It is a strange time over here as I am sitting on the balcony of my place at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on a hot, humid summer day. The streets are traffic-free, the urban birds sing more loudly than ever before and everything has come to a standstill. The leaves are luminously green and fluttering down leaving ample spaces for city folk to wonder how nice it would be to throng these streets, except none of us can do that anymore under lockdown mode.
Some say the unending anxiety of waiting to know what happens next can be troubling, but others have said that COVID-19 mimics climate catastrophe at 'warp speed'. A pace of change is coming at breakneck speed while some of us are still stuck in one place. I have watched the world come to a halt, my clients reduced my hours to 30% and seen all travel related search disappear.
This gray area and time yields us (or me) atleast to pick up where we left in the old teachings of the world now nearly forgotten by industry and technology. At the level of human interactions, we probably already do this but this quiet time offers a lot of reflection in finding new ways and things to stimulate our minds. I have selectively been travelling less and doing more armchair travels, reading a lot and exercising and dreaming of all the hiking and bicycle touring places that I can possibly visit.
We weren’t made to slow down with our hyperactive lifestyles and I only managed to do that when I was on a bicycle travel trip or spending time with a local. Once I am back at home, I am usually shouldered with responsibilities and meeting deadlines that is easy to lose track of moments where the mind and spirit are lost to all connections of the world. From the very act of writing on a piece of a paper, and connecting the dots like how it takes about 24 trees to make 1 ton of standard office paper. These random facts would not spring to mind with all the background chatter in our usual lives.
It may seem random but I guess after reading books and having spaces with plenty of quiet time, my mind is being stimulated and lately, I have been trying to understand how can we distinguish between what’s given by the earth and what is not — just sparing a few minutes to make that connection can mean a lot. And on that note, here are some ways for underappreciated things to do and think about during this uncertain period.
What To Read
Given half a chance, we’d much rather hit the road than the armchair. Nothing can replace the intensity of authentic experience. But times like this call us to use our imagination. It is free and makes way for what’s it like to visit the lives of people in far-flung terrain and edgy places, where we invariably find echoes of the voices that led us there.
On Pandemic: There’s always going be an interesting read that will be fitting for what’s going on during this time and that book is The Ghost Map. Cholera can be a nasty disease and this book is an account of the 1854 cholera epidemic in London and of the work of John Snow who through his scientific investigations managed to establish that cholera was waterborne and that the source of this outbreak was the Broad Street pump in London
On Escape: If you want to know what’s like to leave everything behind and move off the grid to Alaska then The Great Alone is one of those stay up all night stories. A former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
On Being Curious With Nature: There’s one book that has gripped me with all things related to trees, nature and the environment. The book Braiding Sweetgrass is written by a botanist and a poet who uses incidents from her personal life, as well as myths, to enrich her insight on nature, plants and the land. The book questions why textbook knowledge of science can give us the gift of knowing, but not caring. Its not about wisdom. Its about pursuing the wants and needs of humans, with less concern for the more-than-human world.
If there’s another book that belongs to the same category and serves as an ode to trees and plants, it is Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. Even Obama recommended it as one of the best books that one should read in 2019/2020! It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”. As an Arts student, if I was exposed to books like these in my childhood, I may have found a different calling. I wonder what else I haven’t read that may change my mind on a lot of things or open up my world to a range of possibilities.
On War and Religion: It is books like Nadia Murad, The Last Girl that opened my eyes to the atrocities that Yazidis face in Iraq. This memoir is eye-opening and a tough read to see what they go through but absolutely necessary to know that our little #firstworldproblems like bad service, immigration lines and traffic woes are nothing compared to living in war. Her family lived in false hope that ISIS would leave their poor little village alone and she left it instead to escape.
