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10 things I learned in coronavirus self-isolation

By Catharina Cheung 1 April 2020

Roughly a week ago, this editor was recommended to work from home and told to commence a 14-day self-isolation period due to secondary contact with a COVID-19 carrier. There are only a few days left to our sentence now, and we decided to share some of the thoughts that we’ve had the time and space to mull over during this period of enforced loneliness. What are some of the things you’ve come to realise in quarantine?

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We touch our faces a lot

One of the first things we were told to do, aside from washing our hands a lot more, is to stop touching our faces. The fact is that our paws are grimy and it’s all too easy to transfer germs into our systems through our eyes, nose, and mouth.

So we wash our hands a lot more: That’s not an issue, and we hum the chorus to I Want It That Way as we do it (it’s just about 20 seconds long), so it’s a tiny little perk. We sanitise our phones more regularly: This has the added bonus of lessening the chances of breakouts, and we count it as a win-win. We thought not touching our faces was going to be a doddle. We were wrong.

We just don’t realise it when we’re out and about as functioning members of society, but now that we’re cooped up with our own chaotic brain, it’s easier to realise that we mess with our faces a lot more than we think! We’ve cut down on wearing contact lenses and naively thought that accounts for a lot of the potential risk, but in the time it took to type that sentence, this editor had just itched her nose. There’s a high chance that you’re reading this with your chin propped up by your hand.

Everyone keeps saying to “just stop touching your face” like it’s simple and they’ve never had a tickly nose or had to brush their hair out of their eyes. The despair is real. Google: How to rip face off.

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Everything is filthier than meets the eye

It wasn’t until this pandemic outbreak that paranoia made us fully go ham on cleaning around the house and, by God, the amount of filth there is hidden away is astounding. Here are some of the places in your home that you’re probably not cleaning as much as you should.

  • The filters on air conditioning units
  • The washing machine
  • The oven
  • The toaster
  • Light switches
  • The toothbrush holder
  • Reusable grocery bags
  • The laundry basket
  • The tracks of windows and sliding doors
  • The keyboard of your computer

There’s your to-do list for the coming weekend; you'll thank us later!

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This is the perfect time to clear your to-do list

There’s no better time than now to watch those movies, read those books, or start that side project you’ve been putting off. Hong Kong is a city with much to do, but when you stay home safely instead of being tempted out, you free up your schedule considerably for other activities.

Everybody has in the back of their mind a list of “stuff they’re going to do.” It might be making a dent in that pile of books you’ve bought for months, watching the top 50 classic movies of all time, or even just clearing out your bags and throwing away the old receipts and empty tissue packets knocking about at the bottom. Are you collecting water bottles like you’re about to sculpt an upcycled installation? Get rid of them. This editor has made good progress on attempting to get through Stephen King’s It for the third time. Whatever your list is, get a move on and revel in feeling more productive.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

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We’re not nearly grateful enough for modern technology

Not to sound like a corny motivational Instagram account, but this COVID-19 pandemic has made us introspective about how lucky we actually are. Our medical advancements have been providing aid for the infected and even seen a portion to recovery when pandemics in the past meant you simply prayed to be spared. We might be stuck at home, but a couple of taps on our phones will bring food straight to our doorstep, where you can request for your order to be left without having to interact with a single person. While physically apart, we can still keep in close contacts with friends and loved ones, even to the point of hosting virtual parties together. We can watch live streams of places around the world and pretend we’re on holiday. Honestly, it could be a lot worse, and we’d do well to remember that the next time we feel like whingeing.

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Working from home really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

When coronavirus first hit Hong Kong and companies started implementing work-from-home policies, we admit that we wanted the same for ourselves. But as this editor was made to self-isolate for 14 consecutive days, it quickly became clear that working from home is not as great as it sounds.

You have to adjust the mindset of seeing your home as a place in which to relax, deal with various temptations and distractions, and be more self-disciplined than ever. Working in pyjamas sounds wonderful in theory, but really just makes you sluggish and lazy. We are tired of hunching over our tiny laptop when we’re used to working split screens on a much bigger monitor, and our table is entirely the wrong height for extended work. We’ve had to play coffee shop ambient noise to mimic the hum of chatter in the office, and we miss our Localiiz pup (yes, even when she’s bugging us for food). We also found it particularly difficult to call it a day because there’s no clear delineation from office time and home time.

It’s tough—not to mention kind of sad—when you realise that you’re starting to see the home as a place of work as well, meaning that there’s nowhere in which you fully feel relaxed and separated from your unread emails and various tasks. It’s a slippery slope and we’re working on it.

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So much work can actually be done remotely

That said, we’ve also realised that there’s so much work that can be done remotely—in all honesty, as long as the right attitude is in place, it applies to practically any white-collar job. There’s much to be said for the freedom and flexibility of working out of office. The traditional model of punching in your 9 to 6 within the four walls of an office has been outdated for a while now, and it’s quite disheartening to see that in Hong Kong a lot of companies are still reluctant to change with the times.

