camaraderie in the time of corona

during this quarantine season, my friends and i kept in constant contact through: Jackbox Party and Chloe Ting.

it started out with online Cards Against Humanity first one Saturday night, with Ken, Austin, Tal and Irfan, and sometimes Chok and/or Danny. and then it became every Saturday night, regardless of our respective timezones. then, because Austin had Jackbox Party, we spent the next few weeks playing that. and then Tal discovered Covidopoly and we tried that out too. it gradually became a routine that i was looking forward to every Saturday night. while we hardly hung out on normal days after we graduated from Sunway (because of work, other responsibilities, timezones etc), the global lockdown presented the most apt opportunity to do so, and even more frequently than before.

i had never heard of Chloe Ting until the day Xin Qi sent a link of one of her workout videos to our Whatsapp group. since then, (almost) every evening, Xin Qi, Joyce, Ash and I would pull out our yoga mats and spend the next 15 to 20 minutes working out together while on a four-way video call. at the end of every session, we would clap and say “good job”. like, “good job for surviving another day of this pandemic, my friend. i’m glad that we still have each other even during this uncertain period of time.”

it’s an awful time to be living alone right now, but at the same time, the bizarre ways in which all of us still keep in contact with each other and carry out daily tasks together don’t make me feel all that lonely after all.

it’s also made me realise how fortunate i am during this MCO that most of my existing friendships and relationships are online in nature. the fact that they are long-distance in the first place sucks, but under the current circumstances, nothing much has actually changed, except for the additional perk that most of us have more free time now. (save for the fact that being away from my parents was initially a great source of anxiety, but it reassures me more now that Kedah is one of the relatively safer states to be in now.)

it’s a trying time for everyone in the whole world right now, but i am thankful for the company of my family and friends who may be far in distance, but close at heart.

what it’s like to live with anxiety and hypochondria under a pandemic lockdown

dear readers, it’s been a while. sorry for being away for months; i lost my writing voice sometime ago and i’m trying to find it again.

it’s been exactly 30 days since Malaysia imposed a nationwide MCO in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which means that i have been stuck in my KL condo for a month now, venturing out only for grocery runs once every fortnight.

i wish i could say that a month later, i’ve gotten used to staying indoors under a government-imposed order, but do you really get used to living in a pandemic?

it started way back in January for me:

my first time reading about the coronavirus (then still known as 2019 n-CoV) was on a train on the way home to Alor Setar for chinese new year. right up until that point in time, i had been occupied with work, and also Oli’s visit in December and our trip home for Christmas. so it wasn’t until i had settled down comfortably in my train seat that i found myself properly scrolling through twitter for the first time in weeks. that was when sporadic tweets of a virus outbreak in China popped up on my timeline and immediately caught my attention.

here’s the deal with me and the general concept of being sick: i am terrified of it. i have anxiety, which has also led to the growth of a spurt of hypochondria. i didn’t manage to put a name to it until much later on, but growing up, every little illness i had made me think i was suffering from a more severe disease, never mind that there was no real, rational basis behind the fear. that’s just how anxiety works. even before i had started getting panic attacks when i was in secondary school, there was a period of time when i had consistent headaches for consecutive days, which frightened me so much that i had to go home halfway through a midterm and persuade my parents to bring me to the hospital because i was worried that it was caused by something life-threatening. (it turned out to be caused by stress.) since then, the situation has repeated itself, but with different illnesses.

so it was no wonder that the very idea of a disease outbreak scared me a lot. at that point in time in late January, the number of infections in Wuhan was rising exponentially, but there were only a handful of cases outside of China. but that didn’t stop my brain from initialising lowkey panic mode. fear is usually stoked by a lack of knowledge, and that applied to my fear too. i was afraid because i didn’t know anything about this virus, and the worst part was no one else seemed to know much about it too.

so the first day of chinese new year saw me sitting in a corner by myself at my relatives’ house, obsessively pouring over any and every news article or update i could find on the coronavirus. and then news came about that Malaysia had its first cases. i remember that moment vividly, because it was a moment when i stopped my card game with my relatives because i was feeling too anxious to do anything else except worry. i don’t really know how to describe the fear haze that i was consumed by during the whole of chinese new year; all i could remember was the feeling of extreme disillusionment of seeing all my family and friends celebrate the festive season with smiles and laughter, and then there i was feeling way too paranoid about even sitting close to anyone and already wearing a face mask because i had just read that the virus had a 14-day incubation period and most people who got it were asymptomatic. the word “pandemic” appeared more and more frequently in headlines each day. there were only less than 10 cases in Malaysia at the time but all i could think of was, you never know. i had dragged my parents to pharmacies to buy hand sanitisers and face masks, reiterating to them what i had read in the news; wash your hands, cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face.

