Every time someone inquires about my quarantine experience, I usually beam and respond, "Not bad!"
No, I mean it! I go on to extol the benefits of quarantine and how it's such a gift in today's busy world to be able to relinquish all responsibilities for a short period of your entire life, to do the only thing expected of you ― rest.
If we think about it, the only time a person can optimally rest is in the hospital when they are unwell and forced to temporarily let go of all the roles they play in life and simply surrender themselves to take a break. Going on a solo vacation is certainly a better option, but few people are hard-pressed to find the time or peace of mind to take off on their own. Therefore, quarantine time isn't so bad because:
First, it's mandatory, so there's none of the guilt that comes with going on a solo trip by yourself.
Secondly, we are well and in a healthy state to do what we've always longed to do.
Thirdly, three hot meals are delivered to our room, which has a bathroom and a bed.
Fourthly, health-care workers check our temperatures daily, so there are no worries about collapsing undiscovered in the room.
So far, I have had three hotel quarantines in China under my belt. Two were with my family and one was alone when I had my longest confinement of 14 days. Admittedly, on the 10th day, I was fidgety and couldn't wait to flee from my room, but the human spirit is easy to coax. I kept telling myself, I've already survived 10 days; what's another four more? Besides, I'd better enjoy my freedom before my duties resume in the outside world. And just like that, those 14 days are now a distant memory.
As French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 1600s, "All of humanity's problems stem from not being able to sit alone." We all know the worst kind of punishment is solitary confinement ― the act of sitting in a room by yourself with nothing to do and nothing to see. This is because humans are social creatures. We thrive off of interactions, but without them, humans have always found ways to fill the void with entertainment. This explains why we get a surge of dopamine, our happy hormone, when we use our phones to entertain ourselves or others.
So, what does Pascal mean when he surmises that what humans need is a timeout from life, other humans, and responsibilities? What purpose does it serve for us to be alone with our thoughts and feelings, albeit just for a while? Can we trust ourselves enough to be with ourselves? Without the safety net of affirmations and applause from our friends, family and followers, can we sit in the quiet of our own truths? Because the most terrifying confrontation is with ourselves: When the truth bubbles to the surface from the deep crevices of our hearts, will we find the courage to acknowledge and act, even if this means disappointing the people we love and who love us?
But of course, during quarantine, the choice is ours to make with the length of time we wish to sit alone. It's tempting to lull away the remaining hours after a whole day of work zoom calls with mindless phone scrolling and marathon binging of K-dramas since we are essentially our own bosses behind closed doors. Isn't that liberating? For just a moment, imagine that this is the only chance of a lifetime that you will have with all this time to yourself. What were the things you always fantasized about doing when you were buried in your daily duties? For me, these were what I did during my quarantine:
I wrote up my death plan
Writing about death will not make us die faster, but it will free the loved ones we leave behind from the plethora of choices they will be facing. In what clothes should she be cremated? Which coffin should I purchase? What songs should I play? Where does he keep his will? What is her password? Does he have any insurance?
Mourning a loved one when they pass is already hard. To give them an instruction manual of what to do, exactly how I want it to be, when my time is up, is to me the greatest gift I can give to the ones I left behind. The best time to do this is when I'm well.
I connected with people I've always wanted to
As I go about my daily life, there are people who randomly appear in my thoughts with whom I've always wanted to catch up but never found the time to, until my quarantine. The friend who had seemed aloof lately was in fact going through hard times. The friend who stopped engaging in my WeChat Moments post had repatriated recently. The friend who thought I'd forgotten about her was touched when I texted her. Sometimes, the stories we make up about others in our heads are illusionary, as we will never know what other people are going through in their lives ― until we ask.
I asked myself what's my purpose in Shanghai
Shanghai has fostered me and my family for the last 13 years. Though the recent lockdown has seen many foreigners leaving the country, we have chosen to stay. Having been here for more than a decade, it's easy to adopt a laissez-faire attitude of having been there, done that. But in the quiet of one quarantine night, it suddenly dawned on me.
Instead of asking what else Shanghai can offer me, how about asking myself what I can offer Shanghai during my time here? And the answer was clear. Until and when quarantine is removed, hopefully very soon, I could start by writing an article about how quarantine isn't so bad.
(The author is a Singaporean freelancer based in Shanghai.)