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  • Writer's pictureSam C. Weishi

the year 2020

Last week on the train, I watched a man dance to the music in his ears while I tried to read the book I held. The dancing man was a welcomed distraction; 1984 (by George Orwell) was getting a little bit depressing. It made me happy, and I couldn't help but smile. Nobody saw of course. In that very brief moment, I was back in the NYC subway, and I could almost smell the lingering musty pee stench, but then my eyes drifted to the people around him and I was back in Singapore.

Taken by roomie Jie along a random street in NYC, circa 2017.

2020 has been a strange year, and quite frankly I barely remember how time passed me by. I have always intended to start writing on this space again, but it was difficult to sieve through the clutter that is my headspace and I still am struggling a bit with that. I had expected myself to write more, but I ended up consuming more content, and journalling more. The last time I wrote was in January about my trip to Phi Phi Island, and a lot of things have obviously changed since. That was a time before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, and that was 11 months ago, so in essence —

In February, I was in Taiwan for a film I'm working on, and that scared me a lot then. Even now, I am horrified when I have to take meetings but I've learnt to deal with it better. This was something I had written when I boarded the plane:

February 10, 2020. I'm on the plane and I thought to pen down everything I'm feeling as a way of leaving my fear behind and pushing myself to do good, to try hard when I'm in Taiwan. I'm still scared I'm unable to meet my own expectations, and I feel like I am not as prepared as I'd like to be, but I am excited. I know how lucky I am to be in this space at this time; maybe this is taking me one step closer to figuring out what I'm actually good at.

Think my stroke of luck started early this morning — I'd just driven into the carpark after running an errand for a film and a taxi leaves its lot on the first floor. What a cheap thrill. Then I managed to get myself a Grab within 10 minutes at 4.30am in the morning?! I was very prepared to have to try a few times; I lived in the far West and it was at least a 30 minutes drive to the airport.

My Grab driver, whose name I unfortunately cannot recall, turned out to be Godsent. First, I was surprised he had gotten out of his car to open the boot for me. Then, after I had gotten on the car, I wanted to take a nap, but we ended up having a lovely conversation and he probably didn't know, but he had given me so much within that 30 minutes. He gave me the final boost of courage I really needed. After I expressed my feelings to this stranger, he told me, "don't see fear as a bad thing. It is an opportunity for you to be brave. This is what I tell my 4-year-old daughter." It shifted my perspective.

What was more amazing was that this 50-something-year-old man had his leg amputated and beaten cancer at 19, then went on to represent Singapore at an international water skiing competition. He shared stories of love, loss and courage — he had gotten married and divorced, and lost his mother last year because her mental health deteriorated after the divorce. He was trying to find a job but it has been difficult, so he drives Grab. He doesn't like it, but he tells me he has to, while he tries to put his life together. I'm not sure if he knows, but I tried to tell him with what little time I had left as we pulled up to the departure hall, that he made me feel strong again. My work brings me places and I meet people all the time, but it is often a lonely path. Admittedly I felt ashamed of myself for feeling fear, when this man - who had cards stacked against him so high - is still relentlessly fighting for his life. He shared with me his plans to get a Bachelor's degree in counselling, because he loves helping people but mostly for his daughter —"when she grows up, she'll probably need my help and my emotional support and I want to learn how to do that best."

This man, more than anything, gave me hope. I was not one to give up/lose faith easily, but amidst all that is happening around the world, I found it hard to believe in humanity anymore. Whatever little faith I had left in humanity was in danger of completely dissipating — how humans have reacted to the coronavirus (we talked about this a little bit); how ugly people can become in the name of self-preservation at the expense of so many others. He reminded me there is hope in this world, that there is good in people. I walked away from that car knowing his daughter will grow up to be someone amazing.

