Looking back, none of us would have been able to predict how differently our lives would be exactly a year later. But here we are today, still trying our best to fight the coronavirus and adapt to the new norm. Not to mention, this was also the same day when most of our hearts would start racing in anticipation whenever there was an official live announcement on TV, when we started to have hope in the 2-week theory, and when most of us had no choice but to adapt to the #WFH culture immediately.

Despite everything that came our way, we eventually ended up pulling through, and for that, we all deserve a good pat on our backs. To recap on what the past year has been like, we got 21 Malaysians to share their ups, downs and everything in between, what they’ve managed to overcome and how they’re looking forward to pick up from wherever they left off.

1. Alison Yong, 50, Group Fitness Instructor

“The MCO opened my eyes and taught me a bitter lesson but I must say that it was one of the best things that has happened to me. Having a high-paying job, working 24/7 and always being on the go were things that I thought would make me feel whole and successful. But I learnt that I can be successful by being true to myself. The ability to work, being physically tired, being present for my loved ones (pets included) but still being mentally happy and clear in my head have really made my life better. The MCO taught me that I can be happy even if I had less. The things that I assumed I could never do without turned out to be the things that I can really live without. Moving forward, I want to continue living this way – to do my own housework, spend time with my pets, sit down and drink my coffee and savour every moment without the need to rush and have a gazillion things on my mind. It’s also about knowing the difference between what I need and what I want and continue living a simpler yet more fulfilling life.”

2. Amanda Andrew, 33, Administrator at BNEY Ampang (Beaconhouse Newlands Early Years)

“I went into 2020 starting a new role as a HR for a media agency but by mid-year, they were facing a lot of financial issues and went going through a restructuring exercise. Things went downhill from there and I became unemployed for six months, which affected my mental health. Thankfully, right before 2020 ended, I landed myself a secure job, which I’m thankful for. This is definitely an understatement but the past year has been nothing but an emotional rollercoaster, yet pain always makes you grow further. The biggest challenge for me was to sit by myself and find new ways to cope with things. Starting therapy was the best decision I ever made to get the right help I needed when I was going through depression. It was really more than what I thought as I had to go through different stages of grief and the first step was learning how to accept myself. Only then was I able to put the pieces back together. Moving forward, I’ll continue to advocate and educate my connections on mental health. It all starts with education and I’m doing my part by teaming up with the Havan School X Project Heart Malaysia to teach EQ and how to regulate emotions for underprivileged and shelter-home kids to cope better should there be another pandemic in the future.”

3. Azzura Hassan, 36, PR Consultant & Content Writer

“Being based in France, we went into the same lockdown that Malaysia experienced in March 2020 and similarly through the various states of movements allowed throughout the year based on the number of cases that were reported. In the first round, I had to quickly throw out my initial ideals of how a lockdown would be – as a dancer, I assumed I’d get a lockdown dance partner to choreograph projects with, but it wasn’t allowed. Then I thought of giving cake to the nice old lady in my building but couldn’t as well cos we were not supposed to be in contact with anyone. As a PR consultant, work became pretty quiet instantly. I couldn’t get any media coverage as writers and editors couldn’t attend interviews. I was supposed to return to Malaysia for the birth of my niece last year but it got cancelled. I finally managed to travel home last month but again, I couldn’t do things that I instinctively wanted to as it was during the midst of MCO 2.0. I ended up becoming very lonely because as a sociable person, I couldn’t do anything. The ‘lockdown weight’ has been creeping up on me over the past year too. My husband and I had to make adjustments to our apartment to accommodate both of us working from home, mess can build up quickly when both of us are at home all day and cleaning up after ourselves is the key to keeping our space functional. In the past, I used to be proud of my hustle as a freelance consultant but the global discussion of unemployment and income security has made me want to plan for a more sustainable future, career-wise. And if I’m going to reinvent my professional path, I’d need some patience and humility to learn new things from scratch. I also learned that health is the most essential thing in life and self-discipline will help you carry through hard times. Above all, I pray for the courage to change the things I can and the serenity to accept the things that I can’t.”

Photography: Ross Parmly @ Unsplash

4. Ckay Liow, 34, Hairstylist

“It’s amazing how I’ve truly understood how short and precious life is and learnt how to appreciate our loved ones and surroundings better in just a span of a year. When the first MCO happened, my life suddenly came to a stop as there was no possible way for me to earn an income since I work as a session hairstylist. Imagine: no more shoots, no more weddings and there was no way I could transform my profession digitally or to adapt to the culture of #wfh! As a result, I stayed at home and while others were proudly unboxing new stuff that they purchased online, I had to completely cut shopping out from my life. I relied on my savings and had to spend money cautiously during this time. Now I’m in the midst of making the money that I used since we can go to work but it’s just been a series of back and forth to the police station, getting approvals in order to move around. I really hope that this whole drama will soon be over and people will be able to go back to their normal lives. At the same time, I also hope that people will have more self-discipline, practice a more hygienic lifestyle and become more responsible for themselves and towards others around them too.”

