The Pandemic One Year On: Hong Kongers Take a Step Back to Reflect and Look Forward

Hong Kong Jan 18, 2021

How has the pandemic affected those in hard-hit industries like medicine, manufacturing and education?

The persisting numbers of daily coronavirus infections in Hong Kong mean no end in sight for strict social distancing measures.

While it's become the collective knee jerk reaction to bemoan the presence of this global pandemic, we've also become more resilient and adept to learning how to navigate the murky waters of this new normal. We've got to after all - we don't have a choice.

We spoke to Hong Kongers - local and adopted - working in fields hit hard by the pandemic, for a glimpse into their personal experiences and to hear them share their optimism for the future.

Dr. Dorothy Low

Resident Trainee in Emergency Medicine

Tell us about your involvement and experience in this past year with the pandemic.
I've been working in the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit in the past year. While I had to intubate and closely monitor COVID cases in ICU, their status and condition were confirmed and they were safely isolated. In the Emergency Department, we may have no information about the incoming patients, and thus this requires a high level of vigilance, as anyone could be infected.

How have you been managing your mental and physical health in the last year?
Stay chill. I don't see the value in ruminating on worst case scenarios. The self- imagined cataclysmic worst-case scenarios are unlikely to come to pass, but in the unfortunate event that they do, worry cannot prevent it. As for physical health, one can safely hike, run, swim, rock climb, or engage in a large variety of sports, as long as discretion is used and precautions are taken to avoid the unnecessary risk of disease transmission.

What are you hopeful for in the new year?
As a vaccine is finally available, hopefully this will offer widespread protection. Additionally, I am hopeful the world would also unite to tackle other healthcare issues like childhood and maternal mortality, preventable blindness, malnutrition, and healthcare inequalities with a similar zeal. For example, donating $2USD/ $16 HKD can provide two people with an insecticide treated bednet, which can help reduce their risk of contracting malaria for up to four years. Small initiatives can make monumental, life-saving changes, if only there is the impetus and motivation to pursue them.

What are your most valuable personal learnings from last year?
You never know what another person is going through - what struggles or heartbreak they may be facing - but you always have a choice of how you treat them. You may quickly forget caustic words spoken in a moment of impatience or rage, they may never forget. No matter how heinously others act, you always have a choice to choose the higher path.

Speak life. Speak kindness. Speak encouragement.

For all the hardworking healthcare workers and frontliners out there: remember the compassion that called you into a profession built on empathy, care, and goodwill. Above all, don't ever lose your humanity.

Carson Leong

Founder, Seadon

Tell us about Seadon.
Seadon (an English name, meaning 'From the land to the sea') is an outdoor clothing company known for its technical fabrics and sustainable practices. We launched our first Kickstarter campaign in 2019 and our second one was launched last year during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

How has your business been impacted by COVID-19?
Kickstarter saw a 30% drop in users on their platform. Worldwide lockdowns and restrictions on travel affected sales and how we operated in the virtual world. We had to expand our creative thinking and rethink our strategies for the year, whilst staying organised and relying on many backup plans!

Were there any unexpected positive outcomes during this time?
We managed to raise just over 100k USD in 60 days through crowdfunding last year - competing with established brands, and doing so at the peak of the pandemic! Knowing that there is potential in what we do and that our backers still believe in us during these challenging times, is a humbling experience that will stay with me forever. It also showed that my team has got my back, because they stepped up to all the unforeseen and never-before-seen challenges, and we all grew stronger and closer than ever before.

What advice would you give to someone starting or running a small business during these challenging times?
Keep believing and keep grinding! Surround yourself with good people. Ask for advice but be analytical. Expand your capacity to learn and improve. Be creative. Be kind. Be honest. Enjoy the journey. Don't be afraid to fail. Own your business - no one should know your business better than yourself. Stay positive. You got this!

What are your most valuable personal learnings from last year?
Last year gave me the opportunity to fully reflect on my own capabilities more than ever before. Instead of overwhelming myself with all the challenges that a new business comes with, as well as those the virus brought with it, I learned to break them down into more manageable pieces. Each problem solved was viewed as a small victory to keep the morale high during periods when the spirits were low. I learned that I can find deeper happiness even during the toughest times.

Website | Kickstarter | Seadon's Instagram | Carson's Instagram

Rebecca Hung

International School Teacher

What has your teaching setup been like during the pandemic?
It has changed throughout the past several months as we went from fully online to a hybrid model and back to completely online. Currently, I am using a fully online schedule that incorporates whole class and small group teaching as well as an optional drop-in session.

