Dec. 30, 2020

hey Christmas, bye 2020.

hey Christmas, bye 2020.

In this final episode of 2020, Ezra calls up a friend and finds out how the coronavirus affected his Christmas plans.

Bio

Johanan Sen has worked across the fields of strategic consulting, data-driven marketing, creative advertising, service design and product development. Currently, he is the Head Strategy Monk at MediaMonks SEA.

Episode Structure

  • 1:13 - Introducing Joe 
  • 2:52 - The calendar event they look forward to the most 
  • 3:35 - Keeping traditions during Christmas 
  • 5:53 - Spending the holidays apart: “You’re not flying back” 
  • 11:15 - Getting seats at church like they be Ed Sheeran tickets 
  • 13:28 - Russell Curtis performing Silent Night 
  • 16:01 - Joe’s message to his family (and to all of us?!) 
  • 19:13 - Credits 

Joe’s Christmas Recommendation

Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special (Apple TV)

Russell Curtis and more of his music can be discovered on Spotify and YouTube

 

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Transcript

Note: The Ezra Zaid Project is proudly produced by a crack team of audiophiles and the best way to enjoy it is to listen to it. This allows for greater nuance and emphasis that sometimes may not translate as well to the written transcripts that are available to download for each episode. It would be best to cross check the corresponding audio, before quoting us in print.

 

Hey there, Ezra here, I'm recording this right now after a restful and quiet Christmas weekend. There's been food, small gatherings, the weather has been hot yet pouring with rain. And actually, I love this time of the year. And almost like clockwork, there is the sense that maybe we can put the year behind us. In this case, it's 2020. But the past 12 months have taken a lot out of us. I mean, I can only speak for myself. And we've had to give back in ways in which we know how. We’ve spent a lot of time at home, learning new skills, new rituals, and letting go of much of that we can't control. And that's what I wanted to reflect on just a little bit for this final 2020 episode with an old friend of mine.

 

EZRA

You want to do like a filler episode, but I don't have the back catalogue. Enough. So-

 

JOHANAN SEN

Wait, hold up, are you trying to suggest I'm filler? 

 

EZRA

No-

 

(laugh) 

 

JOHANAN SEN

Cuz listen bitch, I’m thriller, I don't know why you- 

 

EZRA

You are all killer, no filler. Let's-let's get that-let's get this straight. So for what I'm trying to do is, I’m trying to-

 

Just before the festivities, I’d gotten a call with Johanan Sen, I call him Joe. He works in Singapore now, settled himself into a new job. And it's been more than a year since we last caught up virtually or in person. 

 

JOHANAN SEN

This is the first company I've ever worked for that doesn't give you the last week of the year off. So I took it off-the 28th, 29th, 30th. But they did give us the 24th off, which is not a public holiday and the 31st off, which is not a public holiday. So, tomorrow is my last day in the office, which has just made everything crazier. And everyone [is] just a little bit more nuts about catching me, so I got meetings that go all the way to midnight.

 

EZRA  

You do have another meeting after me. 

 

JOHANAN SEN

Yaas. 

 

EZRA

The premise of this-this was so that I was your last one.

 

JOHANAN SEN

I'll cancel it if you want. 

 

(laughs)

 

EZRA

No, no, no. Don’t. but I wanted-

 

JOHANAN SEN

No, it's the timezone thing. 

 

EZRA

I wanted it to be the wind down.

 

JOHANAN SEN

So, the time zones are insane and then you try to catch everyone. So usually I try to stagger them out. So if I have, like, really late nights, I try to start later in the morning, or whatever have you. But yes, I-you could question my life choices.

 

(wheeze)

 

For Joe, Christmas is the event on his family calendar for his dad, Ronald, and his mom Rojeanne, it's the thing that they look forward to the most.

 

JOHANAN SEN

Yeah, so I think it's just more defining home, is when we're together, right. So, there are certain traditions that run from Christmas to New Year. So, the meals are important. Movie watching is important. You know, and the movies we watch-which have evolved over time. But, you know.

 

EZRA

What are some of the traditions surrounding the meal? 

