I just finished putting small cups of cinnamon sticks on my bookshelves. I spotted a silverfish on one of my books the other day – nasty insects that love to chew on bookbinding glue and paper – and was just quick enough to squish it. Google said silverfish hate the scent of cedar and cinnamon. But to be sure, I’ve ordered a bottle of silverfish poison powder on Lazada too. It won’t arrive until next year, which starts tomorrow.
I fully expected to spend most of December exploring our new neighbourhood. We moved here recently to be closer to my kid’s primary school (so much has happened this year! I’ll have a first grader! aaahh!). It’s quieter here than where we used to live, next to Singapore’s largest mall, with the nearest public library and an NTUC FairPrice mere minutes away. Here in our new place, we have to ride a bus or MRT to the nearest shopping centre. But now we’re also a stop away from a proper wet market, a short walk away from small cafés/shops claiming to bake “artisanal” bread (whatever that is), and best of all, I can see East Coast Park in the distance from our window. Which isn’t too bad.
But what do you know, Singapore recategorised the Philippines into the group of countries with slightly more relaxed Covid-19 restrictions, and we entertained the possibility of maybe, just maybe, flying home for the first time in nearly two years.
When we bought our flight tickets, the quarantine period in the Philippines was just 3 days, and we heard stories of people being released on the 4th day, after their PCR test results were promptly issued.
Of course, as you all know, Omicron hit.
By the time we landed in the Philippines, the quarantine period had lengthened to 5 days (vs. the original 3 days). We also ended up being released on the 7th day because the Philippine Bureau of Quarantine was somehow blindsided by the huge volume of OFWs who wanted to come home for Christmas (hands up, who else was surprised?).
Short story long, we have now spent longer in home/hotel quarantine than we spent with our own families (time split between his and mine).
Would we still fly home if we had known? 110% yes.
Wishing you and your families a safe, healthy, and happy 2022.
Think critically dear readers (especially so next year),
You may already know that I like spooky things. So, I thought that for today and the next three Sundays, instead of my weekly #SundaySofaSojourns I will list a few of my favourite creepy things to celebrate the season – nay, the Mood – that is Halloween.
If you’re thinking “Well this year is already horrific enough as it is without adding zombies into the mix” then it might interest you to know that watching films / reading fiction / engaging with the horror genre has been found to be useful in this Covid-19 era. A recent study concluded that “exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.” (You’re welcome!)
This week, I’m listing down three of my favourite horror graphic novels.
In my view, the graphic novel as a medium adds another layer of immersion to any story. It works especially well for the horror genre – to see a shock of bright red or dark moody hatchwork complement the black-and-white text next to it amps up the scare factor for me by several notches.
Here are three of my picks…
1) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
“It came from the woods. Most strange things do.”
Through the Woods has five original stories, not counting ‘An Introduction’ and ‘In Conclusion.’ I like that Carroll’s stories are mostly about women — a lady trying to uncover the terrible mystery of her sprawling, dark manor and her husband with red-stained lips in A Lady’s Hands Are Cold; three sisters dealing with a bruising winter in the unsettling mystery of Our Neighbour’s House; a lonely girl whose mother’s cautionary tales saved her life as she uncovered her pretty sister-in-law’s hidden secret in The Nesting Place; and the sinister story of two brothers in His Face All Red(also published in full on Carroll’s website – check it out. Don’t miss Out of Skin and The Prince & The Sea too).
‘In Conclusion’ had a Red Riding Hood-like character narrowly missing the wolf in the forest, and expressing immense relief as she tucked in for the night. Suddenly, she hears something speak:
“Oh, but you must travel through those woods again & again…” said a shadow at the window. “…and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…
But the wolf …the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.”
Add the jet-blacks and blood-reds colouring her eerie yet haunting art, her spindly elegant handwriting, the oppressiveness of her snowy landscapes, lonesome houses in the woods, and the nostalgic Victorian and 1920s fashion — and Through the Woods ticks all my horror-loving boxes.