Working from home may present its challenges for some, largely due to the lack of space in Hong Kong property, but working remotely away from office presents so many opportunities. All we really need is a smart device and an internet connection, and pretty much any location can be fair game for a makeshift office. Changes of environment are conducive to creativity and the ability to think out of the box.

When it’s once again safe to be out and about, it would be interesting to see discourse and arguments for increased trust in employees to do their jobs remotely, with reigns being loosened for more flexible working arrangements. It’s high time to nix this insistence of old-school methods in the modern job environment!

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

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Learning a new skill will make time fly

Weekdays might not be as bad, because work takes up the majority of the day. Weekends, however, are an absolute pain to get through when you can’t leave the house. No matter how many naps we took, the first Sunday dragged on endlessly, and we ended up engaging in a friendly barking match with a toy poodle from the window.

Insanity is not a good look, so we decided to learn new things to pass the time. For example, a few days ago this editor learned to play the Adventure Time theme song on the ukulele, and will soon be moving on to learning how to properly sew buttons back onto clothes (yes, sue me). Perhaps we will also dust off the old Korean textbooks. By the time the 14 days are up, we will emerge also being able to flawlessly rap the notoriously fast Guns & Ships track from Hamilton, just you wait.

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Your anxiety levels will increase drastically

According to Forbes, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry published a report which revealed the top stressors in modern-day adults. In order of descending importance, these are deaths of family members, job stress, money issues, and caregiving. Of course, these are the very fears and stressors that a global pandemic enhances. Your worries are essentially on steroids, and you have a limited number of things to take your mind off of things while cooped up at home. No wonder you’re anxious.

It’s normal to feel scared, lonely, and helpless during self-isolation, and you shouldn’t think it’s stupid or too ‘snowflakey’ to be feeling this way. But dwelling too much on negative thoughts is only going to make things worse, so it’s a good idea to use this time to connect with yourself more. Journal or write things down to make more sense of the thoughts swirling around in your head. Put on some calming music, or go the opposite way and scream along to songs until you run out of breath. Take a long bath, and light that candle you’ve been saving for some arbitrary special occasion. Ask yourself why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, accept those feelings without judgement, then work on making yourself feel better.

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People you can have a good natter with are invaluable

In Cantonese, there’s an evocative slang phrase that refers to casually chatting for the sake of chatting with no definitive purpose: 吹水 (pronounced as cheui seui), literally meaning ‘blow water.’ You’ll find, during self-isolation more than ever, that people who are happy to blow water with you are an absolute godsend. If it weren’t for friends who are regularly checking in with us, sending us memes to make us laugh, or popping into our mentions to spill tea, we’d probably start suspecting that we don’t even exist any more. Blow water, my friend.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

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There are profound implications in how you get your news

A poll by NBC News and Wall Street Journal has revealed clear divides in Americans over the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 80 percent of leftist Democrats believe the worst is yet to come, as opposed to only 40 percent of right-wing Republicans think the same. Similarly, 56 percent of Democrats see their day-to-day lives changing in a major way in the future, while only 26 percent of Republicans hold the same view.

Simply put, people with different ideologies consume information and take their cues from different sources and institutions. Since President Donald Trump and conservative media outlets have been consistently downplaying COVID-19, it’s not surprising that Republican voters aren’t nearly as alarmed as Democrats. There is no such thing as a politically neutral global event any more, and our partisan disconnect influences the choices we make—in this case, life or death decisions.

Age divide is also a major factor. Most millennials and Gen Z’s get information from social media. We read headlines on our Twitter timelines and swipe into news snippets shared on Instagram, posting humorous slants on recent goings on in an assortment of chaotic groups or contributing to the discourse with meme reactions. It may be facetious, but the majority of self quarantine-related posts floating around are comedic or positive takes on how to get through this testing time.

Despite the boomer predisposition of blaming millennials for the horrors of the world—listen, most of us haven’t had a spring break in a good eight to 12 years now—most of us are largely slaving away over our laptops at home, rationing our coffee intake to stay alert and out of the red, and trying to feel better about life by laughing at ourselves online in that self deprecating way that characterises modern generations. We may be flippant, but we understand the dangers of COVID-19, and are focusing on trudging along the dark tunnel of this pandemic, keeping an eye on the light at the end. Don’t @ us.

Our parents, on the other hand, spend a large part of their time forwarding scientific reports and screenshots of non fact checked articles in their WhatsApp group chats, increasingly freaking each other out and getting convinced that they’ll contract coronavirus if they don’t soak ingredients in a white vinegar solution for a good 20 minutes before cooking. If you’ve been told to place cut onions around your home, sip water every five minutes, smear Vicks VapoRub under your nose, or been sent a prayer of some sort to recite, say “aye”!

It’s clear that how we choose to source our information has a direct impact on how we respond to the current pandemic. Dig deeper and question your choices! It’s important to understand your role in the community and how your actions have a ripple effect on society at large. No matter how much it feels like it, no man is an island, and you’re far from being truly alone.

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Catharina Cheung

Senior editor-at-large

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.

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