The year 2020 was suppose to be THE year for me. In a strange way, it did indeed turn out to be THE year – as it did for everyone else on the planet.
2020 was particular for me because when I was in my early teens, the then-Prime Minister of Malaysia announced his “Vision 2020” for the country. I didn’t care much for the vision (don’t even recall what it was about), but when the TV and billboards all around me started to use the phrase “2020”, it left a lasting impression in my mind.
At that time, 2020 was so far in the future for a teenager like me who only cared about what happens tomorrow that it seemed would never come to pass. So over the years, I became to associate the year to represent the unknown future. As I grew older, whenever I considered life plans that I have no control of but would like to accomplish some day, I started to subconsciously tag “2020” as its deadline.
Ironically, out of sheer coincidence, without actual planning, I did managed to accomplish a series of life goals in 2020. If I were to pinpoint a particular moment in time to attribute the genesis of when things started to move in motion, I would place it in 2018. Granted, life is a continuous series of events, and I could, of course, keep tracing the event back to “why was I there in the first place?”. But for this narrative, it started with me being stuck in Kyoto one August of 2018, weathering Typhoon Jebi or Typhoon Number 21 as it was referred to in Japan then.
How It Started
It was the second day of my first (and last, as of this writing) trip to Japan. I was traveling with a good friend whom I had not met in about 10 years but had reconnected briefly online at the end of 2017. We made plans to meet up in Japan since she had traveled widely across Japan and I badly needed a travel companion. Unfortunately, we both had no idea about the typhoon and so we had to hole up in the hotel for a day while the storm started raging outside.
The typhoon eventually caused serious damage to the bridge leading to the Kansai International airport where we were supposed to fly out at the end of the week. Repairs would not be done before then so we were scrambling to call the airlines ticketing centers to rebook tickets. Unfortunately, my airlines was unable to book me a ticket by that weekend and I had to spend an extra week in Japan (in Tokyo, no less). My vacation days were already maxed out with this trip but after explaining the situation to my manager and working something out with my company, I managed to stay back in Japan without issues.
Naturally, my parents were suitably worried about my sitation – both because of the calamity and the fact that I may lose my job over these extra days. The one thing I recalled was my mom asking me to return to Malaysia if I lost my job. As if I’d give up everything I’ve built in Canada for that reason alone. But the whole incident put a thought in me that with my relatives visibly getting older (I was in Malaysia prior to heading to Japan) and my not being able to visit home for more than three weeks a year, maybe I should consider finding a way to spend a much longer period of time in Malaysia.
When I eventually returned safely home, work resumed as always but the little seed of thought grew in me. At that time, I was living in Toronto which I had moved back several years ago to work at this job – while leaving behind a perfectly fine home in Waterloo that I’ve been itching to move back to. So I started to put out some feelers in the job market, hoping to find a position that would allow me to work remotely. I wasn’t seriously invested into the search, because I really liked the people I worked with but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to be ready when something appropriate came up.
Then at the beginning of 2019, things at work went a little wonky and the people I enjoyed working with started to leave one by one. It looked like all good things would eventually end and perhaps it was a signal to move on, so I started to toy with the idea that I would stay on for maybe another year (provided I still have a job), to start saving some money, and then quit my job in order to spend a quality three months back in Malaysia. I didn’t have a solid date or a well-thought plan because I was somewhat financially sound but I wanted a little more time to see how things would pan out with this company and also to put some buffer room in my “remote work” search. That next year happened to be 2020 so it seemed feasible to tag “2020” as the target year to make things happen.
By a stroke of luck (and timely connections), a month or two later, I received a job offer that seemed so perfect I could not believe my ears when I first heard it. It would be a fully remote job, doing the stuff I wanted to do, and with a group of co-workers that I had experience of working well with. It was a leap of faith (going from an established company to a start-up) but the reality is, I was going to quit my job in the next year anyway and this opportunity would not only keep me employed but let me accomplished all my “2020” plans at the same time!
So I took the plunge and quitted my job and started at the new one. But having done that, it meant that now I can start on all the life plans that I wanted to get going! Firstly, to move back to Waterloo, which meant I had to get rid of as much junk as I have accumulated in Toronto since arriving, particularly duplicated furniture and all sorts of housewares. I don’t recall what triggered the reunion (it feels like some odd LinkedIn email I received), but I coincidentally reconnected with Elina, an online friend I knew from quite some years ago when I was still active in the manga/anime scene. Her eldest daughter happened to be enrolled as a first-year student in the fall semester at University of Toronto so when I found out, I offered to let them have my furniture if they found it useful. They were more than happy to grab what they could off me and it really was a life-saver! Not to mention, it was my first time meeting Elina in person and I was happy that we had the opportunity to catch up and talk about all sorts of things that weren’t possible via email. It’s funny how things worked out.