2) Trese series by Budjette Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo
“When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.”
I would not be exaggerating when I say the Trese series is a rare and very welcome find for me in the graphic novel medium, let alone the horror genre. There’s hardly any Filipino representation out there, as far as I’m aware. (If you know of others, please let me know in the comments.) Bonus points for having a strong and independent woman as the lead character.
In the Trese series, we follow Malate club owner and police consultant Alexandra Trese and her trusty hitmen the Kambal. Trese gets called in to cases that involve the supernatural.
The characters in Trese are as old and familiar as childhood, but with a modern twist – helpful nuno sa punso (who now live in underground sewers instead of soil mounds), well-off tikbalang who’ve upgraded their usual balete tree home to a Makati penthouse, a typhoon deity who watches over an exclusive urban village (as long as the residents made the right sacrifices).
The settings are also recognisable: Manila South Cemetery in Case 6: The Outpost on Kalayaan Street, also considered home by many poor squatter families in makeshift houses (“… and some find themselves joining the dead all too soon”); a crowded MRT train in Case 13: An Act of War, and gritty Manila in Case 1: At the Intersection of Balete and 13th Street from the first Trese book, Murder on Balete Drive.
There’s even a nod to local urban legends, for example the snake-like creature that supposedly stalked people in Robinson’s Galleria in the ‘90s (remember that?) in Case 7: Embrace of the Unwanted, which is set in the fictional Robertson Mall.
“Spirals… this town is contaminated with spirals…”
Ito is the first artist that comes to my mind when I think about how artwork complements the story in graphic novels.
In Uzumaki, the phenomenon is never explained fully. Kurozu-cho, a small fictional town in Japan, is haunted by a pattern: the spiral (or uzumaki in Japanese – Naruto fans would know this 😉). Spirals start to manifest itself in everything – townspeople start to become obsessed with it, hair independently shapes itself into spiral curls, pregnant women gorge on spiral-covered mushrooms with alarming consequences.
As a pitch, the plot sounds utterly ridiculous: “Town is cursed, driven mad, and ultimately fucked over by spirals.” Err, say what?
But Ito’s artwork makes all the difference. It manages to mesmerise and be deeply uncomfortable at the same time, and is peak form in Uzumaki. It’s my favourite of his many works because the story builds, with all the seemingly unconnected short chapters starting to make sense as the main characters hurtle towards the end. (Watch out for Chapter 8: The Snail. I could not get the imagery of the snail people out of my head for days.)
You’ll never look at a spiral the same way again.
I’ll stop at three so I still have some to talk about for next October haha. Hope you enjoyed this list. Till next week! 👻
I had never heard of book nooks until earlier this year, when I stumbled upon a subreddit dedicated to them. It’s a shelf insert for bookshelves, a little world sandwiched between your books. Book nooks combined two of my favourite things: books and miniatures. So, I instantly fell in love.
I wanted one! However, I had neither the time nor the creative muscle to make one of my own, so I was elated to find June (she’s on Instagram and Etsy). She’s a veterinarian by day and a book nook maker in her spare time. It’s amazing how much detail goes into each of her pieces. She makes each of the little books in her little libraries by hand, wraps teeny packages with bits of string, sews tiny cushions and upholsters doll-sized couches — you get the idea.
Her book nooks have themes: Harry Potter (very popular), vintage libraries, coffee shops, even an incredible Peter Pan-inspired nook (I spotted a small hook on the bedside table!).
I eventually landed on this particular book nook, which is one of the more topical ones in her portfolio. As soon as I saw it back in May, I knew “Main Street 2020” was special. My book nook arrived around a month after I ordered it, in bubble wrap and packing peanuts, all the way from Ohio. Notwithstanding the theme, I still can’t believe how gorgeously detailed it is. Can you guess what it’s about?
There are miniature hand sanitisers, face masks, and toilet paper (limit 1!) in the window display…
“Flatten the curve” signs and tiny newspapers announcing closures and lockdowns…
Cheap flights anyone…?
