Lessons from a circuit breaker

With the lockdown across borders around the world, overseas Singaporean Eve’s short trip back to Singapore for the Lunar New Year turns out to be her longest visit home in more than a decade. She shares her journey during these 4 months.

19 May 2020 / By Eve Wee-Ang

This was supposed to be our shortest Chinese New Year trip back to Singapore. I guess, sometimes Reality and Intention don’t always see eye to eye. As I write this in my mother’s flat, I tallied and gasped…Today is the 116th day that my kids and I have been in Singapore – our longest stay ever since we relocated to Shanghai 12 years ago.

Over the last 4 months, I have been blessed to celebrate my 44th birthday via Zoom, be featured in Her World 60th Anniversary issue (such an honor), witness Singapore’s gradual steps to pause the city in its battle against COVID-19, and croon “Home” with fellow Singaporeans in solidarity.

ImageA ‘zoom’ birthday celebration for me this year

It has been 40 days since Singapore pulled the plug in its historic Circuit Breaker measures on 7 April for Singaporeans to stay home. Overnight, the entire nation had to adapt to a whole new way of life. Non-essential shops and services closed its shutters, students are educated online, families under different roofs kept at arm’s length and mouth masks are now a part of our wardrobe.

With another fortnight to go before the city rouses from hibernation, I find myself torn between emotions of I-can’t-wait-for-this-to-be-over to really-it’s-going-to-be-over? As I sit in solitude reflecting on the force of this pandemic that has shaken the world to its bones, I can’t help but marvel at the beautiful lessons that has emerged – the way light can only cast through when there are cracks.

Governing is a lot like Parenting

As parents to two adolescents, my husband and I raise our children with values shaped by our own upbringing, morals and personal experiences in the hope that they turn out to be good people. Even with our best intentions, we sometimes stumble because parenting at different stages is a terrifying new experience. We are baby parents to teens. One day, we will be baby grandparents. Similarly, fighting COVID-19 is a whole new territory for our leaders. Let’s give them and ourselves grace for we are all flawed individuals doing our best not to mess up.

Desperado Births Creativity

This trip home, I stepped into my late mother’s big shoes and cooked dinner for my family of twelve every night. But with the circuit breaker, our nightly gatherings are now reduced to packing my dinners into tingkat carriers placed at our doorstep for my family to pick up instead.

ImageDinner Tingkats for my family to collect

ImageA thank you banner from my sister’s family when collecting the tingkats

Cooking for a large number requires meal planning and stocking up on groceries – both of which I am horrible at. I don’t usually plan ahead, and I don’t know how to stock up. Like my mother, I buy what I need at the wet market every day to whip up 3 dishes and 1 soup for dinner. But all that changed with the circuit breaker, and I have learnt some kitchen hacks.

I learnt that when a recipe calls for coconut milk but the one in the fridge has gone rancid, coconut water with fresh milk works too!

Need pineapples for sweet and sour pork? Mangoes and apples also pair beautifully.

Coffee plunger broke? A sieve doubles up as a strainer.

Ran out of glue? Cooked rice is sticky and nontoxic.

Mouth mask flew away from the clothesline? No one can tell you are wearing eyeshades.

The Art of e-Parenting

Given the abnormality the world is facing right now, I think it’s unfair and cruel to expect my kids to be cooped up at home and be screen free. Since my husband isn’t here, I decided to tap into what the kids do best. When my son asked sweetly if I could help sew his torn Barney pillow, I responded with equal sweetness to learn to sew himself via YouTube tutorials. When my daughter suggested I bake her some brownies, I encouraged her to try baking with Google’s help instead (she misread the recipe by adding 25 teaspoons of salt instead of 2.5 teaspoons, but it’s okay, making mistakes is part of learning, yes?). Thanks to e-parenting, my kids learnt life skills like fixing the vacuum cleaner, cleaning the fans, folding fitted sheets, changing bedsheets, washing the toilets and unclogging the sink.

Reset to What Matters Most

Recently I discovered a newfound passion. After hanging my laundry, I enjoy standing at my windowsill and peering into my neighbour’s homes. I know that the auntie above suns her orange peels every morning. At the opposite block, a young mom leaves for work in the essential service at 8 am every morning. A couple of units away, a young man exercises at 4 pm at the stairway every day. When dusk falls, I gather my kids as we adjourn to the corridor in front of our house to catch the sunset. Before retiring for bed, we look up from the kitchen windowsill and there it is, the moon and stars twinkling above us.

ImagePeering into the neighbour’s homes

My mother has lived in her HDB flat for ten years but each time I return, I have never once thought to pause and observe the surroundings until now. I was either looking down at my phone or rushing to busy myself during my limited time in Singapore.

Now, when everything is stripped away, what remains is what matters most. Our time on earth is limited. This will pass as with everything in life. One day soon, life in Singapore will return to normal. We can choose to spend the rest of our life in a flash or we can take this rare circuit breaker time as a reset to mindfully ask ourselves what matters to us most. For me, I am praying for China’s borders to be lifted soon so that my family will be reunited.

ImageA brilliant sunset in front of my mother’s home


About Eve

Eve was a fashion publicist for luxury brands before she relocated to Shanghai as a trailing spouse. She started the TTT (Thursday Tai Tai) support group for Singaporean mothers in Shanghai which celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year. She is a columnist for Parents & Kids magazine and Singapore’s first KonMari tidying consultant whilst trying hard to be a cool mom to her tweens.

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