 

JOHANAN SEN

Oh, so I think it's more just being together as a unit, but it's cuz-I love you, Mom, you're a terrible cook. And so is my dad, they’re absolutely atrocious. So, I mean, there are certain dishes that I would like to say we-you know, we try our best to repeat. So there are certain things where there will be a Christmas cake, there will be mince pies. Um, I think we used to try to do turkey every year up until my late 20s. And then at some point, I think we had a conversation like, “Do you like Turkey? Because I do not like Turkey.” “I don't like turkey.” So we stopped. Like, we're gonna eat what we want to eat. Um, waking up Boxing Day and then being the first one to punch the other on the arm. It's a tradition, look it up. And just being in each other's company. So I think you're right. With the larger thing-it-it's about, you know, organizing stuff and everything else. But by the end of Christmas Day, it's just about being able to relax around each other.

 

Because of COVID lockdown measures and quarantine, Joe knew Christmas was going to be different this year. It also meant having that conversation with his folks, about not making it home for the holidays.

 

JOHANAN SEN

So you know, my mom's kind of, you know, like a badass. Oh, I should not say that. I'm sorry. My mom kicks butt, okay. To anybody, that she is. So basically, um, when they announced the lockdown from November and that it will only be lifted December 6. So my plan was, if they didn't reduce that two week quarantine period, I was going to go back to KL, like, first week of December. Get quarantine, work remotely from quarantine. I got the list of hotels from the consulate or whatever. I saw the amount of ibises that were on there. And I'm like “Eh, Changkat Bukit Bintang 2 star.” I don't know. But I was like, I was gonna raid it, okay. ‘Cuz I'm not even like-you pick! You know. It's like, you get on a bus at KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), and then you know, you just see lah, kalau untung (if you’re lucky) or you know, kalah (defeated). But it's just, it was really kind of depressing. But I thought, Okay, I'm going to do that. But you know what? Second lock down, my mom gave me this call, and she's like, okay, I don't want you coming home. I'm having nightmares about it. So I'm going to stay on the line and you're going to book a staycation.

 

EZRA

Sorry, because you can't make it back home. Your mom is insistent- 

 

JOHANAN SEN

That was her insurance policy that I wouldn't try to make it back home. So she was like, “Wait, you're not doing this.” And so, that was the moment it hit me. I was busy with work. It was like, I think-I can’t remember when they announced it now. But it was the day they announced it, she just called me and said, “I'm not having it. You're not flying back. So you're going to figure out a staycation in Singapore, and you’re gonna spend Christmas in Singapore, and I want to make sure you have a good one.” And it was just like, “Okay, but can I just try-” “No, I'm not arguing with you, we’re just doing this on the phone.” So I made a booking, you know, and-but after I got off the phone with her, that's when it hit me. Oh, geez. And I think it's the first time in at least 15 years, I won't be spending Christmas with family. So that was a really harsh realization that sort of hit me like a ton of bricks when I hung up the phone. And it felt really sort of, you know-and then I remembered, I forgot to check if the hotel had a bathtub.

 

(laugh)

 

EZRA 

But it also sounds like I think by the time your mom spoke to you, and had that conversation about how Christmas was gonna play out this year, I think she had already gone through that process already. 

 

JOHANAN SEN

She had-she had. And what's funny was though, she didn't have that conversation with my dad. Because he heard that on the phone was like “WHAT!” And it was a cute moment. But then he was on board with it. I think they were both really nervous about me commuting, they were really nervous about the commute.

 

EZRA

List out-from what you explicitly, implicitly understand about what your parents concerns were. 

 

JOHANAN SEN

 

  • The quarantine, they didn't think it would be that great.
  • The stress along with work and everything else that’s going on, new job and everything else then trying to work from quarantine. Which some of my colleagues have done, it’s not so bad. 
  • And two-no three. Can't even count no more. It was-sorry, three, it was a-I think it was genuinely me picking up the virus, whether that's on the plane, whether that's in quarantine or anything else. 

 

And it's not a rational fear. Um, but you feel it. And actually tonight, just three hours before we’re speaking of recording this, I found out that there was a COVID case in their building. Now, I understand why she made that call, because I-freaking out-it's like in the other end of the condo. But I was like, “Close your windows!” It's you know, it's-they're both over 70, and my dad had heart surgery a few years ago, so I am so petrified and scared. And I'm like, “Avoid the balconies!” You know, don't you know, but there is a COVID case in that building. And I was just like, “That is insane. Is that person going to a hospital or something?” But no, I think it's a stay home notice. And so, yeah. 

