2020 is no doubt the worst and most challenging year: work, social life, studying, and even the most mundane things have become very different and almost unreachable for all of us. Although I have spent a lot of my time complaining and mourning over the fact that most of my plans have been cancelled, I have found, in isolation, a bright side of the pandemic and have done some crazy, wild things I have never tried before. So here are 20 things I learned in 2020.

1 Spending more time with your family and loved ones should be your top priority.

During isolation, I found myself engaging in conversations and interacting a whole lot more with my family, particularly my father, who I have not talked much with in previous years, since I was away from home studying overseas. Quarantine at home has given me an excellent opportunity to catch up with not only my dad but also do a lot of fun things with him and my mom, making me cherish the times we have spent together during the past few months.

2 Those who cook well may not be a good pastry chef.

While being bored in the house most of the time (because who isn’t?), I watched countless baking videos on making chocolate chip cookies, vegan cheesecakes, passion fruit pound cakes and so on. Growing up as a kid who always helped his mother cook in the kitchen, I naturally assume that baking is just as easy as cooking, if not easier. And to be honest, it isn’t. Using all the equipment and measurements, as well as the oven itself, is a whole new science to me – but after six months of work, I can proudly claim that I am now a good cook and a baker.

3 Baking is chemistry and mathematics.

Another painful truth I learned about baking is that it is all about the maths and chemistry of the ingredients and colourings (PS: I’m not a nerd).

Although converting from ounces to millilitres or grams and from Fahrenheit to Celsius is not a fun process, I’ve learned by heart the formulas and conversions through multiple attempts. In addition, the science behind food colouring has become a new fascination for me: adding lime juice to blue butterfly pea solution and more!

4 Looking after a baby is hard.

In 2019, my aunt gave birth to her first daughter and due to Covid, for almost all of 2020, I have been spending a lot of my time with my little niece, taking care of her, playing with her and teaching her how to crawl, walk and run! But I have to admit this whole ‘parenthood’ is FOR REALS. I used to think that taking care of kids would be a lot easier because my parents took care of three of us quite well, my grandma had five kids and a lot of the parents I see ‘seem’ to be killing it; but what I didn’t see was the whole BEHIND THE SCENES of it and thanks to quarantine, I now know what it is like. Sigh.

5 Learning a new language is easy if you know the strategy.

As a way to kill time and make the most out of isolation, I’ve signed myself up for a few online courses and one of them is language classes. I’ve always had a passion for languages and culture and in particular Japanese and Spanish have always appealed to me. Hence I’ve been studying these since early March. Due to the restrictions, I cannot interact with actual teachers in a physical class, so along the way, I’ve discovered some really useful strategies for language acquisition on YouTube; simply type in How to learn xxx and find the way(s) that best suit you!

6 Lonely times call for reconciliation with our own selves.

I often found myself sitting alone by a window or staring at nothing on the balcony. A lot of the time, I would have internal conversations with myself and I realised that it is a good way to reflect on the current situation and make plans for the unforeseeable future.

7 I’m finding my voice in terms of politics.

On the cusp of turning 20, I’ve grown more interested in my country’s politics and current affairs. Being a developing country with so many criticisms, Myanmar has so many problems to solve. Although with me alone, not much can be achieved, as the saying goes: three heads are better than one. I’ve discovered peers who share the same aspirations as me and we have many conversations on politics and current affairs.

Also, I just voted recently in the November election in Myanmar. Yay!

8 It’s easier to let go than holding on.

Very recently, I have gone through a rough time letting go of someone who I’ve adored for two years. As cringe as it is, time and distance really make it easier to let go of someone. I’d say that these two factors played a huge role in making me move on and I’ve learned that in comparison to me holding on to that person, I feel released and not chained to my ‘daydreams’ anymore.

9 Sometimes we find answers in dreams.

During isolation, I found myself waking up every morning from dreams of events that had been bothering me for almost years. In one particular dream, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with the aforementioned ‘person’ and it’s weird but they gave me the answers I’ve always wanted to hear.

10 It’s alright to block out some noise.

Haters? Block. Bullies? Block. Frenemies? BLOCK.

