Tag Archives: Covid19

Braids and Bicycles

“Things I learned from Covid” was the title of a meme I saw online recently and, making light of the situation, it made me smile. It led me to consider what I learned during Covid, things that are well and truly part of my current life and times. There were a variety of things that I learned, as did we all, and I’ve written about my thoughts on online learning, interpersonal interaction, and how to move countries during a pandemic. I learned big things, we all did, but in keeping with the meme that I saw, I’ll keep this upbeat and practical.

French Braids

Part of the before-school routine when I was young was that my mum would do hair. One of us ate while the other brought my mum a comb, brush, and elastics, and then we switched. I remember asking for pigtails (which, having heard wrong as a little girl, I called “pink tails” until she took pity on me in my teens and corrected me) and braids, and sometimes “two pieces tied back”, which is exactly what it sounds like. A low ponytail I could manage myself, but I needed help with a high pony.

Throughout my childhood, French braids remained elusive. My mum couldn’t do them as swiftly as she could everything else, despite buying a nifty tool that was supposed to help you separate the strands and count them (or something). And of course, I loved French braids. My aunt did them for me when I visited and I’d sleep in them, enjoying the texture against my scalp. When I got older, friends did them at sleepovers or at the pool. Much later, I was always a little envious of people with beautiful braids, envious and impressed. French braids seemed impossible, and yet everyone had them. So they couldn’t be impossible.

During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time biking around Singapore, sometimes alone but also with friends when the regulations permitted it. And it was during this time, frustrated at the ponytail coming apart under my helmet, that I learned how to French braid my own hair. I learned just by trying what I had seen other people do countless times. Trying over and over – after all, I had the time.

For a while, I could only manage one braid, but I’ve since done as many as four. Two is usually my look of choice, though I admit that the ends look a little funny with my most recent short haircut. I’m fully aware that these braids aren’t beautiful – I have neither the hair nor the patience for that – but every time, I’m also fully aware of the circumstances under which I finally cracked this mystery. And it makes me smile, every day.

Bike Tricks

In keeping with the theme of spending a lot of time on my bike during the pandemic, it was then that I finally mastered the art of riding a bike with no hands. Having seen enough people (mostly kids and teenage boys) riding along casually hands free, some even texting while occasionally looking up (which I haven’t tried and won’t try), I decided it couldn’t be as hard as I thought it was. After all, I could French braid!

And like most mechanical things, I really just had to try. And try. And balance my weight properly. And ride a little faster. And keep my spine straight and abs engaged. And just ride. Without hands. And then one day I could do it and that was that. Sometimes, a little perseverance goes a long way.

Now I know that riding without hands is less of a trick and more of a means of stretching out the wrists and fingers on a longer ride, or to give the back a break. It is also much easier now that I have bike bags and never ride with a backpack. However, during my time in Singapore, it used to make the security guards at the gate laugh when they saw me. At a school where not many people rode to school, I cycled in wearing dresses and pencil skirts, enjoying the tiny decline after the tiny incline, hands in the air to wave hello. We needed something to laugh at then, too.

It’s easy to make light of what I learned during the pandemic, as easy now to laugh as it was necessary then. These are little things, and I find that it’s the little things that we can grasp and point to. I can’t tell you when I made my peace with the time I “lost” during the pandemic, but I can tell you that I learned to French braid my hair and ride my bike with no hands during this time. I can’t articulate when I accepted solitude rather than being frightened by it, but I can tell you that I find that centre again when putting my hair in braids or removing my hands from the handlebars to stretch. There was an era, a time, and then there is what remains from it.

So what did I learn from the pandemic? Plenty.

Singapore – May 2020

Night Thoughts by Day

I think that to write is to come to an understanding.

I think that, I think that.

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must express.

Does a feeling need a name to be known?

Sleeping has been a challenge for a while now, but last night’s experience was particularly interesting. I was part of a conversation that included two people who I know, only one of whom was making any sense. I remained alert for quite some time after awakening and mulled over what had been said, but it trickled away from me as fast as I recognized the nonsense that was happening. And then I remained alert thinking about the strangeness of these people having a conversation, and I noticed a feeling of something lost.

I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand others.

I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand themselves.

Can we understand others without understanding the self?

And can we understand the self separately from understanding others?

