In the first of these, experiences of lockdown by a London man and a Madrid man were recorded. This piece covers the experiences of a single man in Singapore and a London working mother.
On the 40th floor of a Singapore high rise, expat Singapore man’s small but well-equipped flat looks out on a clear day to the port of Singapore. Here lockdown is called “Circuit Breaker”. Although certain restrictions began in January and working from home became compulsory in late March, full circuit breaker was effective in April and has been extended to the end of May at least. But restrictions get varied. Hairdressers were originally free to open, then were shut down for 2 weeks, and are expected to reopen any time soon. Fundamentally Covid-19(CV) cases are not increasing among the indigenous population or expats, as Singapore’s measures to combat CV have been effective, though CV is thriving among migrant workers living close together in dormitories.
Every day the Government send two app messages to all Singaporeans, with updates, and possibly new instructions. Some restrictions are legal requirements, others are encouragements. Leaving home is permitted to acquire essentials, such as food and medicine, and take away coffee; and for exercise which is limited to one’s immediate neighbourhood and is to be enjoyed alone, not with household members, unlike London. In reality a number of couples are seen exercising together and it seems to be tolerated. Singapore man enjoys some outdoor bike rides but even those are becoming a bit repetitive. Any way outdoor exercise can be tough in the heat. Outside the home, facemasks must be worn at all times, all citizens having been supplied with washable cloth versions, and they are now available from vending machines.
Singapore man finds incarceration stressful, going out as much as is permitted. For indoor activity, a newly purchased exercise bike is a living area feature. Homeworking is relatively easy: involving a lot of client face to face interaction through the usual media, and that entails him having to exchange the now normal gym kit for at least a respectable top half. Friday night has become the regular virtual drinks night with work colleagues, involving several pints. Virtual social life has also included a dinner with friends where each household prepared a course and delivered it to the others through the Singapore taxi system, providing another good night, but not as good as the real thing.
Indoor life includes regular flat cleaning, the weekly cleaner obviously not permitted. This is a therapeutic and satisfying activity with results better than the cleaner’s! Normally Singaporeans do little cooking at home, eating out for example at hawker centres. All restaurants have remained open for home delivery and so Singapore man has a vast choice of options: but also, he has become an able chef, enjoying the hunt for good ingredients – not easy in Singapore and food shops are very expensive – it is cheaper to eat out.
Singapore authorities are efficient in implementing social policies, with a highly compliant populace. A small place, it is more controllable than say the UK. Nobody can now enter Singapore, except residents of Singapore: on return there is a compulsory 14 day isolation period, policed and tracked through a resident’s phone so no hiding place. Circuit breaker regulations are strongly enforced, and Singapore has an army of “social distancing ambassadors” on regular patrol. A first breach can involve a $300 fine, a second a prison sentence or deportation. There is good observance!
Singapore man has been lucky to have had the lovely support of his girlfriend. They miss going out – bars and restaurants are central to expat life. In normal times travelling to other parts of Asia is a regular feature for leisure and is sorely missed. Swimming is a core pleasure and that is not possible. Either a draft beer or a swim will be first when circuit breaker ceases, followed by a trip together to somewhere lazy and perhaps less humid. Singapore man has learnt a lot about the realities of Singapore living from circuit breaker.
Mum in North London is a wife and mother of two small children, all in a reasonably spacious flat. While without a garden of their own, their strip of balcony is full of potted plants and shrubs and watching them grow and flower provides a special outdoor outlook. The block of flats does have its own private garden, well maintained and lovely in Spring, which is easily accessible: the children enjoy it but social distancing there is less easy on crowded sunny days. Having parks nearby makes walking and exercising more enjoyable, considerably more relaxed and greener than for Singapore man.
London Mum and her husband both work full time, with a dependence on a nanny for the children. Their occupations lend themselves reasonably to homeworking which is the rule through lockdown: plenty of upside there: more time with the children, such as eating lunch together, but of course they require all day attention. And for them having both parents at home all day is a big win, but that impacts the homeworking. A major plus is that the father is appreciating the sheer hard work required to mind and amuse two little ones all day, every day; and sharing the load more evenly, London Mum hopes, will be taken into life after lockdown. That home working is a real flexible option long term will be welcome, if it proves to be so, but both enjoy and miss the personal interactions of the normal working environment with others.
Exercise – apart from the exercise benefits of simply having a family – is taken regularly indoors, getting “quarantoned”, through online classes which London Mum finds more efficient than the previous gym routine – another benefit to take into the “afterlife”, with maybe financial benefits if the gym is no longer a must have. The classes provide an opportunity to put on nice gym clothes compared to the daily casual things. But virtual work meetings also necessitate at least smart shirts and jewellery, which London Mum likes.
There is time for the children to learn new skills: the one year old learnt to wash her hands properly before she could walk well – more learning for after lockdown. Plenty of artwork and crafts being practised: it is notable that London Mum’s story has little time for selfish pursuits, so no change there in lockdown. The social life is regular online video with friends and family, including the occasional virtual drinks party, where each household brings a bottle and, it is assumed, consumes it.
Children’s birthday parties, such time-consuming events at weekends in normal times, have been maintained but are more manageable – shorter – focused on present opening, cakes and songs, and no party bags! Surely an improvement.
Mealtimes are important for London Mum’s family and get more attention now. Food shopping was frustrating in the early days due to so much unavailability caused by stockpiling and panic buying. Normality was soon restored. However, London Mum and family previously enjoyed eating out, often with friends which is much missed, as are visits to haunts such as Kew gardens. However, life in lockdown has proved slower, fewer events arranged, a better pace than normal. London Mum believes that perhaps life before lockdown had simply become too frenetic and full, and so afterwards they may benefit from a calmer existence.
London Mum, like Singapore man, is tiring of the sameness of the routine, and would welcome more news through the media, rather than the repetitiveness of daily CV figures and stories, as there is after all a world which has not stopped. She looks forward to resuming browsing in shops without wearing plastic gloves, but masks may be with her for longer; and to go to restaurants, as well as meeting people for real. Mostly she wants to able to book and go on an international holiday, somewhere hot.
Both Singapore man and London Mum see resumption of foreign travel as a must- have soon, but it remains uncertain. They both express a strong appreciation of the good fortune of living in the UK compared to elsewhere, but also their personal good fortune compared to others, such as those in less attractive and overcrowded high rise accommodation. They both want to see economic life given a real boost, with more positivity and are hopeful for the future.