Not long ago (or was it last year?), I was making a list of countries to visit, prioritising the ones I hoped to add in 2020. In the months since Covid-19, after being cooped up at home, working through weekdays and weekends, I needed a break; from my work, from home, from life as I knew it in 2020. I finally bit the bullet, and to my own surprise, suggested going away for a staycation in Singapore.
Full disclosure: Like many introverts, I did enjoy the privacy offered by my work from home situation in the early months. I assumed I wouldn’t miss the idle chit chat that preceded and followed meetings at my workplace and sometimes stretched into longer periods that reduced overall productivity.
Unlike many of my colleagues who had not known alternate ways of working, long before Covid-19, I had spent several years as an independent consultant who worked from home. It had been a wonderfully liberating experience and the most productive years of my work life.
Looking forward to working from home
As a focused worker eager to strike things off my to-do list, working from home once again seemed like a perfectly workable idea. I conveniently forgot about the fact that in the years when I was self-employed, I used my hours efficiently, whether that involved catching up on household chores between calls or grocery shopping at non-peak hours. I used to hang out with friends and watch movies at odd hours, twisting my schedule around my deliverables. I had several bosses, in the form of demanding clients but no micromanaging supervisor or nagging coworkers.
The “new normal” during a pandemic era was very different from what I had encountered before. Meetings, although not face to face, continued to be a major drain on my time and energy, preceded by wasteful minutes fine tuning your connection and asking ‘can you hear me into the soundless ether’. Ad hoc calls to address faux emergencies created by lack of coordination led to increased screen time, and debilitating auditory and visual fatigue.
I spent less time talking to my family members, all of whom were within arm’s reach and more time interacting with images on screen, with no option to walk away, or switch off for a meaningful break.
Unable to regenerate my energies, my limited introverted energies started flagging to dangerously low levels. I snapped at everyone, forgot important things and became unbelievably inefficient.
A gift to myself
With a birthday coming up, I decided to splurge on what I needed most – not clothes, not a makeover, but a change of scene.
The problem of living on a small island lies in the difficulty of putting a large distance between your home and your new location. But there wasn’t much choice. Sentosa island, developed exclusively for getaways, both for locals and tourists alike, seemed to be as far as we could go.
The husband and I chose Amara Sanctuary and Resort, Sentosa for two nights in the middle of a work week. The rationale was to be close to nature, not on a high floor in a high rise. We were assigned a first floor room when we arrived around 1.30 p.m. hoping for an early check-in. I fell asleep while reclining on an unfamiliar bed with freshly-laundered sheets (my guilty pleasure).
When I woke up after what felt like a few minutes (but for some reason the clock showed 4.30 p.m.), my eyes looked puffy but relaxed, eager to take in the views of the green lawn where a lone peacock walked past, pecking unhurriedly in the grass. He stopped occasionally to call out loudly, either to a mate or just to make his presence felt, I couldn’t be sure. But I pulled out my phone, not to check email but to capture his leisurely stroll.
We spent some time in the dream pool, a blue rectangular one surrounded by trees and a welcoming silence. My shoulders, always stiff from hours of sitting slouched over a screen, began to ease after a few minutes. I floated on the water, willing my breath to slow down, for the air to flow all the way down into my lungs and abdomen, a vital skill that I seemed to have forgotten in the mad stretch of days and nights with no breaks.
The next morning after breakfast, we walked to Palawan beach. We didn’t see any people along the way or on the beach. When was the last time we had been on a private beach? I stood in the warm clear water, watching the ripples form on the sand as the sea ebbed and flowed around my feet. My phone was with me, I needed it for Safe-Entry login at various locations but I felt no urge to check any notifications.
Peace and privacy on a deserted island
It was lovely to be on Sentosa with practically no tourists. We rode the bus and tram up and down the island like old retirees, in no hurry to queue up for a ride at Universal studios. The restaurants were staffed but patrons were few. After a leisurely lunch we headed back to the room for another nap, a luxury that while possible, felt impractical at home.
There were no attractions to visit, to list to check off, no obligations that needed to be fulfilled. A no agenda holiday. The best gift I could ask for.
I had been wrong to laugh at the concept of (not just the people who took) staycations.
Just as there is merit in removing yourself from a harmful situation for your physical safety, there is merit in sequestering yourself away from an environment which saps you emotionally.
Holidays to faraway places used to be the way I rejuvenated myself in the pre-Covid era. Staycation seems to be the adaptive response I need to adopt given the current limitations.
I am glad I could get away, even if it was only for two days. The one downside was the feeling of jumping back into a fire that had been burning the whole time while I was gone.
Note to self – plan for a longer break next time!
Have you tried a new way to get away and destress this year? Any tips for the times you want to but aren’t able to leave?
Photo credit Ranjani’s archives