From one lockdown to another

The Prime Minister has just announced another national lockdown which will last for at least six weeks. In my head, this is the 2nd lockdown, after the first in March this year.

There was another one in November but schools and university remain open, I believe, so it wasn’t really the same as the first one. Besides, I had to go onto campus twice a week to teach in the autumn semester so it didn’t really feel like I was in lockdown.

This new one is meant to start on Wednesday, the last day of my self-isolation based on the NHS app. From one lockdown to another.

The good news, I suppose, is that I feel better today and seem to be on the mend. I think a few more days of rest will get me fighting fit soon enough.

Backward/Forward

It is so convenient, with the current sentiment going around, to avoid looking back at 2020 because what’s the point? It was a difficult year, we all stayed home and 2021 couldn’t have come quick enough.

But as with most thing in life, it’s not as clean-cut like that. In actual fact, 2020 was quite a good year for me – global pandemic notwithstanding – and I want to mark the New Year by being grateful.

That is not to say that there weren’t many crappy moments. There were the clear Covid-19 related issues, including actually getting infected by the blasted virus in the last few days of the year! Before that however there’s the small matter of being the first year in my life that I haven’t physically seen my family.

Being alone all year also took a toll on my mental health and moving to a new city and starting a job in the middle of a pandemic means that it’s been tough settling in and making new friends and connections. I also had a rough 7-8 months of the year being a bit stressed out (and to be frank, depressed) about my career trajectory.

Rejection after rejection was hard to deal with, and even when I did get some interviews, repercussions from the pandemic means I missed out on a couple of good opportunities and I was so sure that I wasn’t going to get a job.

My physical health could also have been better. My neck problems returned this year, and I got a groin injury in February – likely from hockey – which meant that I haven’t been able to run at all this year, aside from a couple of test runs that confirmed I was still not well.

I think it’s important to note all the difficulties I faced. I’m increasingly aware about how much I curate my digital life, and it’s important – for myself, if not anyone else – to remember that things are never rosy all the time. I have a very charmed life, but it’s not perfect.

Having said that, in 2020:

  1. I graduated with a PhD, after a lot of hard work!
  2. I was awarded a six-month bursary that not only helped me pay rent for quite a few months, but gave me the time to send out all those applications! And I finish a book chapter that has been published, among other research activities.
  3. I started a permanent academic position at a university, which is relatively soon after completing my studies (salary, yay!).
  4. I made some really good friends this year as a result of the pandemic, both in person (company for outdoor walks) and online, the latter of which I hope to consolidate in person when things improve.
  5. I moved to a new city – it wasn’t an ideal time to relocate, but I really like Birmingham so far and can’t wait to see what it’s like when the pandemic is less of an issue (vaccines exist – woo!).

What do I hope lie ahead in 2021? Consolidating some friendships in person, do a bit of traveling and hopefully get some more research published.

And find more me time. Learning how to relax, making time for myself and starting to do things I enjoy again like writing (a blog) or taking a bath. Yes, absolutely, more baths.

Happy New Year. <3

New Year’s Eve in bed

It’s just as well that with the pandemic, we should all stay indoors. Not that it’s much of a choice for me considering that I have few days left to go with my isolation. If not for testing positive, however, I would already be spending the day with my bubble so there is a hint of sadness.

I woke up today feeling much better than the past few days, and able to get out of bed by 9ish – that’s a good few hours better than before. But just doing the dishes from yesterday and preparing breakfast winded me, and I was back in bed again for most of the day – except for meals. I did manage to catch up on some emails and other more productive things from bed, however, which is quite the improvement.

I wasn’t going to post anything on here until tomorrow, but I got a call from the NHS Test and Trace team today, which I thought I should make a note off (this blog started off as a way to record life in a pandemic after all). At first, I thought it was really good that they did it – since we’re not encouraged to contact the Covid hotlines or go to a GP/hospital unless things become very serious – because it feels like someone is looking out for you.

But after the initial “How are you doing?” and “Are you showing any symptoms?”, the woman just started reading things off a script. I’m sure the first two questions were scripted too but it just ended up being a monologue really … and really monotonous too that she almost sounded like a robot. If not for the occasional umms and errs, I wondered if it was a recorded message about how it was illegal for me to leave the house and “do you understand this?”