Even the road in front of the shop is marked out with little “X’s” for safe distancing.
It’s still grim out there. But with all the stress and the strangeness these past months have brought upon everyone, there is a small sense of comfort that this experience is universal.
To give you some context: in 2019, 68.3 million passengers from all over the world went through Singapore’s Changi Airport.
Terminal 4 (or T4) is Changi’s newest baby, opened recently in October 2017. T4 has the capacity to handle 16 million passengers a year. It was previously the Budget Terminal, though after its reopening was anything but – T4 is the first airport I used that had self-service check-in, fully automated bag drops (the weighing scale was exact and unforgiving towards excess luggage), and a free entertainment corner equipped with an Xbox Kinect and pinball arcade machines. T4 also has a gorgeous interior styled to look like shophouses.
On the other hand, Terminal 2 (or T2) is ten times as old as T4 but as late as January this year it was looking to expand and increase capacity. Yes, January 2020 B.C. (before corona), which seems ages ago.
Both terminals have now been shuttered — in T2’s case, for 18 months, in T4’s case, indefinitely — driven by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Passenger volumes have declined by as much as 99% compared to last year, which isn’t surprising. Recently it’s picked up a little bit, but hardly back to B.C. levels.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago we had a sudden hankering to visit the airport even though we had nowhere to go.
Normally we liked lingering at Changi after sending relatives off, or dropping by on random weekends. Riding the Skytrains between the airport terminals is free and my kid always enjoyed the view — huge planes, assorted airport vehicles on the tarmac.
I know the airport might seem like an odd place to hang out. But here in Singapore it’s exactly what the government wants you to do.
Exhibit A: Jewel Changi, with its massive menu of shopping & dining options, its impressive indoor waterfall a.k.a. the Rain Vortex, the Canopy Park, and of course, Singapore’s flagship A&W outlet. (The queues at A&W when it first opened at Jewel were crazy, but to be fair it was making a comeback after a 16-year absence. By the way, does anybody remember the A&W branch at Greenbelt Makati back in the ’90s?)
Surprisingly, the link bridge to T2 remained open. We also caught a glimpse of the terminal itself. I expected it to be empty of course, but it was still strange to see it as quiet as a library.
Then, we headed back home on a train that was just as silent (at least until the change at Tanah Merah station).
Welcome to the Pandemic Edition of Rate My Setup! Today, let me take you on a tour of my home office! (Insert air quotes here)
This is where the work magic happens!
As you can see, my “home office” is conveniently located a stone’s throw away from where I have my meals. No need for a FitBit — I hardly step away from my “desk”. What fun!
a. An old monitor from the office that I managed to snag before the circuit breaker period started. Perfect timing, as monitor prices suddenly shot up the weeks after and supply was scarce (It’s now back to normal I think)
b. Work laptop with obligatory post-it over the built-in camera. Zuckerberg does it, so why not poknat?
c. A gamer headset with soft over-ear cups, because my lola ears cannot stand all the marathon Teams / Zoom calls happening since we all started working from home. And I figure if anyone knows about ear comfort, it’s gamers. I need crisp sound to drop annoying corporate jargon such as: “Let’s take this offline” or “I have a hard stop at 3” or “I’ll circle back to you on this”. Adults adulting, folks!
d. Octopus connections, since I work opposite the Hub. One of my fervent wishes these days is for our salaries to climb as high as our electric bill the past months
e. I have owned some variation of the Chonky Accountant’s Calculator since university days. Keep your TI BA II Professionals and fancy scientific calculators — all I need is a calculator with big keys (all the better for those fat fingers, my dear), an even bigger “+” function, and a button with double zeroes
f. A nearly finished jumbo bottle of Eye-Mo eyedrops
g. You may also have noticed that both my monitor and laptop are resting on their own respective stack of books. As I’m too cheap to spring for a proper laptop stand, I’ve repurposed some of my thickest books to serve this purpose for me and the Hub #diy #blessed
h. Bluetooth speaker so I can listen to my Spotify playlists on full blast (on those rare times I’m not on above-mentioned Teams / Zoom calls)
i. My Pandemic Essentials: bottle of Green Cross 70% Ethyl Alcohol for regular wipedowns of everything you see in the photo, a smaller bottle of antiseptic germicide to grab and go, and gum for chewing away ever-escalating work-from-home stress
j. My kid’s drawing tucked under the keyboard. Why do I simultaneously feel I see too much and too little of him these days?! Also, more octopus connections.
