Here and There

Here’s what I’ve been up to recently.

1) We celebrated the Hub’s birthday.

My surprise Cameo video for the Hub worked out! He and I are both yuuge fans of the LOTR movies, especially the first. We used to re-watch The Fellowship of the Ring all the time; it was our top choice for “movie-in-the-background” – times when we were busy with other stuff but wanted something interesting on TV that we could passively listen to. The Hub and I agreed Sam was the real MVP of the saga. One Valentine’s Day, the Hub even signed off his card to me as “Your Sam” (does that make me Frodo in that scenario?!).

Anyway, when I saw Sean Astin was on Cameo I grabbed my chance. The Hub never guessed!

A screengrab from the Hub’s Cameo message.

I highly recommend Sean if you’re thinking of getting a Cameo (provided you’re a fan, of course). He started off with a Marilyn Monroe-esque ‘Happy Birthday’ song which was pretty funny. You could tell he took the time to personalise each birthday message a bit. I only wrote Cameo a sentence or two about the Hub and Sean was able to build on that for a 5-minute-long video. He even managed to squeeze in his iconic “Po-tay-toes” line at the end. Sulit.

Other things we did on the Hub’s birthday: a nice omakase lunch at one of our favourite Japanese places capped off with drinks at Raffles Hotel. We both wanted to try the original Singapore Sling at the Long Bar but found out the bar was temporarily closed; the hotel was serving cocktails at the Raffles Courtyard instead.

We were seated and comfortable when I opened the menu and found out that an Original Singapore Sling costs S$35 (around Php1,300 or US$26). I reasoned to myself this was the first and probably the last time I’ll be trying it so… okay. Fine.

According to the menu, a Singapore Sling consists of Widges London Dry Gin, Bénédictine, Raffles Signature Grenadine, Luxardo Cherry Sangue Morlacco, Ferrand Dry Curaçao, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, and Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters.

Our drinks came with the obligatory tray of peanuts. (Traditionally, the peanut shells are thrown on the Long Bar’s tiled floor.) It was good, but was it worth S$35? The jury’s still out on that one.

2) I realised parts of the old Sentosa monorail tracks haven’t been demolished.

One of my most enduring childhood memories was a short trip my family took to Singapore in the ’90s. It probably got stuck in my head because the trip happened during a school week. I felt like I was playing hooky from school the whole time, and it felt good.

We had a day out in Sentosa Island. Back then, VivoCity was non-existent and the distance was wider between the main island and Singapore. There was no Boardwalk to cross. The Mount Faber Line cable cars were already around, but we took a ferry to the island.

I remember the breeze on our faces as we rode a monorail in Sentosa. Unlike today’s Sentosa Express which only stops at four stations – VivoCity, Resorts World (where Universal Studios is), Imbiah (for the nature walk), and Beach station – the monorail in my memory looped around the island. I even recall passing the giant “Sentosa” logo while on the train. The monorail ride experience and the rest of that day – a visit to a SeaWorld aquarium, a wax museum, musical fountains in the evening – is probably one of my core Joy memories haha.

The old Sentosa monorail, decommissioned in 2005. (Source)

Imagine my delight then, when I discovered while walking on the Imbiah trail the other weekend that parts of the old monorail tracks were still there! I don’t know why I never noticed it before.

Does anyone know why some parts of the track weren’t demolished?

3) We walked some more.

We had dinner at Robertson Quay in one of our favourite Middle Eastern restaurants (so far it’s the only place we found with kebab koobideh that approximates our beloved Alounak).

It was a balmy evening and it seemed everyone was out and about. So, we took the opportunity to walk from Robertson Quay all the way to Clarke Quay.

The Old Hill Street Police Station on Clarke Quay

We finally reached Boat Quay where we caught the bus home.

Think critically dear readers,

Hello Moon

I had things to say about the Mid-Autumn festival, Raffles Hotel’s famous snow-skin mooncakes, this year’s Light-Up in Gardens by the Bay.

But life — specifically, work — got in the way. It’s been a tiring week.

So instead, here is a gorgeous view of the full harvest moon from the office, taken on one of these late nights.

