“There Is Hope!” Dispatches From Asia-Pacific On The New, Post-Lockdown Normality

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“There Is Hope!” Dispatches From Asia-Pacific On The New, Post-Lockdown Normality

Words by Ms Aisha Speirs

9 June 2020

It can be hard to reconcile the speed at which everything has changed with the languid, Groundhog Day-like existence that so many are facing – stuck in homes, cities and countries that feel destined to be disconnected from the not-so-distant places and people we took for granted just months ago.

In January, I found myself quickly preparing bags (and my child) to jump on a plane back to London, from my adopted city of Hong Kong, as Covid-19 crept across the border from Mainland China. Upon landing, I remember explaining to baffled friends and colleagues that every school in the city had been closed, that face masks had become a near priceless commodity and that people were fighting over toilet paper. I remember us all agreeing that such changes to daily life could never happen across in the UK or the US, that schools could never be closed, that masks would never be worn.

Six weeks later, I was flying back to Hong Kong as Europe began shutting down. Things had changed again.

As elements of normality return here, it’s easy to feel a confusing sense of guilt. My friends in these (now, very distant) places can’t meet, their children can’t play, their businesses can’t trade. And while the crisis in Asia feels economic rather than existential, perhaps our day-to-day can this time be a harbinger of hope rather than doom. Four men from across the Asia-Pacific region shed some light on lessons learnt, practices found and promise seen as their communities move into a new, post-lockdown normality.


Mr Henry Motte-Muñoz

Manila, June 2020. Photograph courtesy of Mr Henry Motte-Muñoz

Mr Henry Motte-Muñoz is the CEO and founder of Edukasyon, an education technology company empowering Filipino youth to make important decisions about their future. He is based in Manila.

**How is the pandemic impacting education across the Philippines? **

Education in the Philippines is being massively disrupted by the pandemic. The country has had less than six months to overcome the biggest challenges for remote learning: infrastructure (ie, widespread, fast internet and devices, available to all learners), digital content (most schools were still teaching mostly with books) and teacher training (upskilling them to enable them to teach remotely/digitally). These are widespread, long-standing challenges, but we are seeing a massive resolve [from everyone], so I’m cautiously optimistic that many advances will be made over the coming 12-18 months.

“Has anything positive come out of this dire time? Human capacity for solidarity and for adapting”

Is there anything that has changing in value for you since this all began, something that has gone way up in your estimation?

The importance of an informed and empowered citizenry, which cooperates with, but holds accountable, its government. I very much hope that, besides all the terrible economic and social upheaval that this pandemic is causing, citizens will at least come out better understanding topics that range from personal hygiene and public health, to what inequality looks like (it’s always been there, just usually ignored), to what the checks and balances are in different government systems. 

**Has anything positive come out of this dire time? **

Human capacity for solidarity and for adapting. The foundations that we work with have embraced the new normal, shifted their work to digital and allocated resources to tackle the pressing issues that Covid-19 has brought. Schools, which are typically fairly traditional and often risk-averse, are coming up with plans to go full-digital within a few months.

Are you doing anything else that you’d recommend?

I have succumbed to Andy Puddicombe’s charming voice and use Headspace for meditation. Glo is the go-to app for me and my yoga buddies. And since we’ve been locked down, I’ve been unapologetically working through a stash of Esteban incense that was destined, pre-Covid, to be gifted.

Hong Kong

Mr Matt Abergel

Hong Kong, June 2020. Photograph courtesy of Yardbird Hong Kong

Canadian Mr Matt Abergel is the chef and co-owner of Yardbird HK and Ronin, two Hong Kong restaurants with a cult-like, global following.

What’s changed over the past six months?

Keeping the team motivated is hard in this situation, at a time when you’re trying to feed people, but you’re not supposed to be interacting. It feels like a big dichotomy – you don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. I’ve just been trying to make sure that the people we need to take care of, are taken care of.

At home, I’m trying to keep up my children’s education. Thinking about their lives and how all this affects them. What is amazing is that I don’t think it really affects them. Kids are just so adaptable. And they’re used to wearing masks all the time here. I’m the one who leaves the house without a mask on, they have to remind me.

What are you cooking at the moment?

When I was in quarantine, I made a lot of soup. You have the time, you can slowly simmer something, watch it and extract flavour through time, which you can’t do when you have a lot of shit to do during the week.

Has this changed how you’re thinking about your life and work?

