Note: I began writing this post the first week of 2021, as I normally do every year, but it has taken me 2.5 months to finish this post. I thought that because of our lack in travel last year, this post would be shorter than previous ones, but boy was I wrong. There were so many reflections, and so many memories made, from 2020, that this turned out to be my longest blog post ever! I really enjoyed taking my time to reflect on everything that happened, and to go through all the photos and videos of the beautiful memories we created through all the ups and downs of the year, so here goes…
I think our lives will forever be divided into 2 distinct phases:
Pre-Covid 19 and Post-Covid 19
I can say with certainty that 2020 is going to be etched in our lives forever, in ways that differ for everyone. Our world has changed. Our community has changed. Our family and friends have changed. And, if we are truly introspective enough, each and every one of us has undeniably changed.
For many, 2020 began with an abundance of hope and anticipation as we welcomed a new decade. And for many, 2020 is ending with unbelievable loss and anguish.
Some call this year “The Great Reset”, and I found that to be quite true. We tend to go about our lives in a way that does not allow us to ever really slow down, but the pandemic gave us no choice. It’s like we were stripped of our familiar routines and forced to take a good look in the mirror to take inventory on our life’s priorities and values. While this abrupt and unexpected detour in my plans for 2020 was initially hard to accept, I eventually learned to appreciate all the blessings that simmered through the challenges.
Just like prior years, here’s our annual recap to document the highlights of each month. Instead of sharing an abundance of travel photos like previous years, this time I will share more of my introspections and learnings from this turbulent year.
January 2020–Our 2020 began with us naively oblivious to the pandemic that had begun brewing in Asia already at the time. News of this mysterious coronavirus had began subtly circulating around the world, but like many others, we didn’t feel the threat or impact directly yet. We kicked off the year with gatherings amongst friends and family that would be the last of its kind for many, many months to come. Again, we had no idea, so there were no efforts of cherishing those moments– one of the many great learnings of 2020!
We also welcomed my cousin Celine into our home. Celine was planning to stay with us for 3 months as she did her OT field work in San Francisco. Little did we know then, that her arrival into our home would become one of our greatest blessings of 2020…a solid reminder that God’s plans are always better than ours.
Mid-month, I flew solo to meet up with a couple of my girlfriends for a “mommy retreat” in Taipei, which turned out to be such a fun, carefree trip. Then, I flew over to Singapore for a semi-failed surprise to join my parents, sister and nephew there for a week. After a relaxing and joyous week in Singapore, we all flew back to Hong Kong, where I spent another couple of weeks there. Bridgette flew solo from SF to HK, and we schemed together for her to surprise her bestie Brianne, and while that was a sweet success that left Brianne in tears, the bigger surprise was Bridgette’s flight having to be rerouted to Osaka after a major delay!
February 2020–I spent my birthday in Hong Kong, on a treacherous hike followed by a lovely dinner at Jimmy’s Kitchen. I had a hard time deciding on what to order that night, but felt comforted that I would have plenty of opportunities to go back and try each of those dishes out in the future. I had no idea it would be the very last time I would patron the 92 year old iconic restaurant. Jimmy’s Kitchen closed its door for good on June 1, 2020. Yet another reminder that tomorrow is never guaranteed. “Come now, you who say, today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:13
Bridgette and I spent a wonderful couple of weeks in Hong Kong with our family, and I am so, so glad we made the effort to do so at the beginning of the year, because it would be another 10 months before we would be reunited. We left Hong Kong without too much sadness, because we already had plans to meet up in Japan in the Spring, and then spend our summer together like we always do back in the Bay Area. If we only knew…
We returned home to unpack, only to repack right away for our trip to Guatemala the following week. This time, Alan joined us and we spent a memorable week volunteering in a small village call San Marcos La Laguna. We also hiked up an active volcano where we listened to volcanic eruptions all night long, walked the famous ruins of Tikal, and then crossed the border by car into Belize. Bridgette turned 13 while in Belize, and we celebrated with an exciting cave adventure in the famous Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. We ended our trip with a few relaxing days on the island of Caye Caulker, where we had one of the best snorkeling experiences ever.
It was an ambitious month of travel for sure, but I’m so glad we went for it because our travel life came to a stand still shortly after. You know that place that you’ve always wanted to go? That thing that you’ve always wanted to do? Go. Do it.
March 2020–We made it home to the escalating concerns about this mysterious coronavirus, and began following it more closely on a daily basis. Still, we continued onwards with our travel plans for the month, which first included Alan’s birthday weekend up in Lake Tahoe where Bridgette taught her bestie Anita how to ski.
For Bridgette’s 13th birthday, Alan and I gifted her a plane ticket to fly solo to the UK to spend some quality time with her worldschooling bestie Ruby there, and we briefly contemplated on postponing that trip as coverage of the coronavirus became more intense. Ultimately, after praying hard about it, we decided to let her proceed, but not before giving her some serious lessons on escalated hygiene practices.
It seemed as if the world completely turned upside down while Bridgette was in the UK. All of a sudden, death rates skyrocketed from the coronavirus and countries began to close their borders. Airlines started to close down specific routes and for a short period of time, we honestly didn’t know if Bridgette would be able to come home. We weren’t terribly worried though, as our worst case scenario was to have her stay put in the UK. We trusted the family that she was with, and knew they would take good care of her. More importantly, we have learned to entrust her safety and life in the hands of God, who can do way more than we ever could in protecting her.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
In the end, we didn’t have to change any flights at all and God brought Bridgette home on a near empty flight, right before all flights between the UK and US were cancelled and the Bay Area went on lockdown.