Hope you enjoyed the tour of my home office! In the next episode of Rate My Setup: top 10 best electric back massagers — perfect for dining chairs!
Think critically dear readers,
P.S. Written tongue in cheek. This post is dedicated to all of you out there working from home at your dining tables, sitting in non-ergonomic “work chairs”, possibly with children screaming at the background. WE GOT THIS. 💻
Big news first: my result turned out to be negative. Yay.
That said, I wanted to share with you my experience of getting tested for Covid-19 here in Singapore to help assure you that the process is quick, relatively painless, and fuss-free. If you have any of the most common symptoms of Covid-19, please visit your nearest clinic to ensure you get timely and appropriate care. You’re also doing your part to keep everyone else in your community safe. 😊
JUST A SORE THROAT…?
The other day, I felt a scratchiness at the back of my throat and some pain swallowing. Any other day — heck, any other year besides 2020 — I would’ve brushed it off and taken a lozenge. But I was feeling extremely paranoid and thought to go to a clinic to have it checked out.
Google “common covid symptoms” here in Singapore and the first result that comes up is the Ministry of Health (MOH) Covid-19 self-assessment website, where you can check out your symptoms and decide next steps after answering a few basic questions (data is anonymised). The most common Covid-19 symptoms are fever, dry cough, and tiredness.
I was not presenting any fever and felt no other symptoms apart from my scratchy throat. While sore throat is indeed a symptom of Covid-19, it’s a less common one, along with aches & pains, diarrhoea, headache, or loss of taste or smell.
After going through the MOH self-check, it recommended that I go to a Public Health Preparedness Clinic (PHPC) or polyclinic that offered SASH (Swab and Send Home) tests for Covid-19, along with a link to a website where I can check all the nearby clinics that offered SASH tests.
WHAT IS THE SWAB AND SEND HOME (SASH) INITIATIVE?
According to The Straits Times, previously, all swab tests for Covid-19 were done at hospitals. With the SASH initiative, swab tests were extended to polyclinics and some general practitioner clinics. This helps to strengthen active case-finding in the community, as well as reduce crowds at hospitals. Patients who meet certain criteria are swabbed and then sent home to wait for their test results. Results can take up to three working days, though I received mine much faster.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE CLINIC?
I found a nearby clinic offering SASH tests and called ahead to say I had a sore throat. No appointment was needed, but I was told to bring my employment pass.
Upon arrival at the clinic, I was asked to fill in a health declaration online by scanning a QR code posted at the entrance. It’s the standard SafeEntry declaration where you’re asked if you’ve had contact with confirmed cases recently, have travelled in the past 14 days, etc. The clinic had seating outside so I did not need to sit with other outpatients in the clinic lobby.
After they had prepped the room, a doctor wearing full PPE called me over and asked again about my symptoms. She checked my temperature using an in-ear thermometer and listened to my heartbeat with her stethoscope.
Afterwards, she recommended that I do a swab test. Because I was not a highly suspect case I could refuse, but for public health reasons and also for my own peace of mind I decided to go ahead with it.
If I did the swab test, I would be given a mandatory 3-day medical certificate and was not allowed by law to leave my home until I got a negative result or served out the three days, whichever came sooner. If I decided not to do the swab test, I would be given a mandatory 5-day medical certificate.
I’ll add here that the consequences of flouting your medical certificate — for example, by stepping out to get a quick takeaway lunch before the three days are over — are taken very seriously here in Singapore. You could be fined S$10,000 (around Php 360,000 or over US$7,000), imprisoned for up to 6 months, both, or even deported and barred from re-entering Singapore forever. Totally not worth that takeaway bubble tea.
