It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

One of the most eloquent passages in literature, the above introduction to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities pretty much sums up our present predicament: a clash of contrasts, of wisdom and folly, of health and disease, of life and death.   

How else are we to make sense of the world we are suddenly confronted with? One day, we were fretting about the usual things; the jams, the mail, the politicians; and the next, we are grimly warned not to pass Go, not to collect $200 and just stay home. 

It turns out that Vision 2020 was house arrest.  

At least, one thing hasn’t changed. We still bitch about our politicians.

More seriously, the stuff that went on in the oil markets earlier this week was frightening. Example:  Oil futures went insane with prices, at one point, dropping to a jaw-dropping minus US$40 that is to say a buyer of one of those contracts would not only have to deliver the oil when the contract comes due, he would also have to pay the buyer for the privilege. 

Markets are supposed to behave rationally, after all: it’s premised on people’s “rational expectations.” But when it starts going bonkers, then you start feeling the earth shift under your feet and nothing’s safe anymore.

It would even strain the “epoch of incredulity” condition laid down by Dickens. 

By now, it seems apparent that things will get worse before they get better. But crisis sits uneasily on people with the worst coming out in many. 

Witness the many cases of racism spreading like a rash across the US, Australia and Europe. There have been riots in South Africa and Paris and some Americans in at least three US states have taken to the streets demanding their economies be opened as per their constitutional rights; social distancing be damned. 

It was an American, Patrick Henry who said, “Give liberty or give me death.” But methinks Mr. Henry was not referring to death by way of a citizen’s right to freely transmit disease because the Constitution allows him the freedom to assemble.   

China, it must be said, deserves praise for its handling of the outbreak and its aid to other affected countries. But it’s also getting lambasted by some Western powers which claim it must be held accountable.

It does not seem the time for recrimination. But China itself is beginning to behave weirdly. You’d think now wouldn’t be a time to flex military might in the South China Sea. But that’s what China’s doing and it’s provoking the US to do likewise. 

The world does not need any of this now. Businesses are going bust and people are losing their jobs. In the last month alone, 32 million Americans have been laid off. It is truly a time of great despair. 

Hope springs eternal, however, a light against the darkness. We see it everywhere: in the myriad kindnesses exhibited by aid providers, health care professionals, millions of volunteers anxious to make a difference throughout the world.

We will overcome for we are the world.


We came back to Singapore about a month ago. 

It was about seven in the evening when we finally pulled into our service apartment block. Waiting at the lifts, we could see out the glass doors into the swimming pool area where we both heard and saw a raucous Latin American party in full swing. 

The salsa and hip-hop continued well into the night and we marvelled at the republic’s seeming certitude. We had just arrived from Kuala Lumpur where there was, and still is, a movement control order being enforced amid a complete lockdown. 

Much has changed since then. Singapore, which used to be touted as a global model for its handling of the pandemic, got knocked off its pedestal about two weeks ago. 

Indeed, when attempting to justify the huge numbers in the United States, talk show hosts routinely engage in bromides like “Even Singapore has had to…”

It would appear that the coronavirus is the great leveller of fortunes. 

Still, Singapore tries to be different by avoiding words like lockdown or controls. No, the republic has merely instituted a “circuit breaker” and, truth be told, it’s much milder than in Malaysia. 

The basic rules of lockdown still apply. You may no longer eat at restaurants and most shops are closed except for those selling essentials. In supermarkets Xs mark the spots where people might line up while still remaining safely socially distant from one another. 

Indeed, these markings are everywhere – in subway cars and buses, even lifts. And almost everyone now works from home. 

But the numbers keep rising ominously. At the time of writing, the island’s total number of infections crossed the 4,000 mark while Thursday saw the highest number of new cases in a day (over 700). 

The rules keep tightening to keep apace of the threat. Early on, for example, we were “advised” that wearing masks might be useful. And it was “recommended.” 

Very soon, it was not just desirable but necessary on pain of financial hurt or what the republic deems to be a “fine.” And it’s a fine thing too because enforcement, like death, is inevitable: there are closed circuit televisions everywhere. 

The subways and buses still run and, masked, we can still go walking in the Botanic Gardens. The joggers, however, are still allowed to run unmasked which is puzzling as they are probably the largest droplet-emitters in the Gardens at any one time. 

But this is Singapore, and no one questions authority. Sometimes, however, it’s carried to the point of absurdity. Case in point: yesterday evening, we spotted numerous people driving solo, yet they were wearing masks.  Why on earth would anyone have to wear a mask while driving alone in an air-conditioned car? One suspects there is no such rule. 

But Singaporeans have been conditioned over years to avoid chewing gum and people called Jay, walking. Methinks they are being simply prudent and prefer to err on the side of caution. Indeed, everyone follows whatever directives the Singapore government deems fit without comment or talk-back. 

It’s like PMS, it’s simply that, period!

Which is why, I’m continually amazed to read stories in the Malaysian press that relate to the sorts of things our countrymen get up to during the MCO – golfing, arguing, even yelling at the police. And government parliamentarians have returned to the bad old days of being appointed to cushy GLC jobs…Alas, it appears that nothing has changed. 


Everything’s going to pot these days. 

The Dutch certainly thought so which explains the long lines outside those Amsterdam establishments that sell all things cannabis just before the city locked down in early March. For another thing, Mexico’s agreed to the wall separating it from the United States: with the number of Covid-19 infections in the US (450,000 and climbing), the Mexicans are even contemplating its funding.

