Happy New Year, 2021!

Finally, 2020 has gone, and 2021 has come. Even though it may still be a very difficult year, as a lot of people have been predicting and forewarning, a new year still brings new hope, and in this situation, any sliver of hope and any light at the end of the tunnel is very much appreciated. So, let’s cast aside those doubts, be a true believer for once, and bow our heads and pray for a better year, a year that will mark the path back to recovery, a dream of spring at the end of the cold wind of winter.

A new year is also the opportune time for reflection, for sitting down and calmly looking back to the year that has just passed, to see what has happened, what has been achieved and what has been missed out. And for this very special year, with more misses than hits, something stood out quite prominently, something memorable that helped define the year 2020 for me.

  1. Covid-19

Covid-19 takes centre stage of the year 2020, and for no good reason. Even though the disease started in 2019 (hence the name), it started wreaking havoc mainly in 2020, bring the whole world to our knees, and crippling worldwide economy. Trillions of dollars were thrown out by governments trying to salvage the situation and save lives and livelihoods, not to much effect, especially economically. Global trade was crippled. Borders were tightly shut. Hospitals were flooded with patients, many in critical condition. And people started dying, at a dizzying rate. Life as we knew it was upheaved and turned upside down. When the number of cases started getting out of control, due to the ease of spreading of the virus through the air, many countries started enforcing lockdown and quarantine, sending billions of workers to work from home, and then billions of children to home-based learning, a method of virtual classes. We were not prepared for it, and up until then, changes towards flexible working and flexible learning were only done at a very limited scale and scope. Overnight, experiments had to be turned into large scale practice, and employers scratched their heads to find a way to ensure business as usual, or as little impact as possible, while sending all their employees home. And when the schools had to shutter, and children continued their learning from home, that was when all hell broke loose.

Parents had no choice but to split their time between work and child support, to help their kids to learn effectively from home. For those unlucky ones who did not get the necessary help, or were lack of equipment for online learning, the results started tumbling in a fee fall. Parents became stressed as it was already less productive to work from home, and then they even could spend less time doing work, and struggled with finding the time to support their kids. Fortunately, Singapore managed to control the situation quite well, and after almost 2 months, the lock down (or Circuit Breaker, as they preferred to call it here) was lifted partially. Children started going back to school, and employees could go back to work, albeit just part time as well, and a little bit of normalcy started taking place in the tiny island. But it was far from pre-Covid normal, and we still had to wear masks, gather in small groups only, and painstakingly plan for every smallest event and activity beforehand, since the venues could only accept a small number of people at one time, and therefore could quickly run out of slots. It would take a long time until life could really be back to normal, probably by end of 2021 or even somewhere in 2022. Until then, we can only live with it, and learn to treasure each tiny change for the better, for a positive change, no matter how small, is very precious nowadays, especially when looking out and seeing what is still happening in other countries.

2. Elections

Posters of Progress Singapore Party and People’s Action Party contesting for West Coast GRC at Ayer Rajah Food Centre on Sunday, July 5, 2020. Photo: Ili Nadhirah Mansor/TODAY

Year 2020 was also the year of elections. First, we had Singapore’s General Election, also called GE2020. It was one of the few general elections held in the midst of the pandemic, amidst tight security and very careful considerations in order to ensure safety of all who were involved. There were rumours that the election would be postponed until after the pandemic was over, but since that day seemed to be far away and very unpredictable, the decision was made to charge ahead and get it done with, so that the next government could focus totally in handling the pandemic. Fortunately, no major incident happened during the election, and the event did not turn into a super spreader as many were afraid of. That was the first time I voted in a general election, and the feeling was quite special. Before that, I had already been a grassroots leader, and had chance to work with MP to take care of the residents in my constituency, but being able to select and vote for the MP I wanted to support was still a milestone that I really treasured. It’s a show of democracy in practice, which is very precious and rare in the world even nowadays, and I am deeply grateful that there is democracy in the second country I call home.

It was also the first time I volunteered in a general election, as a polling agent. The job was quite simple. I just had to sit there at the polling station with a list of voters in hand, and mark those who had come and voted. It was quite a simple task, but it allowed me to get close to the polling station, and soaked in the feeling of the election, which only happens once every 5 years. It was a memorable experience, and even more special when the polling time was extended last minute from 8pm to 10pm. I had the chance to witness the sealing of the ballot box. Everything was very orderly, civil and transparent. What an unforgettable experience, and I will be happy and honoured to take part in the process again, in 5 years.

Another notable election this year is the US Presidential election. I already wrote a long article dedicated to it, but that was before the result came out. Now that the dust has finally more or less settled (despite Trump’s desperate efforts to still try to reverse the results last minute, which I don’t think has any chance to succeed), the ugly truth of Trump’s presidency is being unveiled almost on a daily basis, especially given the fact that he has lost and is running out of time to implement his insidious plan. From rejecting Congress efforts to save American lives and livelihoods in the midst of the pandemic, which his incompetence contributed much to bringing America to the current state, to pardoning those who are loyal to him regardless of whether they deserve to be pardoned or not (in his mind, whoever is loyal to him is more than deserving to be pardoned, no matter what crimes they committed), to trying to wreak havoc on the election result in particular, and the American democracy in general, Trump is on the way towards cementing his legacy as one of the worst US presidents ever. Now the only hope is that someone or something can stop him from causing more damage in his 18 remaining days in office, and that what he has done can be reversed by the next president. Otherwise, God save America.

3. Career advancement

2020 was the year that I changed job twice. Early in the year, right before the pandemic hit, I moved from a great company, where I had spent more than 3 years, to embark on a new adventure, in a totally different industry. At that time, things were still pretty normal in Singapore, people were still out and about, no mask required unless you were sick. Then shortly after I joined, things started going downhill pretty quickly, and I spent the rest of my short stint there working from home during the Circuit Breaker period. That was when I saw the ugly side of the place, where management was dragging their feet when it came to pandemic response, among other things. I knew it was not the right place for me, and fortunately I found a great opportunity, a silver lining right in the eye of the storm, when so many were losing jobs. So I made a move again, right after the Circuit Breaker was lifted, and managed to go back to office part of my working time, and the rest is history. Now, I get to work in the field I love, in a wonderful project, with a great team that inspires me to try harder everyday, and we can go back to office partially now to collaborate, innovate and crack hard problems together. So I count myself very lucky and I am very grateful for that.

And that is it. One memorable year, a year that is not like any year before. A year that will go into history, and talked about again and again in many more years to come. It was a difficult year, but it still passed anyway, and now with 2021 at the door step, the only way is upwards and onwards. And may we all catch the favourable wind as we sail forwards from the wreckage of the storm. Happy New Year 2021. Please be kind with us, we have a lot to catch up on.

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