Storing up Covid-19 memories

Thousands of items, accounts and clips have been submitted to the National Museum and the National Library Board that will show future generations what life was like during the pandemic

Above: A photo of a deserted Terminal 3 at Changi Airport as Covid-19 had grounded almost all planes. Ms Regina Chan, who submitted this photo, said "the sight broke my heart". Far left: Ms Anoo Manoj, whose father died in India in August. After gett
Above: A photo of a deserted Terminal 3 at Changi Airport as Covid-19 had grounded almost all planes. Ms Regina Chan, who submitted this photo, said "the sight broke my heart". PHOTO: NATIONAL LIBRARY SINGAPORE/ FACEBOOK
Left: Ms Anoo Manoj, whose father died in India in August. After getting special permission to fly to India, she was unable to see him as she had to be quarantined, and he eventually died without seeing her. Right: Zachary Tan submitted a video of an
Left: Ms Anoo Manoj, whose father died in India in August. After getting special permission to fly to India, she was unable to see him as she had to be quarantined, and he eventually died without seeing her. Right: Zachary Tan submitted a video of an online concert he and his brother Ryan organised with 17 friends to raise funds for families affected by the pandemic.PHOTOS: NATIONAL LIBRARY SINGAPORE/ FACEBOOK
Above: A photo of a deserted Terminal 3 at Changi Airport as Covid-19 had grounded almost all planes. Ms Regina Chan, who submitted this photo, said "the sight broke my heart". Far left: Ms Anoo Manoj, whose father died in India in August. After gett
Above: Contributor Poh Chen Chen submitted "a thank you note from my little neighbour, a little boy who wrote me a note when I leave books at his front door for him to read once a week when NLB was closed during CB. Sharing is caring".PHOTO: NATIONAL LIBRARY SINGAPORE/ FACEBOOK
Above: A photo of a deserted Terminal 3 at Changi Airport as Covid-19 had grounded almost all planes. Ms Regina Chan, who submitted this photo, said "the sight broke my heart". Far left: Ms Anoo Manoj, whose father died in India in August. After gett
An anonymous contributor submitted a handmade artwork in a tribute to front-line workers, saying the new woodcraft hobby was a way to keep mentally sane and active while staying at home during the pandemic. PHOTO: NATIONAL LIBRARY SINGAPORE/ FACEBOOK

Ms Anoo Manoj, 44, lost her father, who lives in India, this year. She had to get special permission to fly there from Singapore to visit him in hospital in August, and even then, was unable to see him because she had to be quarantined.

She would not see him before her family decided to pull the plug on his life support.

"Sleep eludes me. Nights are terrifying. What news will I wake up to...," she writes.

Her story is among nearly 4,000 photos, narrative accounts, videos, webpages and items such as posters and designer masks that have been submitted to the National Museum and the National Library Board (NLB).

They are part of a project, Documenting Covid-19 in Singapore, that hopes to help future generations better understand what it was like to live through 2020.

As of yesterday, there have been 58,529 confirmed infections in Singapore and 29 deaths from Covid-19 complications.

Submissions explore life here from many perspectives, including photos of panic buying in supermarkets in the early months of the pandemic, an empty Changi Airport, and strangers gathering online to celebrate special occasions like the National Day.

There were also photos of inventions specific to the pandemic year, such as lounge wear with formal tops suitable for Zoom office meetings and face masks with built-in microphones for lecturers, who wear them when speaking in their classes.

Ms Huism Tan, the director of NLB and covering director of the National Archives of Singapore, said there have been nearly 4,000 submissions since the NLB and the National Museum made the call in May.

"When future generations look back, they can get a sense of how Singaporeans have managed during this crisis," she said. "They will be able to access this collection decades later for research, to understand Singapore's history."

A small selection of the first batch of objects and photographs collected is being exhibited at the National Museum. More such exhibitions could be considered in the future.

The NLB and the National Museum said they are extending the deadline for submission until June 30 next year, as Singapore begins its transition to Phase 3 of its reopening.

Phase 3 should bring with it different experiences after the period of tighter restrictions, Ms Tan said, for example, showing how people use their government-given tourism dollars and how the population is gradually vaccinated.

The agencies have also been conducting and recording interviews with people who have unique perspectives and whose stories deserve to be told on video, such as a migrant worker who recovered from Covid-19 in a dormitory and a religious teacher who has had to embrace technology to conduct classes online.

Singapore Airlines (SIA), one of the entities most affected by the coronavirus this year, said it decided to make its own submissions as a show of resilience.

It has given to the agencies footage of its grounded planes, e-mails to affected customers, and photos of its staff taking on roles in healthcare, transport and social service.

An SIA spokesman said: "While the Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most difficult periods in SIA's history, it has taught us many lessons.

"We hope that people will see not just the challenges that we faced, but also our resilience in overcoming them, the spirit of our people, and our efforts to persevere and recover from the crisis."

Siblings Ryan Tan, 10, and Zachary Tan, 12, submitted a video of an online charity concert they organised with 17 of their friends to raise money for families adversely affected by the pandemic.

Their efforts - both of them played the piano - garnered over $7,000.

They have also submitted videos of their Zoom calls with their grandparents in Malaysia as they ate dinner at the same time to simulate as far as possible a real-life family gathering.

Zachary explained why he made the submission: "We want to show that we are not just sitting around doing nothing. The effect of Covid-19 can be mitigated with Zoom calls and special projects. We hope we can also inspire future generations."

• Go to nlb.gov.sg for more information on submissions

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2020, with the headline 'Storing up Covid-19 memories'. Print Edition | Subscribe