May 21, 2020
At home

Expats at home – South Australians chat from overseas vol.3

Take a trip around the world to check in with some South Australians living overseas to see how they're faring during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Writer Clare Howe (CS Howe) left Adelaide in 2018 to study in Spain and is currently “locked down” with her boyfriend in Barcelona.

Clare Howe, Spain

What’s the feeling like in Barcelona at the moment?
There’s sadness about the deaths, anger about the number of health workers who have been infected, fear (about the virus but also the economic situation/future) and a bit of confusion and frustration that the rest of Spain’s started the process of winding back lockdown this week, while here in Barcelona it continues. As I’m writing this, we are at day 61 and people are anxious to reopen the city, but at least we can now leave the house to exercise, which, in spring weather, after almost 50 days of not being allowed out, is pretty glorious. Our flat has small balconies but no rooftop so the lack of sun really got to us and it´s clear from the number of people exercising outdoors (we have to exercise at specific times) we weren’t alone.

How have you had to adapt in your role at work?
I’ve had to switch the English classes I give online, which has been challenging, for me and the students, they are young and I could see through the screen how the confinement was taking a toll on them, in their faces and behaviour. And it’s been cramped having me and my boyfriend working from home in the small flat – there’s nothing ergonomic about laptops and dining chairs! I’ve been looking for full time work, but of course there’s not much on offer. I started a lockdown blog which has helped fill the time.

How have you been spending your time away from work?
Eating and keeping tabs on the neighbours. Eating a lot! Not being able to get out affected my relationship, doing yoga via Zoom while with an unsympathetic boyfriend in the same room is not at all relaxing, but we’ve made it through the worst of it. A friend, who is a professor at Barcelona University, is giving a series of online lectures for friends on Spanish art and history, podcasts, a hilarious Zoom dance party/rave. That and reading – I’ve run out of English books and started reading in Spanish, which is slow going. 

Have you been connecting with family back here in SA?
Yes. Zoomed Mum and the family for Mother’s Day … although I organised it for Spanish Mother’s Day which is earlier and confused everyone, we still managed to “get together”.  And constant WhatsApp messaging with friends and family – it’s been hard for people at home too. Although I know a couple of SA introverts who are so calm and content they make me feel like I´m somehow failing isolation in comparison.  It’s great SA has done so well at keeping people safe.

 

Mark Drewniak, Japan

Mark Drewniak and his wife are spending their down time enjoying long walks around Tokyo.

Where do you live?
Central Tokyo

What’s the feeling like in Tokyo at the moment?
Even though the restrictions on activities in Japan aren’t as severe as in some other places, as I speak with my family, friends and colleagues here, I sense a general anxiety about moving too quickly back to “normal”, mostly out of concerns that we might see a spike in COVID-19 infections.

First of all, the lockdown saw schools, most restaurants, department stores, sporting facilities and non-essential retails services closing their doors. Nearly empty trains and planes continue to shuttle across the country. Many offices in Tokyo remain closed or operate on skeleton staff. Shopping streets shuttered. A sprinkle of restaurants resort to selling takeout lunches. A few remaining bars and izakayas, hungry for any business, call last orders at 7pm.
There is a universal view that families with young children are having the toughest time of it. Here the apartments are quite small. City living doesn’t afford the luxury of a back yard. Children fill the parks mid-afternoon. Parents under pressure have little choice.
Tele-work, as it’s known here, seems to be otherwise well accepted. Long-term office workers are actually enjoying the change in working conditions.
We did miss the hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties, cancelled this year due to the outbreak. Now that spring has fully sprung, it’s hard for anyone to avoid taking advantage of the best season of the year in Tokyo, to get outside for some fresh air, a stretch and long-awaited sunshine. So now the parks are becoming quite busy as adults too seek respite. Lots of fathers taking the opportunity to spend that extra bit of time with their kids.  Young couples taking romantic lunches.

What do you do for work and how have you had to adapt your role/way of working?
My most recent role is that of a law professor at an American university located in a university precinct just a train stop away from Shibuya. So, as you might expect, the area hosts a young and vibrant community. This past semester started on its usual footing with regular classes on campus. All that changed rapidly. Returning from mid-semester break, as the COVID-19 concerns accelerated, and about the same time that all the local schools were closed, my classes morphed into online interactive classes conducted on Zoom. Students logging in and me instructing a screen-full of students in an otherwise empty classroom. Two weeks later the bottom fell out of the bucket. All visiting international students were advised to return state-side. Staff were instructed not to come to the campus. Welcome to the world of tele-working instead. So then I found myself in the lounge room of my apartment recording video lectures that students would download and watch.
In all, I certainly do miss the live student interaction. The online Zoom/video classes worked quite well, however I do have some reservations as to the effectiveness of recorded lectures. It’s not clear how engaged students are, and providing class feedback to weekly assignments has required some quick rethinking.

How have you been spending your time away from work?
Long walks. The Prime Minister’s official instructions are that going out to the supermarket or for a jog is acceptable. So, my wife and I have taken on very long walks to supermarkets across town armed with the excuse of “picking up a few small items”.
It’s running weather which we’ve taken advantage of as well. Lighter pedestrian and vehicular traffic also has its benefits. Totally surprised how on Sundays, Ginza, the central upmarket shopping district, now resembles a ghost town. Good for running though.
I’m also spending time upgrading my home computer systems. Installing hardware as well as new software on my Mac and my wife’s PC. This also given me many excuses to ride my bike over to Akihabara, the electronics shopping hub of Tokyo, to pick up some bargain basement priced hardware that can be found in the backstreets. Some of the smaller electronics retailers are still open but the spruikers for the maid cafes almost seem to outnumber the pedestrians.

Have you been connecting with family back here in SA?
I’ve been based overseas a long time now, so, over the years, I have used a wide range of social media platforms to stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues around the world. Thankfully that technology is working and I’m constantly pinging away messages.
Recently, a few more of my Saturday evenings are finding me looking forward to “drinks on Skype” get-togethers with dear old friends from Adelaide. We’ve asked ourselves why we didn’t think of doing this before?
Looking forward for things to change soon. Given all the travel restrictions, there is very little chance of my making my way down to Adelaide just yet. A pity, as my daughter, living in Adelaide, is expecting and I’m due to be a grandfather for the first time at any tick of the clock.

 

Are you a South Australian overseas? Email your lockdown experiences to zoe@salife.com.au

 

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