Covid / Open Call

Nothing is Wasted

by Sit Weng San

Every evening at about 7.30pm for the past nine days, I would bring out a plastic bag filled with orange peels, leftover rice and three sets of disposable cardboard containers. These, I would leave at the door of room #1908, my residence for the 14-day SHN (Stay Home Notice) at the rather luxurious hotel that I was immediately transported to after my 18-hour flight from Los Angeles.

After knowing that I would be confined in a room for 14 days alone, I was curious about how my physical and mental state will be. Will I be bored? I was guessing probably not, since I have difficulty taming my mind; my monkey mind somehow manages to self-entertain, for better or for worse. And I was spot on. Will I miss fresh air? I was not sure, but in fact I did! I toyed with the idea of bringing back bottled fresh air for the remaining four days when I go out of the swab test briefly tomorrow. Will I feel anxiety? I was mostly at peace, except for some moments of anxiety and fear.

My 3-tier compost bin.

One thing that I did not expect to feel while in quarantine, was this overwhelming urge to collect all paper packaging and fruit peel to make a compost pile. Visualising all those peels from the watermelon and honeydew that were served to us daily, I imagined this glorious beautiful pile of fresh smelling soil…the inability to execute it brought about some discomfort. This was not expected because, after all, I had only started composting six weeks ago and habits for me, usually take root only after a long time, and often after a few false starts. Quite quickly upon embarking on my composting endeavour, I found tremendous joy in dumpster diving; in retrieving half-decomposed dried leaves that my landlord threw away, in saving every bit of kitchen scrap which I would carefully, and lovingly cut up — like the rotting apple which had accidentally rolled to the back of the fridge; six and a half weeks ago, I would have picked it up with utmost disgust and thrown it into the trash instantly. Now, they are gold in my DIY compost bin. It is fascinating how this little addition in my life made me see the world differently, even if I am not certain that this pandemic-fueled passion would sustain itself. While still in LA, I was starting to stare longingly at fallen leaves and yard waste in my neighbor’s backyard during my walks, I look out for earthworms and if I was living along the busy streets of London, I may, like Charlotte Mendelson be ‘…not too proud to eye police-horse dung’. 

Composting is nothing new — nature has always done its job since the beginning of time. I had, however, only became more aware of it this time last year when I was back in Singapore; I had followed my friend, Vivian, to film Ang EP, an urban farmer who was watering stacks of plant trimmings that she collected, most of it from pruning a tree nearby. The idea that all these seemingly ugly, useless materials can be magically transformed into fresh, nourishing materials for my meagre pots of herbs and vegetables brings me comfort — that they do not exist in vain, nothing is wasted. 

Imaginary compost bin in Room 1908.

There is something healing about composting (and gardening of course), just like recycling life’s difficult moments and sufferings into raw materials for artwork, which was also something that came to my mind during this quarantine as I experienced moments of physical pain and anxiety arising from an assortment of health conditions. I tried to sit with those sensations and emotions, knowing that, like past challenges, the experience of enduring these discomfort and confronting my deep emotions will somehow see me emerge a fuller person. They become, like the rotting apple and torn-up cardboard, somewhat nourishing.

Now, back to making the compost pile in that fancy bathtub.

Weng San led many lives. She is currently an Artist (who can’t draw), Educator, Newbie gardener and hopefully livelong passionate, curious learner.