Growing up in a densely-populated county in New Jersey, Eunice learned to separate her recyclables from the weekly trash (rubbish). Aluminum, glass, cardboard, newsprint, mailers, and eventually plastics, too, would be placed curbside in their own containers. As the local district reviewed best practices for recycling, we eventually reduced the need to sort and streamlined the process to just two containers. Living in Singapore, we’ve come to see that all recyclables are combined into one commingled bin where the individual distinctions of each item no longer mattered.
With the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-NCOV) coinciding with the traditions of welcoming the lunar new year, I’ve been trying to put words to this juxtaposition of celebration and caution. Let me share a few of our observations from the past 15 days:
Day 1 of Chinese New Year (abbreviated CNY locally): Throughout the day, vans rumble by our housing estate with drums and gongs playing and banners waving, announcing Lion Dances at nearby condos.
Day 4: Our Ministry of Health declares travel restrictions for those who seek entry into Singapore. Would this impact travelers planning to attend a 4-week long training beginning this upcoming weekend?
Day 5: Treasured friends who we first met in 2013 invited us out to dinner to celebrate CNY. We love the emphasis on reunion during CNY and are so appreciative of them inviting us into their lives at this time of uncertainty (all the staff wore face masks). Our hearts are full of gratitude after an evening discussing the impact the virus has on the husband’s business, getting to know each other better, and anticipating the exciting, next things in the lives of our children.
Day 8: Our short term worker arrives 8 hours later than originally scheduled due to extra precautions and rescheduling of her flight from Hong Kong to Singapore. Afterward, Au and I had an opportunity to do some quick thinking for alternate transportation plans as we realized we had missed the last bus to our off-site housing (a first since we arrived).
Day 9 of CNY: Our church hosts its annual combined Chinese-English congregation service as a way of honoring the parent-congregation that gave birth to our English congregation. Songs are displayed in both Chinese and English and the singing alternates between languages by our worship leaders. In an unexpected move, we sang a song in Hokkien and all the “little old ladies” stood a little taller, sang a little louder, clapped their hands, and smiled from ear to ear as they had the opportunity to praise God in their heart language.
Day 11: Our Singaporean colleagues at the office host a wonderful office CNY celebration meal – complete with Lo Hei and other favorite local dishes. Many kind thanks to their hospitality!
Day 14: Throughout the day, while Eunice is working at our office’s reception desk, little whispers leak out from our Singaporean colleagues. Something big is going to be announced soon. But by the close of the day, no announcements have been made.
By the time we get home after our evening commute, we learn that our nation has moved from the yellow DORSCAN alert level to orange. We don’t really have any experience with this and wonder what it means.
Day 15: Au and I do our usual Saturday morning run to the market and sense a spirit of fear in the way people are lining up to buy their groceries and in their earnest eagerness to get what they need quickly. When we get home, we discover that panicking citizens buy out supplies of toilet paper, instant noodles, and rice in many shops across the island. Our prime minister addresses the nation:
We have raised DORSCON to Orange before. You may not remember, but this was in 2009, for the H1N1 swine flu. So there is no need to panic. We are not locking down the city or confining everybody to stay at home. We have ample supplies, so there is no need to stock up with instant noodles, tinned food, or toilet paper, as some people did yesterday.
Later that day, we did one of our favorite weekend things, visit a library for a “top-up” on borrowed books. Before we could enter, we discovered the precautions this nation takes to monitor its residents and to be able to trace individuals in case of a more widespread effect of the virus. We waited about 10 minutes to get our temperature scanned to confirm we didn’t have a fever and then to record our residence so we could be contacted if, in fact, an infected individual was found to have visited the library the same day.
How is it that caution and celebration can live side by side?
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh. (from Ecclesiastes 3)