Never in my life have I ever thought I’d have to go through something like this. I’m talking about the coronavirus and the impact it’s bringing to everybody’s life on this side of the world. Particularly on us, citizens of Macau SAR China.
While we are still relatively safe with only 10 cases registered so far, nobody knows what will happen next. Preventive measures were put in place by the Government and the city is basically paralysed.
Public service and major businesses are closed. Schools are closed. Casinos are closed. Bars, karaokes, gyms, cinemas, theatres, indoor playgrounds, bowling alleys, snooker halls, sauna and massage parlours, beauty salons, night clubs, cabarets – all ordered by the Government to close.
Then came a domino effect: other businesses not in the list are slowly closing as well. Either because they want to cooperate and stay in line with the Government’s advise, or simply because they were already struggling as foot traffic now is scarce anyway.
Everybody understands the seriousness of this outbreak, and that draconian measures are necessary to keep things under control. We are not complaining. In fact we are praising the Government for its pro-activeness and quick action.
We are advised by the authorities to stay home. And keep staying home. And then stay even more. Our last registered case of coronavirus infection was a local citizen who became a victim by joining a family gathering on a relative’s place. Unbeknownst to all involved, this relative was already infected. As a result, a bunch of people had to be put in quarantine.
This case was publicly lambasted by our Chief Executive in his last press conference, as they had not followed the Government’s advise to stay home.
So we all stay home.
I’m privileged enough to live in a spacious, comfortable place with my family. But housing being a cronic problem in Macau, I worry for people who may feel depressed in their small flats together with kids that have nowhere to go.
I look out the window and find empty streets with no people, no cars, no nothing. Feels eerie, but attractively so in a way. I’ve always enjoyed urbex imagery and the emptiness of places that were once busy, but all of a sudden abandoned because of an unexpected event.
Prypiat and Hashima Island are on top of my list to visit one day. But now I am experiencing this disconcerting atmosphere in my hometown Macau.
The new normal
I used to get up before 6am, my day starting with a coffee while I catch-up on social media and my brain slowly winds-up. Then I’d write something on Measuring Light, jot down some ideas.
When in the mood, I’d go jogging by the sea or just go out and drive the 20 year old convertible left by my late father. It was his favourite. I’d open the roof and get some fresh air to energise myself, knowing that a hectic and exciting day is awaiting for me at the office. All when the sun is still slowly climbing up the sky. It’s beautiful.
It’s scary how abruptly our lives can change. But even scarier is how we quickly adapt ourselves to a new routine and, all of a sudden, we realise we miss ordinary things like the ones above or the simple task of taking our kids to school or finding a place to eat.
I’m still starting my day with a coffee, but first thing I do now is to check the number of infected cases, often with the unrealistic hope they are finally starting to decline.
Not so soon.
There’s no jogging by the sea nor flexing around with my roadster. In fact, my first daily task now is to go pick up my domestic helper from her place. I told her not to take the bus to minimise her exposure to the malefic virus, which in turn could put us all at risk.
So I’m her driver now. She went from riding a jam-packed bus twice a day to being chauffeured by an architect on a Lexus.
Unlike many, I still go to work. We have a new routine there as well. Face masks, temperature check, disinfecting your hands with alcohol at the reception. Face-to-face meetings are discouraged – I’m telling everybody to make conference calls instead. Specific staffing arrangements were created, which are frequently adjusted as the crisis evolves.
I get busy working around these things now. It feels every meeting, every phone call, every email is coronavirus related. Then at 5pm I stop everything to watch the daily live updates from the Government.
And basically this is life now. This is our new normal. Other than this – which is hardly colourful or exciting – I stay home like everybody else.
No more shutter therapy
With the streets empty and a movie-esque, post-apocalyptic feel when night falls, the photographer in me wants to go out and shoot. I want to experience and register this unique scenario.
My hometown under siege showing a faux serenity that is, in reality, hiding the anxiety of its people.
Last week I had a short sortie. I took my Fuji GFX 50R, the ultra-wide Laowa 17mm f/3.5 to emphasise the emptiness of the public spaces and a tripod. It was interesting.
But this was all before the aforementioned infection case that was publicly condemned by the authorities. You are only supposed to go out for your essential needs, like food and groceries. You are not supposed to be out in the streets taking photos, potentially getting infected or infecting others. Frankly, if something happens you really don’t want to be that person causing havoc to society.
Which makes it all the more frustrating for me now.
As a hobbyist, photography has been part of my life for decades. The so-called shutter therapy is not limited to the simple act of taking a photograph. There is a whole ritual involved, starting from where to go, what camera to take with me and the challenge of finding something new in a small city whose streets and corners I know by heart since my childhood.
Perhaps I could try shooting something at home, but frankly I’m not into it.
Nothing we can do now. We just stay home, cooperate with the authorities and keep the discipline.
And hope that this thing goes away as quickly as possible.
Nobody here is enjoying this “new normal” and we all want to go back to our previous “normal”, however boring and ordinary it was.