We all have experience being surrounded by noises that are just too much, too toxic. So to detoxify myself, I’ve blocked out all those mean comments and people on social media and the real world, and started hanging out with people who really care for me. #Detoxfam.

11 Uni is all about exploration, and so is life.

Due to Covid, I obviously had the worst fresher experience: stuck at home with remote study and no social life nor meeting people in St Andrews. But on the bright side, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and try to make friends with people who share a similar situation with me. A great way that helped me was joining an academic fam (shoutout to Dione, Matthew and Mary, for being the most awesome parents!). Another thing I’ve tried is joining societies and sub comms – like BioSoc and STAR! Some of them aren’t even directly related to my degree, but I’ve discovered new things that interest me, like hosting a radio show, writing for the Gay Saint and The Record!

12 Keto diet.

Earlier in January, I came across a Facebook post about the ketogenic diet (keto for short). Basically, it’s a low carb diet that makes your body go into a state of using fats instead of carbs for energy. By the end of 2019, I’d gained more than 20 pounds due to lack of exercising and eating unhealthily while preparing for my IB exams. Luckily, with the help of the Keto diet, I’ve got back in shape and stayed fit.

13 I’ve learned to love and take care of every part of my body.

In my teenage years, I did not use many healthcare and skincare products. The only things I’ve used are lotion and lip balm. In isolation, I got a chance to look closer at my skin, my face and other parts of my body. The first few times looking in a mirror brought me self-doubt and body-shaming: You’re not slim enough, your thighs are too big, your belly isn’t flat enough, you’re tanned, etc. But instead of dwelling on these negative thoughts, I have started reading beauty blogs and researching products and home remedies on taking good care of my body.

14 Recently, I’ve fallen in love with Chia seeds.

Rich in fibre and proteins and good for your tummy, I have been putting these amazing seeds in almost every food I made: smoothies, salads and even hot milk and coffee!

15 There’s nothing wrong with guys using cosmetics.

In Asian countries, there’s always a stigma of guys wearing makeup, and sometimes it goes as far as a guy being discriminated against for just using lip balm and masks! I think that beauty is a concept for everyone and we all have the same rights and desire to look nice, and it’s almost 2021 so guys can look pretty too!

16 We should find our own ways to express ourselves.

Some people cry, some complain, some do boxing while others listen to music. Whatever shape or form it takes, it is crucial for us to let it all out rather than keeping it inside, because there’s always an upper limit to the capacity of our resistance. For me, a way to express myself is writing and I’ve been utilising this method for over a year, and the results are the many stories I’ve written!

17 I’ve learned to be adaptable in this current climate.

If the situation only gets worse, what can I do? Improve myself and prepare for the brighter days to come. Though it may sound overconfident and optimistic, it’s important to adapt to the surroundings and become a better version of ourselves.

18 Long-hours phone calls are a sign of true friendship.

I’ve had quite a few phone calls with people from my old school to catch up with them and what happened was those calls lasted for almost 1-2 hours; the longest was 5. Yep! I found that not only was I reminiscing, I was also sharing stories and progress on the works I’ve written, asking for their feedback and vice versa. Sad to note that we didn’t spend much time like this back then but thanks to the pandemic, I’ve got a clearer sense of who to trust, love and cherish.

19 True friends are not the ones who compliment you 24/7.

In my high school years, I always wanted to belong to a certain ‘group.’ Therefore, I’ve been pushing myself out of the comfort zone trying to befriend every person I come across. Sometimes I’d feel ‘accepted’ and like I ‘belonged’ when I heard praise and compliments from strangers. But now, after those ‘2-hour-long’ phone calls, I know that true friends DO compliment you, but occasionally they might slap you in the face and tell you ‘No, stop doing this, it’s bad for you,’ and lead you to a path of becoming a better self.

20 Television dramas are sometimes healthy.

Binge-watching old-time Asian dramas and new ones too has been my routine during quarantine. Thai, Chinese, Korean, even American dramas have been entertaining to me – despite being cringe and cliche. I think sometimes it’s these little fun things that make our lonely days happier!