Apr 26, 2020

The value of celebrating special occasions

Now that I don't go out as much, my life has become a lot more routine. Not in a bad way, but in a sort of predictable way. I know what my day will be like at the start and at the end. I quite enjoy each part of my day at the moment, but every couple of days I feel the need to add a "fun element" in. 

In the past, the "fun element", like going out for a movie, a drink, an activity, a hike or to a new restaurant would happen so often that I never felt like I needed it because it was always available to me. 

Now, that going out is harder and options for fun activities more limited, I find myself wanting to switch things up every few days, such as wanting to order in food, watch a movie, have a glass of wine at the end of the day. These are all things I consider fairly simple, but they aren't things I do everyday, and therefore they are unique and fun for me in my current phase of life. 

It made me think about how traditionally, birthdays, anniversaries, promotions were celebrated by going out for a fancy meal, seeing loved ones and so on. Until now, I didn't really see the need for a special celebration when those things happen, because I found myself going out for meals and seeing loved ones every week regardless of whether there was something to celebrate. A boring week was as good a reason to go out as was a good week. 

However, being in this period where we can't see our loved ones or go out, I can see why celebrations can be special, especially for those who don't see their loved ones or spurge on dining out as much as I would do. 

It certainly makes those occasions more unique and special. 

Would this lead to me going out less or celebrating special occasions more? I don't know yet, but it certainly makes me appreciate the mini-celebrations I used to have every few days in my pre-covid life! 

Apr 19, 2020

Quarantine: Pushing the walls outward

I've been reading a wonderful book called Gentleman in Moscow, which is about a man put under house arrest in a hotel for 40 years. It's been very relevant as we all finish our own quarantine sentence on the accounts of covid. 

At one point, the main character who is quarantined recognises that he has the choice to either have the walls of the hotel push inwards and make his world smaller, or push the walls outward until they his world expands, into the city of Moscow, Russia and eventually the whole wide world. It is then that he adopts a more curious and exploratory mode towards his life under house arrest.

Seeing friends and family go through this period of quarantine, I notice parallels in the attitude individuals adopt when they are locked inside their homes. 

There are the kind who are downright upset about having to stay home, and spend a fair amount of time complaining on social media about the negative implications of a lockdown, whether it is for themselves, or for the larger society. In some countries, people even go so far as to protest in the streets against lockdown. Some of these are the rebels who challenge the status quo for logical reasons, while the others are just venting their frustration because they do not like this change in their life. 

There is another type, the kind who are not actively complaining or miserable, but are in a state of limbo. They are trying to find temporary hobbies to keep themselves entertained and pass this time. They are not happy or unhappy, and are patiently waiting for the time that this quarantine comes to an end and life goes back to normal. 

And then there are the kind who are using these times as opportunities to do social good for society, or even just for themselves. I really admire these people, for two reasons. Firstly, their resilience is so admirable  - they are adapting to the situation and accepting the new reality quickly. Secondly, they are not just finding ways to adjust, but they are finding ways to excel in this new environment by spotting opportunity. 

I came across a few examples of this that I really liked: 

  1. A NUS medical school graduate builds a tool to help doctors communicate with Bangladeshi migrants who are being treated for COVID: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/covid-19-nus-medical-graduate-bengali-translators-workers-12650406
  2. Virtual meditation course by my yoga teacher. With his studio closed until the circuit breaker ends, he now devotes time to virtual lessons and programs, that came up overnight: https://priyan.yoga/events/2020/4/16/meditation-with-priyan-seven-day-livestreaming-intensive 
  3. Coursera launched a tool that matches courses on it's platform that are similar to university courses that were supposed to be offered this semester. It's wonderful that students whose universities don't have enough resources to put courses online can use this to still keep learning: https://campustechnology.com/articles/2020/04/15/coursera-machine-learning-tool-matches-on-campus-courses-with-mooc-resources.aspx 
  4. Masterclass offers 1 for 1 annual passes. This isn't an innovation per se, but it is kind of them to offer such massive discounts. A lot of their courses are so apt for quarantine! https://www.t3.com/au/news/2-for-1-on-masterclass-streaming-courses-to-help-you-get-more-from-lockdown
  5. Similarly, Linkedin Learning offered free courses on remote working for companies that were transitioning to WFH: https://sva.edu/features/tips-for-remote-work-and-study-view-these-linked-in-learning-videos-with-your-sva-login
  6. Grab Food started offering island wide delivery for some restaurants in Singapore, which is a wonderful way to expand business for restaurants that are suffering at the moment. Not to mention, their increased demand for delivery was solved by their reduced demand for ride sharing: https://www.grab.com/sg/press/others/close-to-800-fb-establishments-on-grabfood-now-available-for-islandwide-delivery/

The only way you can start spotting new opportunities is by fully accepting the new reality as it is and embracing it. I love how all these companies and individuals have adapted so quickly and not just survived a brutal pandemic so far, but thrived and helped the community strive. 

Apr 12, 2020

Reflections of a recession newbie

The last time the world experienced a major recession in 2008, I was in 8th grade, not even old enough to understand if the recession was impacting my immediate family. Or rather, still a child far away from any job prospects to worry about the immediate impact a recession would have on me. 

Now, experiencing one that is far worse than the one we experienced in 2008, there are a few surprises about a recession that I am encountering on a daily basis.