Once Bridgette returned home, our family (including Celine), abided to the new government regulated rules of sheltering at home. We only went out to buy groceries once or twice a week, but we did flex our muscles in our neighborhood daily, with activities like long boarding (one of many new skills learned during 2020!), biking, running, unicycling, sunset watching, and strolling. We cooked nearly every single meal at home, ambitiously trying all kinds of new recipes like Japanese fluffy pancakes, matcha macarons, ram-don (from the movie Parasite), and so much more. We picked up new skills that included hand lettering, guitar (Bridgette), and gardening. With no ability to venture anywhere, or to meet up with friends and family, the four of us kept our spirits high by finding fun things to do at home, such as playing mahjong and board games, baking incessantly, cozying up for movie nights, and having deep and meaningful conversations.
April 2020–The state of the world remained grim, with COVID death tolls breaking record every day. No real hope of overcoming this pandemic seemed to be on the horizon, as we paid close attention to the news at all times. Despite the dark outlook, we did our best to stay optimistic through prayers and family time. The cooking marathon at home continued, with our stovetop and oven both working on overdrive everyday. We loved meal times together though, and looked forward to gathering at the dinner table 3-4 times a day, because mid-day snack time became a regular thing for us. To work off all that food, Celine introduced us to Blogilates, a Youtube workout routine that we tried hard to follow everyday.
Grocery shopping became both an exciting and stressful event for me each week. It was exciting because it actually allowed me to be in a public space amongst other people, something that we just did not get anymore since having to shelter in place. It was stressful because there were always long lines to get into the stores (due to the reduced capacity and the need to stay 6′ apart), and often times, I found myself staring at empty shelves once I entered. Staple items like toilet paper, bread, pasta, etc. were always high in demand and short in supply. Finding available supplies for those items was like winning the lottery!
Weekends didn’t feel any different than weekdays, but we did develop a special routine that we loved. On either Saturday or Sunday, we would bike together to get our favorite boba drinks. We started off biking around 12-15 miles, but eventually upped that to our record of nearly 30 miles! Talk about discovering strength and endurance that we never knew we had!
One really fun project we did was creating an obstacle course right outside our house along the lagoon, using chalk. We had such a great time creating and doing the obstacle course ourselves, but what we loved most was watching how it brought joy to others during an otherwise scary and turbulent time.
May 2020–We stayed in touch with family and friends via zoom calls and FaceTime. Even with my parents in the Bay Area, we weren’t able to gather with them at all. Once a week, I would drop off groceries and some special treats to them, chatting briefly 10′ apart with our masks on outside their garage. What a strange, strange time it was, that to protect our loved ones meant to stay away from them.
Restrictions in the Bay Area loosened up every so slightly, allowing us to celebrate Mother’s Day with a picnic in San Francisco. By the end of the month, we finally got to see some of our friends, but kept it to biking outdoors together only. We also dedicated more time to finding volunteer opportunities around the Bay Area to help others, and really enjoyed serving with Menlo Church and San Francisco Food Bank.
Spending so much time at home motivated us to change out some of our furniture, including Bridgette’s bed and our backyard dining set, which kept Alan preoccupied for some time trying to keep up with all the furniture assembly work at home!
June to August 2020–Up until this point, we had remained hopeful that things would turnaround by summer and the Chuangs would continue their summer tradition of spending it in the Bay Area with us. But, when June rolled around, it was clear that this plan would prove to be impossible, given the incessant climb in COVID numbers in the U.S. and the quarantine requirements imposed in Hong Kong. It was devastating, to say the least, that we wouldn’t be able to spend our summer together, but we had to trust in God’s plans. Fortunately, the restrictions in the Bay Area for COVID loosened a bit, and we were at least able to gather with a few selected families throughout the summer. Bridgette also got to bike around the neighborhood with one of her besties, Anita, while also meeting some new friends as well.
The newly loosened restrictions allowed us to dine in at restaurants again, but we still limited our exposure in the public to be safe. We brought my in laws to have dim sum at Harborview Restaurant in San Francisco, where they had a very safe and socially distanced set up. We also took a day trip to Napa for Father’s Day to celebrate Alan, and indulged in a sumptuous meal at Valette.
Our days were still mostly spent at home, with regular outings around our neighborhood that consisted of bike rides, light strolls, and chasing after the ice cream truck. Hearing the familiar jingle of the truck would bring Celine, Bridgette and I such joy as we dropped whatever we were doing to take an ice cream break together. Weekends were often spent catching up on precious time with my cousins and a handful of friends that were in our “social bubble.” We found ourselves focusing a lot on outdoor activities, such as backyard BBQs, hikes, and picnics. How ironic that it took a global pandemic for us to pursue a much healthier lifestyle!
Farmer’s Markets resumed, enabling us to satisfy our summer craving of sweet peaches and nectarines. Our movie nights at home became focused on learning more about racial injustices through extraordinary documentaries such as When They See Us and Just Mercy. Celine and Bridgette also binged and bonded over Anime series like Haikyuu and Violet Evergarden, leaving them in either unstoppable laughter or incontrollable tears. As for me, I binged on reading big time, sometimes finishing one book a day, and it felt sooooo good to revert back to one of my favorite hobbies.
Other notable events included my attempt at gardening, rewarding us with an abundance of fresh herbs for our continual meals at home. Bridgette and her bestie Anita also found a way to continue their sleepovers, COVID-style….by camping in separate tents outside our backyard! One particularly memorable sleepover had them finding themselves being awakened in the middle of the night to a thunderstorm, drenching their tents, lol. We also began babysitting my niece, Maddison, once a week, where we spend our time together baking, building forts, gardening, and playing make believe games.