I am far calmer lying awake at 3am than 11pm.

At 11pm, my eyes are active. It takes effort to put the book down, effort that my occasionally rational brain insists upon because it’s late. It’s 11pm, after all, and I haven’t been sleeping.

At 3am, my eyes are tired. My brain spins but my eyes are tired and at least I’ve slept until then, which is comforting. I need to stop the thoughts from dancing but at least my eyes are closed and that feels good.

At 3am, I go back to:

How am I feeling about the move?

Aside from feeling defeated by the question, I’m terrified.

I was a different person the last time I moved, and that was in a different lifetime.

How am I supposed to be feeling?

At 11pm, I am alert enough to avoid the subject.

During a very dark period of my life, I used to record my thoughts in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I used to turn on the songs that made me cry and play them over and over. I’d mouth the words until they became part of me and then I’d cry and be able to rest.

This is not that time.

But I am aware of how the patterns of behaviour that I developed out of necessity at that time have imprinted themselves on how I cope with challenges.

Adaptation is critical to human survival, and I wonder if I have become habituated to the sort of aimlessness I am experiencing now. This is not the right word, and far from an accurate characterization of my time and even my personal reflections of my time, but it is an accurate word to describe this feeling. It is a strange world when the reality and the feeling do not match.

Something is different this time, this move, this change. I cannot blame the pandemic, for blame is cause-effect, right-wrong, black-white. And the world is shades upon shades of gray and purple and green and blue and and and.

But I can acknowledge that coping throughout the pandemic has necessitated adaptation.

I wonder about our claims to significance.

Do we know at the time that a thought, a conversation, a shared glance, an observation will become signficant?

Or is significance developed through, over, across time? And then, is it the act or event itself or our memory and interpretation of it that becomes significant?

And does it matter?

I remember what it means to be excited and intellectually, I am. But my body does not have those feelings. The first inkling I had of what my body had lost was the moment when a friend reminded me, “This is an adventure.” As I write the word, I cannot keep from smiling.


My body knows what it is to have an adventure.

My mind knows what it is to live an adventure.

Does a feeling need a name to be known?

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must not be afraid of looking.

Just What I Needed

I threw a mini temper tantrum in the humanities office on Friday when news broke about new restrictions here in Singapore due to new Covid cases. It was not entirely unexpected, but still hugely disappointing, when a return to home-based learning was announced Sunday night. When I walked into work Monday morning, a colleague asked if I needed a hug.

Yes, I really did need a hug.

Earlier today, another colleague and I were joking about the persistent negative voices in the back of our minds, but it’s not really a joke. We have all, at some time or another, experienced lying awake at night due to thoughts that skip, hop, and jump, unbidden. Most of us have very little control over this, which I have recognized acutely through years of regular mediation practice. I find that it helps to know what’s happening in my head, even at those times when regular meditation practice is of little use.

Through my exploration of my own brain, I have also learned that I can easily occupy two minds at one time, a bit like cartoon shoulder angels having a conversation. About ten years ago, I started writing what I was grateful for at the end of my daily journal entry. Three things, every single day. This means that I try to go to bed focused on what is actually part of my world rather than dwelling on the past or living in the daydream of the future. It is not difficult for me to find the beautiful place of being fully present in the world as it is, and I cherish this very much.

Enter: The other shoulder angel.

Alongside the beauty that I seek out and always find, I also find it very easy to spiral into the dark place that is home to rather persistent demons. Nightly journalling isn’t always that helpful, and meditation doesn’t always do the trick, either. I understand why people turn to all sorts of maladaptive coping methods. It is not hard to go there, not at all.

Going through this pandemic alone, as well as trying to make arrangements for the future alone, has made me keenly aware of something I already knew: The things that upset me, upset me to my core. When I find myself in a bad place, it takes a heck of a lot of work to pull myself out of it. And there’s no one to turn to for help right now because there’s no one there.

People who love me would argue differently. They would say, likely correctly, that they are “there” at all times. But that is not the kind of “there” I mean.

This is why the hug mentioned above was so important. Sometimes, we need the physical presence of other people. And sometimes, they need us. So reach out. There are people right there who need you, even if they’ll never ask.

An admirably resilient tree – Green Corridor, Singapore – May 2021