1. Lay offs and salary cuts are normal. It's not unusual for someone to say they got laid off or got a cut in their salary without it sounding horrific, like it would sound to me a few months prior. 

2. The idea of you loosing your own job becomes a possibility. Although my job is relatively safe and stable, the uncertainty of how long the recession will last and the domino effects we will see in the long run leads to an unconscious mental preparation that "it could be me someday". 

3. The difference between essential and non-essential suddenly stands out so starkly. Seeing gyms and exercise studios closed, but grocery stores crowded as ever, gives me a reality check on what is essential to our survival and what isn't. For me, a gym or yoga studio is much more essential to keep my lifestyle, which no longer exists in the same way it used to. I would visit my yoga classes far more than the grocery store, but now, I see fitness institutes bleeding money as they are shut down due to lockdowns. 

4. From a business standpoint, it makes me think of "real pain" versus "nice to have". As much as entrepreneurship grows, and we see interesting types of fitness studios, dog cafes, entertainment centres grow and make money, they are still "nice to haves" which disappear overnight in situations such as these. Not just pandemics, because those don't happen often, but a financial recession, which do happen every few years lead to businesses that are built on real pains surviving much more than lifestyle businesses that we as humans can survive without. 

5. There are some businesses that "luck out" given the situation. Netflix and other online entertainment companies aren't necessarily essential. Neither are e-learning companies (yet), as much as I'd like them to be. However, this recession was triggered by a pandemic that necessitated the need for online entertainment and remote ways of learning, which is why some businesses which ordinarily wouldn't do so well in a recession, did well in this case. 

6. The world begins to feel like a more empathetic place, where people genuinely understand what the others are going through, atleast to an extent. Everytime I call another stranger for work as a sales person, I can feel the genuine concern and empathy no matter where they live or work. In a personal context, when someone tells me they are about to be retrenched or just got retrenched, I don't feel pity as much as I feel empathy. Some people even display an effort to be of help to people who are in worse off situations compared to themselves. I don't know if this would still be the case if it was a recession minus the pandemic, but atleast at the moment, that's what it feels like. 

7. As always, the poor are hit most, but in the worse possible currency. It isn't just that the poor loose the ability to afford shelter, food, clothing. But they also loose more lives, which is the worst possible currency to be dealing in. In the case of COVID, it's the close living quarters and lack of access to medical facilities which could make health a more immediate threat. Even it's looked at as a pure recession minus the pandemic, starvation, hunger, suicides become more prominent in the poorer sections of society. 

8. "Luck" feels so important, more than ever. I didn't deliberately choose to work in Singapore in the technology sector which is relatively safe compared to other industries such as events companies in Europe or the US. I was simply lucky to be here when this recession started.

These reflections make me wonder how people got through even worse periods in history such as wars, where a recession was just among a long list of worries, and the threat to human lives lasted longer than a few months. Such experiences have a way of stopping time and making you feel much older both at once. 

Apr 5, 2020

The merits of novels

Until recently I wasn't into novels, because I wasn't sure what to get out of reading stories that weren't true. As a child, I read every novel my parents would let me buy - they were an addiction, similar to how Netflix shows feel to me today. But after the high school work load took over and I started to fall behind in areas like science and math, any free time I had deserved a much "trashier" form of fun, like TV or gossip with other teenage girls. 

And then I went through another phase as a young adult - I started to prefer books that were non-fiction, because they provided some form of knowledge that proved the time I spent on books to be well spent and fruitful. These included self-help, how-tos and autobiographies. Since they were all based on fact and not fiction, I felt it was ok to spend time on them. 

More recently, I was inspired by a close friend from college to start reading fiction again. When talking of the value of fiction, she said that she actually got a lot from reading fiction. She often felt that the characters she read about were relatable either to herself, or to other people she knew. Even though novels aren't based on fact, novels that are written well are able to draw comparisons to the real world that she learns from. 

I decided to give it a shot and read "My Brilliant Friend", a book by Elena Ferrante, an Italian novelist recommended by a cousin. I was in the midst of reading Richard Branson's autobiography, but I was finding it hard to get through, so I decided to switch over to the novel. In the beginning, it was difficult to get through the pages, and my speed was admittedly slow and distracted.

But as I got more into it, I started to see more value of reading a well written novel. 

Firstly, I found that it became easier to find words to describe certain thoughts or feelings. While it shouldn't matter in theory, having words really helps enhance one's understanding of self better. 

Second, I found that I was able to communicate my thoughts to other people better, and it became easier to think of words to use to accurately say what I wanted to. This helped me quite a lot in phone calls I do for work. 

Third, my imagination and creativity became more forthcoming than they used to. It's easier to understand new ideas now and come up with new ones. In the past, I would often struggle to come up with blog post topics every week, which made me go on a long hiatus. Now, it feels easier to come up with thoughts and ideas I'd like to pen down. 

I think reading this type of novel, which is especially well thought out and well written, is different from the type of fiction I read as a child. The type of fiction I read as a child (Five Find Outers, Malory Towers, The Naughtiest Girl in School), were all well written too, but they are meant for kids. They certainly improved my communication abilities, but at the time, I didn't find myself thinking to deeply about the different perspectives those books provided. I also didn't find them relatable in a way that I saw myself or people I knew in the characters. To me, they were fairly distant characters who transported me to a different reality. 

Now, I'm on the third book of Elena Ferrante's series, and am excited to explore different types of novels that I never paid much attention to!