I have never taken much personal time away from work. I’ve had to try and figure out how to be without the restaurant, without that being my motivation or identity. The restaurant is what pushed me through the day. I’ve realised you can take more time for yourself – and that time can be great to live really fully.

How does that leave you feeling about home and Hong Kong?

I’ve always felt very at home here. Part of me wants to get out of a city and be in nature, but I think that’s just a symptom of not having gone surfing for a while. Really, there’s no place I’d rather be. This is our home, everything I have is here.

How have you been contributing?

Our resources really are going into making sure people here have a job. I’ve had different chefs – from Amsterdam to Texas – calling me and asking what they should do in various aspects of the restaurant. There’s almost some guilt in being helpful, and in business. We’re pretty much fully open at this point, with new rules. But I kind of like the rules. There’s more space, it’s nice.


Mr Aric Chen

Shanghai, June 2020. Photograph by Mr Mark Cocksedge

Originally from the US, Mr Aric Chen is an independent curator, Professor at Tongji University and Curatorial Director of the Design Miami fairs, based in Shanghai.

What are your days like now?

I’ve undergone the range of routines, from overnight isolation in a hospital (awaiting coronavirus test results, which came back negative) and overnight quarantine in a government-designated hotel (awaiting a second round of test results, which came back negative), to home quarantine (twice, in two different homes), to now – when things have gotten remarkably “normal” in Shanghai. I’m back to meeting people in cafes, seeing friends at bars and restaurants, generally being out and about. There is hope!

What are you reading or watching that is providing pleasure?

I realise I’m a bit late in the game, but while in quarantine, I discovered the addictive powers of Korean dramas (I recommend Kingdom and Crash Landing On You).

How are you communicating with others?

Delicately. It’s surreal living in a place that currently has very few restrictions, while communicating on a daily basis with people in other parts of the world that are still in lockdown.

What are you holding particularly dear?

As they say, this pandemic is not so much changing the world as it’s accelerating processes that were already underway, and perhaps this applies on a personal level as well. I already wanted to travel less and spend more time at home.

**What are you wearing these days? **

Just trying to maintain standards, without going full-on athleisure.


Mr Dan Mitchell

Bali, June 2020. Photograph courtesy of Mr Dan Mitchell

Based in Bali, British-born Mr Dan Mitchell is the creative director of Potato Head and the Katamama Hotel, as well as founder of Space Available and Island of the Gods Recordings.

What’s your routine?

I wake at 5.00am, before the rest of the family, it feels like my own sacred space. I drink water from a large copper cup and turmeric-based Jamu before meditating, I do breathing exercises and then some Hiit exercises to get me sweating. It feels like a winning start to the day, especially when you don’t feel like doing it.

From 7.00am to 8.00am, it’s time with my kids. We go for a morning nature walk. I’ll have a coffee blended with fats, such as ghee and MCT oil, and herbs such as ashwagandha, lion’s mane, pomegranate skin and others. This sets me up without food until midday, as I [intermittently] fast five days a week.

The big change for the day is homeschooling. I’m juggling being a teacher for my kids, plus all my other work.

We have a sunset dinner and family time. We have been enjoying cooking during the lockdown. Rarely would I be home for sunset before Covid-19, so I’m very much enjoying my family time at sunset and listening to records while having a dance-off with my kids!

I read in the evening, take notes on my learnings and for the day ahead. I then meditate before I put my kids (and myself) to bed, no later than 9.00pm.

What are you reading or listening to?

I’m reading a lot at the moment and very much enjoying the space at home to read. I’ve also started a new platform called Space Available, which I created for my own writing. I feel the crisis allows us a newfound space of inner exploration. We need to be aware that the next crisis will be one in the form of an ecological disaster – and that won’t be easy to repair for us human beings.

Are you watching anything great?

Fantastic Fungi. I’m big into medicinal mushrooms at the moment. I’ve been making my own mushroom teas and coffees as well as other mushroom-related things. Paul Stamets is the man behind it. Mushrooms can save the world!

How has this changed the way you have been thinking about life?

It’s made me even more grateful for my health, family and the life I have here in Bali. And also made me look deeper at how I can minimise my impact on the planet in terms of choices I make when consuming. And in turn, what positive things I can do.

What have you resolved to do in the aftermath of this?

To live more consciously and to raise my voice on issues I care about. And spend as much time with those I care about, life is short and can change drastically within a minute.