Our Finite Time on Earth | Living Here

By Vanessa Intan


Like most of the 1.3 billion Chinese who have dutifully stayed at home for the past few weeks, I am playing my part in keeping China safe by minimizing physical contact with the outside world. In fact, the past month may have been the highest concentration of time I spend indoor, ever since I began to walk.

Like most millennials where FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is an overriding presence of life, I always try to be on the move. Our time on earth is finite, hence seeking experiences outside seems like a smarter decision to cocooning at home. Do not be mistaken though, FOMO is not merely a reason for instant self-gratification, in fact, it has been a real force in keeping this generation to be risk-takers who continue learning beyond formal education.

In the need-for-speed society such as urban China, there are always things to do, people to meet and places to be. Alas, this immediately ceased when most of China decided to stay home. I thought I would dread being kept indoors, however, the fact that most of China is yet to have mental breakdown proves that we are an agile species after all.

All of us are finding ways to keep ourselves entertained as we continue this period of self-containment. Friends and families who know of the abundance of my energy, have been a little worried about my sanity during this extended period of remaining indoors, but somehow the days are passing by swiftly. It could be due to my new sleep cycle (that I am trying to break) of working until bedtime at 4 am and waking up at noon when half the day is already over. I am grateful that my mother, who thinks 8 am is far too late for any respected member of society to wake up, is not here to judge.

So how do I keep sane in the midst of the new normal where most of China is ‘nesting’:

1. Catching up on movies

Movies usually give me a sense of guilt since the time spent on them could be used more productively. However, this newly found window of time has allowed me to sit down (or lie down) and finally watch those binge-worthy shows I have been avoiding. I have now joined the global fandom of TV couple Ri Jeong Hyeok and Yoon Se Ri in the South Korean series, Crash Landing on You, which sells a highly unrealistic but addictive love story. The storyline may seem cliche at first but ultimately, various characters in the show remind me of the importance of being kind.

On top of entertainment, TV has provided a means of learning. Inside Bill’s Brain has demonstrated not only the Gates Foundation’s amazing efforts in eradicating global diseases but also the moral responsibilities that come with wealth. Some Chinese movies like Dying to Survive 我不是药神 and Better Days 少年的你 have shown that art can bring some social issues into the light, igniting policymakers to create policies and/or change laws to protect the people. Besides, pausing every scene to read the subtitle is doing wonders to my Mandarin vocabularies. Now, I have accumulated a wealth of words about prison and court, which I am hoping I will never have to use in real life.

2. Reading and writing

Truthfully, this experience has been a pleasant change. It has granted me time to return to the pleasure of books after a year of academic journals for thesis, not to mention the swarm of news which are often downright depressing.

As for writing, it is not only keeping my mind busy but has also become a great tool for compiling thoughts and reflection as well as therapy, which one barely has time to do when one is always on the move.

3. Singing and dance parties

Both are fantastic ways to boost energy levels and remain positive. It has also been a great way to get to know my housemate, who often prefers to remain in her room instead of socializing.

We listen to Jay Chou 周杰伦 and she introduces me to more tracks by Pu Shu – about time I know other songs of his apart from 平凡之路. With QQ Music, I can even practice my Mandarin reading as the app automatically scrolls through the lyrics.

4. Embracing the Internet and social media

A large part of what keeps me sane is staying in touch with friends and families. Friends from Europe are only too happy to finally be able to catch up as my erratic sleeping habit now closely resembles their time-zones.

We as a society now officially live online as much as offline. Without the Internet and social media, it would have been impossible keep up with the development of the coronavirus – a necessity for personal safety and professional reasons, nor would I be able to share this experience with the outside world. I would not be able to read the news, purchase online books, watch movies, post photos and live vicariously through other people’s social media stories, nor would I be able to receive the kind messages from friends checking in on me.

5. Cleaning and disinfecting

Needless to say, this apartment has never been so spotless.

6. Cooking and eating

My number one pastime has now changed from eating to cooking. I realized how spoilt I had been by the convenience and affordability of office canteen as well as food delivery. After seeking guidance from families and friends for their tried-and-tested recipes, I have now gained life-changing skills in Chinese cooking. Even my housemate who after my initial failed attempt, had declared that she should be the one dealing with all the Chinese dishes and me with the Western dishes, now finish my dry-fried string beans 干煸四季豆 and poached chicken 白切鸡 without complaint. She sometimes even sneaks in a little flattery with “行” or a thumb up. Had I stuck with Western recipes requiring ingredients that are hardly found in Xicheng, Beijing, I would never discover how healthy and versatile Chinese radish 白萝卜 is.

Now that I am convinced that ‘grocery-run’ is a form of exercise itself, my housemate has told me to stop stocking up the fridge since it is at maximum capacity. To this, I jokingly replied, “We either need a bigger fridge or I’m going to get a new housemate”.

7. Exercising

With the amount of food I prepare and consume, exercise is becoming increasingly important. What a fatal mistake it was to put it off at the initial stage of self-containment. This caused me to remain physically energetic even as my mind tires at dawn, which explains why I struggle to fall asleep even as the sun rises.

So in the days where the weather in Beijing hits AQI 26, which is the equivalent to the clean air of Oslo in Norway, I put on my face masks and runners, before heading to the nearest square where aunties 大妈 practice their dance routines, children glide around in rollerblades and older men bring out their pet birds to show off amongst their friends.

During this unprecedented air quality and uncrowded Beijing, it is also a great time to hit the parks around the city. Of course, the securities take my temperature at every single entrance.

8. Staying positive

Above all, maintaining a positive attitude is key to surviving a lockdown. All of the activities above are ways to keep our spirits lifted and improve our immunities. Even inside Wuhan, the residents who are obliged to remain indoors have uploaded amusing posts about their creative ways of passing time indoors, using humour to entertain not only themselves but also others. The strength in human collective spirit is also demonstrated in the chants of jiayou and the singing of national anthem from the balconies of Wuhan residents.

It helps to think about the positives that have come out of this lockdown, such as spending quality personal time, getting to know the person I share a roof with, gaining new skills and being more in touch with families and friends in the distance. In addition, I have also picked up habits that had fallen off my list of priorities like reading and writing.

9. Giving Back

I realise that I am one of the fortunate ones, to be quarantined in my own home while some people are stuck in hotel rooms, airports, or worse, in hospitals. Furthermore, my embassy has been proactive in distributing masks to registered Indonesian citizens remaining in China. In return, starting an initiative to distribute masks given by the embassy to fellow Indonesians who are unable to retrieve them, due to either university quarantine or simply living too far away from the embassy, makes me feel like I’m not helpless during this epidemic.

The volunteers who have helped deliver supplies and pick up medical staffs during the lockdown have shown the world that every single little act of humanity matters. They should be celebrated for inspiring others to help lighten the burden held by the frontline medics. This crisis has helped me slow down and reflect, since our time on the earth is finite, we cannot afford not to spend it wisely.

So, what have you been doing to keep yourself busy?


Layout by Wang Hai

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