looking back in retrospect and comparing the current situation with three months ago, maybe i was overreacting. anxiety does make one catastrophize everything. but from my point of view now, there was no doubt that mentally preparing myself for the worst at the very beginning lessened the blow that the horrible dread that i was to face in the coming months dealt to my mental health as the situation got worse all around the world.

i was supposed to go back to KL after that by train, but i was already afraid of crowds, so i hitched a ride back with my uncle instead. i showed up at work the next day with a face mask on and felt anxious after finding out a colleague was sick with a cough. i started following KKM Putrajaya on twitter and obsessively checked for the daily local infection counts. i said no to weekend plans if i could help it and i stopped going to malls altogether. the feeling of disillusionment still persisted, because with the mere 20 or so cases in Malaysia at the time, no one around me seemed to be too worried, and yet on some days it was all i could think about.

weeks passed by after that and it was March, when Italy and South Korea were starting to make headlines. the WHO had also given the disease an official name, COVID-19. admittedly, as i gradually fell back into the comfortable lull of daily routines and also being occupied with work, i allowed myself to feel more assured, about the situation in Malaysia at least.

and then Case 26 happened in KL, and my anxiety levels rose again. this cluster led to a suspected scare at my workplace, and i found myself at the office late one night having a panic attack at the possibility that i might have been exposed to COVID-19.

the possibility was, fortunately, ruled out a week after, but there was barely time to feel relieved when news about the tabligh gathering surfaced, and Malaysia more or less descended into chaos. the word “lockdown” was starting to get thrown around on local twitterjaya, and three nights before the announcement of the MCO, my cousin called to warn me of the possibility of a state- or nationwide lockdown, and that was a pivotal moment for me, i think. i had read so much on people’s experiences with lockdowns in China, and then in Italy, and they never failed to send a chill down my spine. they were recounts of checking the national death toll first thing in the morning upon waking up, being restricted from visiting family even within the same city, and essentially witnessing the physical shutdown of a whole country. the fact that we would also soon be facing similar measures sent me into yet another panic: does this mean Malaysia will also be seeing the same figures and tolls as those two countries?

the MCO happened, as we anticipated it would, and more than anything, i was worried for my parents. the whole balik kampung on the eve of MCO fiasco aside, i knew there was no way i could risk returning home after having just gone through a suspected exposure scare. but accepting that fact didn’t make me worry any lesser, and the first few weeks of the MCO saw me trying very, very hard not to remember the countless anecdotes i had read on journalist websites. it wasn’t the first time knowledge had turned against my anxiety. but all i could do was frantically remind my parents to not go out, and to be extremely careful if they had to.

going out on grocery runs for me is no walk in the park, either. i am lucky enough to live somewhere within walking distance from several supermarkets, and i count my lucky stars for that. but each time i step out of the house, i am unable to shake off the nagging feeling that i am already inherently at risk. even after disinfecting everything i’ve bought, and all the surfaces i’ve touched, internally i still countdown 14 days from the day i left the house. it’s hard to even draw the line at how reasonable my worry levels are at anymore (“What was deemed abundantly cautious on Wednesday morning became common sense by Wednesday night.” *).

with that said, i have already reached the point of staying indoors where my windows are already fully opened, and yet i crave more sunlight than ever. so while venturing out carries with it an element of fright, i can’t help but anticipate the wide, open areas of being outside my room, and being bathed in Malaysian sunlight, the epitome of humidity and heat.

if it’s one thing living in a crisis has taught me, it’s that the act of thinking and worrying about it never truly stops – not even in my sleep. all my life, i’ve always had vivid dreams every single night, and i usually remember most of them after waking up. in the past, i’ve noticed that my dreams usually correspond to my emotions and thoughts during waking hours, with anxious dreams being the more intense and impactful ones. so when i started having recurring COVID-19 dreams with common themes and patterns, i was not really that surprised.