How do you see remote learning impacting a child’s development?
If anything, the many changes this past year have highlighted the resilience children have. While there is undoubtedly impact on long-term learning and social development, I've noticed that the students are extremely creative in how they adapt. They have also become increasingly fluent in technological use and digital literacy.

What are some positive experiences and memories gained from teaching in the pandemic?
A major positive side effect of online teaching is the ability to understand and see more of my students' lives. I've met numerous pets (hamsters and turtles are especially popular!) and had younger siblings join in class when I read aloud a story. Sometimes there will even be the occasional parent who joins in a game or a "shake-break" dance! Because students are in their home environment, I've also been able to have more conversations with the kids about how to organise themselves and their work in order to be successful students.

How are your students taught to understand and cope with the pandemic?
My philosophy as a teacher is to always answer questions honestly and openly as they are brought up. Over the past year, we've had many conversations about what is happening in the world and how it makes them feel. Students are taught that all emotions are valid and are given strategies for how to process them, whether that's talking to a trusted adult or finding a quiet space to calm down. Initially, students had many questions and worries about this new virus. They've also expressed sadness and frustration over not being able to attend school. In more recent months, most children have settled into a routine that helps give them security.

What are your most valuable personal learnings from last year?
Many teachers have expressed that this year has been and will be a period unlike any other in their teaching careers. Through this time, I have been forced to rethink how I teach and adapt my methods. Many techniques I would have previously said are essentials have become impossible since we've moved online. Instead, I've learned that the essentials of teaching are empathy and creativity. As long as I am listening to my students and challenging them to think and wonder, they will continue to grow and learn.

Benjamin Archangeli

Manufacturing Engineering Manager and Hmlet Member

How has your company been impacted by the pandemic?
In 2020 the company lost a significant portion of orders from retailers in the USA and Europe due to rolling lockdowns and shifts in consumer spending. Personally, I was supposed to move to Guangdong for work but was rerouted to the Hong Kong office after China closed their border to foreigners. I was eventually able to make a short trip in the end of the year.

How has your company been managing the pandemic blowback?
The company quickly pivoted to manufacture reusable community masks. Especially in the early months of the pandemic, these masks helped reserve medical grade PPE for front-line healthcare providers, and continue to reduce the volume of trash generated by single-use masks. Mask sales helped to offset losses but the company was still forced to cut manufacturing capacity.

How do you foresee the manufacturing industry surviving the pandemic?
The eventual economic recovery to the “new normal” will be a boom for some but leave others behind. Above all manufacturers need to be agile to respond to consumer trends and to control costs. I expect to see fewer mega-factories and the birth of localised, modular factories that can produce an array of complimentary products for direct shipment to customers. PPE manufacturing is actually a great example of this.

What are your most valuable personal learnings from last year?
I’ve learned that being in nature is my anti-anxiety remedy. Camping, climbing, running all help me clear my mind and put things in perspective.

Sabina Santiago

Architecture Student and Hmlet Member

Sabina Santiago

Tell us about yourself.
As a Chinese-Filipino who grew up in the Philippines, I have always seen Hong Kong as a second home, having constantly visited relatives here through the years. Naturally, I looked into the universities here and found on HKU — world-renowned for its Architectural Studies programme — and Hong Kong’s dynamic city plans a big draw. Its dichotomy between old and new, coupled with flavours from different cultures creates a certain harmony that makes Hong Kong unique.

How has the pandemic impacted your studies?
It has not been easy. I initially thought I needed to be able to access materials and the studio at school to be able to produce good projects. I struggled a lot with Zoom classes in the first few months. Yet, I found myself becoming more resourceful because of the pandemic. With the lack of access to materials during lockdown in the Philippines, my challenge was to take household objects and create models from them, which ended up being more fun than stressful! However, I still think being able to meet with tutors and professors in person is more stimulating than through a screen. Also, the personal touch is lost through online classes as we don’t get to know our tutors as well as we would in person. Yet, I am still extremely grateful that I am able to continue my studies during a global pandemic.

What are your most valuable personal learnings from last year?
I have learnt to be appreciative of the little things in 2020 – things I have taken for granted before the coronavirus, like being able to go home to Manila to spend time with family during the holidays and travelling back to Hong Kong for school.  I realised not a lot of people had the privilege to do both. I also learnt to be more patient. Going back and forth between Hong Kong and Manila meant going through multiple quarantines. My mental capabilities were challenged and strengthened as I never imagined I could go 14 days in total isolation. As I see myself as more of an extrovert, quarantine has taught me how to enjoy being by myself and I can proudly say I’ve become more comfortable with the idea of it.

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Yilynn Chan

Along with Nontawan Kraitat

Hmlet contributor. My Venn diagram is three interlocking circles.