Life lately: holding on to a little hope

Bringing flowers to a friend.

In October and November, I was sad for a number of personal reasons. I spent hours and hours just listening to two classic songs on repeat by the Taiwanese singer Wu Bai, “Last Dance” and “Norwegian Forest”.

In November, I was unexpectedly banned from going into the office for two weeks after being exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID. I self-isolated and took an at-home antigen test, which was negative. But still, I stopped hanging out with friends and only went out for essential grocery shopping trips or walks in the park.

Being “in exile” for two weeks was tough at times. Energy slipped away, and my productivity at work was diminished. But at the same time, I also gained a new sense of appreciation for working from home. Ever since the radiator was turned on last month by the building, it’s been so comfortable here. I start my days with coffee, croissants and yoga. I cook lunch. I make tea in the early afternoon. And I’m in sweatpants all day, naturally.

Most importantly, for those two weeks, I was safe from the potential germs swirling around the office, to which we are now required to physically report at least twice a week, despite rising case numbers in Switzerland. Whereas I’d had a four-person office to myself since starting this job in June, one of its original occupants has since returned, triggering in me a sense of unease. I was and still uncomfortable sharing an office with another person at the same time for two paradoxical reasons: that it feels unsafe, and that it’s a pain in the butt to have to wear a mask at all times, even when sitting down. To address this, he and I have worked out an arrangement in which we come in on different days.

Keeping in constant contact with colleagues and friends has been a lifeline during this time. “Content que tu sois toujours en vie,” a Swiss coworker wrote in an email to me. (Glad that you’re still alive.) One friend calls every few days to just chat while she runs errands and picks up her daughters. Yesterday I finally emerged from the two weeks of isolation to attend a Friendsgiving dinner, and today I returned to the office for the first time and had hour-long catch-ups with four different people. (Maybe I didn’t work as much as I should have, oops.)

Life feels really uncertain right now. Austria is in lockdown. Germany is headed that way. France, in an effort to popularize booster shots, announced yesterday that its pass sanitaire will be considered expired if more than seven months have lapsed since the second dose. Switzerland is waiting until a public vote this Sunday before deciding what measures to take next.

It’s against this backdrop of uncertainty that I’m trying to plan a trip to Asia in early 2022. It’s been almost two years since I was last in the region, leaving Indonesia at the end of what would be my last work trip. I miss everything about Asia. The food. The people. The stunning landscapes and the urban jungles.

I’ve got my eye on Singapore. It’s one of the few countries in the region that’s open to tourists from Europe. Singapore has announced the creation of a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL), in which vaccinated travellers from certain countries can now enter Singapore on special designated flights and test out of quarantine with an on-arrival PCR test at the airport. I’ve been looking at flights every day for the past week, but still haven’t pulled the trigger because there are so many risks. What if Singapore takes Switzerland off the VTL list or suspends the programme altogether due to rising cases? What if I test positive on arrival and am forced to quarantine in Singapore? How would I get my money back if I have to cancel my flights?

All I can do is hope and hold on.

Some other things of note from the past two months:

  • I found an in-person, private French teacher in Geneva. We met in her apartment and had a great lesson, and then I had to email her and apologize for accidentally exposing her to second-hand COVID, if that’s even a thing. Fortunately, she was very understanding and said that she’d take some extra vitamins.
  • I also found an online French conversation tutor. She’s around my age and lives in Montpellier, France. We’ve spoken four times and get along really well — there’s lots to talk about, and the conversation just flows naturally.
  • My best friend from elementary school, S, got married!
  • Friend G got an exciting new job that finally enabled her to leave a toxic team.
  • I’m staying in Switzerland for Christmas and New Year’s, but will be in Paris for a few days next month. Looking forward to sharing more about that, assuming the trip can still happen (fingers crossed).
  • I fell flat on the sidewalk and gained some nasty-looking wounds on my hand. My knee is one big green bruise and I can’t put any weight on it. On the bright side, 5-6 other pedestrians immediately stopped to ask if I was all right. I’ll never forget lying on the sidewalk after a biking accident in 2012 in Atlanta, bleeding out of my mouth and unable to get up, and not a single car stopping to help. It’s why I haven’t been able to bike again for the last decade. So this time, the kindness really meant something.

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