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  • Writer's pictureSheryl

The daily grind : Life as an architectural intern in Singapore (pre-Covid)

1 April 2020 // Singapore

My 6-month internship is over. What the heck?? Here's a peaceful Sunday to write a journal entry on the daily grind (pre-Covid) told through shadows.

'After this internship, I'm gonna go explore Singapore, and cafe-hopping on weekdays when there are no crowds!', was what I originally had in mind.

Never in my wildest imagination, did I think that my internship would end with a pandemic. But this incident has really taught me to be grateful for everything I have, and make this experience even more bittersweet.

It was a month of boredom: when listless, lazy days blended together in blurred memory. I was so excited to start this new leg of life in a new city to explore, no less.

I flew in on a Monday, just on time for my visa appointment in town. And with no SIM card and Google Maps to guide me, I (being such a genius) forgot to check the bus schedules beforehand and got lost on the way home.

The next morning, I took a taxi (to be safe), and arrived, nervous, 45 minutes ahead of time. So I waited. Man, it was hot. And humid. It was rare of my fringe to act the way I'd wanted it to act, but to my great dismay, it had started sticking to my forehead. I silently hoped that at the very least, my carefully done makeup would stay in place.

People started flooding in at 9am. I was assigned to help a colleague with an art gallery project happening that very weekend. I remember my relief when the team of around 20 people (just enough for my introverted self to handle) were all friendly to me. And quite a few of them were around my age (even though I was secretly happy to be the youngest). We all went for lunch as a whole- as I got to know everyone a little better. I thought : wow, everyone eats together- that's great! But after that, the usual hustle got in the way- and I realised that that was a rare moment that almost the entire office ate together.

That day, my competitive side had kicked in and I wanted to stand out from the many interns this company had seen. This was a chance for me to prove to everyone, and to myself, that I was still capable in some way, with some artistic inkling, however deep it was buried. In the blink of an eye, it was 7pm when I packed up, dazed that Day 1 was over. I took the MRT home, then a bus, and got lost. Again. But aha! This time, I remembered to turn on Google Maps in the office. Armed with the satellite services, I walked all the way home.


- Morning -

The first day is always the most poignant, isn't it?

Then everything just blurs into a flurry of projects, submissions, deadlines.

Other than the first and last morning there, everything else pretty much felt the same. Other than the fact that I used to wake up at 7.15am, which slowly became 7.48am. My 30-minute morning routine became a 15-minute one. Then I would rush through my daily bowl of granola, before speed walking to the bus stop in hopes of catching Bus 70 (a direct bus to work) so that I could read for the whole 45-minute journey without breaking a sweat. Plus, it was so much more pleasing to be able to stare out the window, sightsee as I dream. Rather that being packed like a bao in a little carriage, not knowing where to look.

Of course, there were exceptions. I would take the MRT if I had a deadline to rush (and unfortunately, arrive sweaty and disgusting). Or that one time a torrential rain left me stuck at home to the very last minute. Thank god for the genius of raincoats- I, a walking plastic bag, managed to make my way to the bus stop COMPLETELY DRY. What a feat.

Upon arrival, the next 2 big questions come: Shall I have tea or coffee today? And where shall I get thus refreshment? Wow. In the light of the Covid-19 outbreak, I'm embarrassed to recall just how shallow my daily concerns were. Amazing how much life can change in a single second.

But fun fact! This photo was actually taken that one Friday when I decided to splurge a bit on breakfast and treat myself to a latte and cinnamon roll from a cafe on the way to work. A cafe that the bus passes almost every morning. I finally got my ass off to try it after being tempted by Instagram and raving reviews.


- Mid - Morning -

I'm a morning person.

I try to get as much done as possible before lunch before the brain just switches off. Hence, I usually stay glued to my screen until mid-morning- when my water bottle needs a refill, when my bladder starts screaming at me. And when my stomach growls for the fruits I bring to work. And in that break, with a cheeky smile (if we had no submissions to rush that day), my usual lunch buddy colleague's WhatsApp contact rings the question of the day : 'Eh, what do you want to have for lunch today?'

