All images by Feline Lim.
In April, the New York Times termed the latest stage of the pandemic fatigue as languishing. The thinking goes: We’re not burnt out, depressed, or anxious. We’re joyless, aimless, stagnated and empty. “[Languishing] feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life in a foggy windshield.”
We’ve all felt like we’re just muddling through, right? Even when the restrictions in Singapore were eased, there was a distinct lack of spontaneity, adventure, and excitement. It almost felt normal to sit in a restaurant with a group of eight friends. It was something like freedom but not quite. There was a roadblock to joy. It could be remembered but not replicated.
Now, in Phase 2 (HA) the slices of normalcy that eased our languishing are gone. There’s nowhere to hide. We can’t meet more than one person at a time. We can’t travel anytime soon. Essentially, we’ve regressed to a point in the pandemic that we wanted to forget.
The languishing article I mentioned above offers some antidotes: give yourself uninterrupted leisure time, focus on a small goal. These strategies might feel implementable in the United States, where mass vaccination is steadily easing restrictions—but in Singapore, we’re a few months away from returning to the spoils we enjoyed pre-pandemic. Though hope is on the horizon, until later this year, we’re in a semi-pleasant purgatory.
So, in the absence of an imminent end to the pandemic, I wanted to try something different. Instead of rejecting this mid-point between flourishing and depression, I indulged it. Here’s how I intentionally languished around Singapore.
Where Should One Languish in Singapore?
Firstly, languishing is neither pleasant nor destructive. When researching the term further, I learned that it is “an apathy, a sense of restlessness or feeling unsettled, an overall lack of interest in life.” To languish appropriately, I thought it best to select places where not much happens, and there’s nothing spectacular to see or do.
In fact, when scouting for locations, I wanted to make sure there was nothing excitable at all. The whole point of languishing is to embrace a low-level of dread. So, with that in mind, I picked three areas of Singapore which are not featured in tourist brochures: Tuas, Sembawang, and Yishun. Of course, I was still writing an article—technically a photo essay, with pictures from my colleague Feline Lim. We needed some nice visuals, so I found some photogenic spots in these unremarkable places. Does glamourising languishing defeat its purpose? It could have, but it didn’t. Here’s what happened.
Missed Connection: The Lalang Field
Initially, I selected the Raffles Marina lighthouse as our first location to languish—there was an idyllic shot I had in mind: a silhouette of myself or a stranger gazing at the sea while the sun set on the water. Unfortunately, the marina was closed to non-members. The security guard shooed us away as we approached the gate.
A bummer. But I had another place in mind: the famous Lalang Field in Tuas South Avenue 4, the backdrop of many wedding photoshoots. “What do we do when we get there?” Feline asked me. I told her that we were going to languish and she would know how it felt when we did it. Though, at this point, I wondered if I had pitched an article I couldn’t write. We drove in circles around the area where the Lalang Field was supposed to be. It was fenced off with barbed wire.
“Where do we go now?” Feline asked and I shrugged. I ran out of options. We meandered on the empty sidewalks, submerged in a cloud of dust stirred up by a lorry on the road. It was late in the afternoon when we stumbled on a dehydrated field of nothing.
There, I laid down on a spikey patch of grass, and closed my eyes. The sun roasted my skin and a swarm of midges buzzed in front of my face. With the lorries rumbling in the background, and the afternoon heat on my neck, I felt uncomfortable but not uncomfortable enough to change position. I laid there and thought how nice it would be to sunbathe literally anywhere else.
“Okay, we’re losing the light, shall we go somewhere else?” Feline called from afar. Sure, I thought, without saying anything. I was overcome by the need to stay where I was, to indulge the discomfort. But we had an article to produce.
In Pursuit of Nothing: The Break Down in Tuas
The next port of call in Tuas was Lamp Post 1, a landmark for cyclists at the westernmost point of Singapore. Lamp Post 1 is outside the Tuas Checkpoint and home to a collage of stickers and trinkets put there by the cyclists. I thought it would be heartwarming, but upon closer inspection there were ziploc baggies of cigarette butts and used masks taped next to the inspirational quotes.
