Marina Mahathir’s MCO Diary: How I Fill Up My Day

Me with Ojay during one of my morning workouts.

Some time in the morning: Wake up. I have no fixed time to awake since I have no appointments at all these days. Despite the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia, I try and arise at a reasonable hour, between 7AM and 8AM. Today, as it happens, I woke up at about 6:45AM, had just gone downstairs, and was settling myself down to write this when my helper tells me there’s a snake in the kitchen. Again. Panic stations! I contemplate waking hubby up, inexplicably decide not to, and called the Emergency Response Team (ERT) myself. I’m still waiting for them to show up. Meanwhile, the snake has slithered away.

8AM: On other days, I sit on my sofa and scroll through my messages. Most of it is COVID-19 news. Today, the big news is that Boris Johnson is in ICU. Hubris comes before hospital. The ERT team came, found nothing, and left with the advice that I should get the red-tinned Ridsect because snakes don’t like that. Sulphur, traditionally poured around the house fences to deter them, doesn’t work anymore. “They’ll just laugh at it,” they said. I gasp behind my mask. One of them coughs.

8:30AM: This is usually when I attempt some form of exercise. On Mondays and Thursdays in pre-COVID days, my trainer Bruno comes to make me stretch, squat, bend, and tighten my core in small muscle-cramping motions. Now, we have adapted like everyone else. We keep to our regular schedule, but it is on a WhatsApp video call. He can still see every muscle I don’t squeeze and calls it out. There is no escape.

My trainer, Bruno on one of our WhatsApp calls

9:30AM: If I don’t have Bruno, I might still do some of my own stretching, and if feeling energetic, attempt some of those YouTube exercise classes. There is one I favour that involves no jumping or running but still drenches me in sweat. I also try and meditate. There is a surfeit of COVID-themed meditations you can do, mostly involving calming down anxieties. I don’t know if it works; my mind tends to wander.

10AM: I finally have breakfast. For the past few years, I have tried to eat gluten- and dairy-free. My morning meal comprises a grainless cereal I make myself with dairy-free yoghurt and almond milk. My family thinks it’s disgusting but then I shall live longer than them.

10:30AM: In ordinary times, this is when I start rushing to get showered, dressed, and get to work. But I now have nowhere and nothing to rush to. I either return to my sofa to scroll even more and check the likes on my Instagram or I try and feed my brain. I have discovered podcasts, principally comedy and writerly ones. I think that if I listen to enough writers talking about how they write, I might write better. The jury is still out on that.

A coconut croissant I made one morning. I used a day-old croissant, didn’t make it from scratch.

I have also taken to learning Japanese. Three decades ago, I lived in Japan for two and a half years. During that time, out of sheer necessity, I picked the language up, through both classes and my daily interactions with shopkeepers and cashiers. Watching Japanese TV and having a baby there also helped. Since returning to Malaysia however, my proficiency has severely rusted. Consequently, I am trying to polish it up and realise that my grammar leaves a lot to be desired.

Now is perhaps the best time to start learning a new language: 9 Tips To Help You Learn A Language Before Visiting A Foreign Country

11AM onwards: I take a shower and dress. I have refused to spend all day in my pyjamas or a caftan. The Ministry of Women’s recent badly-worded message was correct, for me at least. I refuse to let this MCO change me. Every day, I rifle through my wardrobe to find clothes that I have not worn for a long time and wear them, regardless of how odd it might look for a housebound person. Then I go into therapy. That is, I put on makeup, trying to look as presentable as I can. The only thing I am hopeless with is my hair, which is frizzy and turning an alarming shade of grey. I brush it as much as I can without tearing all of it out, put on some earrings, and perhaps a necklace. Lockdown style should really be recorded.

Journalling at my desk.

The rest of the day follows a regular pattern. It is broken into between-meal blocks. In between lunch and tea, there might be a Zoom meeting. After tea and before dinner, it’s TV, mostly news. After the evening meal, I might follow my friend’s yoga and meditation session, or I return to my crowded little desk and write in my journals. I have four, recording multiple sides of the same day. At least that’s what I hope. Hubby, on the other hand, fills his between-meal times with Netflix.

After lunch: There have been some new regular appointments in my week, besides Bruno’s exercise sessions. On Fridays, I get a writing prompt from my former classmate in the MA creative writing course I did last year. I then have a whole week to wrack my creative brain, write a short essay, and submit it to my little cluster of writing friends. On the Monday after, time differences in mind, we get together on a WhatsApp video call and discuss our pieces, our lives, and everything else. It has become a lifeline to the happy year I left behind and the friendships I made then. I am grateful each day that I managed to finish my course before this pandemic struck.

Dinner ‘meetings’: My other about-to-be-regular appointment is the weekly Saturday night Zoom ‘dinner’ with my extended family. My parents, both in their 90s, are alone at their home. My brothers, sisters, and their families are in theirs as I am in mine. Some are still abroad. The only way for us to get together for our usual dinners is the COVID way: online. It has proven to be quite intriguing watching each other eat and chatting about the most mundane topics. Indeed, it accommodates several more people around the ‘table’ than it would have in real life. And more generations too, from my parents down to their two great-grandchildren.

On video calls with my best friends. We keep things fun with weekly themes for the calls.

After dinner: The evening is usually reserved for TV. I cede control of the remote to hubby who scrolls incessantly up and down the channels and Netflix’s offerings to find something to watch. Occasionally, we find something that interests us both. That often means programmes where we watch celebrity chefs make mouth-watering dishes we could never replicate. It’s less fattening this way.

Other times, we binge-watch a TV series together. The British detective drama Broadchurch kept us in suspense for a few days. Lately, Tiger King had us dropping our jaws at its sheer awfulness.

What I’m not doing enough of is reading and cleaning up. There are closets and bookshelves full of clothes and books crying out to be assessed for their joy-sparking abilities. I have resisted. I can only read for five minutes at bedtime before my eyelids droop and I drift off to sleep. To counter this, I am allocating time while the sun is still up to finish my books. This has led to naps.

Get all the latest travel stories from Zafigo. Follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram
Marina M.
Marina M. thinks she should be invited to design jetplanes to make them more comfortable and user-friendly, having spent years flying with babies and husband in tow as well as alone. She is dreading the advent of mobile phone access on planes because long plane flights are the only time she is totally cut off from everyone else and she likes it that way.