 

EZRA

I haven't seen your parents in a while. But I-you know-you-you're right. They are more elderly in that regard. And how have they been dealing with, I guess, just the-the magnitude of COVID? Because it sounds like you know, your mom and dad are so forward thinking in managing circumstances or has it been a little bit tricky? 

 

JOHANAN SEN

No. So I… I think we talked about this. But I had a bit of a scare back in Feb-March, early March. And I was keenly more aware of the whole thing. But before the lockdown-the first lockdown even went into place, I asked them to not go out. So back in the last week of February, I was saying, “Guys, can you-can you just stay home?” And so, I think a full week or two weeks before KL went into lock down. I was like “I prefer you to stay home.” And that was when the supermarkets were opening an hour early for elderly folk and everything else. They were about to go out to that. And I said “Just can you please? Just for my peace of mind.” So aside from one trip to a dentist, which my dad had to go to, they've been in the house since February. Right? They haven't left, right? My mom goes down to like, get packages and stuff like that. And I have been doing online shopping for them like crazy. They're getting food delivery and everything else. I love the fact that it was I think, late last year when all of these grocery services started up. Right. It's kind of fortunate because I don't know what they'd be doing. They have a neighbor that's really friendly and she does some shopping for them and everyone understands because they're over 70 right. The guards find it funny that keeps getting packages from me.

 

(laugh)

 

But it's-I've debated going home or moving home and everything else. But then I realized, like, I would have to go out and work or I have to go out and do things, or I'd be worried about bringing it back with me. And there's this sort of-a bit of a thing there. But our joke right now is sort of like talking about how long it's been since we've hugged each other. Which is a little sad, but, you know, I sort of joke with him and was like, you know, I don't know what it is. I think it's parental neglect, like, “Why you don't hug me anymore, like what's going on?”

 

EZRA

Oh right. So you can slip in that family guilt as well. 

 

JOHANAN SEN

I'm Catholic, so that's what we do. No, they do the same. But we joke around about it. But it is hard. It is genuinely hard. And Christmas was kind of like that, you know, whatever happens, that's… we're making that happen. And so, when I got that call from her, I was just like, “Okay, okay, I'll just do this to make you happy.” But it really hit me that, oh, my God, this is kind of nuts. That we're not making this, you know, we're not making this happen.

 

Joe's family traditions weren't the only things that went on pause. Rituals, like going to church on Christmas Day, as a family. That had to change too.

 

JOHANAN SEN

The Archdiocese here and their online system would open up all of the seats for mass for Christmas mass for Christmas Eve, 24th and 25th. And then there was a glitch with the system and they had to postpone it. 

 

EZRA

Sorry, when you say open up seats- 

 

JOHANAN SEN

It's like Ed Sheeran concert tickets. It's like Ed Sheeran concert tickets. Okay, so, right now, right? Seats at Mass. I’m so happy people are praying in every religion, y'all in every religion, okay, pandemic time, call on God, but you have to you- so let's say the end of the month, the first 15 days of the month will open up and you need to go in and book. But the Christmas masses, they sort of left that off the system until it was supposed to be the 15th at 8am, 12pm and 3pm, they would stagger depending on the church, you would go- you were in, then they moved that to the 16th because of a technical glitch. So my- the church that I am registered to and you have to be registered to a church you can't just pick churches, it will only open seats to the one church that you're registered to. So my church was open for ticket sales, okay? Over proceeds on the noon, 12 noon, it went live 12:02 all seats were gone. And so on Wednesday, last week was the realization that I am again for the first time in like, I think, maybe 30 years not being able to go to church on Christmas, and I get it man, but at the same time, you know that it's there to keep people safe. So, you kind of respect it, you suck it up and you take it in and you go, “Okay, so I was hoping to do that. But that's not gonna happen.” The same with the trip home, right? My parents haven't been to mass since they renewed their vows in January during their anniversary. Right? 

 

EZRA

Wow. 

 

JOHANAN SEN

So they, you know, they haven't, they haven't had communion. And that's an important thing. If you're Catholic, you know, um, so I think  that was a bit of a deal. You know, you find new ways of practicing. I think every faith, every religion is done that and you find new ways of connecting.

 

(music)

 

JOHANAN SEN 

I was angry. I was angry. Okay, when I couldn't get two minutes, two minutes, I couldn't get into the I'm like Ed Sheeran sold out in 12 minutes Christmas mass went out in two.