Until today I sometimes wonder how he is doing. I am still terrified, and this nagging feeling of not being good enough, not just with my command of Mandarin but also with my work has not gone away, but I have accepted that I will always feel this way and so instead of harping on that, I figured I should do what is within my power to better myself. My command of mandarin has since improved, and I can now write emails in mandarin (haha) although slow. I even challenged myself to record an entire vlog in mandarin, so that was fun. Little steps I tell myself.

March came, and in the course of the month, I spent some time in Malaysia: once, a quick getaway with the Wife and friends; the second time, alone, with Sam. That was when the pandemic hit us really badly and the Singapore-Malaysia border quickly announced a lockdown followed by a border closure. I was still coping with the ensuing chaos — the panic buying, the general fear and hostility, but I remember when it had worsened and everyone was panic-buying tickets to get to Singapore/Malaysia, I was quite distraught. It was unfamiliar and scary. I wasn't one to express negativity too much, and at that time, I remember trying to keep it together and hold everything in. The night after borders were officially closed, I was on the phone with my father who insisted I fly home in the next two days and that I had to do a 14-day SHN away from home for the safety of my grandma. It was only then that the reality of this situation started to dawn on me, but I don't think at that time I could comprehend fully the gravity of this pandemic. I remember crying quite hysterically because (1) I was horrified, (2) it meant I would not see Sam for what then seemed to be potentially forever, and (3) there was so much uncertainty and volatility I was just scared. It was difficult at that time to see any good in the situation the world was in.

I remember very clearly how empty the roads and the airports were when I was making that trip home. It made me sad to think that airports, once hopeful and almost magical, became desolate overnight.

My view for 14 days.

Come April I spent 14 days in isolation at a (pretty swanky) hotel, courtesy of my father, only to leave and enter the circuit breaker for another few months. I think it was only this time that I started to realise how serious this entire situation was. I was already quite used to being cooped up at home because of the 14-days quarantine, so it was not difficult for me to adjust. What I wasn't prepared for was this complete erasure of separating work and home/life, having no personal space, and the sheer amount of information and noise on social media. Quite naturally I took to sleep to cope with these overwhelming feelings. It was also then that I learnt to appreciate the real little things - feeling the sun on my skin, taking a breath without a mask on, even entering a space without needing to join a queue (and fish out my phone). I also got around to re-evaluating my life/the world around me, and for a while I took it upon myself to be vocal about all these issues of inequality on social media (race, income, profession, gender etc.). Social media made it difficult for me to ignore the world, and this did not come without stress. It was tiring to care, and it almost felt like a constant reminder of my insignificance in being able to enact whatever change I would love to see in this world. I have since become less hard on myself, and while I have not been the most vocal about the issues, I still care and I have been reading when I can.

I was producing two short films then ('Stay Home Neighbour' and 'Sikit-Sikit'), alongside dearest Angel without whom I would've buckled under the workload and the stress of having to deal with very many (unnecessary) things, so that was what kept me busy most days. Otherwise, I would binge-watch k-dramas, or whip up random foodstuff, or sleep. It was also this time that I got the opportunity to take part in some film labs and that was truly eye-opening. I still had so much to learn, but it was fulfilling to have been connected to so many talented filmmakers around the world. Most days looked like this:

Finally June, when we could leave our houses. By then, we had gotten used to this somewhat new semblance of normalcy. Leaving the house felt scary; leaving the house to go into production was horrifying. While we were somewhat supported by the authorities/union with grants that gave us work and guidelines as to how to proceed with productions post-circuit breaker, most times I felt trapped. Questions asked were inadequately answered — "you can proceed at your own risk" they say; we were scrutinised so closely by the public, and we were left to fend for ourselves. There were very many other instances that were frustrating for me, especially without the support from people in power that I felt we needed, but I've learnt very many things from these experiences and I am thankful that we finished the films without compromising the safety of our crew. I recall an unpleasant incident that happened one day when Angel and I were in the train on our way home from a location scout that left the both of us traumatised and in tears at the end of the night.