Think critically dear readers,

Up

We’ve been riding cable cars nearly every weekend lately.

I know it sounds extravagant when I say it like that. But we’re simply making full use of a Faber Licence annual pass we bought recently at a promo price. If we rode the cable cars every week for a year, it comes to around S$3 (around Php 100) each trip, with unlimited rides for four people. It’s non-transferable (they check our photos), but still, that’s just Php 25 per person. Sulit naman (It’s a good deal). It’s a fun weekend activity and my kid is a happy camper.

The Singapore Cable Car Sky Network (there’s only one) is made up of two lines: the Mount Faber Line, which you can take from Harbourfront Tower all the way to Faber Peak and back to Sentosa island (a 30-minute round trip ride); and the Sentosa Line, which makes three stops within the island at Siloso Point, Imbiah Lookout, and near the Sentosa Merlion (a 20-minute ride).

There are ongoing construction works now near Sentosa Line’s Merlion Station, so we usually hop off at Siloso Point Station and take the free beach trams around the island, another activity my kid loves.

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Personally, I prefer the cable car rides itself. The views of Sentosa island from the sky are also hard to beat.

There is Brani Terminal and the Sentosa Boardwalk in the distance, with Hard Rock Hotel Singapore in the foreground and Festive Hotel to the right. The terminal will eventually close and move to the Tuas mega-port in western Singapore at some point, as the government intends to redevelop this area into the Greater Southern Waterfront. The port will be replaced with waterfront promenades and residential / commercial spaces. With the Covid-19 situation now, I’m not sure when this would be.

I like seeing the rows of solar panels atop the Bank of America Merrill Lynch building, visible when you approach Harbourfront Tower on the Mount Faber Line.

This is an aerial view of Adventure Cove Waterpark. It’s strange to see the water slides and Adventure River stripped of water. We can already spot small black stagnant pools in some places, littered with leaves. We see the sharks and dolphins are still there, possibly living their “best” life (as can be had within the confines of their tanks) with no humans to bother them.

The giant wave pool at Adventure Cove looks rather lonely now.

This is Siloso Beach last month, when Singapore celebrated its 55th National Day. The heart-shaped installation was made up of 10,000 red and white flags, each with a heartfelt message.

The AJ Hackett bungy jump tower is always a source of interest to my kid. If someone happens to be on a jump or zipping down the 450m zipline from Mega Adventure Park, we can hear the screaming from the comfort of our cable car.

Finally, there’s what is touted to be the “reigning king of public toilets” across Singapore, found in Faber Peak Singapore (you can hop off at the Mount Faber Station on the cable car line). In this glass-enclosed toilet at The Jewel Box, you can soak in superb views of Mount Faber’s greenery and the cable cars while making yourself comfortable on the couch provided. There’s even a fish tank with real fish inside. Best of all, it’s clean!

For your pooping pleasure

Think critically dear readers,

Hawker Culture

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of hawker centres to daily life here in Singapore.

One of my ex-colleagues once told me that throughout her childhood she had never seen her parents cook. They bought dǎbāo (打包, takeaway) all the time. “I turned out all right!” she declared.

Eating out every day sounds expensive, but honestly when it comes to hawker centres it makes sense. You can have good eats for very reasonable prices. The variety is great. There’s even a sense of community in the air. Back when we used to live in one of Singapore’s heartland neighbourhoods, we often saw groups of old uncles hanging out at the hawker centre tables chatting over their morning kopi and kaya toast – especially for hawkers located near HDBs. (HDBs refer to public housing managed by the Singaporean Housing and Development Board or HDB. It’s where almost 80% of Singaporeans live. I’ll blog about these gems in the future.)

Laundry drying racks jut out from HDB blocks

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What’s a “hawker centre” anyway? These are open-air food courts made up of many stalls selling affordable cooked food. Most are conveniently located near HDB estates and near wet markets.

The construction of hawker centres in the 1970s-80s was part of a government programme to legalise street hawkers and ensure food preparation was up to standard. Nowadays the National Environment Agency, as a government regulator, ensures hawker food is prepared in hygienic and safe conditions.