HOW DID THE SWAB TEST FEEL?
The doctor told me the swab test would be quick but to expect some discomfort. She said there were rare cases where patients got a nosebleed (!), but this was usually for people with more sensitive noses.
I was understandably a little apprehensive after reading horror stories, but the swab took less than 30 seconds to complete. I was told to blow my nose, tilt my head back, and stay still while the doctor inserted a thin flexible stick into each nostril.
It felt slightly uncomfortable, like the feeling right before a big sneeze. Nothing alarming though.
HOW MUCH DID THE TEST COST?
The invoice did not break down the cost of the swab and the medicine I was given for my sore throat, but it did indicate the cost was subsidised under Singapore’s Flu Subsidy Scheme. For the swab test, medicine and throat lozenges, I paid a total of S$32 (around Php 1,140 or US$23). MOH, on its website, states Covid-19 testing is free (excluding the clinic consultation fee and/or medicine).
Free testing or a subsidy makes sense — you want to encourage people with symptoms to step forward and get tested on their own accord so you can prevent undetected infection in the community.
If the swab is too expensive, what incentive is there for people who have less financial resources to get tested?
I walked home — you’re not allowed to take public transport — and self-quarantined in a room separate from my family. You’re also encouraged to use a toilet separate from the rest of your family.
It’s safest for you and for everyone in your household to assume you’re positive unless told otherwise.
I was told it would take three working days for the results to come out. I would get a call from the clinic or an SMS from the MOH.
It was a nerve-wracking wait — my mind kept turning to worst-case scenarios. Later that evening, the Hub called me over Facebook Messenger so I could still be “in” the room while he read bedtime stories to our kid, a family nighttime ritual. “Come over here!” my kid said. He knew I was in the other bedroom. I don’t think he understood why Mommy wasn’t there to kiss him goodnight.
Thankfully I didn’t have to wait for too long. The very next day after my test, I got a call from the clinic to say the results came back negative. I could hug my kid again!
Dear readers, to be frank, my anxiety hit the roof while I waited for my results.
I knew that my family and I had taken all the precautions — washed and sanitised our hands on the regular, worn face masks 100% of the time while outside, taken showers after stepping outside, taken our Vitamin C, practised safe distancing — but this virus is a crafty one.
I think that the virus often gets framed in a way that suggests that if you do catch it, you failed at following precautions or something. Make no mistake — Covid-19 is highly contagious. If you think you’ve caught it, focus on next steps like how to get tested ASAP and how to get immediate care for yourself & the rest of your family.
As we reopen gradually all over the world, let’s not let our guard down. Let’s not get complacent.
We’ll get through this together.
Think critically dear readers — and STAY SAFE!
All images (except for my personal screenshots) on this post are from the UN Covid-19 Response page on Unsplash
I often look to this poem from Maggie Smith (no relation to Dame Maggie Smith of Downton Abbey / Harry Potter fame) when the news and everything else gets too overwhelming.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children. Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways, a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children. For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird. For every loved child, a child broken, bagged, sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world is at least half terrible, and for every kind stranger, there is one who would break you, though I keep this from my children. I am trying to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.
“Good Bones”, Maggie Smith
I’d like to believe the poem is a hopeful one. There are ‘good bones’ here, we can work with this.
But man oh man, some days are tougher than others.
Sentosa, Singapore’s self-declared “State of Fun,” re-opened on July 1st. We wasted no time in visiting the island over the weekend.
There are a lot of fun, free, kid-friendly activities you can do in Sentosa – ride the electric trams, walk the nature trails, and – most importantly for us – swim in the beaches. Sentosa has three to choose from: Siloso, Palawan, and Tanjong.
Our favourite mode of getting to Sentosa is by strolling along the Boardwalk from VivoCity. It’s shaded from the heat and there are moving walkways, if you get too tired. There’s also a lovely view to your right looking out towards the cable cars and Keppel Island. The other plus is if you go by foot, entry to Sentosa is free (it usually costs a S$1).
