For the first time in two years, Malaysian Xie Ming Feng (30) was able to head back to Johor Bahru (JB) to be reunited with his family — just in time for Chinese New Year.
Ming Feng is glad to able to do so without burning a hole in his pocket, since November’s introduction of the Vaccinated Travel Lane means travellers no longer incur huge expenses from self-quarantining in a hotel upon arrival.
But the journey home was by no means easy: While there are approximately 850,000 Malaysians in Singapore, only 1000-2000 bus tickets are offered every day!
Not only is competition stiff for these tickets, travel regulations are also subjected to the ever-changing COVID-19 situation.
ALL I CAN DO IS PRAY
In Ming Feng’s case, he heard news that the VTL might be halted due to the increasing spread of the Omicron variant just one day before he wanted to buy the tickets.
“When I saw the news, I was so demoralised,” he shared. “I finally waited until the day I could buy the ticket only to hear that the VTL might be stopped!”
There was nothing Ming Feng could do but pray. So that was what he did.
That afternoon, the authorities decided to keep up the VTL — though the traveller quota would be cut by half.
Even though the chances of him getting a ticket were slim, Ming Feng knew he had to give it a shot.
Sure enough, there were so many people “camping” on the website the next day, that Ming Feng had to be put in a waiting room before finally being able to log into the system.
“I saw the last two tickets. But by the time I filled out all the information and tried to make payment, the tickets were fully sold,” he lamented. “500 plus tickets sold out in less than half an hour.
“I was super sad of course. But I just prayed to God.”
The next day, Ming Feng got into the system again after queuing for an hour.
Miraculously, after refreshing the page a few times, he actually saw a few tickets available for grabs. Quickly, he filled out the details and made payment successfully.
But the initial joy and relief soon ebbed away as Ming Feng started to worry that website had glitched and that his tickets would be invalid – which was something that had happened to some of his friends.
All Ming Feng could do was to pray and daily check to ensure his ticket number was still in the system.
Additionally, there was also some anxiety that he might catch COVID-19 in the days leading up to his departure, which would have rendered all his efforts futile.
Prayer was what Ming Feng held onto, trusting that God would see him through each step of the journey as He had done.
Indeed, Ming Feng’s prayers were answered as he stepped into Johor Bahru.
He could finally relax after successfully stepping onto “home ground”.
“When I entered the testing area, I saw my parents standing behind the glass panel, trying to find and see if I had already reached,” recounted Ming Feng.
The reunion would be an emotional one for Ming Feng, who said he was taken aback by just how much it meant to him to see his parents again.
YOU LEARN HOW TO BE GRATEFUL
These days, Ming Feng is back at home in JB catching up with family and friends as they anticipate Chinese New Year.
“I’m just going to eat whatever I want to eat, don’t care about calories!” said the usually diet-conscious 30-year-old with a laugh. “If I want to eat this, eat. If I want to eat that, eat.
“I don’t care about the price. Just eat!”
It’s a fun mindset that is a luxury for now, given that Ming Feng had made the difficult decision to hold on to his job in Singapore due to currency power and career progression.
It was a choice that came with its sacrifices to make. “I felt sad and lonely especially during festive seasons,” Ming Feng recalls.
“Last year, I had a lonely reunion dinner because I decided to stay home and eat alone.”
Though he is thankful for technology such that he can still receive video calls from his family, he found it painful to “stare at the video” of his parents and sister at reunion dinner back home in Malaysia.
“Thankfully, I have friends, colleagues and church members in Singapore I can spend time with,” he said. “But spending time with family is different.”
Ming Feng shared that living alone in Singapore revealed to him that he had taken for granted spending time with loved ones.
“Growing up, because you spend time with family and celebrate occasions together, you think it is normal that your family will always be there,” he said. “But now you realise it has become a luxury in the last two years.”
It’s a lesson he has taken to heart, making it a point to be grateful for the time he has to spend with his family.
“Before COVID, I was able to come back to Malaysia twice a month,” said Ming Feng. “During that time, traffic was really bad. Whenever you need to come back to Malaysia or go back to Singapore, you’re stuck in a traffic jam for two hours. It was frustrating.
“But now, if I can go back, even if takes me being stuck in the jam for five hours — I’m okay with that.”
Currently, Ming Feng is still unable to get a VTL ticket back to Singapore.
Which means that, as of right now, he will have to cut his visit short by a week to accommodate the quarantine period after coming back to Singapore.
Nevertheless, Ming Feng gives thanks to God that he is even able to return home and be with his family.
“When you can spend time with your parents and family and friends, don’t take it for granted.”
Indeed, the gift of home is especially precious since he knows many other Malaysians friends who want to head back home but cannot afford to.
“In the past, I sometimes had conflicts with my parents or siblings too easily,” he revealed. “But now I don’t want to have any quarrels with my parents or sister. When I’m here, I’ll just enjoy my time and not take anything for granted.”
Ming Feng concluded by emphasising the importance of treasuring the time we have with our loved ones: “When you can spend time with your parents and family and friends, don’t take it for granted.”
I’m taking that to heart as I head to reunion dinner. Happy Chinese New Year!
- Enjoying CNY or the public holidays?
- What is one thing you can give thanks to God for today?
- Say a prayer for Ming Feng, that he would be able to return back to Singapore via the VTL.