I think what she said was made all the more jarring because it’s basically a repetition of the several text messages and emails I’ve received from the NHS and my GP. It become less about checking in on me to feeling like I was being tracked and surveilled.

But she was just doing her job, I suppose. Not long after that call, I was back in bed with a bit of lightheadedness and mild breathing difficulties. I’m so sick of my bed and just want to feel better.

I know it’s only a couple of hours away but I hope next year brings me better recovery.

Happy New Year, one and all.

Ah, and there goes some fireworks!

The day I found out I have Covid-19

I was only going to start posting on this blog again in 2021, but lockdown due to pandemic inspired the birth of this site and so, I had to at least record the positive result I received today from Covid-19 test.

I’m posting that screen grab from The Guardian above for posterity; when I logged on there to look for the stats, I didn’t expect to be part of the statistics for the highest number of recorded daily cases in the UK ever.

Not my proudest moment. But what can you do? I’ve been as cautious as I possibly could – and barring one or two transgressions – have generally been really good about the way I have behaved since the start of the first lockdown.

Just hoping my symptoms doesn’t worsen and that I’ll be fighting fit again soon.

Many people have sent well-wishes, thank you. x

This is not normal

It’s almost two weeks since my last post on here. There were many reasons: a bit of laziness, some trying out new things but most of all, I’ve been pretty busy doing work. In fact, I’ve been crossing things off my list of work to be done that this must have been the most productive 15 days I’ve had in a long time.

By now, I’ve set a general routine in my life. I try to sleep before midnight so I get a full night’s sleep and have an early start. After my daily mindfulness exercises, I’ll sort my breakfast out, take a shower and then get on to work. I’ll break for lunch then chat with some friends in the evening or go for a walk before I make dinner. Then I plonk myself in front of the TV before bed again. I have a different set of clothes I wear during my “work time” and in the evenings/weekend.

Things are starting to feel … normal.

While I sit by the window working, I can see that the pub across from me is still shut and the buses mostly empty. There are a bit more cars on the road than in the early days of the lockdown but still not that many. When I go to do my shopping every seven to 10 days, its still one-in-one-out. Sometimes the lines are really long. During my evening walks, people are being really respectful of staying apart from each other – crossing the road when there are people coming from the opposite direction or making space for each other.

In short, many people – myself included – have seem to have adapted to this “new” life. I’m one of the privileged few of course: I can afford rent and my shopping, I live on my own so I don’t have to deal with being cooped up with other people, and I have a great support network of family and friends who I can turn to when I’m feeling a bit isolated.

But things are not normal though, no matter how it all feels. The reality is that a high number of people are still getting infected by the virus on a daily basis around the world, and so many are still dying. Amazing healthcare professionals and other key workers are still out there risking their lives to keep us as safe as possible. People are still losing their justs all the time because of this, many are starving.

We don’t know yet how long this will go on for (I can’t even remember how long it’s been), and how it will look like after.

So, in the comfort of my home, where I seem to have adapted well to the circumstance, I constantly need to remind myself that nothing about this is normal. I’m not even thinking about this from the philosophical perspective of what is normal anyway?

The world has changed, at least for now, although things may well revert to how it was before at some point in the future. When we get to wherever that is, we’ll need to adjust and adapt again.

Because this is not normal.

Beeston so busy

I have just returned home from doing my grocery run. It’s hard work; I’m trying not to take public transport so I walk about 30 minutes into the town centre and then lug all my things back for 30 minutes. In between, I make stops at the Asian supermarket to get some specialty items before heading to Fred Hallams (a local independent grocer). I then head into Tesco to get everything else I need.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing my shopping weekly, just to practice physical distancing as I best can. This week, I found that I had enough to last me over 10 days (even the junk food!) so I waited until today to head out.

What a mistake! Beeston, the town centre I usually head to for shopping, was so busy.