 

EZRA   

So at the moment, when do you think you're actually going to be able to come back and see your folks? 

 

JOHANAN SEN  

I have not made plans. I have absolutely no clue when that's going to be a possibility. So I'm really hoping that I can be there for the anniversary again. Then the next milestone would be my birthday than my dad's birthday. And then we'll see but I have no clue. I think. There were so many plans that have fallen through I think I'm in the frame of mind where I think the moment the opportunity opens up, there'll be a nice surprise, but I'm not gonna sort of put that milestone there because Christmas was it for me. And so adjusting to that below, I think was a bit much so I don't want to create another, you know, um, deadline or drop date where I go, Aw man, I'm not making it out today. I think you evaluate what's important to you. And I think that's the silver lining in a way. And you won't take those things for granted.

 

EZRA  

One would assume that your parents are already fans of the Ezra Zaid Project. But should they listen to this recording at some point in the future? 

 

JOHANAN SEN

So you joke, but it just occurred to me that my mom does stream it and so I just, you know, I've just had to hack her phone.

 

EZRA

No, she does not. She's not listening to my podcast yet. 

 

JOHANAN SEN

Duuude, she's been following your case. She's been following everything. You know, she's a fan of your dad. You know, my parents are fans of your dad. So they follow you around.

 

EZRA

Your parents are the best.

 

JOHANAN SEN

Yes. It's like Natalie Cole gets Nat King Cole's fans. I'm just telling you. 

 

EZRA

So, there's a crossover?

 

JOHANAN SEN

There is a crossover. Okay. Um, but no, so yeah, they. Yeah, I love them. I wish I was in KL this season. Um, but I completely get it. I think it's a hard time to be away. But at times, you know, it's the responsible thing to be away. And, and you do what needs to be done to keep everyone safe during this period. There are sacrifices you have to make that will surprise you. But you make them because you know, you can. And you make smart choices during this period. So even when you're seeing friends, and even when you're hanging out, you know, you do the responsible thing to the best of your ability. Because this is not something to mess with. This is not a joke. And I think, you know, I'm worried about us being lulled into a sense of false security, because the numbers are so great in Singapore now. And going into the season. I think that's the thing that's worrying me. I think our antibodies push back when we, you know, when we're sick and we fight viruses, I think in a strange way this virus is its own form of antibody. We've become really harmful to the environment we live in. Oh my god, do I sound like a Greenpeace person? No, I never thought but when you were seeing you know, like dolphins in Venice and you know, the, you know, skyline in Mumbai for the first time you were like, oh, maybe we should all stay home. 

 

EZRA

Maybe we should take a pause right? 

 

JOHANAN SEN

Yes. And especially when you are working a career that is not considered an essential service. Let that check your ego. You know, let that check your ego and think about what it is you're doing, what you're contributing, but no child please I work in advertising. Lord knows my life is not noble. it's a wage, but it's you know, you reevaluate a lot of what's going on and I think that third strain you know, we're not done with it yet. There's so much that's going on that that actually makes me really nervous and it's difficult to think about so you put it out of your mind you watch the Mariah Carey Christmas special.

 

EZRA  

Have you read the autobiography? 

 

JOHANAN SEN

Child please, week one. 

 

EZRA

Come on. Get in there.

 

JOHANAN SEN

Ezra knows this is the corniest thing about me is that I am full blown Mariah fan. Everything else you know was sold and I think I have a pretty decent taste in music. 

 

EZRA

Oh, the catalog is- There's a wide spectrum you know. 

 

JOHANAN SEN

But Mariah is just prolific and amazing and still a talent, still a talent.

 

(music)

 

My thanks to Johanan Sen. His parents Ronald and Rojeanne, they are both safe and well.

 

The Ezra Zaid Project is made by me, Ezra Zaid. I host, produce and edit the show. Our team includes Raissa Nadine, Asper Goh, Sabrina Yusof, Rahmah Pauzi, Melati Kamaruddin and Chun Saw.

 

This episode was mixed and mastered by Meelz. Silent Night was performed and recorded by Russell Curtis. Additional music for this episode is provided by Blue dot sessions.

 

Drop us a note on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our handle is @projectezrazaid and if you'd like to listen to our previous episodes, head over to ezrazaid.com or however you listen to podcasts.

 

And if you're listening to this before the new year, we'll be taking a short hiatus. New episodes resume on January 14, 2021. Be safe. We'll see you then.