It was a nonsensical place to spend more than a few minutes, given the heavy traffic, grimey litter, and noisy construction beyond the checkpoint. There was no good reason to hang out there, yet there we were; languishing. I felt annoyed and slightly serene.
In the car, I talked with Feline about how frustrating it was to find a ‘good place’ to languish in Singapore. “There are no open spaces.” She remarked while switching lanes. “Before, there were places you could go to make your own fun. You didn’t have to buy, eat, or drink something to participate. There was no price to pay.”Feline mentioned the plot of reclaimed land where Gardens By The Bay now exists. It used to be a wide, open space of nothing. Yet, it was made useful. Both of us remembered the afternoons we spent flying kites and picnicking there. It wasn’t special or remarkable, but it was unspoiled and free.
Before we went home, we stopped by Long King Canteen—which had an excellent selection of Bangladeshi cuisine. There were some migrant workers there (on their own, or in pairs) collecting refreshments. They too, seemed to be languishing.
We took our food across the road, to another stretch of dehydrated grass that faced the water. There, we watched the sunset. In the distance I noticed Forest City silhouetted in the sky. Forest City comprises four man-made islands in Johor, billed as a “smart and green futuristic city.” It’s a copycat version of Singapore opposite our own shores. Forest City looks a lot like Dubai. While admiring it, I thought: I would really like to be in Dubai. Or, again, anywhere but here. With great effort, I could swim to Forest City from Tuas. Seeing another country up-close and personal made me think about how arbitrary travel restrictions are.
Technically, I could have booked a flight from Changi and gone somewhere the next day. But I didn’t. On the way home, the car broke down. Feline wrestled with the spare tire, then we waited two hours for help. The entire trip had been kind of a bust, all of our preferred locations were closed. We sat on the side of the empty road, in silence, apathetic and disinterested.
Long story short, Tuas is ripe for languishing.
Go Forth and Languish at Sembawang Beach and the Yishun Dam
Sembawang Park was crowded when I arrived. Uncles huffed and puffed through their masks as they shuffle-jogged around the beachfront, which was also under construction. On the pier, a small crowd were fishing. “Fishing is kind of like languishing, right?” Feline asked as we watched the fishermen stare expectantly at the filthy sea.
A man waded into the sea to cast a big net. Time and again he threw it out, then pulled it back in. We watched for half an hour and he didn’t catch anything. The other fishermen observed from the pier in silence. “Yes, fishing is definitely a kind of languishing.” I said to Feline.
Sembawang Beach was covered in plastic bags, empty cans, and food waste. It was not an idyllic spot to relax. Yet, there were quite a few pairs sitting on stone benches and smoking cigarettes. I wondered: Why did they choose this place? Singapore is full of manicured, pristine nature. Were they deliberately languishing, in a setting which suited the mood? The hulky port disturbed what could have been a nice view. Though there were many people around, I never heard any chatter.
Yishun Dam was our hail mary for one good picture. Feline said the sunset on the water was unreal. We arrived early and sat in silence for some time, dodging insects and watching a hawk swoop down from the sky to catch a fish. “Sometimes I come here with my boyfriend and we bring a portable chess table.” Feline exhaled. I thought this was another example of languishing.
When the sun finally set, it was too cloudy for the pretty colors to break through. The sky went dark without warning. As we called our cabs to go home, we counted the hours spent chasing nothing this week. I disagreed with Feline on how long, exactly, we had spent in Tuas. “Surely, it was only an hour,” I said, but she seemed to think we had been there for three or four hours.
In the car on the way home, I thought: we wasted a lot of time on something that is not interesting. But, isn’t that how most of the past year has been? Sitting around, trying to unearth diamonds from the rubble, and forgetting how long it took.
Yes, we had wasted the whole week languishing. And it felt aimless and joyless, but appropriate.
Found any good spots to languish in Singapore? Write to us email@example.com.