We Are Not Going Back to Normal (I Think?)

I’ve thought a lot about how covid has changed so much in my life, but the past couple of weeks have been particularly stark with this reminder.

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My sister, a doctor and GP trainee with the NHS in the UK, was able to come home after more than a year away. She had to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel as soon as she landed in Malaysia and get tested (and cleared) twice before she could come and see us. Usually, when she’s here, we spend our time visiting family members, hang out at malls, go and see things in the world. We did none of that and stayed at home the entire time she was here. Then, she left KL for the UK and is now in quarantine there! Two rounds of quarantine. And will have had gotten tested twice as well to return home to her housemates.

This isn’t normal.

I’ve not been in a public place with both of my children EVER. My daughter was born in January 2020, right when the pandemic started in Malaysia. She’s NEVER been in a public place. I don’t know that this will change in the next 2 years.

This isn’t normal.

There’s a street near my house, facing a supermarket. Usually, hawkers set up shop on this street, selling wares, food, fruit from their cars and little tent stalls. I drove by yesterday – the number of hawkers seems to have increased exponentially. It’s like everybody now is trying to sell something. Times are hard. And now there’s even competition amongst the hawkers – some offer you free Milo while you wait for your cakoi to be fried. Innovating out of necessity and not choice.

This isn’t normal.

The hawkers have now implemented a drive-thru system on this street. You scan it at the start of the street and then order your food from your car. I tried to get sugarcane juice the other day, and had the baby in the car with me. She started fussing as I stopped the car to put a mask on before I ordered. I turned to comfort her with the mask on and she screamed, because she knows this means we are heading outside. She’s a super duper duper anti-social baby, because she’s really only lived in a bubble of 5–7 people her entire life. She started screaming when the hawker approached our car, even. Just was so anxious about being outside.

This isn’t normal.

As I drove back from the hawker street, empty-handed because of the baby’s rather epic meltdown, I thought about how I’d not left this neighborhood since October. I’ve not left been out for groceries, even, since October. I just drive between my house and my parents’ every day. Turn left, go straight, turn left, turn left again. Every day.

This isn’t normal.

I’ve given up on limiting screen time for both of my kids. My baby is being brought up by the wholesome CocoMelon family. My son watches videos of how to make strange objects in Minecraft – and when he’s not doing this, he’s playing Minecraft. What’s the point of limiting screen time when he’s in front of the screen for school every day anyway?

This isn’t normal.

I am typing this post from inside a playpen. I am almost perpetually in this playpen, taking care of the kids. I have a full time job that’s tripled into 3 full time jobs. I barely have time to breathe. Neither do my parents, who watch the baby during weekdays as I supervise virtual school for the eldest child, and work. It’s really hard.

This isn’t normal.

There are things that I wish would come back after the pandemic is “over” – the freedom of mind to have fun in a crowd, international travel, family gatherings, dinners with friends, being able to send my kids to a place that isn’t run by family members, confidence to dine in at a restaurant. But I wish a lot wouldn’t come back as well, like the mistreatment of factory workers, nationalism, xenophobia.

Whatever the future is, it’ll look quite different, and I think there’s a lot of sorrow in that.

Economist and mother of two. Currently based in Kuala Lumpur. I write about labor economics, migration issues, industrial organization, and life.

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