SINGAPORE — For cruise ambassador Ivan Choong, 42, the past week has been the epitome of the old cliche that it never rains, but it pours.
On Monday (12 July), he was away at sea on the Dream Cruises ship World Dream when he learned that his mother-in-law had died in her sleep in Ilo Ilo, Philippines. "My wife Chelm had to deal with it on her own because I was on the ship. I couldn’t go home and comfort my wife," Choong told Yahoo News Singapore. The couple have been married for nine years and have no children.
Chelm, 34, ultimately made the gut-wrenching decision not to go back to her hometown for the funeral, partly due to the prohibitive cost of swab tests and quarantine procedures. As the youngest of eight children is currently in-between jobs – she used to work in F&B – Choong is the sole breadwinner.
Then on Wednesday, World Dream had to turn back to Singapore after a 40-year-old passenger onboard tested positive for COVID. He is part of the active KTV lounges/clubs cluster, which is now linked to 120 cases, making it the biggest active cluster here as well as the largest recorded cluster in the community to date.
Choong and a female colleague were identified as close contacts of the passenger and are currently serving a 14-day quarantine at Park Hotel, Farrer Park.
At a virtual press conference on Friday, Finance Minister and COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong said, with reference to the KTV cluster, "The consequence of every single action can be so consequential now – as we have seen, one single irresponsible behaviour can have devastating impact for the entire community."
Choong agreed. "I hit the jackpot," he said wryly. He reckoned that he and his colleague are the first cruise ambassadors to be quarantined. "Considering all odds, it would probably be safer working on board the ship than being (on land). We get tested every time we board and disembark the ship, the passengers as well."
According to reports, World Dream was carrying 1,646 passengers and 1,249 crew members.
Worried about bills
When asked about his quarantine experience so far, Choong said, "I’m not too concerned about myself, as long as there’s a phone and Internet connection. The food is not as bad as what I’ve seen before from other friends (who served quarantine). He has already received care packages from his employers. "Some friends have even offered to bring durians."
If not for quarantine, Choong would have been sailing till early August, as he typically works back-to-back cruises. He has been working as a cruise ambassador, helping to enforce safe management measures while also providing customer service, since February.
He previously worked as a consultant with Oceanic Focus, a company specialising in underwater camera systems. He is currently on furlough and took a significant pay cut for his current role. "It pays the bills. It's not supposed to be a long-term thing, it's to tide us over," said Choong.
As Choong's father died of old age in 2020, his mother, who has health issues, lives with the couple. Chelm is her primary caregiver.
'Helpless and powerless'
Choong admitted that circumstances have left him feeling "helpless and powerless". Financial worries are ever present, particularly the prospect of being infected with the coronavirus and the ensuing medical bills.
Working the night shift on the ship also gave him much time to reflect on happier times spent with his mother-in-law. "I was looking forward to going home. The least my wife could have is someone to comfort her," he lamented. "She was quite heartbroken. She is regretting that she did not take the chance to have a video call with her mother before she died."
Still, Choong is attempting to take things in his stride. "In this current situation, I guess you take it as it comes, if you are ‘lucky’ enough to be in close contact."
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