Dispatches from Abroad: The (Lunar) New Year Brings a View from the New Normal

It’s been a little over eight months since I last posted anything here. In that time, I’ve been on the COVID roller-coaster with the rest of the United States—holed up working from home, dealing with zoom fatigue and maintaining sanity with daily bike rides, walks, and explorations of local preserves managed by The Trustees of Reservations.

Throughout the fall, I participated in a virtual art/science residency hosted by the SciArt Initiative. My art-buddy Eric Zeigler and I wrote nine bi-weekly blog postings from mid-September 2020 through mid-January 2021 documenting our joint learning and art/science explorations. Our Monday morning conversations started those weeks out on a high note, and although the residency has officially ended, Eric and I are continuing our weekly chats as we develop our (likely virtual) workshop/exhibition for the 2021 CICA New Media Art Conference conference in Seoul and submit other proposals for future installations.

The US elections came and went. Please don’t get me started; all that really can be said is plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I’m sufficiently dispirited by the second impeachment trial that I’ve got no interest in discussing or debating the relative merits of the Biden Administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Which brings me to the “new normal” that is 2021.

Towards the end of January, we left Boston for a two-month trip to Singapore. That’s right, my spouse and I put ourselves in a metal cylinder with wings for 20+ hours in the midst of a pandemic. In a normal year, we’d go for two weeks to celebrate Lunar New Year with her family, but what with entry permit applications, 72-hour-in-advance-of-departure COVID PCR tests, advance health declarations, COVID PCR tests-on-arrival, two weeks of real locked-in-a-hotel-room quarantine (not the porous variety in Oz, the UK, and elsewhere that has led to various community outbreaks), and the same to look forward to when we return to the states, we thought a longer stay was in order. Plus, everyone’s into Zoom now, so as long as we can navigate the 13-hour time difference between Singapore and EST, what difference does it really make where we’re actually working from?

But back to that two weeks in quarantine. After clearing passport control and customs, we were swab tested for COVID and then bused directly from the airport to a hotel (assigned entrants by the government), escorted to our room, and locked in. No key for us and a plastic-covered chair placed outside in the hallway directly in front of the door to emphasize that there is “no exit”. At regular intervals meals were delivered – placed atop the aforementioned chair – and their arrival announced by a doorbell. We’d crack open the door, collect our meals, and retreat to our 3 × 6-m room. The meals ranged from mediocre to awful, and we quickly abjured suppers and weekend meals in favor of care packages brought by my generous sisters-in-law. At least there was a balcony, and daily walks – 180 times around the bed = 1 mile (NOT!). And I got plenty of writing done in between binge-watching the third seasons of Gomorra and Star Trek Discovery.

View from quarantine - iterated balconies
The view north from quarantine

On day 14, we were escorted down to the lobby, put into a vehicle contracted by the Ministry of Health, driven to an outdoor COVID testing site, nasopharyngally swabbed, driven back to the hotel, and escorted back up to the room to await our test results. Which, 22 hours later, were negative. Whereupon we checked out, called a Grab (Singapore’s equivalent of Uber/Lyft), and headed for home.

The Grab driver said, “everything is normal here, except that everyone has to wear a mask.” Which it sort of is, as long as you keep your phone on (thanks, AT&T for reviving international plans other than US$10/day!), Bluetooth activated, and check in/check out with the contact-tracing App every time you enter a building, restaurant, mall, museum, outdoor city park …, maintain 1 meter of social distancing, and keep groups to 8 or fewer (even in elevators, which came as quite a shock to the system).

The Grab driver also couldn’t understand what he’s been reading about how the US has (not) handled COVID, and honestly, neither can I. But then again, we don’t really have a national health policy in the US. We’ve got 50 state policies (and then there’s DC and Puerto Rico), and each state devolves responsibility to its counties, which in turn devolve responsibilities to… well, there’s no telling, really.

And tomorrow, I get to experience what it’s like in the new normal to go into an actual office to work – for the first time in 10 months!

2 thoughts on “Dispatches from Abroad: The (Lunar) New Year Brings a View from the New Normal

  1. HOORAY! You made it into the twilight zone and now in fresh air. Enjoy the system there; send pictures of the different foods for the Lunar Year . Stay safe and send our hugs to all in the Family.

    Liked by 1 person

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