Doing the Lord’s work, even on weekends

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If you’ve seen the movie Crazy Rich Asians (2018), there’s a good montage at the start featuring Newton Food Centre where Henry Golding orders plate after plate of hawker food in English, Mandarin, and Malay: satay (meat skewers), roti prata (Indian-influenced flatbread), fried carrot cake (a misleading name — it’s made of radish cubes), hot bowls of spicy laksa (noodle soup in curry coconut milk) and fishball noodle soup, shaved ice desserts, and of course, cold mugs of beer (Tiger, I hope).

“Each of these hawker stalls sells pretty much one dish. They’ve been perfecting it for generations” (Source)

Pro-tip #1: while it’s cool how the movie introduced Singapore’s hawker culture to a global audience, trust the locals – there are better satays to be found elsewhere besides Newton.

Pro-tip #2: keep your eyes peeled for the nod to the chope-ing tissue at 0:22. When at a hawker centre (or any food court in Singapore for that matter), do not sit at tables where there are tissue packets. This means that spot has been chope-d, i.e. reserved. Doesn’t sound fair? It is what it is. #RespectTheTissue

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The Hub and I love hawker food. Before coming to Singapore, we were already familiar with a few local dishes: the glutinous goodness of chicken rice and the sinfully rich char kway teow, for instance. When we lived in the UK, we paid frequent visits to London’s Chinatown to sample New Fook Lam Moon’s bak kut teh (the soup more herbal than peppery) or Rasa Sayang’s chicken rice. We later learned that Rasa Sayang’s version of char kway teow is more Penang than Singaporean, with the Singaporean version somewhat sweeter.

Queues at Tian Tian Chicken Rice, which the late Anthony Bourdain once praised as delicious even on its own

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With so many choices, how do you know which stall serves the best food? The length of the queues of course!

Alternatively, you can check out food reviews online. When the Hub and I first arrived here, we relied heavily on a food blog called “ieat•ishoot•ipost” written by a family doctor named Dr. Leslie Tay, who’s also an avid foodie and photographer. His blog’s tagline is “never waste your calories on yucky food.” (He also uses his platform to teach his patients on what kinds of food to avoid if they have certain medical conditions, which I think is a smart way to merge your work and your passion project).

A Tian Tian chicken rice feast, with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice

I like that his blog is organized into dishes: from Assam Fish all the way to Zi Char. It makes it easy to search for places when cravings take over. While there are one or two recommendations which didn’t please, I think this is simply a matter of taste, and overall Dr. Tay’s recommendations were an excellent starter guide for non-locals like us to navigate Singapore’s rich hawker culture.

You may already know how fond I am of bak chor mee (the thought of the chili and vinegar in al dente noodles already makes my mouth water). But our best discovery from Dr. Tay’s blog was the gloriously messy Hainanese Curry Rice.

“Umami bomb” is the best way to describe it — the best Hainanese Curry Rice is a flavourful explosion of curry sauce, fried porkchop, stewed cabbage, and braised pork, and it has found a permanent spot on our personal comfort-food list.

Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice. Source: Pinterest

Hainanese Curry Rice is not Instagram-friendly, that’s for sure. It may never snap up a Michelin Bib Gourmand. If I recommend it to one of my ang moh friends he / she might demur.

But you seriously won’t know what you’re missing. Super shiok.

Think critically dear readers,

Featured image by Ethan Hu on Unsplash

A Quiet Weekend

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.

Source: Business Traveller

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.

Manong GrabCar

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?)

Mask up!

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).

Think critically dear readers,

Taste of Home

I like grocery shopping. I know some people find it a chore and try to keep their grocery pitstops as short as possible. But I take my time and wander the aisles.

We’re fortunate enough to live close to a huge NTUC FairPrice, Singapore’s largest grocery store chain. The store spans two floors and is pretty well-stocked. There’s a kitchen at the first floor next to the fresh produce section where you can have your meat and seafood purchases cooked or grilled on the spot. Next to the fruits and vegetables section, there’s a small indoor farm which houses plants grown without soil.

