May 1, 2020
On the street where I live, buildings are low but stuck together with just the customary three-meter easement to the right. It’s a residential area and my home is sandwiched between a luxury development and the grittier parts of central Makati which house dive bars and girly clubs. Each of the structures around me are full of residents and my street is usually alive with activity: cars trying to snake their way through side alleys to avoid traffic, the coconut vendor and ice cream man ringing their bells, children laughing and running to school, construction workers clanging about… Even through my double-paned windows, the neighborhood bustle always crept through.
Today, it’s only birdsong. Despite the latent anxiety that grips the city, there is a palpable sense of peace brought about by the stunningly blue summer skies and balmy breeze. As I spend more time on the roof, I begin to notice that neighbors do the same. One late afternoon as the sun was setting, almost every rooftop on our street had residents dancing, exercising, reading or meditating. At some point, we all looked at each other and smiled and waved. It was the first time I had any real friendly interaction with my neighbors. This was a prime example of the phenomenon that seems to have become quite common—where, ironically, social distancing has brought about a renewed sense of community spirit. We’re all hanging in there, preparing for the worst but hoping for the best, and making the most out of the situation.
In light of community, we’ve reached out to different people around the world to share a snapshot of what their life is like in the age of quarantine and social distancing.
—Stephanie Zubiri www.stephaniezubiri.com; @stephaniezubiri
Dispatch from Tokyo, Japan
“In the outskirts of Tokyo, the sakura blooms have come and gone and the azaleas are now having their turn. The snowmelt from higher elevations has arrived and the nearby creeks, I’m sure, are swelling with cool water.
From the third-floor balcony of my suburban apartment, I have a limited view of life in Japan. But the scene is, ironically, comforting. My neighbor’s garden is bursting with spring color. Red foliage and a single flower protrude through the fence below. Nearby, worker ants construct an alternate entrance to their labyrinth home. A cluster of birds belt songs from the tree line.
Whether quarantined inside or out and about, it is still springtime in Japan.”
—Andrew Faulk, Photographer
Dispatch from Mumbai, India
“Practicing isolation in a city like Mumbai is challenging. However, fighting against this virus is very important and, in many ways, the slowdown has been good. Of course, we still hear about new infections but many of them are being cured. I try to think differently about this whole situation. It’s true that it’s a setback for humans, but Mother Earth is getting the time she needs to heal and rid of pollution. We’ve noticed a tremendous drop in the pollution levels of the city.
For me, at some point, life has stopped. Every day it’s the same routine at home. My mind is getting tired and I’m starting to feel the need for some change.”
—Yogesh Bombe, Photographer
Dispatch from New York
“From this apartment and the roof upstairs, I watched the second plane hit and the towers fall on 9/11/2001, changing this skyline. Watching from this window, we wondered how our city could recover. Now as citizens of our neighborhood as much as our city, we again fear for both, wondering who and what will survive.
A rare walk reminds us that trees and our favorite gardens burst with blooms. Local restaurants and bars, which we frequented along with global foodies, have creatively adapted to focus on take away or closed indefinitely. A refrigerated truck whirs behind the grand 19th-century funeral home, likely for the overflow of deceased. From our window, we watch people, who usually embrace close quarters, dutifully avoiding one another and consider whether this place will still feel like home on the other side. However, seeing the persevering skyline at the beginning and end of each day reassures with the reminder that people press life forward behind each window. This view allows us to hope that our village and city will again emerge.”
—Marc Parees, Filmmaker & Andrew Uriarte, University Administrator
Dispatch from Johannesburg, South Africa
“For our very social, bustling city it feels as though we have all been sent, chastised, to our rooms. Only essential trips for food, health and petrol allowed. No alcohol for sale nor tobacco products. No walking or exercising on streets, you will be arrested and fined if you walk your dog. My area is quiet, no taxis tooting for customers a few blocks away, no cars in the street. I find it makes me feel nostalgic and I can’t figure out if it’s the clarity of the skies with almost no planes or the fact that I am not constantly rushing, a feeling I last had as a child. I am grateful for this time of introspection. I hope that as a species we learn more humility and kindness.”