And have you thought about the future? Like explaining to our grandchildren that 2020 was Year Zero when the fateful consumption of the bowl of bat soup in Wuhan, China, set into motion a train of events that eventually created the Great Global Toilet Paper Shortage. 

Like having to explain why so many teenagers in the 2030s are called Quarantine. You might even say a new cohort is set to become the new millennials – the Quaranteens

Things have come to a pretty pass these days with lots of people in self-isolation and, hence, bored out of their skulls. Let’s face it, a quarantine period combines the charm of a Muhyiddin Yassin press conference with all the excitement of double entry book-keeping. 

So, what’s a bored fellow to do? As Tennyson might have said: “In this lockdown, a bored man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of his mobile phone.” In short, by the time we wake up in the morning we can easily kill at least 45 minutes just going through our various WhatsApp messages. 

It is Good Friday as I write this. And truly I say, blessed is the messenger for he is humorous and shall inherit the mirth.  

It first started with easily recognisable songs with a lyrical twist. All manner of songs have been given the treatment since, ranging from Bohemian Rhapsody to our very own Alan Perera’s dig at our Woman Minister’s sexist obsessions with his classy take on Elvis Presley’s Don’t be Cruel (“Don’t be cruel / Be my Doraemon”).

Indeed, almost all the songs on The Sound of Music seem to have been used to parody the outbreak. The best may have been the twist on How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria (Corona?) with its memorable last line How Do You Stop A Whacko From Tweeting?

Then there are the jokes. I have received good, mediocre and terrible ones but have read all anyway.  I have nothing but time, duh!  A doctor-friend of mine from Ipoh, for example, sent me a particularly memorable one. It went thus: Breaking news – Spanish King tests positive for Covid-19, confined to his aircraft. Newspaper headline the next day: “The reign in Spain will stay mainly on the plane.”

Then there are “fake news” messages which are equally irritating. Example of one I believed because it seemed eminently plausible: a person did not have Covid-19 if he could hold his breath for between 10-20 seconds as this showed there was no fibrosis in the lungs. 

Earlier this week, however, the CNN doctor, the good Sanjay Gupta, rubbished this claim. He said there was no such evidence and any shortness of breath was all it took to be sufficiently alarmed. 

During the 1917 flu pandemic, the poor sods had no television, no mobiles and, as my daughter might have said, “no fun.” But this is the 21st Century, life goes on and we now have Zoom. 

Which is why we, in Singapore, are having an Easter party with our former neighbours in Malaysia via Zoom. We’ve already stocked up on the essentials. 

Like chips and beer.


You think we have problems? 

Ok, we do. There was a guy called Murphy – why are they always Irish? – who once predicted “if anything can go wrong, it will.” And that’s happening right now in Malaysia with a vengeance. There are over 3,000 Covid-19 cases currently in the country, and, at the time of writing, 50 have died.

And yes, we have some ministers who think that it’s OK to pander to some man’s sexist and misogynistic ideas of how women should behave and then attempt to pass it off as a national ideal. Alas, we also do have many holier-than-thou people continuing to urge congregational prayer when all the warnings scream against gatherings in large numbers.  

Whatever happened to “God helps those who help themselves”? 

On the other hand, we don’t have a leader who first downplays the pandemic and, on grudgingly accepting its reality, insists on having his say over the arguments of his scientists. It easily might have been worse: we might have had a stable genius at our helm. 

At a time of great national distress, at a time when the United States has the greatest number of infections in the world, at a time when Washington’s Governor is contemplating lockdown, there is this….

…A resident of Washington in the US was arrested following a high-speed chase that left officers dumbfounded after they found the man’s pit bull behind the wheel.

The incident unfolded early in the week after police received calls about a driver hitting two vehicles in an area south of Seattle and then speeding away, state trooper Heather Axtman told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

She said the emergency services subsequently got multiple calls about a car traveling erratically at more than 100 miles per hour (160 kilometres per hour). It transpired later that only people already exceeding the speed limit were the ones calling because they deemed the driver reckless after he’d passed them. 

Axtman said that as officers gave chase, they got close to the vehicle — a 1996 Buick — and were shocked to see a pit bull in the driver’s seat and a man steering and pushing the gas pedal from the passenger side.

The pursuit ended after police deployed spike strips and arrested 51-year-old Alberto Tito Alejandro, who was booked on multiple felonies including driving under the influence of drugs. Mr Alberto said when Raphael, the canine suspect, asked for driving lessons, he did not want to stand in its way. 

The police also noted grimly that Mr Alberto was a cab driver in real life which only went to show that practice did not make perfect. He’d also made the error that all gullible dog lovers do: the fact that your dog thinks you are smart is not conclusive evidence that you are. 

Actually, he seemed to be about as smart as the President.  

“When we took him into custody… he admitted to our troopers that he was trying to teach his dog to drive,” Axtman said. “I’ve been a trooper for almost 10 years, and I’ve had a lot of excuses when I’ve arrested people or pulled people over, but I’ve never had an excuse that the dog was driving.” 

Axtman said she had only one objection against the driver, a female pit bull. Apparently, she’d been on the phone when she was pulled over. 

Maybe it was true what they say: life was a bitch and then you had puppies.