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How a childhood in Singapore made me someone I’m proud of

There are many things you can’t control — the ones you can are vital to your mental health
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Living in Singapore was a vital experience. ADITI PUTCHA/THE VARSITY
Living in Singapore was a vital experience. ADITI PUTCHA/THE VARSITY

Dear Pandemic Alex,

I’m writing to you as Post-Pandemic Alex, who, thanks to the diligence and determination of scientists worldwide, now lives with a vaccine for COVID-19. People in my world now gather in crowds — not cars — for concerts. 

Living in the post-pandemic reality —  one in which I’m no longer confined to a furnished prison —  it’s easy to fall back into old habits. However, it’s important that you don’t disregard the important realizations that you made during quarantine. Ergo, this letter.

Two years ago, your parents invited you to visit them at their apartment in Lachine, Québec. You were excited to finally read that Naomi Klein book and visit the bagel shop they’d told you about. You were proud to survive your first semester in university and excited to flaunt the stories of your newly acquired maturity. Little did you know that you’d soon be climbing back into the metaphorical womb.

Going into quarantine, you scavenged through numerous videos and articles for any nugget of inspiration for how you could fill your time. Unlike most people, you didn’t meditate to find your inner warrior or try to curb carbon emissions by swearing off meat. Instead, you bought frozen Costco lasagna, draped a warm blanket over yourself, and turned to Netflix to find your better self.

Filled more with home-cooked pasta than with a sense of purpose, you turned to the mental gymnastics of recounting how Little Alex spent his free time. Who did he spend time with? Was he indoors or outdoors? Did he get enough sleep?

Opening up your dad’s photo albums, one particular time stood out the most: when you lived in Singapore. The rent in that country was criminally uncontrolled and so, with no money-growing tree to pluck, you moved houses a lot. 

You were nine years old when you lived at the private housing estate Serangoon Garden. It had an outdoor dining room table where you used to doodle and paint during ‘siesta’ time, making the kind of large, colourful messes that perhaps Paul Cézanne would have admired. It had a walking path lined up against the house that, when wet with the hose, undoubtedly made the greatest slip-n-slide. It had a spacious living room where you and your father enjoyed playing extremely competitive games of chess before dinner, which you always lost. Alas! 

You then decided to look at your life in a more macro sense; less oriented around what fulfilled you as a child and more around why they fulfilled you. Remember when your parents took you to get candy every ‘sweet friday?’ Or when you went to the beach every weekend to cool off amid Singapore’s humid temperatures? These planned routines made you feel productive and secure. It became apparent that, at the most nostalgic times in your life, your parents made sure that you were always occupied regardless of your environment.

By settling into new places every couple of years, challenges to your routine often arose. For example, Serangoon Garden didn’t have a pool in which your family could swim in every afternoon like you could at the Waterside apartment. To resolve this problem, your parents bought bikes and made sure that you and your sister got a breath of fresh air by cycling around the area instead.  

Of course, you couldn’t expect your parents to create a schedule of your activities while in quarantine; that would be the equivalent of strapping diapers on you and plopping a pacifier in your mouth. Instead, you stood in front of a mirror and asked yourself what would make you happy. What could you do to feel better about yourself?

You wrote down what you wanted out of the pandemic. You avoided any goals that seemed superficial and unrealistic.You came to the conclusion that you wanted to feel more physically healthy and become more knowledgeable about the world.

So, possessed by the spirit of Jane Fonda — if it is even possible to get possessed by spirits of living people — you bought a workout mat, created a playlist of exclusively 1970s tunes, and subscribed to a summer fitness challenge. Every morning you participated in an hour-long workout and then listened to a podcast. This helped you begin each day knowing that you could control how you felt about yourself.

Being an adult means that you’re responsible for making your own routine. This routine should be guided by candid goals that give your day stability, structure, and purpose. Eventually, you started to understand that you couldn’t continue to operate without direction, because it made you feel drained.

All in all, quarantine taught you that while there are many aspects of your life that you can’t control, there are still aspects that you can. And, while few in number, they are vital to your mental health.

So when capacity requirements are removed and mask mandates are lifted, don’t spend your time bingeing Netflix or eating frozen lasagna under a weighted blanket. Instead, spend your time being true to yourself.

Warmly,

Post-Pandemic Alex