Tan Kheng Hua: ‘Stay-Home Notice? That’s My Happy Place!’
“Stay at home as far as possible…Avoid socialising with other households…” reads the Ministry of Health’s press release with regard to battling Covid-19.
My first and immediate response? No problem. No problem at all.
At the time of writing, I would not have really seen anyone physically, except for the people in my household, for more than 6 weeks. LA was already in complete lockdown before I flew back to Singapore where I immediately started a 14-day mandatory stay-home notice only to have the circuit breaker kick in a mere two days after my notice ended.
Yesterday, we were slapped with another extended month of circuit breaker measures. Confined within the home, and stuck with the same people day in, day out can drive some of us crazy. I, on the other hand, feel perfectly fine—almost content.
I was born in 1963. My restless years were spent between 1975 and 1985. You know what that means? No computers. No laptops. No pagers. No handphones. No internet. No texting. No Netflix. No Instagram. No boys, even. Others may have had some semblance of each of these items but I’ve always been a very late starter.
Up until my O-Levels, my daily life was pretty much like this on a weekday: Wake up, go to school, finish school, go home straight away, do homework or watch TV, help mum cook dinner, lay out the table, have family dinner, wash dishes, do more homework or watch TV and sleep. On weekends, my two brothers and I often engaged in more “hardcore” chores. From scrubbing the patio floor with Clorox to polishing cutlery with Brasso, we were at home a lot.
It was the pre-foreign-domestic-help era, so my family was pretty self-sufficient. Like being on circuit breaker, we often had all three meals at home, cooked by my mum. No Deliveroo. No GrabFood. No Paylah! Even as a young girl, I could shell a mean prawn, skin an apple in one continuous peel, stuff cream puffs and tell if a fish was fresh. My mum was (and still is) an excellent cook, and because of her, my brothers and I grew up nifty, comfy and interested in the kitchen. She also taught us the art of Marie Kondo-ing way before that term even existed. Spending time at home organising, cleaning and clearing out stuff is something that’s in our DNA—and it sparked joy in all of us.
Yeah. We were pretty much Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons. And just like what kept us glued to the television watching those families week after week, my family learnt how to be together through thick and thin, mud and mayhem. Modern families may find it strange hanging 24/7, but for us, it was the norm.
Of course, we weren’t served a circuit breaker then, so when we were not at home, we’d be out, together. We’d “jiak huang” or “eat air” a lot; a dialect term we commonly used for going out. We’d eat duck rice at Pasir Panjang; feed the swans at Botanic Gardens; go ice skating at Jurong Ice Skating Rink; go grocery shopping at Fitzpatrick’s Supermarket; watch Bruce Lee movies at Jurong Drive-In. Every weekend. Morning, noon and night. Together.
We’d go for long drives to nowhere, all five of us, in our family Rover. Together. My dad would be smoking Rothman’s inside the car, with the windows only an inch down. Us three kids in the back and my mum in the front passenger seat. We didn’t even notice the smoke. Only the sound of my dad singing Nat King Cole or The Platters. I still remember lyrics learnt by osmosis from the many drives we took:
Heavenly shades of night are falling,
It’s twilight time.
Out of the mist, your voice is calling,
It’s twilight time.
When purple coloured curtains mark the end of day
Together at last at twilight time.
Even though we were together a lot, we didn’t talk much. That wasn’t our language of love. For us, it was more about spending quality time and acts of service. It still is pretty much the same today. Most importantly, we had plenty of shared memories. Our eyes, all ten of them, saw beauty at the same time. And when we did, we could turn to each other and reinforce the fact that beauty exists. We could laugh and feel joy, together. Solve problems, together. Win or lose, together. Being together was a privilege we cherished as a family.
Time spent with each other and within the home was how we mostly learnt about life, love and the universe. That was how it was in those days. At least, that was how my family functioned. We didn’t know it then, but it was perfect training for this circuit-breaker-stay-home-self-isolate-social-distancing lifestyle we’re currently experiencing. Like the Ingalls or the Waltons, many are learning (if they didn’t before), that we have no one really to depend on but our family.
And I’m not just talking about blood ties. You could see all of us on this island as part of the same “family” too. We’re all in this together. If one of us falls sick, chances are, more of us will get sick. We are forced to live with each other’s shit, or clean up each other’s shit, so how about we just don’t shit all over the place? Pardon my language, but I think all families, of all configurations, know exactly what I am talking about. Especially now.
No running away. No excuses. Nowhere to go.
My stay-home notice brought me to my happy place. When I need to recharge, reconfigure, rejoice, I stay at home. When I am afraid, unsure, unravelled, I stay at home. Of course, I have my own definition of “home.” Find your own; a place you feel calm and accepted, filled with people you trust. Make peace with it. And then, stay home. It’ll keep you safe. When this circuit breaker ends, and it will, you’ll always have that happy place to go to too.
[Read more: Kheng Hua: The Second Act]