5. Cyrus Chin, 42, Founder of Bravo Eventz & Entertainment

“It was during MCO 1.0 that I learnt how to immediately pivot my business and try my best to make the most out of the challenging period. My team worked closely with me to ensure that we were able to stay competitive in this landscape by diversifying the business. I reignited my passion in baking during the slow down by kick-starting CforCakes and creating a passionate bunch of bakers and marketing team. One a personal note, I’ve been keeping active safely outdoors as gyms were closed most of the time. Also, keeping a positive mindset was important for me. It was all about learning how to appreciate the freedom we used to have, and so now, every second when we are able to travel, I know that I will savour the moment. Being resilient was also something that I’ve mastered as the pandemic affected the events industry badly. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the industry will slowly rise again so that many will not be under constant stress and pressure.”

6. Firdaus Irfan, 20, Student

“Adapting to the new norm has been really challenging especially with online classes and it was really a huge mess when the MCO was forced upon us last year. As a student, it has changed my life completely. I used to wake up, go for classes, meet my friends and do things that normal teenagers would do. But it all got wiped away overnight. The most valuable thing I’ve learnt during this time is that we should appreciate what we have. For instance, all those joyful moments that I had with my parents in the past. I really hope that this Covid-19will quickly end cos I miss my university life. The only time that I can have fun with my friends is when we are in school and I’m hoping that everything can get back to normal soon.”

Photography: Cottonbro @ Pexels

7. Gursharan Kaur A/P Ranjit Singh, 36, Principal at Sri Orion Kindergarten

“Adjusting to the new norm in the past year has been challenging. We were teaching our students using a laptop and while it was a well-rested experience at first, over time, the one-way communication with the kids became a challenge. While students received knowledge from teachers, they couldn’t understand the concept easily. We had to be creative and innovative, and adapt to the advancements of technology, which was a total change for us. No doubt, online teaching was safe but truthfully, the kids were slowly drowning. It was during this time that we had to modify our teaching methods, which paid off when we got to see our students progress as they finished their syllabus according to schedule. Moving forward, I hope this pandemic will end soon because as convenient as online classes might appear to be, kids still need to have hands-on activities to build their motor skills and enhance their social and communication skills.”

8. Jasmine Khor, 30, Banker

“Life during MCO 1.0 was pretty boring for me as I couldn’t travel overseas nor escape from my normal, mundane routine. Although I had the chance to carry on with work, it became difficult for me. Many customers were afraid to invest initially, but eventually, when I changed my working method – such as conduct more face-to-face video calls and webinars – things started to look better. Instead of having to come to our branches to sign up, we can now do it via email and phone, and customers are also slowly adapting to digitalisation. The plus point is that we could wave goodbye to after-work trainings that were constantly held in the past. It was also during this time that I learnt how to be healthier. Goodbye to the old me who was returning home at 2 or 3am after a drinking session. Besides that, I learned the importance of family bonding. Hopefully, we can travel again once all businesses start to resume and I can go for holidays again!”

9. Harmini Asokumar, 32, Artrepreneur & Content Creator

“The past year has been quite tough as I create art and content for a living, but it’s also been good as it taught me to how to get out of my comfort zone and try new methods to make things work. I went through different phases of things but what has really changed for me is that business isn’t as great as it used to be. My travels as well as content and freelance works have had to take a backseat. In the meantime, I learnt new forms of art, how to cook and reconnect with friends as I had the time to reach out to them and re-evaluate my priorities. Some of the valuable lessons that I picked up during this time was that having a group of solid friends really makes a difference. Also, if you look hard enough and work hard, you’ll find ways to make ends meet. The down-time isn’t necessarily a bad thing and focusing on my mental health and acknowledging that I need help wasn’t a bad move too.”

