Novel Hopes

By Ng Jun Heng, Rayson


The first and last sentences of this essay are taken from the first line of the famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, a story about two cities during the tumultuous environment of the French Revolution. The coronavirus has had a similarly tumultuous impact on modern society hitherto unseen and during such times, not knowing what to expect can be frightening. However, that is precisely why, now, more than ever, when faced with novel threats that bring us novel troubles, it is crucial for us to find novel ways to gain hope, so that we may sail through this storm as best we can. No one knows for sure what will follow, but the following personal essay is my perspective of how society has been impacted by the virus, and how we can find hope amid it.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.


Half a year ago, virtually no one knew this word existed. Now, it’s everywhere, literally.

The pandemic has pervaded many aspects of our lives, changing the way society functions and some of these changes — as unsettling or unfamiliar as they seem — are here to stay.

I’m Rayson Ng, a seventeen year-old, and I will be sharing with you my perspective of the pandemic’s reverberations and how we can find hope, even in the most trying of times.

On a personal level, the virus has opened my eyes, like many others, to the unfathomed possibility of remote work and schooling. The virus had provided the largest experiment for online tools like Google Suite and Zoom. Our relationship with the physical workplace will be enduringly redefined, for better or worse. Some people rejoice in the heightened flexibility and productivity, while others are not as lucky.

For one, not everyone has equal access to technology. I have several classmates who lack printers to print their notes and worksheets. For two, some individuals are simply not as acquainted with technology. During the first few weeks of working from home, my mum rose at seven and worked till she slept at eleven. Watching her, hunched over in front of a computer screen, frantically clacking away on a keyboard while mustering her sunniest disposition as she spoke to clients over a headset was heartbreakingly guttering. Hampered by poor internet bandwidth, vexed by vague electronic communications and disoriented by the blurring lines between work and leisure time; there are many others out there, just like my mother, who are struggling to adjust to this novel realm of working.

In my country, Singapore, the number of the infections belonging to migrant workers dwarf that of the general population. The virus exposed how appallingly deplorable the living conditions of Singapore’s migrant workers were. In New York and Barcelona, low-income neighbourhoods were disproportionately affected by the virus, as many of them were uninsured or had lost their service jobs. To quote a Kenyan taxi-driver, ‘The virus will starve us before it makes us sick.’ To me, the virus has shone a glaring spotlight on and exacerbated the iniquitous inequalities that cleave many societies today.

According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, including indiscriminate healthcare and housing. Yet, our policies and legislations have never fully championed it. This moment of crisis, challenging as it is, should jolt us into changing that.

Naturally, the virus has brought about unprecedented economic devastation. As airports, factories, dining and entertainment outlets close, many struggle to put food on the table. Beyond rudimentary figures like plunging oil prices, we must take a more introspective look at the aftermath of the financial ruin. Financial stresses, coupled with being helplessly confined within our apartments, can be a major source of physical and mental health issues. When even the security of our day-to-day essentials is stripped away from us, what hope is left that we could possibly find?

Personally, I believe that when the outside world is filled with such unrest and uncertainty, we can find hope by looking inside, within our hearts.

As cliché as practicing gratitude may sound, it can make us more hopeful. Sometimes, the goodness in our lives is obscured by dreary circumstances, and so it can be difficult to find hope. With gratitude, we can better acknowledge the goodness in their lives. Thinking about all that we are grateful for puts things in a fresh and merrier perspective, which naturally makes us more hopeful. I, for one, am thankful that I still have access to delicious food and many entertainment options in my house, a luxury which not everyone may have. During this period of lockdown, we can practice gratitude by penning down three to five things we are grateful for in a journal everyday.

While we are cooped up in our homes, feeling hopeless as the pandemic exacerbates, it is often easy to lose our will to do things. Visualising a better future will help restore that willpower. Our vision must inspire and rouse us to action no matter what obstacles surface. When we feel negative emotions arise, instead of judging and dwelling on them in the present (where we are generally powerless to stop them), we can and should shift our attention to the future. Each time we think about our visions, we will feel a surge in hope. For example, my vision is graduating from my junior college, turning eighteen and entering a new phase of my life. What’s yours?

Recently, I try to help out my mum as much as possible by running errands, so as to alleviate some of the stress that she is feeling from working so tirelessly. I believe that acts of kindness can go a long way in helping us find hope and I encourage all who read this to do so. How can we start? Why not try paying for the delivery of groceries or food to a friend’s house? It will surely delight them! Better yet, donate to a charity that provides daily necessities to those in need!

The virus has rendered many individuals in need of aid, and whenever there is a human in need, there is an opportunity for kindness and to make a difference. You feel good and so does the person receiving your kind gesture. Acts of kindness, big or small, nurtures hope in both the receiver and the giver, because kindness reinforces our faith in the goodness of one another.

Like a ship sailing in a rough and stormy sea, our current circumstances might be dreadfully unpromising. However, somewhere out there is a beacon of hope — a lighthouse — signalling us towards a brighter future. All we need to do is look.

It was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope.

About the author:

Rayson Ng is a 18-year old Science student in Victoria Junior College, Singapore. Rayson spends his free time pouring over Marvel comics and gorging on romantic comedies and thrillers. With a blazing passion for the written word, Rayson has a soft spot for mystery and romance novels and dabbles in creative writing, and hopes that his writing might one day positively influence and spark joy in others!

About The Author

Co-President, Harvard Tech Review

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