As part of my exit from Toronto, I also reconnected with my pen friends from the Toronto Pen Club, sold a lot of old pens that I no longer used, hung out with the lot talking and playing with all sorts of different pens and eventually attended Pelikan Day 2019 and Scriptus 2019. All really fun events of which I had no time to talk or write about because I was rushing to move out of Toronto as soon as I can!
Eventually, in October 2019, I finally moved back to Waterloo. It was a bittersweet moment because I did enjoy Toronto, where I lived since I first came to Canada for 7 years, before moving to Waterloo and buying my home there. Then moved back for another 4 years - if I think about it, collectively in years, I’ve live in Toronto for longer than I ever did in Waterloo! In fact, my tenant has lived in my house for more years than I ever did.
However, there wasn’t time to rest! Novemeber was coming up and my new company gave us a 3-day holiday for Thanksgiving which I naturally took the rest of the week off so I had to start making plans to head back to Malaysia. And this time, it would be a four-month trip! An amount of time that I’ve never been able to take off ever since I graduated from college! Since I was scheduled to return back to Canada end of March 2020, I did whatever mininal effort to get myself settled back in town including barely saying hi before saying goodbye to a lot of church saints whom I really wanted to get connected again! Then zoom, I was off on my way back to Malaysia!
Coming back was a whole lot of adjustments, because I had to live with my parents again and my brother and his family (who lives with my parents) were away in Korea so it was a little tough not having my buddy brother around to chat with. But I survived 2019 and reconnected with my traveling buddy to start making plans for our next Japan trip in 2020 before I head back to Canada.
It just seems like nothing could go wrong in terms of clearing out my so-called “bucket list”.
Then Year 2020 arrived … or rather, COVID-19 did
Of course, locally, we heard all about Covid-19 but to some degree, we never imagined it would become a pandemic. My travel buddy and I discussed and made plans to travel to Japan … and eventually, it all fell apart when the world situation started to turn for the worst as news poured in about the growing number of infections particularly in the western parts of the world.
Eventually, around mid-March, several weeks before I was scheduled to fly back to Canada, Malaysia implemented a country lockdown. I could still leave the country if I needed to, but then three days or so before my flight, Canada announced a border closure as well, which excluded permanent residents (I was one) so I knew I could still travel back. Then right before the night of my flight, the Hong Kong International Airport announced that all transits are no longer permitted. Since I was to transit through the airport, it seemed like all avenues for me has been closed.
You can imagine the stress that I’ve been experiencing all the while catching up on the news and trying to determine if there was still a chance to head back to Canada in the midst of all the pandemic turmoil. As it turn out, the chances was nil.
My original plan was to spend 4 months or so a year in Malaysia, with the rest of the months in Canada so back in 2019 when I first broached the idea of living “part-time” in Malaysia with my parents, we looked into purchasing a place for me to live. Naturally, with such a tight schedule for house hunting and any subsequent renovation, it was really a lofty goal. But my parents, who was eager to start the search, pulled it off so for the better part of 2020, I was trying my best to stay patient in terms of renovation but because of the country lockdown, all work had to be stopped.
Living together with my parents (after 20 years) was driving me up the wall and the whole situation where I don’t know how I’ll be able to return to Canada, if the pandemic would die down, etc. was stressing me out immensely. Eventually, around August to September, I finally was able to move over to the new apartment even though I never did get some basic furniture because I kept thinking I’ll leave soon and the next trip, I’ll have time to calmly shop at my own time, in a safer environment and furnish the place as I liked.
Well, it never happened. The pandemic situation never abated. The lockdown was never lifted - it was a country-wide lockdown (you needed special papers to travel across state borders) and state-wide, roadbloacks were setup to prevent cross-town travel beyond 10km of your home.
So I kept waiting and eventually, when things was loosened a little in November (not fully but I could consider traveling now), there were no more direct flights out of my hometown anymore. To think that arranging for a flight from my hometown back to Toronto was not much of a hardship in the past (23 hours with one stopover at Hong Kong), has now become a nightmarish 4-stopover option with over 35-40 hours of travel time. I just couldn’t take the plunge no matter how desperate and winter was coming so I decided to sit out for the rest of the year.
And that was how I ended 2020: still in Malaysia and completely uncertain about the my future. At least I was with family and had a roof over my head, with a stable job (which I’ve been working like usual all this time) so I have nothing to complain, to be honest!
But 2020 will always be THAT year. The year that I had so many plans for and thought I’d finally get everything I wanted done … and in the end, nothing did. I wonder how 2021 will turn out to be?