they never start out the same, but they all share the common setting of being outside. one time i was in Italy, having just got off an ItaliaRail train, the very same trainline my parents and i were on during our trip there in summer two years ago. one time i was on a crowded beach in Australia, with my parents and an aunty and uncle. one time i had flown back to Manchester, and met my university friends at the airport. one time i was in South Korea, taking an Uber to a hospital with five other strangers. one time Oli flew here, and i went to a local café to meet him. and then comes the turning point of the dream, and each time, every single time, it eerily fleshes out in the same way.

first comes the sudden realisation that i am outside during a pandemic, and not indoors as i should be. then comes the panic of why am i not wearing a mask? what am i doing here? why are my parents and relatives and friends and boyfriend not wearing masks? am i at risk now? and then comes waking up, and the ultimate feeling of relief when i remember that i have not left the house in weeks. i am safe, for now.

and that moment right between panicking in my dream and waking up, brings with it such a disjointed feeling. i am privileged to wake up and feel safe, which feels very ironic when reality is such that outside these four walls, outside my restlessness and boredom, a crisis is happening. it never stops, it never sleeps. out there, people are bravely working on the frontlines, people are sick, people are dying. just because i don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

(i dream of covid is a website documenting dreams of people all over the world, notably changed and affected by the pandemic.)

living with anxiety and hypochondria under a pandemic lockdown sounded like my worst nightmare, but just like any other person, there is no choice but to keep on keeping on. during this crisis, i have seen how selfless and kind people are to those who are in need, read touching accounts of humanity shining through in the form of charities, volunteers and even just normal folks buying meals for food delivery riders. during this crisis, it can never be emphasised enough just how incredibly brave all health workers are, and how hard they are working to literally save humanity. and one day, once all of us get out of this, the time must come for us to hold important conversations on the changes that must be effected in societies all around the world, in order to better protect everyone in a country, and not just those who are rich and powerful. the normal citizens of the world deserve better.

i’ve been stuck in a mental rut lately (non-COVID related but i’m sure the effects of isolation are starting to get to me in every aspect) and like i said, i’m trying to find my writing voice again. not being able to write has made me feel like i’ve lost something important, and i’m hoping if i can get back into writing again, i can start lifting myself out of this rut step by step, day by day.

meanwhile (as if any of you need any more reminders, but once more for good measure), stay at home if you can, social distance, and call your loved ones regularly. these are trying times and it’s not a gesture of weakness to be extra gentle with yourself. remember that.

and a partridge in a pear tree

almost two months into working life sees me gradually starting to develop a routine. which is good! i love routines. my god have i aged.

and then sometimes i get days like today where everything is sort of, wack. not necessarily Vine-wack if you know what i mean, but more of a bizarre-wack.

this morning i drove to KL High Court at 10AM. i was in the public carpark and as i neared the end of the road, i started turning right in search of empty spots, except there was one problem: there was a car parked by the curb and it was parked quite a distance away from it. my first turning attempt saw me extremely anxious watching the proximity between both cars increase. so i stopped, reverse, and then turned to the left a bit to gain more space between us so that i could finish my right turn safely.

but i barely even completed that thought before i felt my whole car lurch downward and there was a heart-sinkingly loud thonk and i knew i was fucked.

i’d driven down into a rather large drain and had one tyre stuck in it, and all my frantic reversing did nothing at all.

so i got out, a million thoughts racing through my head, all of them ending with what do i do what do i do. some people stopped their cars and came over to help and at first, two strangers stopped to help lift up my car as i put my car in reverse, but to no avail. the tyre and sunk into the drain too deep. i was honestly quite panicky but i knew in that moment, i couldn’t afford to panic. i called the lawyer i was following to court to tell him i’d be late, and then thought i’d try my luck asking the security guards of the carpark to chance any help i could get. and then i remembered that a pupil at my firm had recently gotten into a car accident and had firstly contacted the car insurance company for towing help. after a few different calls, i finally got my car insurance company right (lol – i was learning a lot of things this morning).

right as i hung up however, another car stopped and the guy that came out convinced me that it was possible to get it out with the help of a few more people. and sure enough, a few more people passers-by stopped to help. and this time, it worked. with the generous help of a few strangers, my car was free.

i couldn’t stop saying thank you to the kind souls who, without hesitation, had stopped to help me without asking for anything in return. my heart was swelling with immense gratitude. these people didn’t know me, owed me nothing, and yet their one simple gesture (maybe not so simple. i mean, what’s simple about lifting a car with your bare hands) had really saved my day. i still believe in the inherent goodness of us malaysians, of us humans.

