This post is contributed by Christine Ng, a marketing professional from Singapore who is now based in Vevey, Switzerland.
The last flight departing Zurich to Singapore was last Wednesday, and I’m not on it. I won’t deny, it had been a dilemma till the last hour if I should pack up and go ‘home’. Indecisive between being more comfortable and assured with family during uncertain times or to stay put alone in a foreign country & face my vulnerabilities. Afterall, life begins at the end of our comfort zone , isn’t it?
The beginning of the outbreak and spread in Switzerland was the most harrowing. Despite having always been headstrong about my desire to ‘live outside’, I started to feel very proud and homesick when global news applauded Singapore’s swift and deft approach. I didn’t even know it until friends & colleagues in Switzerland mentioned it to me while lamenting their disappointment with Europe’s slow-to-react response. To date, Switzerland maintains as one of the highest number of cases per capita.
Fear plays mind tricks but also accelerates the necessary reflections for personal growth. Especially for the expat community without a family network support. Expats started painting worst-case scenarios- that if both parents are Covid-19 positive, who will care for the young children? I personally, started to look closer into the details of life planning like financial savings, insurance coverage etc. Adult things I’ve delayed because ‘everything was going right’.
In the first week, every Skype work meeting starts with a customary 15-20 min mental health update from colleagues. I ended up getting to know my colleagues much more intimately than rushing through to meet business deliverables. Intimate things like, whose still in pyjamas, whose not wearing pants or bra – no, I’m kidding. I got to know about their personal fears, their current home and family situation.
With imposed social distancing, there seemed to be a heightened desire to for human interaction.
I was engrossed searching for information on my phone and a passing policeman insisted on greeting me. A stranger out on a jog 4 meters across from me on the street signed me a ‘thumbs up’ when our eyes met. I felt a deep sense of comfort, as if he was signaling to me ‘we’re in this together’. The bartender in an empty bar beamed at me through the windows as I passed outside. I beamed back, but on hindsight, I regretted not stepping in & take the time to exchange friendly words with him. He probably needed it.
Keeping that regretful lesson in mind, I consciously took the time and video called a few strangers. Strangers whom I learned from friends overseas that they have friends in my time zone who are feeling very isolated & depressed. There was suddenly time & space created for things / people that is as important, or even more important than our regular routines pre Covid-19.
By second week, people stopped panic buying. There was better acceptance for the new reality. So much so that even when I went out in my 1948 holocaust gas mask (just for laughs), no one bat an eyelid. My usual communities for yoga, church, Zumba – had all quickly gone online. I had virtual coffee-breaks, lunches, dinners & school reunions with friends locally & around the world – regardless of time zones because time suddenly became limitless.
I offer my grocery shopping services to the above 65-year olds that I know, delivered them masks & croissants as an affirmation of love despite the isolation. How do I feel now, about not boarding that last flight out to Singapore? No more abandoned, no more desperate, no more fearful because I found my larger purpose of staying put. Afterall, life begins at the end of our comfort zone.
Christine is a retired blogger with Singaporean skin but international flavor. Follow her on Instagram @chrispytine if you’d like to follow her journey off-the-beaten track.