Together Apart: Holidays Without Travelling, 2020 Edition

I remember being a child and looking forward to what a marvellous year 2020 was going to be. It was filled with lofty dreams of all the things I had wanted to accomplish – I will be wearing strappy high heels that will softly clickety-clack as I glide along my swanky office, and pulling my chic bag as I rush to the airport for a business trip to New York City.

Fast forward to December 2020, my hopes and plans for the year (and my life) have been modified again and again. Here I am, sitting at home in my less-than-glamorous yoga pants, yelling at the children to do their chores so I can finally let them have their screen time, which will in turn afford me a few hours’ reprieve to do my work in peace.

January saw my family planning to visit Krabi and Bali in 2020; the latter we managed to visit in March, only to be slapped with an extended 14 days holiday upon our arrival home (read: Stay Home Notice). Krabi was supposed to be our June holiday destination – we thought we would put it off until December, when things are a little bit better. Looks like we now have to KIV our Krabi plans indefinitely, to December of some other year.

We don’t have a set itinerary, so we’re just going to wing it
The COVID-19 pandemic has frozen travel plans of many people around the world. News sources and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) are projecting that air travel will not rebound to pre-COVID levels until about 2023.

While some countries are slowly opening up domestic travel, being in Singapore where there is no domestic travel, what options are there for the travel-starved?

My dad is fond of joking, “Where are you off to now: the living room, the bedroom, or the capital city – the kitchen?”

Since global air travel is non-existent, now is an opportune time to rediscover our own backyard, it seems, and even more so with the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers being distributed.

I for one realised just how little I have explored my own country. So off I went recently, on my maiden trip to Pulau Ubin, riding a bike for the first time in two decades.

Surprise, surprise – I did not know that one has to board the ferry from Changi Village to get there. Also, I did not know Pulau Ubin was in the far eastern part of Singapore.

A bigger surprise was just how crowded it is outside now. During our half-day Pulau Ubin trip, I bumped into at least three separate groups of friends, also cycling with their families.

A treat for us was the sight of a sounder of wild boars. Until then, I’d often heard of wild boars roaming about freely in Pulau Ubin. I can’t believe I really did see them, roaming about freely in Singapore! This elicited the comment that I was a “rusa masuk kampung” [1] from my better half, who used to go camping at Ubin before I robbed him of any adventurous spirit he might have had.

While I used to spend long weekends and random Saturday evenings across the border, my family and I have since found other pastimes. To date, we have joined a weekly cycling group, started running regularly, visited the Singapore Zoo twice in two weeks, and even dragged our walking-averse children on several hikes, much to their chagrin.

And we are not the only ones who have adopted these healthier habits. If you have not already done so, try running or cycling along East Coast, Marina Bay Sands or the many park connectors past 10pm. You will be surprised to find many people milling about – also running and cycling – at that hour! As our homes have now turned into schools and offices, and we can’t travel out of Singapore, it seems that parks are the next best places to go to.

With so many people out and about, I sometimes feel like I should stay home instead – there are just too many people outside. On the upside, I feel safe jogging alone anywhere even at 11pm.

Jogging and hiking trails are just as crowded too. A friend, who is a seasoned trail biker, recently commented that the trails are like pasar malam now. Sorry, my friend – us, former non-cyclists, don’t have many options these days.

But I try to see the silver lining in situations. It is heartening to see more people exercising – whether it is jogging, cycling, or hiking. Besides the lockdown on travel and there being limited things to do, a pandemic too is a reminder to prioritise our health.

Just a year ago, I saw mostly the elderly strolling along the jogging paths near home. Today, the path is filled with more and more of the younger generation. My social media feed too is filled with people posting their latest running and cycling routes and records, and I have joined a couple of online hiking and cycling group trips.

Taking part in strenuous exercise is, of course, also the perfect excuse to be allowed to take your mask off outdoors.

The only nation I’m visiting this holiday is my imagi-nation
I have been spending an extraordinary amount of time on Instagram looking at travel pictures, while consuming copious amounts of coffee and cake – you know, just planning my #revengetravel for 2023.

For a couple of years now, our family has been talking about our first big family holiday. While we usually travel to nearby Malaysia, Indonesia, or Thailand, we were thinking of venturing to Europe one day.

Our firstborn, who will be sitting for his Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) in 2022, was hoping to go to England, and to specifically set foot in Anfield Stadium. Yes, he is a Liverpool fan. After years of arduous assessment books revision to prepare for the PSLE, his biggest wish is to watch a football match there. The imagination of a ten-year-old allows him to envision his favourite players inviting him down to the pitch to take a penalty kick, before taking a selfie with him for having scored the winning goal of the match. They then offer to sign him on, as the youngest ever professional player in the English Premier League. Look how far you can travel, with the power of imagination.

Our workaround is to allow him to stay up late these school holidays, to catch the late night or early morning football matches. Using what we saved from not actually travelling, we have installed an airconditioner in the living room so we can pretend we are in a hotel room on a vacation somewhere.

Since global air travel is impossible now, the power of imagination and Instagram travel pictures have allowed me to embark on my new hobby, #armchairtravel, and then bookmarking them as #dreamnowvisitlater. My children urge me to bring them when I ‘travel’ on Google Earth, which has allowed us to climb mountains, explore iconic cities and even learn about biodiversity and conservation through exploring wildlife parks around the world. All you need is a computer, Wifi connection, and for the kids to be less boisterous during your ‘travels’.

If life gives you melons, you might be dyslexic
With all the lemons and curveballs this year has thrown at us, it has taught me to be more thankful. It made me realise just how much I have taken for granted.

The Circuit Breaker months reminded many of us of the importance of family – people have turned to FaceTime and Zoom calls to see a familiar face again, especially those who live alone and celebrated birthdays, Hari Raya, and other special days in isolation.

Anecdotally, we all have friends who have family overseas and have been separated for almost a year. Some of them missed their baby’s milestones. Others have to heartbreakingly stay here in Singapore for work, and leave their children at home across the border, as they can no longer do the daily commute.

It is also a grave reminder of our mortality and to appreciate those around us. When my youngest uncle, at 60 years young, was put on temporary leave from work due to his age and susceptibility to the virus, it reminded me that my relatives are no longer the healthy 40-year-olds that I remember them to be – I have taken their place as makcik-pakcik, while they in turn have been upgraded to nenek-datuk.

I smile behind my mask when I see acts of kindness – when neighbours look out for each other and share their food supplies, or order food for those affected by pay cuts and job losses, among others. I have spent time getting to know my children’s friends at the street soccer court, and they now know I am my boys’ mother and not their “auntie” (read: domestic helper).

Many among us have been affected by the impact of COVID-19; from depression and loneliness brought about by the isolation, loss of income, being separated from loved ones, family members passing away overseas, and so much more.

Some miss the camaraderie of big gatherings and celebrations, and being together with family and friends. For some, not being able to partake in large gatherings is a setback. But for an introvert like me, it is a relief.

More than a year has since passed since COVID-19 first reared its ugly head into the world.

As we close the chapter on 2020 and welcome 2021, it seems like a propitious time to re-evaluate our priorities and goals. 2020 was rife with the good, the not-so-good and the downright crazy. Let’s pray that this beginning of a new year brings a fresh wave of hope for us all. ⬛



When she is not trying to chase after her three boys, Sharifah Norashikin is passionate about issues relating to women and family, parenting, and education (both mainstream and special needs). Her hopes are for greater inclusivity in society, where each person is given opportunity to excel and live a fulfilling life; and to eat as much cake as one wants without gaining weight (or developing diabetes).

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