If you’re lucky (or unlucky), you might visit NTUC when the durian specials are out. The fruit has a pungent, sweet scent that you can detect as far as the store entrance. I’m a fan, but not everyone is. (There’s a reason why durian is banned on public transport here in Singapore!)

One of my favourite sections in our local NTUC is the International Food section. There you can find tasty products from Taiwan, Japan, USA, the UK (they even carry the Sainsbury’s house brands), and of course, the Philippines.

I thought it would be interesting to note down which Filipino products were on the shelves and how much it cost. Of course, you can get most, if not all, of these from smaller sari-sari stalls at Lucky Plaza. But the fact that they’re carried in one of Singapore’s largest retailers suggests that the demand for these products is strong enough to make it profitable for NTUC to stock them.

ProductPrice (Singapore $)Price (Php equivalent)*
Noodle Queen Pancit Canton (454g)3.20112.00
Lucky Me! Pancit Canton Chilimansi (pack of 6)3.10108.50
White King Classic Puto (steamed rice cake) mix2.90101.50
Del Monte Filipino Style Spaghetti Sauce (500g)3.60126.00
Del Monte Mango Juice Drink (1L)3.75131.25
Barrio Fiesta Spicy Bagoong (sautéed shrimp paste)4.80168.00
Mama Sita’s Sinigang sa Sampalok (tamarind seasoning) mix (50g)1.6557.75
Mang Tomas All-Purpose Sauce (550g)3.20112.00
Datu Puti Soy Sauce (1L)3.00105.00
555 Sardines (1 can)1.1038.50

* SGD 1 = PHP 35 as of today, with some rounding.

Noodles – both the usual pancit canton and the instant Lucky Me! kind – were a perennial favourite. Some of the brands also prominently display their halal certification on the packaging given the market here (for instance, Mama Sita’s mixes and marinades are halal-certified). I also realised Mang Tomas has dispensed with the name “lechon sauce” in favour of the more appropriate “all-purpose sauce”. Totoo, it goes with almost anything.

Some of the choices also seemed slightly odd to me (Why stock Rebisco crackers but no Skyflakes? Who buys all those Fudgee bars?).

A cursory price check on SM Online also shows the prices here are marked up over 100% on average compared to the Philippines. A similar can of 555 Sardines would set you back Php 18 if you buy it at SM, but costs over twice that in NTUC.

Then again, this is the taste of home. It’s the closest we’ll get to being there, at least for now.

Think critically dear readers,

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #8: Singapore

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

Today’s a special post since it’s Singapore’s National Day, so it’s not quite about a trip. Happy 55th Birthday, SG!

Celebrating SG51 with pancit canton and Peranakan kueh back in 2016

八 (Bā) or 8 is an auspicious number in Chinese culture because it sounds similar to 发 (fā) which means to “become rich, make a fortune” (among other meanings). This year marks the 8th National Day my small family has celebrated in this Little Red Dot. (I also just realised this is my 8th #SundaySofaSojourns post!)

2020, of course, is turning out far differently than any of us expected.

National Day in Singapore is held annually on 9th August. I think it can be best described as a celebration of how this city-state proved itself to be “the little nation that could.”

There’s a live parade (a.k.a. the NDP) where members of the Singapore military, police, and civil defence force as well as its best homegrown companies march, where almost everyone from students to seniors showcase musical performances, and where one can see all the nation’s politicians don their best red & white clothing on TV.

My kid watching a past parade with his pork floss bun

There’s a much-anticipated fly-past of the country’s flag, the Red Lions freefall jump, and the fighter jet display (usually, they spend over a month practising this – from our office building in the business district, it was common to hear the deep rumble of the jets every day in the weeks leading to the NDP). The parade itself is broadcast real-time on free TV, but tickets to see it live are balloted to citizens months before.

This year’s NDP Funpack includes hand sanitiser, face masks, and a digital thermometer (Source: Mothership)

Apart from the NDP itself, there are signs of celebration elsewhere – sales, commemorative cakes & breads, ‘I ❤️ SG’ t-shirts.