Photography: Castorly Stock @ Pexels

10. Izni Rahim, 34, Hotelier

“The past year has been difficult and the pandemic has affected my professional and personal life tremendously. In terms of work, the hotel and hospitality industry was badly hit, and having worked as a guest experience manager for many years, the hotel I was attached to wasn’t making enough money to even pay for a generator to keep the electricity in the place running. Back then, I was also selling vacation club memberships which was really the most useless thing that people wanted to own at that point of time. As for my personal life, I was supposed to get married in April last year with my fiancé from the UK, and he managed to come to Malaysia on 16th March. However, the government suddenly announced that the MCO was going to take place two days later, and I remember us running everywhere to get our marriage documents approved. On that same day, at 4.30pm, the Islamic Office was announced as a non-essential service. And when we went to the office on 18th March, we were asked to leave as everything was closed until the end of the MCO. My fiancé waited for two months in Malaysia and only got to fly back to the UK in May. He lost his income during his stay here and I was also unable to work. We couldn’t get married as we were lacking one document and no Islamic Ustaz could help us get married too. When my fiancé left in May, we knew that there would be a very slim chance he would get to enter Malaysia again in the near future as we aren’t officially married yet. What hurt me more was the fact that he left as a stranger and not as my husband. It was then that I realised that life doesn’t always go as how we plan it to be. It was hard for a single woman to fix an old house by herself but I took it as a challenge and it taught me to stop relying on my future husband for many things. I relied on my KWSP savings and worked around things. Despite being in an LDR, I would like to believe that I learnt that love and patience have the ability to conquer all of life’s adversities.”

11. James Douglas Savuriar, 30, Digital Content Specialist

“It’s been a tough year for me as I lost my job as a DJ when the MCO was first announced and I had to put my AV company on hold because of the restrictions. However, it wasn’t 100% bad as I had time on my hands and I used it to focus on creating other opportunities for myself. On the bright side, I’m a lot healthier now because I had time to exercise and I pursued my passion in digital marketing by studying more about it and eventually landed a job in a fintech company based in China. I realised that before this whole fiasco, I took money and investments for granted and I wish that I had made better decisions financially. I also learnt the importance of not putting all your eggs in one basket. If I hadn’t studied Digital Marketing in university before becoming a DJ, I wouldn’t have had anything to fall back on when Covid-19 happened.”

12. Julian Fernandez, 28, DJ

“The pandemic was definitely like a reset button not just for myself but for everyone else too. The way I view it is that it has given everyone a chance to make positive changes in their lives albeit in the most challenging way. It is also – oddly enough – a lesson for many of us to be more hygienic and practice self-care on a deeper level. Knowing that the MCO would stay for some time, I had to step up my game and make tremendous changes to the way I viewed things and in terms of career direction. I used to be a full-time DJ but in the past year, I ended up venturing into two different businesses where I learned something new everyday. The most important thing I’ve learnt is that no matter how good your career or daily life is, things can change overnight. It’s best to always be prepared, especially financially. I feel very blessed that I could spend time with my parents during this trying time – something many people were longing to be able to do.”

Photography: Marius Serban @ Unsplash

13. Katherine Thivya, 24, Student

“I tried to keep my worries at bay and went about my daily routine when the MCO started, thinking that it wouldn’t last long. But as the situation prolonged, the uncertainty set in and everything became a blur. In the past year, I went from being an intern in a company that closed down a month after the MCO was first implemented to being unemployed and back to being a student again. It’s definitely been a weird and unexpected transition. At the time, searching for jobs when things weren’t stable didn’t seem like a good idea, hence my decision to further my studies, which gave me a sense of purpose and was something that I really needed. Being a person who strives to live life to the fullest, I learnt how to cherish every moment, live in the present and practice gratitude towards what I have. I learnt how to be mindful of my health – both physical and mentally. Things came to a point where stress got to me, which affected my appetite and caused a sudden weight loss. It’s a work in progress, but I’m still learning how to manage that. Hopefully, I can go back to attending physical classes soon as I miss my campus life.”

14. Kim Ong, 36, Marketing Professional

“When MCO 1.0 took place, I was living in Melbourne and experienced what seemed like the longest lockdown in the world. I pivoted in work and launched my own consulting business, and working from home translated to more flexibility for me. I grew a belly during this time as it was different working out at home compared to where I was used to. No thanks to family-related issues recently, I had to pack up and return to Malaysia immediately. From everything that took place, I learnt that family is the most important asset you can have, and the friends who are there for you will also shine through. The challenging times bring out the best and worst in some people and I’ve learnt to be grateful, flexible, resilient and understanding. I can’t wait for international borders to reopen for travel, for businesses to flourish, for people to be kinder and to come together, closer as one unit.”

15. Muhammad Afiq Iskandar, 32, Food Stall Owner

“It’s been a really tough year for me since my wife and I were retrenched. The only thing that came to our minds when the incident happened was how to survive. I stepped up my game and started to explore new ventures to keep things afloat. In the end, we ended up opening a new food stall business and with the support of those around us, we managed to open up five stalls within six months! One of the things that I quickly learnt was that even if we lose our jobs, the one thing that matters is for us to keep trying and to never give up. Moving forward, I hope that things will get better as I’ve seen many friends fall into depression and family members and friends lose their jobs. All I can hope for is for things to improve from where we are now.”