I just hope it’s an anomaly as people are navigating reduced hours over the next few days with Easter weekend, and not people just getting tired of staying in. This week, I have noticed that there seemed to be more cars on the road (I work right by my window facing a main road) and there’s definitely been more people out on the streets ‘exercising’ because the weather’s been really lovely.

Myself included, of course.

At any one point today, I noticed that there were queues of about 10 people all along the high street, either waiting to get into supermarkets, butchers, banks or pharmacies. At one point, it was not possible to walk down the street and keep to the advised distance (2 metres) from people because there were queues and just people walking everywhere.

Plus, that person behind me in the queue to get into Tesco just kept coming closer and closer for that 30 minutes we were waiting for!

I can appreciate that cabin fever must surely have hit for some people, but I hope people are still staying in and being as careful as possible. I’d really like to see less people next week when I head out to stock up my fridge again.

Taking the weekend off

Friends who know me well will tell you that I’m someone who finds it hard to relax. I think it comes from just years and years of always keeping myself busy. It hasn’t always been work (in the career sense) but certainly projects that takes up a lot of time. I try not to complain because in most cases, I do enjoy working on them but it can get pretty tiring and overwhelming sometimes.

Over the past few years, however, chasing the PhD has been different. I tried to keep it up at the start – still working on my storytelling projects and even published a book in the first year or so – but soon realised that it was just not sustainable.

For one, working towards a massive four-year deadline means that it’s so easy to lose sense of the idea of time. Then, there were other aspects of academia to navigate to make sure that I finished the PhD ready for the world – working on research projects, publishing in journals, attending and organising conferences, and more. I’m slowly learning how all-consuming academia can be.

The fact is, even though I completed the whole PhD process late last year, it’s all been a blur since with teaching, marking and catching up on academic-related commitments that took a backseat as I attempted to finish up my thesis.

But it took a bloody pandemic to make me force a proper weekend on myself. I went to bed on Friday telling myself that I should sleep in (I even added blankets over my curtains to block out the morning light) and not do any work for two days.

I woke up at my usual time on Saturday – body clock and all that – but decided to make myself a massive English breakfast to mark the distinction between a weekend and a week day. Then, I spent a couple of hours cleaning my flat – being indoors ALL the time makes it dustier than usual – and catching up with some friends and family on video chats. I settled down for the night by watching Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat, which was showing on YouTube for 48 hours as part of Universal and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Show Must Go On where they release one musical each Friday.

NIki pouring the drizzle into his cake
I could hear the sizzling still when I drizzled the lemon juice onto the cake.

Today, I lazed in bed quite a bit in the morning before baking the most amazing Lemon Drizzle (if I do say so myself), and sharing my adventures on my Instagram account. Then I decided to take advantage of the lovely T-shirst and shorts weather by going for a walk to the nearby nature reserve (it was less busy than two weeks ago so that’s promising!). Hence the GIF (which isn’t working!) at the top of this post. I’ve since had a shower, joined a community Zoom social chat and then had some leftover fried rice from Friday for dinner.

As I write this post, I’m just finishing glass of white wine and about to lie on the sofa and catch up on some TV. Hmm … maybe pour myself a nice Gin and Tonic first.

I’ll be ready for the upcoming week in the morning. I hope.

A shot I took along my walk today.

Easter break is here!

I’m feeling quite tired today, so I thought I’d save the blogging I had meant to do earlier this week for the weekend. It’s already been a few days, so what’s another day or two, right?

Then, as I was cooking fried rice for dinner, I realised that today is Friday – it’s not just the end of the working week, but also the last day before the university breaks up for a month for Easter. So I thought I’d mark it with a post.

I don’t usually teach on Fridays but because we’ve moved teaching online using mostly asynchronous methods, I check in on the student forum discussions and respond to teaching-related emails on a daily basis so that no one gets ignored or left out. I have students who are still in government-imposed quarantine in some countries, so they are alone and struggling a bit so I want to be accessible where possible.

Teaching aside, this week has been pretty full-on now that I think about it. Midweek, I managed to scratch the last item on the “urgent” to do list I had put up on my living room wall over a week ago. Yesterday, I made a new list and happy to announce that I have scratched-off another half by this evening!

