Opinion: Masks optional; Smiles optimal

  • Masks are no longer needed outdoors from 29 March as Singapore relaxes Covid-19 restrictions.
  • While many Singaporeans are rejoicing, safe distancing will still be maintained in mask-off situations to minimise the spread of the virus.
  • Director / Producer JD Chua tells TheHomeGround Asia how he can’t wait to finally be able to exhale. 

It had been my wish for a long time – to have a build like Bane, (a villain from the Batman comics), the Tom Hardy’s version that towers over his enemies. So I tried — I worked out and I ate, and ate, and ate. 

And ate. 

I only got fat. So I began the long journey to lose the weight and regain my original look. I often joke with my friends that I wish they knew how I like to build myself to a size of a brute. 

But then Covid happened and the world started to speak like Bane. Muffled, frustrated, and crazy-eyed. A friend told me to be careful of what I ask of the universe it always has powerful answers. 

Does anyone really remember the time before we had to get used to wearing masks? I was staring at a poster of Bane and began to think of how a person can turn insane with the sweating under the mask, the thought of how others actually tolerated my own breath when I couldn’t, and yes, that constant request for someone to repeat what he or she had said because it was all muffled inside the masks. 

I even scanned my face digitally to 3D print a mask like Bane. (Photo source: JD Chua)

I began to wonder if something that is as simple as wearing masks can lead to mental health concerns drivers feeling the need to exhibit rage on the road, knife and sword wielding perpetrators swinging weapons in public, or a social distance ambassador who has had it and exercise authority given to him to terrorise diners with a measuring tape. 

I have heard that big troubles start from little things. 

Job losses, death of friends and family, contracting Covid, are not small matters. And having to wear masks can be a small cumbersome deed, it definitely pushed some people over the edge. 

Then there is the argument about the attractiveness of strangers and the mystery of how they actually look underneath their masks, and how stunted we are when connecting with someone of whom we cannot read his expression from just the eyes? If so, then how will the children born in the era of mask-wearing learn to understand emotions?  

I remembered when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a national address that mask-wearing is mandatory. That night, I was not used to having a mask with me. I went to a convenience store below my apartment to get myself a soda. The clerk behind the counter refused to serve me. 

Then I knew. I was not special. If I was not to be excluded, I will have to comply and REMEMBER to wear masks. 

Following the dreaded period of getting used to masks, I found the world trying to make light of it. It is most apparent with fashion. I contributed to this too, getting a box of black masks rather than the white ones – because they look cool. Then enter the UNIQLO masks – and seriously, the airism tech ones are worth the price. Now I’m a proud owner of three Under Armour sports masks because I was approached by a kid on the street asking me if I am a fan of Sub-Zero, a mask-wearing ninja from Mortal Kombat. 

I may have treated these mask-wearing mandates lightly. But when the news of mental health issues started popping up then, I had to rethink my attitude towards something as simple as wearing masks. 

I have actually witnessed a scuffle taking place just because somebody was reminded to wear his mask and the person doing the reminding then was probably frustrated that he used a not-so-nice tone. 

Last Thursday, Prime Minister Lee returned with good news for the nation that mask-wearing outdoors is now optional. He called it “a decisive but measured step forward towards living with Covid-19”. My thoughts then were  “where was his language-switching cup?”

So yes, not wearing masks outdoors might be a little thing but we need to remind ourselves, big things start small. So onward, as long as we behave and be extremely mindful of our health and habits, our journey to a normal life may be compounded and be sped forward. 

I am so glad to hang up, albeit close to me still, my Sub-Zero-Bane-Under-Armour-Fashion-Sports masks and my wishing to become a bulky brute. 

Breathe well my friends but be safe. 

And here is how my dear friend actress Nicole Lee feels: 

Tomorrow, I no longer need to disguise my unfit panting as that after a session of strenuous exercise, or pretend not to recognise my neighbours downstairs. Now it is time to brush off the layer of dust covering my lipstick collection, or better yet, buy one more. 

Cue the cautious celebrations 

Singaporeans adhere to mask-wearing for two years (Photo source: JD Chua)

After having been through a period of uncertainty and patience, this maskless step forward finally seems like the return to normalcy is finally on the horizon. Definitely, it’s the most visceral change yet. Blink and you might even mistake it for 2019. Singapore is definitely months behind the other countries in relaxing its mask mandate, it’s still a timely relief. 

There’s just something freeing about being bare faced again. The air is fresher, being out feels brighter and suddenly you’re feeling closer to the stranger though still socially distancing from you. 

Having to expose the other half of our faces will be a welcoming, if not intimate change. I’ve been through fabric masks, surgical masks, even double masking and now I, alongside the other Singaporeans, am back to just being bare-faced “me” again. It’s time to figure out what the other half of my face usually does when exposed to the elements. 

Tomorrow, I look forward to having full faces creep back onto the streets. It’ll still take a while to shake off the nagging fear of a social distance ambassador coming to arrest me but I am ready to rip that mask off, periodically! Of course the kiasu Singaporean in me will be quick to slap it back on the moment I hear a cough next to me or a sneeze behind me, but at least I am able to choose. I can’t wait to smell the roses, the wind and even sweaty primary school children on the bus. 

Wearing masks outdoors is now optional. (Photo source: JD Chua)

Best of all, I can’t wait for “no more sweating behind the mask under Singapore’s sweltering sun” 

I’ve grown too accustomed to just reading emotions in the eyes of masked strangers but, as JD has said (after the announcement was made by PM Lee), “it’ll be good to see people smile.” 

Actor/ Writer Nicole Lee can be social-medially-stalked at @onetakeblunder 

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