A Sign of the Times

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.

Relax on a hammock at Palawan Beach
A ride on the tram. “Mask up, see your smile soon”
The Sentosa Boardwalk

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.

The replica Merlion, during National Day celebrations back in 2018.
The Merlion Walk mosaic fountain, back then. This section has now been razed to the ground.

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.

Social distancing for no one

I noticed with surprise that someone had replaced the signage displays at the Universal Studios ticket booths with these Photoshopped gems:

When you see it…

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.”

What a funny sign of today’s odd times.

Mask up and stay safe everyone!

Think critically dear readers,

Our Happy Place

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.

Best 30 minutes spent this week.

Think critically dear readers,

Small Things

Safe measures at the nearby McDonald’s. No temp check, no entry

Singapore moved to Phase Two of its three-phase reopening strategy yesterday.

It’s Re-Opening Day!

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.