getting back in my car, i felt like i could almost cry. so i allowed myself that moment of respite for five seconds before parking and heading for court. i remember looking back at my backseat and seeing my gift for my secret santa sitting comfortably there, like it had no idea what had just happened.

after the hearing, i drove back to the office. and then it was time for the firm’s christmas party.

the party started with ciders and beers passed around as all 20 or so of us gathered at the “living room” of the office, fried chicken and cakes and salads arranged neatly on the table. Sher Rynn and i did some last minute wall deco, to some of the staffs’ amusement.

and then it was time for the opening act. it was us. we were the opening act.

the night before, Joshua, Sher Rynn and i had stayed back till 1AM drafting…improvised lyrics to 12 days of christmas, tailored to include members of the firm. it was a gruelling three hours punctuated with episodes of two extremes: guys this is great we are on FIRE and what is this i’d rather do translations please end us

our 3-minute long TT rendition of the christmas carol was surprisingly met with very positive responses and passionate laughter, even though it was technically a lowkey roast session of everyone in the firm. but it made me really happy to see how well-received the efforts of our previous night were, and all three of us collectively concurred that all that was super worth it.

and then we exchanged presents for secret santa and i was a bit apprehensive when i found out i was gifted a durian flower perfume, but it turned out to be very nice. just like the whole christmas party, and by extension, pretty much the whole day. very, very nice.

as i am slowly adapting and blending into employed adulthood, every little happiness counts. and i am thankful for days where little happiness-es accumulate into a big happiness that constantly serves as a reminder of how bright the days can be when it’s dark and gloomy all around.

jiyū • zì yóu

just popping by to announce that ya girl has gotten herself formally employed! yes, yes, thank you for the applause

sometime last month i finally got my CLP results and i passed. the moment of cognisance was a peculiar one – i was watching Terrace House with Oli through discord when Janice suddenly texted me a “CONGRATS!!!!!!” and my anxiety spiked instantly. the first thought that came to mind was this can’t be right because once midnight struck that night, i was already refreshing the E-LPQB website but all that showed up was a blank page. the second thought was, well, it wasn’t really a thought anymore because i was hurriedly trying to find out the source of Janice’s knowledge to verify for certain what felt like a sliver of hope blooming within my ribcage.

five days later i was back in KL, having accepted an offer to commence my pupillage at Tommy Thomas.

at the time of writing, i am one week into my first full-time job. it’s been all three things at once: intimidating, exciting and tiring. everything is absolutely brand new to me; the environment, people, and workload. i am still very much trying to get used to a 早睡早起 (lit. early sleep early wake) daily routine which i have admittedly not had for a few years already, and most importantly, i am trying my best to adapt to my new working environment, in terms of doing work and also interacting with my colleagues and bosses.

funnily enough, what prompted me to write this was a Shower Thought™ (you know those Shower Thoughts™): i’m running out of shower gel – time to buy a new one – what brand should i get – this is a decision entirely up to me – wow – THIS IS A DECISION ENTIRELY UP TO ME

i think since young, there were a lot of things in my life that i didn’t really have autonomy over, and its effects carried over to my current phase of adulthood. to this day, freedom is still such a precious and treasured concept to me. even the tiniest of freedoms, like choosing which brand of shower gel to get.

but ultimately, entering adulthood literally translates to freedom, both in a good and bad way. endless possibilities under the sun sound like a dream come true, but having no limitations also poses a fright. luckily, my carried over effects from childhood mean that i already have plenty of self-imposed limitations; too much, in fact, that it has mostly become a major hindrance in living an anxiety-free life, but being thrown into the whirlpool of adulthood also means that for once, it is entirely up to me to decide how i wish to steer through the currents of said whirlpool. from something as tiny as selecting a shower gel brand, to something as significant as choosing a job that i want.

in life, there comes a time when there are no longer instruction manuals issued out to tell you what your class timetables are, or there are decisions that you have to make by yourself without consulting other adults (because you are the adult now). it’s both scary and exciting at the same time. and that’s what freedom will always feel like to me.

highway drive to famima

midnight fell, and Oli wanted to go for a night drive. so where else better to go than to familymart a mere 4 minutes away? 

