It’s almost Phase 3. We can smell it like it’s that fried chicken scent near every KFC outlet.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has emphasised that we are nowhere near the finishing line. Nevertheless, people around me are craning their necks for what’s to come. I’m hanging on to every nugget of news to get a glimpse of how Phase 3 would be like. Do I still have to put up with sweating under my mask? When can I sing karaoke with my friends again?

If you’re as hyped as I am for Phase 3, hold your horses. In those few moments of excitement, I almost threw away months of self-discovery. I’m sure many of us, myself included, wish that we could pretend that 2020 never happened.

I hate to break it to you, but as much as we want to forget the ugliness and sadness of the year, we shouldn’t ignore the lessons we have learnt.

When the pandemic first started, we saw some ugly behaviour. Some of us indulged in panic buying at the supermarkets and others tried to cheat the system. Later on, we had our eyes opened to issues faced by our migrant workers and now we are still feeling the toll the pandemic is taking on our mental health.

The list of bad news events goes on for so long, it’s depressing. Which is why Phase 3 beckons so brightly. I’m not here to nag about deep life lessons, nor to paint a rose-tinted picture of our year past. But we mustn’t forget that even if our lives may start to resemble its former self, we are in a new normal whether we like it or not.

How we realised we had heroes among us

Health worker screening test
Image source: Shutterstock / Abdul Razak Latif

When the pandemic broke out, we found out more about those who were keeping us safe. We saw the sacrifices they made in their personalrejecting hugs and living apart from their loved ones – and professional lives. Worse, as our fears grew, so did our prejudices, and some thoughtless Singaporeans started shunning the same heroes who were keeping them safe.

But we learned to be greater. We celebrated the efforts of our healthcare heroes, clapping and cheering for them from our windows. We stayed home and wore masks so their jobs became easier. We learned firsthand the sacrifices they made in their lives and we thanked them for it.

We have to remember that our healthcare heroes have always been fighting to save lives, not just during this pandemic. Let’s respect that by being responsible and caring for our health during this outbreak, and remember the safety measures to minimise the spread of the virus.

Some of us have also stepped up to deliver meals for workers who missed them, inspiring others around us to carry that action forward. These are kind acts that I hope will continue long after Singapore relaxes its rules.

Meanwhile, we should continue to be careful as Singapore slowly opens up, so cases that enter our borders can be effectively maintained. Fewer cases doesn’t mean no cases.

What we learned about our treatment of migrant workers

Migrant worker Little India
Image source: Shutterstock / edphi

In April, the foreign worker dormitories exploded with new infections. It shone a light on the living conditions of those who have built our city. When the pandemic struck, they became stranded in foreign land, away from their families. Over time, we saw how poorly they lived and how badly they ate.

Imagine being stuck in a foreign country not knowing when you can return home, eating undercooked rice with rancid ingredients and sleeping in a room full of people.

But we did better. Volunteers mobilised to protect the welfare of these workers. Movements and initiatives were started to render aid to workers struggling emotionally and financially. Singaporeans started reaching out on their own accord.

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All of us need to pause and think about how we have been treating our foreign worker friends. Have you taken a longer route so that you don’t brush past the foreign worker at your void deck? Do you look for a seat elsewhere on public transport just to avoid sitting next to them?

I haven’t, but I have been guilty of being afraid to break the silence between us. When I did, I learnt that a simple “Good morning” or “Thank you” as they go about their work can go a long way. Trust me, the satisfaction you get when you get a huge smile in return is unmatched.

For those who employ migrant domestic workers, remember that they have families back home too. Practise some empathy, it goes a long way.

Or for those who are like me, wanting to help foreign workers but unable to give a commitment yet; be mindful and clean up after yourself. You aren’t giving them “a job to do” when you toss used tissue on the coffeeshop table or forget to clear your tray at the hawker centre; you’re adding on to their regular duties instead.

You could also surprise them with a drink or a snack while they toil in the hot Singapore weather. After all, we have them to thank for our comfortable lives.

How we remembered to think of the needy

Panic buying
Image source: Shutterstock / kandl stock

When Singapore announced Dorscon Orange, kiasu Singaporeans emptied supermarket shelves. Low-income families were thrown into despair as their income stopped, yet some Singaporeans made fraudulent claims to funds that were meant for them.

But crisis built character. We were inspired by stories of poor Singaporeans rising to the occasion. And others started to supply goods for the needy as the pandemic worsened. Makeshift stores and pantries were set up to give away free food.

My friends have shared with me how trying to find a job in a bad economy made them empathetic to the plight of needy Singaporeans. But the difficulties aren’t over yet, and we must continue to look out for our needy with a non-judgemental eye.

Let’s continue to look out for ways to help as we move forward into Phase 3 and beyond.

How we dealt with a new way of working

Working hands keyboard
Image source: Shutterstock / Chaay_Tee

As we stay away from our offices, the line between our working hours and personal time has blurred.

For me, time lost its meaning and relationships started to feel unreal. I still remember during the circuit breaker how strange it felt to download Zoom just to talk to a friend “face to face”. During office hours, I never felt productive working from home. It was frustrating at first, and I am glad that most of us have learned how to cope.

When we grew accustomed to the flexibility of WFH, we have learned to factor in more time for family, friends and self-care. I hope we take away the importance of looking after ourselves, and remember our resilience when our world was turned upside down.

What we learned about taking care of our mental well being

Mental health teamwork
Image source: Shutterstock / Waraporn Wattanakul

The pandemic has shone a light on the importance of mental health issues. More people have sought help for domestic abuse. Our children are under extra pressure to catch up with schools and lessons. Many Singaporeans have developed unhealthy coping methods over livelihood uncertainties.

Economic volatility has damaged our emotional health. Retrenchment is a painful blow that continues to affect those long after they lose their jobs. Mental health issues are real.

This is our chance to be present for each other. Put the phone aside the next time when you’re out with your friends. Don’t be afraid to start real conversations about how they are really feeling. Initiate conversations and be earnest in dealing with the issues they are facing. Listen without judgement to those who want to talk it out. Often, a listening ear could be all that’s needed.

It all boils down to the simple act of looking out for others in the new normal. We do it in different ways; some step up to volunteer their resources and time, while others do it on the spur of the moment without a second thought.

While we are excited to take another step towards normalcy, we need to remember the lessons we learnt from issues that surfaced in the pandemic. 2020 has been tough, and we aren’t out of the woods yet.

That’s why we need to realise how important it is for us to pull together and support each other, regardless of race or nationality.

I’m excited to finally hang out with my friends in person; they know just how excellent I am at leaving them hanging online. Now, I can apologise to seven of them at once. But you can be sure that I’m going to pay more attention to the needs and concerns of others, be it in volunteering sessions or lunch with my friends. After all, we’re all in this together.

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