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
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.”
A couple of weeks ago we received a thick, official-looking envelope from the Singapore government. Lo and behold, it was a booklet about the 2020 Budget.
Inside was a high-level overview of where the various budgets – the Resilience Budget, Solidarity Budget, Unity Budget, together totalling nearly S$60 billion (around US$43 billion or over Php 2.1 trillion) – were going and how the money was being used to support families, seniors, workers and job-seekers in the wake of Covid-19’s devastating economic impact.
The information was clear and simple to follow: this is how much we’re allocating to you, this is where we’re getting the money, this is when you’ll receive these benefits.
The message was replicated in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil — Singapore’s four official languages. Apart from the physical booklet, the budget details were also shared on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and government websites. This ensured the widest reach to the broadest section of the population.
As a non-citizen, I will not benefit from any of these support packages. But I appreciated the little booklet nonetheless. It seemed to me a genuine effort by a government to serve, to be truly transparent and helpful.
Not all hold themselves to the same level of accountability.
It was a sign of how far we’ve come since the 1990s when, after finishing the first two episodes of The Last Dance – a much-anticipated Netflix/ESPN limited TV series about Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls – I told my husband, “O, i-play mo na yung susunod” (Play the next episode) and he replied, “Walang susunod, next week pa” (There’s no next episode, wait until next week), I was momentarily taken aback.
What? In this age of Netflix’s autoplay-the-next-episode and real-time news feeds, they’re making us wait*?
But wait we did. It evoked faint memories of other, small intervals of anticipation:
… minutes, for Donita Rose to play my request on MTV Most Wanted (there was no YouTube replay option back then, I either heard the song or didn’t),
… hours, for my favourite cable channel cartoons those early Saturday mornings (no alarm clock needed!),
… years, for the next Harry Potter book to emerge from J.K. Rowling’s imagination (excruciating, when I devoured the latest instalment in mere days).
I’m not a basketball fan, by the way. Unlike my husband, a.k.a. Hub, who watched the series like it was a ‘greatest hits’ reel. The Shot, The Flu Game, The Shrug, The Last Shot – he’d seen them all before.
But The Last Dance remained a compelling watch, especially for me seeing most of the behind-the-scenes dynamics and winning shots with fresh eyes. Jordan’s career followed the classic storytelling arc – a solid beginning (a hungry and talented athlete eager to win the NBA championships), crises in the middle (Jordan’s father’s murder, his alleged gambling controversies, tensions with Krause as team GM), and the final redemption (winning his last NBA season proving all the naysayers wrong).
There were moments in the series that left me emotional – that scene where Jordan bawled on the floor after winning a Father’s Day game following his dad’s death felt so raw, I felt like I — along with the rest of the world — shouldn’t be watching. It felt so personal.
All the elements of a good TV drama, right?
The Last Dance, for me, will forever be linked to our early days in partial ‘lockdown’ here in Singapore. The last episode aired two weeks shy of the circuit breaker period ending.
We couldn’t step outside. Working from home and managing home-based learning for our kid blended the days and weeks into each other, though I recognise the privilege of having these options.
Hub and I needed a break and The Last Dance was a welcome distraction. It was a good feeling to have something to look forward to every Monday that was not related to what was going on in the ‘real’ world.
The world the series inhabited couldn’t be further apart from today – the 1990s vs. the 2020s – and the nostalgia of looking at images from my childhood was jarring, to say the least. I can’t think of anyone nowadays who can unite people across cultures the way Michael Jordan did in his heyday (maybe Tom Hanks?).
These days the world seems to be breaking apart at the seams, with no redemption arc in sight.
Think critically dear readers,
* Strange as it may be, I’ve only ever consumed TV series once all the episodes are out. Game of Thrones, WestWorld, The Wire – you name it, I only watched when the season was done. Not a good strategy if you want to avoid spoilers though.
Singapore moved to Phase Two of its three-phase reopening strategy yesterday.
This meant the government has determined that community infection rates remain stable, there are no new large clusters, and the cases in worker dormitories – which blew up Singapore’s infection rates to the tens of thousands* – have declined.
The country has been on a partial lockdown since April 7, a.k.a. a “circuit breaker” period. While groceries and pharmacies remained open throughout, almost everything else was shut. The public buses, on those rare days I had to go to office, were nearly empty. Singapore’s famous hawker food centres and kopi stalls were left to rely on takeaways and deliveries. Even the nation’s beloved bubble tea shops were told to close, triggering a mad rush for a boba fix the evening before the circuit breaker kicked in.
Everyone (my family included) is much more excited about this phase than the last. Phase One, which started earlier this month, focused mainly on getting the schools safely open (with extensive Covid-19 testing of all teachers and school staff beforehand) and resuming a few basic services.
Phase Two, on the other hand, has physical stores, parks, playgrounds, and public pools open. We can now dine out at restaurants again! They’ve allowed groups of up to five outside – albeit with multiple caveats in place, such as mandatory temperature screens, check-in by mobile app and QR code to all the places we visit, a requirement to mask on at all times. (This being Singapore, there is the threat of a fine or worse, for non-compliance.) In the wider scheme of things, I think these are small inconveniences.
We went outside for a short walk last night. It was the first time we’d gone out as a family together in nearly three months. My kid was thrilled. I even heard him say “I love walking!” at one point.
Walking freely. Holding hands. Small inconveniences I’ll happily trade for these small joys.
Think critically dear readers,
* Deaths, meanwhile, have remained low – 26 as of today or 0.06% of total cases.
There was a story on the Straits Times yesterday about the Great Singapore Bake-off, the three-ish months most of us in Singapore turned to the “comfort in combining flour, sugar, eggs and milk to make something delicious”. It was a way to deal with the all the shit going on right now in the world, Covid-19 included. We were called “circuit bakers”, named after Singapore’s so-called circuit breaker period (a.k.a. don’t-call-it-a-lockdown).
I could tell everybody was planning to stress bake just like me – bags of plain flour, pancake mix and vanilla extract were sold out in the shops. I waited weeks to buy instant yeast at RedMart (a popular online grocer) and the nearby NTUC FairPrice, without success.
In the absence of yeast, we turned to Betty Crocker boxed cakes. All we needed were fresh milk and eggs. My kid loved to sprinkle chocolate chips in the batter (and sneak snacking on a handful or two of chips).
We turned to fridge cakes. I had a few trays of fresh blueberries bought on sale and we made them into a sauce for a cheesecake, which I made using Nigella’s Cherry Cheesecake recipe (my go-to recipe for an easy cheesecake). If I had access to sweet ripe mangoes I would have, without a doubt, made a Filipino mango float. Alas, the quality of mangoes in the shop was hit-or-miss.
Then, awesome Ate C reminded us of Filipino kakanin, local sweets usually made from glutinous rice flour and coconut milk. With no yeast required, we set off on a roll. We made biko (glutinous rice cake) with a dark brown sticky sugar topping, cheesy puto (steamed rice cake) from a mix which turned out surprisingly well, purple sapin-sapin with leftover jackfruit liberally applied so you got a lot with each bite, yema or custard balls from condensed milk and rich egg yolks.
The yeast eventually arrived. I still managed to squeeze in some gooey chocolate chip cookies – the secret is a tiny pinch of salt over the top of each cookie before baking – and misshapen cinnamon rolls, à la Cinnabon. But by then our sweet tooths had been fully satisfied. We didn’t need the yeast after all.