On More Travel Escapades: If you dream of the Caucasus like Armenia and Azerbaijan, you can read The Orphan Sky or Ali and Nino, or if you dream of Europe, read A Year In Provence or if you want to visit Central Asia and learn about the histories of being on the silk road, a good read would be the Silk Road: A New History of the World and if you’d like to read about bicycle touring then Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy will give you a full account of a lone woman who rode in 1963, across frozen Europe and through Persia and Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and into India. She didn’t know how to fix a punctured tyre and still went ahead! This book gave me the much-needed inspiration of being on the road before I left on my cycling trip to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia!
What To Watch
In that excessive hunt for all things-pandemic related, there are two stand-outs on Netflix that are worth a watch. The docu-series Pandemic highlights worldwide what happens when a flu epidemic takes places and how the World Health Organization (WHO) is always testing for new places where outbreaks could happen all the way in Lebanon to Egypt, the US, China and Africa. Funny how Pandemic is unrelated to coronavirus and chillingly, it was simply a coincidence the show came out at the same time as this new outbreak hit the globe.
Another one that I watched was 93 days. This was a movie shot in Nigeria on the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia. It showed how contagious the disease was and how medical practitioners and front-line workers are the first to suffer and come in contact in a dangerous situation like this.
On a more lighter note, I have been binge watching this American-Canadian series called When Calls The Heart. A lighthearted take of how a young Canadian teacher leaves the city life to teach in a small mining town called Coal Valley. Or if you like something more food and adventure-related, watch this heartwarming tale Julie & Julia featuring Meryl Streep as they share a common passion for food.
What To Listen
We all know by now the Covid-19 is real and this podcast on How Nomadic Matt got COVID-19. Plus: Reports from stranded travelers shines a light on how other travel bloggers, even the most famous of all time Nomadic Matt who has been diagnosed with the Coronavirus. It also features other stranded travelers and why they have chosen to come home and not come home.
While I work from home, I am also staying put and finding ways to come up with quarantine coping mechanism. If you like songs that mention on what it is like to be alone, not touch others, and communicate from a distance. Listen along to Dave Pell’s Quarantine Spirit playlist on Spotify.
If you like to listen to podcasts about adventures minus the doom and gloom, Outside Online has a neat set of podcast and She Explores focuses on telling stories of women outside to amplify the voices of people who weren’t being heard.
What To Do
It is tempting to make projections and not try and ask to put a date on when all of this will be over, but if you put in place habits and behaviors for an indefinite amount of time, it will help drastically. Here are some personal projects that you can participate in.
Work Out (and I mean doing barre, yoga, climbing the stairs and the whole shebang!): I have been addicted to Yoga with Kassandra on YouTube and she incorporates slower form of yoga from beginner, flexibility to intermediate and advanced levels and MadFit as well as 2 weeks shred programme with Chloe Ting. I have also been running on carpark ramp or climbing stairs and picking up water bottles as weights!
Tell your untold stories: I have tons of stories in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that I have yet to be published and there are pictures stuck in my archives that need more editing. This is the time to hone your storytelling skills and that means sharing an opinion or observations from your reading. Writing can be cathartic — it doesn’t have to be perfect; as long as you get to echo your points and story across.
Eating clean: I remember coming across an Explained video on diets and the real postmortem of an obese person. The diets of most people involved chips, processed foods and a whole lot of Cheetos. I even thought to myself that these foods don’t even taste good. If I was fat, it better be worth it for something like “biryani” but not processed crap. I have made a conscious effort to try and eat healthy food with superfoods and veggies even if I am ordering take-aways during this time. It is still hard because I do love my mom’s “pakoras”!
Learning new skills or applying for that scholarship: I have my other consulting PR and digital work that keeps me going through this time because of my previous skills but I didn’t want to stop there. I took an effort to look out for scholarships and grants that may open up new opportunities and it is times like this where you have to constantly reinvent yourself.
Well, we would need to live for now, in slow motion suspended halfway between the past and the future. Until then, we avoid travel, curb misinformation, fake news and continue to remain all kinds of social distancing! The paramedics are in desperate need of equipment and protective gear, let’s avoid being their patient. In the meantime, here are some new coronavirus terms you might hear in the days to come.
Also Read: Community Based Tourism in Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan: What To Do In Walnut Haven
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