Ang Mo Kio under lockdown

I’ve shared this widely and had it widely shared by my very supportive and beloved academic and friend community (thank you, thank you, thank you), many of whom read it carefully and wrote to me with their own reflections, but I want to archive it here, too.

Here’s an essay about everyday life during lockdown in Singapore, what walking Chai has taught me about my neighbourhood, and how people challenge surveillance by building new community spaces, published on

I miss smiling at people unmasked; I miss the civil inattention we practise in trains and lifts and bus stops; I miss being alone in a sea of strangers while feeling cosseted and amused and calmed by the very many quirks of a crowd. I miss being an observer of the populated city.

Lockdown diaries

If unchallenged, I tend to fall into routine. I like to do things over and over again, laying down time and experience like a mille crepe cake. I am very good at the deep-dive, the excavation and the marvel of the everyday, the plumbing of the depths.

The lockdown is throwing this into relief, like the sun setting at an off-angle, the shadows cast differently. I walk the dog and buy vegetables, same as always. But there is something discordant in the air.

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We’ll all be old one day

We saw her at the same time as we got off the bus: an older auntie with her legs bent inwards, about to heft a trolley bag up the overhead bridge. The woman in front of me, short-cropped hair, maybe in her late 40’s, beat me to it.

“Auntie, where you going?” she said efficiently, and without waiting to hear the answer, continued. “I carry for you. Come. Never mind.” She swung the trolley up and strode up the stairs like a conqueror, leaving the auntie in the dust. I admired the muscles in her calves.

The bag-carrier ripped her way to the end of the overhead bridge like a CrossFit trainer and set it down to wait patiently. The bow-legged auntie was in her late 70s and moved with placid slowness. I hovered between them both as she limped across the bridge.

Continue reading “We’ll all be old one day”