Photography: Ambitious Creative Co. - Rick Barrett @ Unsplash

16. Nurul Cheong, 31, Housewife & Part-time Chef

“The past year has been quite gloomy for me since I’ve had to raise my boy since the start of the MCO. All the playgrounds and small theme parks were closed, so it could get a little boring and adventurous at the same time when it came to keeping him entertained. During the lockdown, it became kind of scary too to see my son getting scared to see new faces as he was never exposed to the outside world. From being an outgoing person, I had to limit the number of grocery trips we had as we were scared to expose ourselves to the virus. It was during this time that we started our first home business making Carbonara Popiah. It trained me to be an all-rounder – from doing marketing to selling food, using food delivery systems and all about customer service. We delivered our Popiah to customers and seeing them smile and receiving compliments would make my day! I also just started a homemade frozen wanton and suikow business and I hope that it will become successful in the future.”

17. Rachel Chin, 28, Freelancer & Homemade Soap Business Owner

“I consider myself lucky to have less expenses during the MCO so everything has been quite smooth-sailing for me. Things changed for the better especially in terms of my mental health when I took a big leap and quit my job at the start of 2020 (something that most people might not have thought of doing during this time). Once that was sorted, MCO 1.0 took place. It was quite demotivating at first but as time went by, I managed to make the best out of this opportunity and my tiny business started to grow. The MCO might have had many limitations but it made me appreciate all the small things in life – from my relationship with my friends and family to travelling locally and just going out to breathe some air. I really hope the situation will get better soon and that my business will continue to grow. I, for one, can’t wait to see my family again!”

18. Rebecca Nonis, 29, Radiographer

“Looking back at how things have unfolded in the past year, my only hope is that the government would manage the pandemic better so that everyone who has lost their jobs, been separated from and lost their families, and has fallen into depression and gotten a divorce be well taken care of. Personally, it was a coarse ride for me as it’s been a year since I’ve been away from my family. My husband’s work got terminated and life for us changed drastically when it was officially announced that the Singapore-Malaysia border was going to be closed. We were separated by just a bridge and it was extremely hard for him to find a new job and make ends meet. If there’s anything that I learnt, it would be how to further appreciate our loved ones’ sacrifice and the importance of spending time together. To date, it still breaks my heart to hear my child ask, ‘Why can’t you come home, daddy?’”

Photography: William Fortunato @ Pexels

19. Shahril Hadi Halim, 35, Marketing Manager at TFIE

“The past year was filled with a lot of career movements for me. Surprisingly, opportunities came knocking on my door and I’m thankful to God for this. To me, in a nutshell, my greatest achievements are what I achieved personally. Thanks to the MCO and without the need to spend, I managed to clear my debts. I also got to increase my savings and explore other opportunities, career-wise. Some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt during this time are that you should always know your priorities, what you should value most in life and that your mental health is crucial.”

20. Tan Wan Dee, 31, Market Development Manager

“The past one year has truly been a blessing for me. If I had to pen down the best years of my life when I’m 50, 2020 definitely comes second. I ended up meeting someone who is worthy of my love and loved me unconditionally in return. What was supposed to be a two-week holiday in Germany turned into four months of lockdown with my boyfriend for me. Like many others, I got retrenched during the height of the pandemic but fast forward to today, I’ve moved to Singapore and landed myself my dream job of helping local explorers discover the hidden gems in Southeast Asia at pelago.co. Retrenchment resulted in renewal for me in so many ways. The lessons I’ve learnt throughout this challenging period is that we should always count our blessings and be grateful for the small moments, the little things we come across and the human connections that we have or make. For a person who is in a long-distance relationship, I sincerely hope that Milan and I can reunite soon. It’s been nine months since we last saw each other and cuddled. I can’t wait to travel again!”

21. Yen Peng Cheong, 54, Self-employed Forex Trader

“Knowing that we all have uncertain futures has been one the main reasons why I’ve been really stressed over the past year. As a guy who needs to have everything in order, it has really been an eye opener. When the MCO was first announced, all our lives changed. We used to take so many things for granted in the past and now I feel very trapped. On the bright side, I’ve learnt how to make conscious decisions. Going out is no longer something I enjoy as I’ll spend time worrying about different things. It has even caused me to stop asking my friends out! One thing that I’ve learnt though, is that life is vulnerable. Humankind is supposed to be intelligent, yet we’ve been conquered by a microbial being (aka the virus). Moving forward, I’m going to look after my health and lifestyle, and I hope that everyone will do the same.”

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