, the US at the epicentre of this global nightmare with the President setting the confusing and worrying goal of “opening the US” up in time for Easter. Time will tell.

Eighteen months ago my four walls would have looked very different. The Victorian fireplace replaced with a leaky aircon unit. Cold tiles underfoot rather than battered floorboards. Not a cat in sight, shorts and t-shirts the daily uniform. Lockdown in Singapore a whole world away.

In the Lion City, self-isolation means being handed a quarantine notice that forbids you from leaving your home for two weeks. How is this enforced? Daily phone calls, a visit from the authorities and even the requirement to take photos of your environment to prove you are staying put. While those in the more liberal West might be aghast at these militaristic moves, for anyone who’s lived in SG, the government response doesn’t come as a surprise. This is a country where rules are enforced, vigorously. By death and beatings if necessary. Yet it’s also a country that has, not surprisingly, a low crime rate, whose citizens feel safe when they walk about late at night. Where expats flock for quality of life and a stable economy.

The ruthless tracking down and testing of those infected and those who may have passed on the virus is working and working well. We would not expect anything less than the robust response dished up by the autocratic leadership.

Across time zones

I can’t help but wonder how my life and that of my family’s would look like had we found ourselves still in SE Asia right now. Certainly our schools would probably still be open, though trialing internet learning. We might still be able to use the pool in our condo and trot out to the nearest FairPrice or Cold Storage for supplies. Panic buying would still have happened and we would have struggled to know how to backfill the spaces in our cupboards.

The expat community would have rallied, though we in our French speaking district would have found ourselves struggling a little to find support from our immediate neighbours, relying instead on those who share our native tongue. The sense of panic, I think, would be managed. The reassuringly strict messages and measures put in by the SG government would be both helpful and terrifying but ultimately knowing the grown-ups are in charge familiarly reassuring.

Our life was slower in Singapore. Without a car we relied on Uber or public transport to go places. The heat kept us inside or diving headlong into the pool. We moved slowly, planned carefully and spent a lot of our time together. Back in the UK, we’re under pressure, time poor and find ourselves distracted by a host of after school clubs, visits to friends and unnecessary trips to the supermarket. We miss those freedoms, that busyness. I don’t think we would have in Singapore.

My friends over there, like us, are coping. They’re keeping busy and distracted. Moving their work online and from home where they can. Children are preparing for school closures, like ours, with a mix of sadness at missing friends and the unbridled joy of being outside the confines of the strict French system. Parents are worried about the effects on the long term lack of formal education on their offspring. Helpers, those women from Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines who keep the households running, are worried about family back home and what the future holds.

Familiar and different, neither one a better or worse approach. Each country, each government making decisions that only history and hindsight will be able to judge fairly.

Yet, I look what’s happening in the countries I’ve called home, see those empty streets we spent so much time exploring and I know a piece of my heart is still there. I’ve got plenty to take care of with those residing within my four walls but my community is more than just the street outside my door and I miss it, miss them. I’ll make time to chat, I’ll take time to appreciate what freedom and choice means to me and I’ll adapt, like we all must.

Freelance writer, runner, crochet wannabe and good egg. Writes about running, embarrassing expat moments and family life