Bread Talk, a popular bakery chain, offers a Taste of Home Set which includes breads with local flavours like kaya (coconut jam), seafood laksa, and otah (a delicious fish paste)
Toys“R”Us is still operational here

Everyone is encouraged to participate. This year’s theme song is “a tribute to Singaporeans’ spirit of community” and gratitude for each other. While NDP 2020 will be a more sombre, more reflective affair, the ceremony will go on.

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For any country, there is value in this kind of active retelling of its history — for the younger generation, that they are introduced to this sense of belonging (outside of their immediate families and communities), and for the older generation, that we may remember what we were taught in school. It is easy to forget. And when we forget, we risk repeating past mistakes.

As Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

I am trying to think of a unified ceremony celebrated in a similar way across the entire Philippines (one that covers all Filipinos, so religious or provincial holidays don’t count) and I am coming up short. (I may be missing something here, so if you have an example please share in the comments.)

For us personally, this question of national identity is becoming more relevant as our kid grows. We want him to feel connected to both countries and to be able to navigate both cultures, with understanding and mutual respect for each. How do we do this? What stories do we tell our children? These are not easy questions.

It is in the stories we choose to tell that we shape our nation’s collective memory, or leave it without one.

Think critically dear readers,

I Got Swabbed: Covid-19 Testing in Singapore

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?

Which is why it was crazy to me to read that in the Philippines, a swab test could cost up to Php 4,000 – Php 12,000+. At least there are a few LGUs, including Manila under its Mayor Isko Moreno, who are offering testing for free.

WHAT HAPPENS WHILE I WAIT FOR RESULTS?

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!

WHAT NOW?

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 Want to Eat Sleep! (On Mandarin Chinese Tones)

I think most beginner Mandarin learners would recognise Transition’s ‘Duìbùqǐ’ song. It’s probably the most-played tune on the first day of any Mandarin class:

Why is the song so popular with first-time learners? Maybe because it perfectly highlights one of the trickiest things you grapple with when you start out learning Mandarin: the four pronunciation tones (with the bonus of a light, catchy tune!).

Image credit: Ninchanese

You can read more about the four tones here. Suffice it to say that in Pinyin — which is the Romanisation of Chinese characters based on their pronunciation — the tones are usually indicated by marks at the top of the letter (for example, mā, má, mǎ, mà are four different words).

The interaction at the start of the ‘Duìbùqǐ’ video has a young English guy approaching a snack stall to order boiled dumplings (shuǐjiǎo 水饺). Instead of doing that though, he inadvertently mixes up the tones and pronounces it as shuìjiào (睡觉). He ends up saying “I want (to eat) sleep.” Both words are composed of “shuijiao”, but the tones are pronounced differently.

“Oh, are you tired?” the dumpling man retorts.

Eventually the message gets across, and a sweet apology song ensues: “Sorry, my Chinese is not so good!” (Duìbùqǐ, wǒ de zhōngwén bù hǎo! 对不起,我的中文不好!)

In my opinion, while pronunciation tones are indeed very important, we also shouldn’t dwell on them too much to the point where we’re afraid to speak at all. I find that generally native speakers can still understand me even if I get a few of my tones off, as long as there’s enough context. (The ‘Duìbùqǐ’ song just exaggerates the situation for comedic effect, but in reality, I think the English guy might have gotten his dumplings eventually.)

There’s a fine line between sounding stilted (like a TV variety show host) and making yourself understood.

It’s hilarious how he uses the hand technique to remember tones

I still often get self-conscious about my tones. But I think the more important thing is to get out there and start using the language. That will help you recognise your mistakes and tame your unruly tones faster.

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By now you might be thinking to yourself, “Tones are too much trouble.” Let me assure you they’re not. In fact, I believe Filipinos are a pro at tones already. Let me demonstrate.

Imagine you’re waiting for the elevator. Ding! The elevator doors open and you see a fellow Filipino inside.

“Bababa ba?” you ask.

“Bababa,” she replies. *

If you understood that monosyllabic conversation, you’re good to go with Mandarin tones! 😉

Think critically dear readers,

* Translation for non-Filipinos: “Going down?” “Going down.”

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