Day 15/16/etc

In my last two days in quarantine, I started taking a lot of time lapses. This is how I have always tried to remember things: I take pictures of them. A picture depends on your camera as much as writing depends on your pen. My goal with pictures is not to capture as a scene how it looked but how it was—a small prompt for my memory. So: timelapses. I can’t take credit though: I was inspired by a TikTok from a fellow quarantinee in the Ritz-Carlton, whose window I could actually see from mine.

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Day 13

I opened the list of the hotel’s quarantine activities yesterday for the first time. They had a list of exercises I could do in my room, museums I could walk through virtually, and parks with street-view visits. I laughed and then closed the page. If I’m being honest, apart from the once or twice a day when I press my face against the window and try to feel a little bit of humidity on my skin, I haven’t missed the outside world that much. There are things I am looking forward to doing—going on a run, sitting down in a restaurant. But I haven’t felt as cooped up as I expected to.

Maybe it would have hit me midway through my third week, but I guess I’ll never know.

Part of is that my room is extremely nice and there are distinct areas in it for doing different things and also a wide open space in front of the TV which helps in, if not occupying more space, at least looking out and having the illusion of spaciousness. And, of course, all of Singapore unrolling in front of me from the windows.

I like showing people my view on Zoom calls; people say a variety of things in return, but most people say some variation of it’s so beautiful. I shrug. It’s just Singapore, I say. And, to be fair, where I am, in the midst of the CBD, looking out on the Merlion (Marina Bay Sands is obscured by the hulk of the Pan Pacific) and the Singapore flyer and Gardens by the Bay, is not quite just Singapore; it’s postcard Singapore, it’s the Singapore you sell to tourists, designed for people to look out of 5-star hotel rooms and go, ah, I’ve made it, the promised land, holy gleaming grail of skyscrapers and air-conditioning.

At a height when everything shrinks to ants the buildings so large when you stand among them become inconsequential, pinched between your fingers. My favorite part on airplanes is in the middle of the ascent when you can see the shift happen, from the trees and people just there to blocks scrolling away into the distance. It’s fantastic to give yourself a false sense of importance. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know.

Everyone in the quarantine Facebook groups I was in recommended getting a bike or a treadmill for your hotel room. It helped with the sensation of movement, they said. People also recommended videos of tracks you could follow along for the duration of an hour, or more. Mostly I just watch bad sitcoms on the bike, or call my friends. I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. But I also don’t know if I feel like I need to. Because of the biking, my thighs ache most of the time. (I need to do yoga.) That’s some kind of movement, some tangible growth. My body moving around me instead of the world.

I was thinking about coming back to Singapore at the beginning of the pandemic last year and those three months at home. I talked with my mother a lot about what we missed and mostly we came down to not that much, actually. And I have realized since then it is nicer meeting people in person, seeing their whole body from the torso up. But it’s okay the other way around, too. Your world shrinks fast. That’s not necessarily a bad things.

After the reduction of quarantine was announced, I let my schedule and plans collapse a little. I’ve spent a lot of mornings in bed watching TV, occasionally glancing to my side as the storm clouds roll in. Somewhere far away. Somewhere outside my little universe. Today I woke up and the air-conditioning combined with the humidity outside had fogged over the windows entirely. All I could see was pale blue and the faint blush of sunrise at the rims. No shapes of anything definite. I felt like I was flying.

Day 11

When the pandemic first “started”, March 2020, as I waited in the airport to fly back home, I scrolled through Instagram. All of my classmates were posting panicked, confused, reflective recaps of freshman year and plans for the future, though no one was quite sure whether it was the end or not, whether we would see each other in two weeks or two months (or, as it turned out, maybe two years). Nearly everyone’s predictions turned out wrong, except for one person’s.

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Day 9

How the room looks now: exercise bike by the bed, facing the TV, tucked away so I do not trip over a pedal at night and scratch my ankle. Desk by the other side of the bed, facing the window, chair oriented such that my background is the mirror and the corner of my pillow, not my bedsheets or said exercise bike, and nothing offends on a Zoom call. And so I can look out, as I do now, at City Hall and the sea of buildings behind it, Singapore fading into sea.

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Day 5

I joined a Facebook group for people returning to Singapore when we booked my flight back, and wasted several evenings obsessively scrolling through the posts, looking at the images of the rooms, reading about people’s experiences. A few of my friends had quarantined already, last year or over the winter; I quizzed them extensively. I started building a sticky note on my laptop where I listed activities as they came to me—everything from “netflix lol” to “learn a new language”. I started a document with TV show recommendations and books to read and filled it up with the list of things I’d always been told to do but had just never gotten the chance to.

And time passes.

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Day 3

I can’t see the sunrise or sunset from my hotel room, but I can see their reflections off the buildings next to me. Both of the last two mornings, stranded in an internal body clock located approximately over the Pacific, I’ve been up to see the light change: the streak of bright colors on the windows, the buildings become beacons. It takes around five minutes for the show to vanish; then it’s like it never existed. This could be a metaphor, if I wanted it to be. I am witnessing the change of the world only through how it affects everything else. I see everything but the shift itself.

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Day 1

A strange but very obvious fact of life that nevertheless catches me off-guard every time: as soon as I leave a place everything I did there—my many lives and heartbreaks and loves—begins to feel like a dream. Even if I can still taste it on my lips. Even with the memory of it yet wrapped around my wrist.

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Backpacking Beginnings: Gap Year Week 33


It’s strange to say of a trip I’ve been looking forward to and planning for more than a year now, but I don’t want to go. I am worried, I am homesick, I am stressed, I am already counting the days back to London. Getting on the Eurostar, I feel like I’m just going through the motions. Show ticket, show passport. Sit down. Plug in earphones, click on the travel just-setting-off playlist I’ve been preparing for months now, only having listened to those songs over and over they now ring tinny. Continue reading “Backpacking Beginnings: Gap Year Week 33”

Castles in the Air: Gap Year Week 22

My aunt and uncle and I are eight hours away from the heavy gray blotch where Delhi hides. We’re one thousand and three hundred meters up, high enough to see through the plains, the silver river winding like a question mark through, low enough that thick forests surround our upward drive. Continue reading “Castles in the Air: Gap Year Week 22”