But the Sentosa entry fee is waived until end of this year anyway, so it’s free however you choose to get there.
There are a lot of renovations going on in Sentosa at the moment. The fountain and paths near the replica Merlion with the Cyclops laser eyes, as well as the seemingly Gaudí-inspired Merlion Walk with the colourful mosaic tiles, have been torn down to make way for the “Greater Southern Waterfront” redevelopment plan.
One of the nice parts I like about the walk is passing by the rotating Universal Studios globe. It’s usually packed with tourists taking selfies, but these days it’s quiet and empty.
I noticed with surprise that someone had replaced the signage displays at the Universal Studios ticket booths with these Photoshopped gems:
It’s amazing attention to detail on the part of Resorts World… but I can’t get the image out of my head of some poor intern tweaking the face masks so they looked “natural.”
One of my favourite books is a book about books, ‘Ex Libris’ by Anne Fadiman. In one of her essays, she describes her parents’ library, with her dad and mom between them having “about seven thousand books.” In another she writes about having so many books in her loft that it “had come to look less and less like a home and more and more like a second-hand bookstore.”
While I don’t have a thousand (yet!), like Fadiman, I sometimes feel like we live in a bookstore too (think homely BOOKSALE rather than chic Kinokuniya). Back when Hub and I lived in London, I managed to accumulate a Billy-bookcase-and-a-half’s worth of books, aided in no small part by a wealth of choices (it was a literature lover’s paradise), cheap prices, and the convenience of book-shopping via Amazon.
Since we moved to Singapore, the family library has ballooned to nearly three tall Billy bookcases, not to mention my kid’s own growing collection. We were running out of space…!
It was such a joy for us then, to find out early last year that they were opening a library in a mall close to our condo. From zero bookstores within a mile radius to thousands of books at our doorstep! Bye-bye Amazon! It truly felt like Christmas had come early.
As a non-citizen, all I needed to do was pay a S$10.50 one-off registration fee (around Php 400) and a S$42.80 annual membership fee (around Php 1,520), and I could start borrowing up to 16 physical books straightaway. On top of that, I could borrow up to 16 e-books, so the total number I could check out was 32.
I don’t think I ever maxed this limit out borrowing books for myself, but the fees were truly worth it when it came to book choices for our kid. The selection of books we could read to him increased exponentially from what was on his little shelf. It made our routine “story-time bedtime” more interesting (both for him listening and us reading).
A trip to the mall library became almost like a weekly family ritual: we dropped by before a run to the grocery, while killing time waiting for a movie, after eating dinner out.
During the circuit breaker period though, libraries were one of those places deemed “higher risk” and were told to close. We thought they wouldn’t open until Phase Three. But – joy! – the government announced libraries across the country could open on July 1st.
We all wanted to visit it immediately, especially my kid. He’d been stuck reading the same old stuff from his bookshelves and I could tell he was getting bored.
But there were now a few extra steps we needed to do:
Pre-book our visit online. We were only allowed to stay in 30-minute time blocks and the online booking had to be done at most the day before the visit. The government’s message was clear – get in, get your book, and go home. But… but… who does that?! Libraries are made for aimless wandering.
Check the crowd levels before our visit. I admit, this feature is pretty useful. This link shows which libraries are crowded in real-time, so you can avoid the crowds and save yourself a walk. I would use it, even if we weren’t safe distancing!
Have our temperature checked and “check-in” by QR Code or government ID before entering. Like all other places now open in Singapore, there was a compulsory infrared thermometer scan at the entrance. We also had to check in via SafeEntry, the country’s national visitor management system, for easy contact tracing.
Of course, this didn’t stop us and we made it to the library – our library – yesterday. It took all of my kid’s self-control not to sprint through the entrance checks.
We had it to ourselves. There was a section right outside the library where the clouds reflected against the windows. It looked stunning, as if the books met the sky.
It dawned on me then that this truly was our family’s happy place.