we went to familymart almost everyday when Oli was here, and even during the previous times he was in KL, until it has essentially become a staple. when there was nowhere else in mind to go, there was always a handy familymart nearby. unagi onigiri, sakura cheesecake, belgian chocolate sofuto and milk cookies blended shake. and also loacker matcha wafers, häagen-dazs’ matcha ice cream, calbee’s flaming hot chilli chips and even some au fairy ‘mermaid elixir’ hydration facial masks. these are the things i’ve associated with our familymart trips. 

familymart has always felt like a huge comfort to me, besides the fact that it is pretty much omnipresent in KL, everytime i enter familymart searching for something (ie food, drinks, something to make me feel happy like, i don’t know, an ice cream), my search is always satisfied, and familymart always delivers. that night in familymart sri hartamas, as Oli and i were looking for desserts to fill ourselves with as we play mario kart on the switch, everything on the shelves felt like a possibility, and i was happy, because i was surrounded by comfort, in the form of familymart, in the form of Oli. 

the streets were empty as we drove back, a huge contrast to the perpetual traffic under the highways near the jalan kiaras, and it felt like our own comfort bubble, the anxiety of driving in KL temporarily dissipated for the night. everything beneath the stars felt like ours, and more importantly, the night felt like ours. and it was, because all i needed at that moment was Oli, our own space, and the matcha ice cream wafer wedged between our seats as we drove home.

week in melb (in disposables)

two months ago, i went to Melbourne for a week to travel and visit my friends. Taliza bought a disposable camera to document the trip. (click for more of her photography works)

Mornington was a little more than an hour drive from Melbourne city. it was the morning right after i landed, and halfway through the drive in Austin’s car, we stopped at a McDonald’s (alternatively, Maccas) for breakfast.

Cape Schank and Flinder’s Blowhole (who is Flinder? what’s a blowhole? questions that remain unanswered to this day) were very windy which means there was a lot of hair in my mouth that day. but it was beautiful, and it was such a stark contrast to the past few months of incessantly mind-numbing book flipping that the scenes before my eyes took on an almost surreal appearance.

the same day, we had fish and chips lunch somewhere near the sea – but we weren’t the only ones hungry for food. with our fish and chips boxes in hand as we sat at a bench by the road, we were under constant vigilant (and annoying) surveillance by a humongous flock of seaside aves.

after that, Taliza, Austin and i wandered around the quaint streets and stumbled upon this old, vintage cinema-cum-dvd rental store. it almost felt like a scene straight out of a 90s’ coming-of-age film. or Stranger Things.

forgive me for positing this – but Melbourne is a strange amalgamation of a very hipster Western town and a heavily Asian-influenced immigrant district. which is not a bad thing at all, and which also means that there’s a “best of both worlds” situation going on.

we went to South Yarra for brunch on Taliza’s off-day and the brunch cafés and vintage thrift shops that lined both sides of the streets were heavily reminiscent of Manchester’s own Northern Quarter.

on one of my last nights in Melbourne, we were drinking and playing games at Unit 522 when Ken Fui said, “you think i don’t know you well? i’ve known you for more than six years already!” and it truly struck me that i’ve known this group of people for as long as i had had my secondary level education. for a quarter of all 24 years of my life. and there’s a special feeling of kinship when it comes to long friendships like this, which i will treasure for the eternity of always.

what even is this transition

*blows dust off blog* it has been a million years, my friends.

many things have happened, but also not really. mostly i’ve just been spending the past months studying for the CLP and it just ended yesterday. the end of exams has been such a recurring event in my life that you’d think i’d get used to it by now but this particular exam has caused so much mental anguish that me and janice agreed that the tuition fees should’ve come with therapy. so of course the end of CLP felt life-changing, even if it was but for a fleeting moment.

and fleeting it was, because the moment it ended, i immediately had another urgent and pressing issue to attend to, which was packing everything i had and moving them out within one a half days before i flew off to melbourne for a week. this despite the fact that i have yet to find a new place to stay and can only temporarily store my stuff at a friend’s place. this, on top of packing for two different trips with two distinctive climates.

so now i’m just in this transition period of the highest degree of uncertainty, and my exam stress hasn’t exactly dissipated, merely substituted with this perpetual temporary state of things hanging over my head like an uneasy itch i can’t seem to scratch.

but it’s okay. i expect nothing less than seeing myself two months in the future looking back at this period of time and chuckling snobbishly at the clusterfuck that was my life and weaving it into a tale of incredulousness to share with my friends over drinks and hotpot.