This picture was a bittersweet one though. It was my second last week there, when the Covid cases in Singapore had been rising in an alarming rate. My boss had called an office meeting: to lay out the possible changes to the way the office would operate. I recall with slight wistfulness, how I had longed for the internship to end with the camaraderie of Day 1. But with these unforeseen circumstances, lunch became a staggered, solo affair. And the office was split to two levels to minimise social contact as much as possible. Odd, for someone who enjoys eating alone on her own schedule since university, that I would crave such a thing. Guess we only yearn for the things we take for granted every day when it is out of reach.


- Afternoons -

The worst.

The brain would switch off; the lazy cells would swarm my being. And coffee, alas that dear caffeinated drink would be of no effect. And it was HOT. So very hot.

There was a cycle: from around 2pm to 4.30pm, it was this sticky torture of trying to get the sluggish brain moving. Then production picks up again at around 5.30pm. That's when the fog clears, my spine snapped back up, that drunken drawl gone. Sometimes, it was a happy 'wow, what a productive day!' scenario. Occasionally, it was dismay that woke me up : of the pile of tasks yet to be completed before the day ended.

I remember the afternoon I took this picture : it was boiling hot, I was internally groaning from a headache, and in that haze my brain went : 'Ooh! Nice shadow! Snap that gurl!'


- Evenings -

If there were no outstanding tasks or deadlines to rush, work would end at 6.30pm. But that particular day, I stayed a tad longer to chat.

It was my last day, and for once, I was dreading the 6.30pm mark. Pictured above is a gift from a colleague: her favourite Muji pen, an extremely cute masking tape roller, and a handwritten note. A note that till now, I am reluctant to unroll, as to preserve the memory in a way. I was touched. And this was amongst a few other gifts: a handmade leather cardholder one colleague made for everyone, a book of local poems, the occasional cups of coffee. But most of all, the memories and the many, many things I've learned on this journey.

When prompted by my supervisor at the end of this journey,

'So WHAT, did you learn?'

I found it especially hard to answer.

I was not given personal tutorials or software crash courses as I had in university, but I felt like I had gleaned so much more in these 6 months than I had in the past 3 years. I did pick up some editing skills, drawing skills, rendering skills here and there. I've had to do quick tutorials and asked questions until I was certain I knew what I was doing. But what I truly learned, was how to work and interact with people. That in the real working scene, no projects are accomplished alone. I learned how to manage stress; to realise that it was all a team project- that the workload would be distributed in accordance to everyone's skill set. I learned how to manage my time properly and prioritise, seeing that my usual last-minute submission sprints would not be feasible in the sustenance of life. And also, like in university, answers have to be sought out on my own through trial and error. And more importantly, to banish the mindset that everything would play out 'perfectly' as it would in my mind. Because it would never. So the best course of action was to just literally, go for it. My tutors kept saying that in university and I never quite got it until now.

One afternoon, on a lunch stroll, my colleague casually mentioned:

"Hey, you've gotten more confident in your work."

That really hit me. I began to realise that designing was, well at least, 60% of the time, no longer me hammering desperately against a solid wall of stress. To my surprise and delight, a familiar, long-lost thrill ran through me as new ideas started dancing around my head, crafting new narratives, bringing about more parameters to think about, and the iterations that followed to address said issues. And the secret ingredient to coax out creativity: self-confidence. The belief that no matter how stupid I thought my ideas were, they were still ideas. And that all opinions are valid, as long as you are able to confidently voice it.

In complete honesty, this internship did not, in any way, make my path as a creator anymore clear. Is architecture my life passion? Hmm we'll see. But it did made me realise that everybody has value, as long as you are confident and brave enough to dig that little spark out, and work hard. And it sure as hell motivated me more than ever to pursue the magic of imagination that I lost somewhere along the way, along with the reasons I love art and stories in the first place. So yeah, I am glad that this leg of my life is over, and that I now have some time on my hands to work on improving myself, as well as all the personal projects I have always wanted to do.

But at the end of the day, it was an experience I am very grateful for. And, like always, the ending is bittersweet.

At that familiar junction where I wait for the green light to head to the MRT station, there were instances when I waited in the dark, tired from a long day at work. Or deep in thought. Sometimes, it was the excitement for lunch. But the memories tied to this junction was usually that of dusk with a conversation, sometimes ending with : "Man, I can't wait for the weekend", or "Ya, ya, see you tomorrow." That evening was particularly quiet, save the sound of the usual traffic. And when the light turned green, with a sense of forlorn farewell, ended with : "Hey take care ya. Stay safe and healthy."

Stay Safe!

- Sheryl

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