I hope that this means that I’m more adjusted to not just working from home, but also less stressed and anxious about the circumstances we’re all in. I suspect having three video calls this week alone with my family (which was what I wanted to blog about earlier in the week) and several with my close friend Steve helped.

Speaking of working from home, my neck and back has been killing me the past two weeks because I don’t actually have a proper table and chair for long-term working. So a couple of days ago, I set up a standing desk using all the different boxes from kitchenware I had purchased in 2015 when I moved in but for some reason, never threw out.

My dad was a hoarder, so clearly, I’m my father’s son! Good use of boxes from the microwave oven, bread toaster, electric grill and knife set for the standing desk (I’m using the box for the kettle to prop up my laptop for sitting down on a different table)!

It’s not very stable, but I hope it’ll last!

Anyway, I’m going to try to take the weekend off as much as possible just to unwind and to make the days different from work days at home. The weather is meant to be lovely on Sunday (19 degrees!) so I’m going to try to get outside for some exercise.

My street clapped for the NHS

A post that was circulating across the the various internet platforms.

Blimey, that was emotional. I had set my alarm for 7.55pm, and stood by my window a bit hesitant, not knowing if I was going to be the only person clapping. But just as it was coming up to 8pm, I heard the first claps come down my street, and then more and more joined in. It was beautiful.

I also live across from a pub, and the people who live there were out at the front with their kids who were really clapping really loud. You could see from the sound they made that other people were coming to their windows and joining in.

Many thanks to whoever came out with this idea – presumably those behind this site – and I hope that many of the people at the front-lines in the NHS, and also so many other key workers who are putting themselves out there on our behalf, down my street heard it. My friend Gareth, who lives just down the road, said that one of his neighbours works in the NHS. I hope they heard the loud appreciation from us – it’s all we can do in this helpless of times.

Personally, I salute them all.

I was a bit pleased with myself today for having a day where I didn’t feel emotional (it’s been going up and down every few minutes for the past couple of weeks) but this got to me. Oh well, it’s a good emotion at least.

I was actually going to sit down and blog about something else today – this has become a bit of a routine for me ending my work day with dinner and then blogging before some trashy TV to zone out – but I wanted to capture the fullness of my heart.

If you want to see how people on other streets participated – my WhatsApp is going off right now with messages from friends and colleagues reporting back – then do a search on your platform of choice for the #clapforourcarers hashtag for some really heartwarming videos there, such as this one.


Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying using this blog as therapy so much (and rediscovering my love for crafting out my writing) that I’m going to resurrect my The NC Irregularly project – an irregular “letter” from me in your inbox. Click here to subscribe to it. First letter out on Monday (thereabouts, it’s irregular after all!).

Missing my Bangsar

I woke up this morning to news reports (and WhatsApp messages) about the extension of the Movement Control Order in Malaysia for an additional two weeks. It was originally meant to end on March 31. Thinking about it reminded me of this video that my friend Jason – you might remember him as the prolific food blogger of the past JasonMumbles – had sent to me over the weekend that he took while out getting some essentials.

Video credit: Jason Lioh

This video really got to me – I’ve been an emotional wreck the past few weeks anyway – because it was so strange to see the Bangsar I knew and loved look this way so early in the evening. It’s not completely unfamiliar; that’s how it looks like in the middle of the night when I used to head home after being out late with friends. But those days are far behind me.

But I think why it was so shocking is that this is a far cry from the vibrant and buzzing Bangsar that I grew up in. On top of that, it also brought home the reality of what is going on in Malaysia (and the rest of the world now) considering that it is where my mother still lives. Ee che – what I call my second sister – who until a few days ago was stuck with her family abroad due to flight cancellations and shut downs, live nearby too.

That little bubble called Bangsar is where I’ve always felt most familiar, comfortable and safe.

So, I thought I’d dig out some of my former articles in my The Bangsar Boy column about the neighbourhood for those of you who want to reminiscence along with me about how things were before, or those of you who might be wondering what the hell is this Bangsar thing!

Or if you prefer something more visual, here is a video of the Bangsar I remember (except that it usually has less of me in it, especially over the last few years!). This was a trailer my friend Yuen directed to promote my book in 2017.