Collective loneliness

Nguyen Trung Anh
Department of Chinese as a Second Language


The year was 2021. The pandemic had been taking its toll on citizens around the globe. Taiwan was no exception: with rising case numbers, medical equipment shortages, closing business and strict social distancing rules… In May, people could only go to the supermarkets on certain days, based on their ID number’s last digit. Worried faces hid behind masks in the long queues.

There I was. I would go every Tuesday and Saturday. As I perused the aisles, I would hope that the fruits and vegetables I desired were still in stock. After the check out, it was straight back to my dormitory. The neighborhood was a ghost town these days. People avoided contact as much as possible, life felt so distant because of “the new norm”. A gloomy atmosphere pervaded across all of society.

In tough times, normal activities that were taken for granted suddenly became so precious. Sitting in front of my computer every day, I longed for my classroom where I could approach my professors with questions. I longed to catch up with friends and wander around the lively campus. Whilst cooking bland meals, I missed the variety of delicious foods I had previously experienced in Taiwan. I was bewildered and confused. I had to adapt to this repetitive norm.

One day, my friend invited me to meet with some classmates online. We discussed movies and the tribulations of life in the pandemic. Towards the end, one boy said it was such a pleasure to have this meeting since he was missing his normal life too and this meeting had given him a sense of normality. He went on to say how he had plenty of spare time but didn’t know what to do – like the rest of us. I quickly realized the one important thing that was lacking in this lifestyle of ours was face to face human interaction. Although the meeting was brief and casual, it gave us a place to talk about what we love and miss. Moreover, we were experiencing the same issue. We discovered we all shared similar feelings in the face of this change to our daily lives. So, at the end of it all, we were not alone despite not seeing each other physically. In the following days, we had a few more meetings to stay in touch. We were all in this new norm together: Collective loneliness.

During nearly two months of strict social distancing, from being a lonely person, I have learned to share and care for those who are around me more. All it takes is a phone call or a text message to reach out to our loved ones. At some points in our lives, we would be alone, but not lonely.