—Elsa Young, Photographer
Dispatch from Port Vendres, France
“My children look out the window of our family house in Port Vendres, France, curiously observing how two small fishermen boats arrive to the port.
My family and I have lived in Barcelona for the last nine years and I have always avoided coming to this house during our weekends or holidays. Port Vendres is a small village in the south of France; too calm with too few things to do. It couldn’t be more different from vibrant Barcelona, but right now my feelings have changed.
This time I feel grateful to be here with my family. Somehow, I feel protected by this slow and calm village life surrounded by the sea and by green hills with vineyards. The natural landscape reminds us that life goes on regardless of our confinement.”
—Mariana Riveyran, Entrepreneur
Dispatch from Singapore
“The constant hum of city life from above has come to a standstill. The daily cross section of vehicles, people, lights and dust has been silenced and I won’t miss any of it.
The silence brings some kind of calmness for us, and, for some reason, we spend more time on the balcony just watching birds fly, the rain pour down or just the sun set. It’s like the sound drowned out our sight… Now, even in our urban setting, my kids point out the most delicate of details in architecture and in another circumstance, I would have not given it one blink.”
—Claire Jedrek, Lifestyle & Motorsport Emcee
Dispatch from Sydney, Australia
“It’s a gloomy day here in Sydney, as we enter the winter season earlier than expected. It’s been very quiet, streets have been emptier than usual. Many holidays have passed, like Easter season, Anzac day and labor day, which Australians celebrate with festivities every year.
New South Wales, where I live, is not on complete lockdown. People can still tend to essential needs, like buying food, attending to the sick, walking pets and exercising. And people have been very good at following the rules that are imposed together with these exceptions. Of course, in the beginning, there was a major adjustment period.
I am part of the food and beverage industry which is being heavily impacted by the effects of this pandemic. My skills have been put to rest during this lockdown. However, I am confident that everything will go back to normal soon. I am looking forward to seeing my team again, creating more desserts for our guests, and showcasing my prowess as a pastry chef. I can’t wait to eat out again and go to the park with my husband and our dog.
It is what it is. It is frustrating but what can we do? I can only see this as an opportunity to reach out to more people without physical contact. There’s a sense of optimism that you can feel in the air.”
—Miko Aspiras, Executive Pastry Chef, Hilton Sydney
Dispatch from Manila, Philippines
“Contemplating what will be after the global lockdowns and the calamity of the coronavirus has been impossibly difficult for most of society. How will we move forward? How can we make it all better again—especially if it was already difficult to begin with? This is a challenge we must stand hand in hand against, one we must not ignore, and one which we must rise up and face together with the same strength humanity has shown throughout the more difficult times that preceded the 21st century. It is a time for all of us to calmly look out onto the horizon—no matter where we are or who we are—and to see that there is hope. To realize humanity has endured this before, and that humanity has prevailed.”
—Stephanie Kienle Gonzalez, Philux Inc.
Dispatch from Bogota, Colombia
“The quarantine in Colombia started on the 16th of March; the whole country accepted that this was the best possible decision and that the president made it at the right time. In the beginning, there was so much uncertainty—people stocked up on supplies like food and, particularly with unperishable products, like rice, grains, pasta and canned goods.
Everything was new and unsettling: online schooling for the kids, changes in the home routine, older persons learning how to use technology, economic uncertainty, fear and a lot of anxiety. During the adaptation period, there were good days and bad days. The children were like “big heroes” and learned to adapt quickly to the new circumstances while feeling very happy at home. The key for us adults was just to live one day at a time.
Now we have time to share with our loved ones, live life with calm, reinvent ourselves, and take advantage of the situation to become better human beings. The quarantine was extended and, with caution, a few activities were allowed to start again. Slowly, we have more and more privileges to leave home.
We’re a small country and the economy needs to get going, but there is a lot of precaution to control the virus. There is a lot of help going to the underprivileged and everyone else has learned to live with a lot less. It’s been a good moment to pause and learn that whatever the crisis, there is always an important lesson and new opportunities.”