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How an attitude of gratitude, a dog and a butterfly saw me through 2020

How an attitude of gratitude, a dog and a butterfly saw me through 2020
PHOTO: Unsplash

At the start of the year, I proposed 6 Mantras To Help You Navigate Through 2020 (And The Rest Of Life).

I don't know about you, but as resolutions go, I must say I was able to stick to those mantras pretty successfully despite Covid-19 - especially the one about adopting an attitude for gratitude. Hey, I practice what I preach, okay.

In this annus horribilis (that's Latin for "a year of disaster or misfortune", not a reference to any unattractive body part hor), there was much to be damn s-i-a-n about, including but certainly not limited to (deep breath) daily temperature taking, safe entry check-ins and check-outs, video conferencing, the plight of our migrant worker friends (click here for ways to help), hand sanitising, social distancing, WFH, HBL and, OMG, maskne! (How come so old still can get pimples one?!)

Nothing changes, if nothing changes

But hang on, you entitled, self-centred, ungrateful, whiny twerp, I said to myself during the Circuit Breaker. Aren't you safe, healthy, and sheltered?

Don't you still have a job, a salary, a family? Can't you redirect your energy-zapping, negative energy-inducing protests into doing good, helping others and serving the community instead?

Gratitude comes about with a change of attitude and perspective, turning a sian AF situation into an opportunity to a) speak up and say "cannot like that lah", and enforce creative and, sometimes, much-needed changes to adapt to a new normal, and b) say "heng ah", our kiasu attitude actually worked in our favour this entire year (except during those embarrassing panic-buying episodes).

Honestly, WFH has changed my outlook on work life completely and helped me finally obtain the elusive work-life balance I've always dreamed of.

Everyone at is more productive and focused than ever, and not distracted by the interferences of the physical office - I work in a place where I get constantly asked the dreaded "can I ask you a quick question?" question (let me tell you hor, it's never quick, and quite often ends up being more of a command than a question ?), and a simple "ho seh boh?" from a colleague from another department could easily trigger a half-hour complain sesh, leading into a 2-hour complain-some-more-over-lunch sesh? Unproductive much?

The best part about the current WFH sitch: I can check/compose/answer emails while lying in bed (cue collective gasp of horror from chriopractors around the world), take (Netflix) breaks when I want, have a drink (you know what sort) when I want, be in home clothes all the time, spend more time with my family, and save a lot (and I mean, a lot) of money on transport.

In short, I'm super grateful for a roof over my head, good health (that of mine and my loved ones), and a job, and, therefore, happiness.

My change of attitude during the Circuit Breaker resulted in a personal mantra that is evergreen, pandemic-proof and applicable in any predicament: Yes, you're blessed, don't be stressed, complain less, and help the rest.

Which leads me to the dog and the butterfly.

Who's a good boy?


To avoid being cheong hei, I basically adopted a Singapore Special puppy from SOSD, which stands for Save Our Street Dogs. (Watch our video on Dr Siew Tuck Wah, an aesthetic doctor who set up the volunteer-run organisation.)

Needless to say, it has been life-changing and eye-opening, and such a spirit-lifter for me during this pandemic. I've had Oreo (who was rescued from Jurong Island) for barely six months, and he has taught me more about loyalty, unconditional love, and the joy of having simple needs, than any human has.

For Oreo, who is skittish but learning to trust, I do sense gratefulness in his jet-black eyes that he has a constant source of food, water and love, and a safe, Forever Home.

Funnily, being a dog owner has made me realise how much more I prefer clearing actual poo than having to kio sai at work. Clearing doggy doo-doo is a swift seconds-long affair, unlike work-related messes we're often not paid enough to clean up.

And if you'll allow me one final word on this, um, fecal matter: At least it comes from only one source, and is removed relatively easily by only one person. Compare that to the arrows that get shot, nay, sprayed in the corporate world by multiple t'ai chi masters who shirk work, responsibility and ownership faster than people siam-ing someone who coughs in the lift nowadays.

Changes happen when you don't expect them to

One of the most fascinating and metaphorical things in nature is the metamorphosis of a butterfly. I never bothered much with nature, and pre-Covid life saw me heading out to work and coming home without paying any attention to the verdant handiwork of my father's green thumbs.

I never even knew we had a lime plant until a colleague dropped by my place for work-related reasons, and she exclaimed that I had such a, ahem, big bush.

The next time she visited, she brought a caterpillar, a little green squirmy thing that my dad acknowledged with a grunt and said he always kills them because they eat up his lime leaves.

I was quite meh to be honest, and not expecting much. Day after day, I would peer into the tall CNY kueh jar I kept the caterpillar in, and fed it stalks of lime leaves. In between work emails and Webex meetings, I would scrutinise the ugly critter, but as they say, a watched pot never boils.

And sure enough, the moment I stopped micro-managing the caterpillar's metamorphosis, it, well, metamorphosed. (That's another corporate analogy for you right there, by the way.)

There before me was a stunning Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus). It hopped onto my finger, rested for an instant as if to say thanks for taking care of it, and then suddenly flitted off. So many days of toil and ugliness, only to enjoy a few moments of beauty! ? And I'm referring to both the butterfly and me. 

I joined a closed local Facebook group called ButterflyCircle, and discovered that, wow, Singapore has many, many, many varieties of butterflies (and also many, many many butterfly enthusiasts), and that "eclose" is an entomological term referring to an adult insect emerging from the pupa - "My Blue Grassy Tiger eclosed today!" is a typical caption you'll see in posts.

The butterfly's unceremonious departure left a void, but also an important lesson about change (how things get worse before they get better), and a reminder of the very thing that is built upon - being wowed by the wonder of home.

Indeed, being held "captive" on our island has forced us to look inward, not only as a people but a place to live. We're a resilient, inspiring lot (so proud and thankful), and this is a safe, wonderful home (again, proud and thankful) with gems to discover - and rediscover - in our own backyard.

It's been a rough and tough year. But when you take the time to really think about it - and if you've been blessed enough to be spared the worst of the pandemic - view 2020 once again with an attitude of gratitude, and I guarantee you'll find more than one thing to be thankful for.

I did. And, I'm pretty sure if they could, so would the dog and the butterfly!

This article was first published in

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