What pandemic? Here's a chronicle of how I carved out a fun yet productive time for myself during the Covid chaos.
The lockdowns have been trying and depressing for many of us. During last year’s circuit breaker, I was the most physically out of shape I’ve ever been in my life. My emotional and mental health suffered a nosedive into a bottomless pit of gloom. I knew I owed it to myself to get cracking to break out of the melancholic cycle of woe and self-pity. So, I summoned my inner resolve and got active. I hired a personal fitness trainer and committed myself to a strict exercise and diet regimen. I also signed up for enrichment courses to upgrade my skills, and I challenged myself to confront my fears and step out of my comfort zone.
What did I do? From culturally immersive activities such as ikebana and iaido to hobbies like fencing, archery, horseback riding, windsurfing, pole dancing and aerial silks, the list was endless. I also expressed my creativity and artistry with oil painting, pottery, playing the ukulele and Latin dancing. I attempted many of these activities for the first time. And I did so much that my friends wondered if I’d become a secret spy agent or ninja warrior!
But to me, it’s about self-development and pushing myself over the limits. We’re all working on ourselves in different areas of our lives. Hopefully, my experiences and transformation can inspire you to aspire for greatness – especially during these arduous times.
Bon appetit: you can’t beat the comfort of home-cooked food
Cooking is a creative and therapeutic process. It gives you the chance to express your artistic side with imaginative food styling and decorative plating techniques. I wanted to upgrade my culinary skills during the lockdown, so I enrolled in several prestigious institutes to master cooking and baking different cuisines like a professional chef.
It was a gratifying time cooking up a storm. I churned out a smorgasbord of Thai, Peranakan, French, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Malay, Cantonese and Singaporean dishes. Whatever I made, I shared with friends, family and neighbours. There was Hainanese chicken rice, Hokkien prawn noodles, Nyonya ayam ponteh and the perennial favourite: chilli crab. Friends even (jokingly) told me they’re willing to marry me just for my culinary prowess!
On special occasions like National Day and Christmas, my mum and I teamed up to pack freshly baked banana bread, almond raisin muffins and chocolate chip cookies for public cleaners and medical frontliners. We wanted to show appreciation for their tireless contributions to the community and put a warm smile on their exhausted faces. And it was so worth it.
The bike boom and beyond
The first thing I did after the circuit breaker ended? Get a bicycle. Cycling is a no-brainer pastime that’s good for the environment, saves you money, and is a great form of cardio. I once rode all by myself from West Coast Park to Changi Airport, going through Harbourfront, Marina Bay and East Coast Park. The whole duration of that epic route: more than 6 hours. And I did it on my trusty city bike with no gear shifting mechanisms. Although I enjoyed the scenery and solitude of that solo cycling trip, it’s not something I’d attempt again. Once is more than enough!
If you’re one of those who hopped on the cycling bandwagon during the pandemic, you’re not alone. But do it with caution, courtesy and consideration – whether you’re on the road or pedestrian pathway. Pro tip: you’ll have a more enjoyable time if you stick to cycling along wide pavements and park connectors. Coney Island, Punggol Waterways and the Green Corridor are some of the most picturesque nature trails in Singapore for a leisurely cycle. Two-wheeler not your cup of tea? Try skateboarding or longboarding instead and cruise around Esplanade to show off your sleek moves.
Another thing I did was to get a manual car driving license and a motorcycle riding license. Yes, Singapore’s one of the most costly and difficult countries in the world to obtain a driver’s license. And my pals thought I wanted a motorcycle license to purchase a Harley and become a hell rider! But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I just wanted to challenge myself and get over my fear of motorcycles. Either you learn to manage and control a machine, or it controls you.
The thought of abseiling, bouldering, zip-lining, bungee jumping and deep-sea scuba diving is enough to make anyone feel apprehensive. But there’s something to be said about the addictive adrenaline rush and the release of endorphins that makes you feel alive.
Bouldering is similar to rock climbing, but it’s more challenging and done without the use of safety harnesses. Bouldering basics are easy to comprehend and it’s an affordable pursuit to pick up since minimal gear is required. The sport is rapidly gaining in popularity – once you get the fundamentals down pat, you’ll be traversing and hanging off rock cliff edges like an agile monkey in no time.
When my abseiling buddy suggested I take a kayaking proficiency certification course complete with evaluations and assessments, my initial reaction was scepticism. Why does kayak training require two full days? But the course turned out to be relatively methodical, tactical and technical. We learnt different draw strokes for efficient paddling in all directions, advanced rudder controls, various rescue methods, capsizing recovery, nautical terminologies, tide readings and much more. A lot of the manoeuvres taught aren’t what you can learn from a video on YouTube. You have to physically practise it to get a proper feel and understanding of it.
“Everybody was kung fu fighting”
Having tried various martial arts such as Muay Thai, Iaido, Aikido, Taiji Jian and Krav Maga, I’ve fostered a sense of discipline, confidence, grace, poise and dexterity from the training sessions. While experimenting, I discovered I have an inclination towards classical ornamental swords. These old-fashioned weapons elevate the routine to a more complex and sophisticated ritual as opposed to punching and kicking with your bare limbs. With a sword in hand, you feel like an ancient samurai and Shaolin monk rolled into one. But, I’d say these martial art forms are better as a way of keeping fit; not so much for real-life self-defence scenarios.
My recommendation? Krav Maga. The Israeli system of self-defence caters to those who don’t wish to engage in a fight or show off their combat skills. It’s about ending a fight when being attacked by an assailant, so you have ample time to escape. If you ever face a dangerous threat, you’d be armed with the necessary knowledge and competency to protect yourself.
The best is yet to come
During my 100th session with my personal fitness instructor, he enthused, “this isn’t the end, it’s only just the beginning for you.” His words of wisdom ring true, as our personal journeys are never-ceasing. I’ve earned my stripes and I’m proud of myself for my diverse accomplishments and experiences. But, even though I’ve hit many goals, there are still stones left unturned and empty pages to fill.
Learning to sail a boat and piloting a plane are two activities that keep getting postponed due to group size limitations and pandemic restrictions. Skydiving, surfing, paragliding and free diving are also high on my bucket list to check off. Yes, I’ve come a long way but I’m not in competition with anyone except myself. I hope you’re inspired to pick up the mantle and try a new activity too. You just might surprise yourself at how savvy you can be!