It’s been over three months since I started following the development of Covid-19 pandemic. As most of the world now entering a new phase of combating the disease, I decided to put in words what I have been through and what I have been thinking about.
They center around changes and flexibility, which are themes familiar to all globetrotters.
Writing these thoughts down gave me rest. It helps me let go of the hyper alertness and tension. It is tiring to be in combat mode all the time. I hope you find your own way to process all these changes in life so you have strength to move forward. I also hope that sharing our experience with each other, we are able to form new perspectives and build resilience as a society.
Early January: Heard of a SARS-like virus spreading in Wuhan. Paid limited attention on the disease but cared more about local government trying to clamp down on the news.
Mid January: More first-hand experience leaking out from Chinese citizens. Having just lived and left China a year ago, began worrying about our friends there. Counted our blessings for not based there anymore.
Late January: Chinese New Year brought full lockdown in Wuhan and full epidemic response in Taiwan, my home country. My family posted about strolling from living room to bedroom to kitchen through the weeklong holidays. In addition to the common screening and quarantine measures on travelers from China, Taiwanese government nationalized facemask production and distribution, which proved to be visionary.
Early February: Cancelled a planned April trip with my parents to the UK. Wondered why no one in the West is paying attention and mocking people wearing facemask. News from cruise ship Diamond Princess began hitting Saint Lucia, where we currently live and have ships visiting almost every day in the winter.
Mid February: Markets around the world began nosedive. Sent notice to my clients and readers – not about the market but being financial prepared for living with Covid-19. (Everything I mentioned became a reality within 3 weeks in the US.)
Late February: Stopped going to the gym (partially due to a timely back injury) and stocked up to minimize need for social interaction with strangers, in case we got infected and need to trace contact history. Began having regular video meetings with my brother, sister-in-law and niece in Taiwan to keep our spirits up and connected.
Early March: No local positive case yet and tourists were still arriving. Stopped going to restaurants. Husband got a tentative offer to transfer back to the US – uncertain how to prep both for an imminent international move and potential need to stay home for a long time.
Mid March: First local positive case identified. Things escalated quickly. Husband’s employer made the decision to send all program volunteers back to the US within three days, keeping essential staff. Ordered departure seemed imminent but never came after warnings for US citizens to return home or shelter in place. Another three days later, Saint Lucia government closed its border. We went from stockpiling perishables to scheduling sea freight to packing go bags to unpacking to stockpiling perishables again.
Late March: Local positive cases spiked. Country went into partial lockdown, and then to 24-hour curfew. Husband finally began working from home but still expecting to relocate for the new position. Changes are still on the horizon, but now we are literally confined indoors.
Early-Mid April: 3 days of hours-long grocery line ensued after the 24-hour curfew was relaxed to evening only. Then things went quiet as we head into Easter. Further opening of essential services happened after Easter and people seemed to be accepting the new normal.
- Having lived in 7 countries in the last 10 years, I have local connections that keep me aware of situations developing around the world. While I have my share of anxiety, I wasn’t caught off guard. Instead, I saw what may become, both the negatives and the positives, in a more extended timeline. It helped me take in the changes in a more gradual way and more time to process the inevitable.
- Talking about changes, I’m no stranger to it. Having a conventionally not “stable” life allowed me to expect and prepare for changes before they come. Even under unpleasant circumstances, I always try to examine my mindset first since it’s the only thing I can control. It doesn’t mean that I ignore the uncomfortable reality but focus on the unchanging truth. That is how we can be the source of light in darkness.
- One way to deal with constant change is having flexibility. In fact, flexibility comes at a cost in good times because you are not optimizing your resources. Due to our transient life, we’ve always had to keep more liquidity than normal. We do not have a property or mortgage to tie us down. In running my business, I intentionally build in “unproductive” time so I can mobilize quickly when needed, either for immediate client needs, family obligations, or international moves. It also allows me to offer free consultation to those who need it now.
- Because of my husband’s career, working from home without being tied to a single location was a necessity, not a choice. I’ve been doing it full-time for five years before most office workers in the world got forced on the wagon. Suddenly what I’ve been doing isn’t weird but the norm. Working with location flexibility is the part of my life that has not changed but the perception of it changed for the better. Even now, I continue to be flexible with my work environment, as my husband took over the home office and I resort to other locations.
- The massive change brought on by Covid-19 opens up many possibilities and will further accelerate the change. In a developing country such as where are now, doing things in person is necessary until a week ago. Now all essential service companies – water, electricity, phone, internet, banks – are offering to customers option to get things done online, through apps or over the phone. It takes emergencies to push societies along and adopt what will eventually make our lives easier.
- On a global scale, the societies need to become more flexible. We are currently in a period of mismatched supply and demand in many aspects of our economy because we don’t have a system flexible and agile enough to quickly mobilize our resources for the right demand. Having massive unemployment and GDP decline doesn’t mean that a large part of the society suddenly lost value. It simply means that our collective needs shifted and we are not fast enough to alter our existing ways meet them. Eventually the societies will come to a new equilibrium. In the long run, those who are able to adapt through multiple iteration of crisis will thrive.
- Lastly, perhaps a way to adapt to the shock of the system is to build the shock into the system. I kept thinking if at the very sign of virus spreading in China, all countries decided to take a two-week “snow-day” together, how the situation would be different? Many will argue that there is no need to stop the economy when there is no need. But what if it’s something built into our global calendar? Every year we agree to have a two-week hiatus with no work, no trade and no travel. Perhaps we can slow global warming, enjoy more family time, and have real rest again.
I don’t claim to know what will happen in the future. It’s true many disastrous outcomes of this pandemic may have yet to hit us. All I know that we can only take changes in strides and be flexible. Adapt to survive, just like the virus. But unlike the virus, human helps others who are slower to adapt. As globetrotters we are experienced in changes and flexibility. It’s time that we share our skills and wisdom with others. We will get through this together.