It was phase 2, and we were on the train home. Naturally, we were having a conversation and discussing some work-related things too. Then we saw some uncle with his phone positioned to take a picture of us and so we were confused. And then, he proceeded to yell at us, "don't you know that you're not supposed to be talking!!! yada yada." I have forgotten what he said, and while we were at fault for chatting on public transport (it was prohibited then and we honestly did not know), on hindsight I regret not standing my ground and telling off this uncle for yelling at us. He could've told us, not yell and take a picture; this environment of social policing that we are so encouraged to practice has encouraged hostility in a time when we should be looking out for one another. It was after this that I thought more about the kind of Singapore I wanna live in, and this was not it. What was disappointing was that it wasn't the only time I was yelled at: one time some woman yelled at us while we were filming because she thought we were not social distancing. "You'll shut the whole industry down," this woman says, and tells us she's also from the industry. Even within our own circle we don't foster a culture of helping one another. This is the reality of the kind of country we're building, unless we make the conscious effort to be kind to one another, to act out of good faith and not out of fear. I digress.

Being stuck indoors also gave me more time to sit with my feelings and re-evaluate the relationships I have been keeping in my life. As I grew older, time became more valuable to me because once it runs its course, it can never come back. This transient nature of a moment in time and of life made me cherish time more, and so I am learning to set aside time for the people who truly matters. It has come up a lot in recent conversations my longing for a short life well-lived. I think this has been misunderstood as a desire for death, when it is not that; it is an understanding that the only certainty in life is its inevitable end, and a reminder to spend everyday with meaning and purpose. These are two big words, and they mean different things to different people. For me, I wake up everyday knowing that however I choose to spend my day is within my control and that if I spent one more minute in bed scrolling Facebook, it is not as someone else might perceive to be a waste of time. Of course when it comes to choice and control over time, there exists a level of privilege and I am fully aware of this, but I do not wish to go into this here and now. I would appreciate a conversation about time over coffee any day.

Snippets of people I love (not all pictured) and have been able to spend time with 💖

After things started to get better, in August, I found myself working with Jeremy on a regular basis, and it has been pretty great. I get to do what I enjoy doing, and I get paid, and I still have some flexibility with my time. The learning curve has been steep, but I remind myself everyday I'm still learning. It is rare to come across such humility and talent, and I am fortunate to have found such a fostering work environment with an amazing team.

Not the best at photoshop but team Pōtocol wishes everyone a blessed 2021!

Since then, I have been kept busy and I enjoy it. There are days I experience burnout and I struggle to be fully present on those sets, and I am still trying to cope with this, but it is meaningful to me that I can be making a living out of what I enjoyed doing. On harder days, when I struggle (mostly in the financial aspect), I wonder what I'd be like if I had chosen a corporate job that would pay me better. It only strengthens my resolve to make this work because I know I'd be miserable if I had chosen a regular 9-5 desk job. Most of my time in the last quarter of the year was spent at work and on set. The festive season didn't see a break — I spent the last moments of 2020 and the first of 2021 on set, and while I honestly believed it was just another day, on hindsight I wish I could have been at home watching the fireworks with my family. It meant more to me than I had realised, because it signalled a symbolic new start and an end to another year. Oh yes, and something I said I'd do for a long time but never did, I'm proud to say I finally went to do this year: I signed up for Korean language classes! ㅋㅋㅋ 재미있어용~

Oh and I have aged yet another year 😀 ft. Lana Cake

This is now 2021; I am still in disbelief but I feel a warm concoction of relief and excitement. I'm really looking forward to the challenges this new year might bring. New year resolutions are no longer something I do, because I very often fail to meet them (haha), but the one thing I hope to work on and prioritise this year is my health. I've neglected my body quite a bit because of work — irregular sleep hours, bad eating habits, no exercise because I feel exhausted all the time and I quite frankly have no discipline when it comes to this. 2020 has been a funky (...) year for all of us,

may 2021 bring all of you good health, wealth, happiness, love and luck! Keep warm, keep safe.

xoxo, sam

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