How I’m coping with new measures coming to Singapore in April

PM Lee announced new decisive and stricter measures for Singapore due to the Covid-19 outbreak which has hit over 1,000,000 cases globally. Singapore hit 1,000 cases two days ago. These days, the cases are at 50-70 per day. One of the cases is a teammate of mine in the canoeing club I was part of. He is in confinement at an isolation facility in the east.

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My fellow Singaporeans.

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I understand that the borders are virtually closed with short term visit pass (aka tourists) no longer allowed into Singapore. Even those employed in Singapore who happen to be abroad before the recent cut-offs, will not be allowed re-entry into Singapore unless they work for essential services (medical, etc.). I have a friend and colleague who is stranded in Johor Bahru.

It’s difficult for me to process all of this because my last day of employment is right smack in the middle of all of this. I’ll be leaving my company (for now, ahem) on April 14. It’s tough because my offboarding is going to look like a remote one. Our office is closed and locked indefinitely. I’m reaching out to HR for the next steps.

I’m looking for a new job and I’ve done a fairly good job reaching out for help. But companies are not hiring, have frozen headcount, or are not willing to sponsor work visas which puts me in a very vulnerable state. Luckily, I’ve fortified myself with a reasonable emergency fund to tide over the immediate period. This was the fund I was hoping NOT to ever use. But with this pandemic, looming unemployment… the emergency is happening NOW.

Some new measures I’ve done for myself at the start of April:

  • Reduced about SGD 160.00 worth of monthly subscription expenses. This means reducing subscriptions to “essential ones” like Netflix and Spotify which I use as entertainment to help me relax.
  • Groceries are ordered online or done physically only once or twice a week. I was to set out for a supply run this afternoon but PM Lee’s scheduled announcement reportedly set off a mad rush at grocery stores. Rumors were spreading but the rumors so far have proven false — the country is not in lockdown, yet.
  • Starting today, no more physical meet-ups even with friends. Recently I still had “1:1” with a friend at a park or groups of 5 or less. But starting today, I’m keeping to my boyfriend and my flatmates.
  • More cleaning and reduction of clutter. I need to emotionally prepare for my nomadic lifestyle which is apparently my new reality in the next few days. I’ll be sorting things into boxes and securing them. When the time is right, I’ll send one box home to the Philippines. The other boxes will be secured and stored with my boyfriend at his house in Tampines.
  • Aggressive job applications. I’m sending it out and networking as much as I can. The job market could not be any worse. The ripple effects will be unprecedented. But I’m hanging in there. I promise to hang in there. I’ll take on online jobs or online courses and use this downtime to keep developing myself.

There are no flights between Singapore and Manila right now. Both Singapore and the Philippines are doing what they can to protect its citizens. I’m a citizen of the United States who is in Singapore, with family in the Philippines. I’m not going to the United States. I want to stay in Singapore through this. If due to my visa status in Singapore I have to leave and return to the Philippines, of course, I’d be happy to (so I can look after my family too)… but the question now is… HOW?

I’ll continue to document my experience of Covid-19 because I’m determined like millions out there… to get out of this triumphantly.

How are you coping in your part of the world? Please share with me.

Some relaxing music for you:

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End of March.

And just like that, March has ended. It’s the first full month where the coronavirus took centerstage. In January, it was a few cases hitting countries outside China. In February, I was in Bali and we were all being “careful”. In March, lockdowns and quarantines. I write about it in a previous entry.

This is the new normal. That sentiment has been echoed on the content I still consume. I’ve limited the amount of big headlines and news I receive. My brain has had enough. If we’re fighting this disease with physical distance, with whatever medication there is to help deal with it… there’s also the fight emotionally and mentally. This is the first pandemic in a time of social media. We see every granular detail as if Covid-19 were standing outside our doors. Like every other cold, flu, or fever evaporated — and only one disease exists. The one that has stopped the world.

So what have I been up to?

I’m on Day 12 of working from home. I haven’t been in the office in 17 days. My flatmates are working from home or have taken “leave without pay”. It’s depressing. But I try not to let it get to me. I’ve reached out to close friends for video chats. I’ve reached out to industry friends for leads for my #nextplay. I’m doing everything that I can to “take care”. I know it’s worse for so many people out there.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be on the front line, being a breadwinner, and having no option to work from home. How does one even breathe? I can’t imagine what it’s like to to be a nurse headed to work… only to get beaten up by people for wearing a nurse’s uniform. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be Asian in America right now. With a fucking president.

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The inward view means you hear birds, not cars.

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Sadly, I’ve noticed I’ve lost motivation to exercise. I thought being at home means being able to run outside often. Or lifting weights and exercising like a Dua Lipa music video. It’s nothing close. I don’t want to go outside and run. What if I catch something?

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Support your neighborhood provision shops.

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If I’m safe at home, I’ve been doing more cooking. I’ve cooked sinigang, tortang talong, tuna pasta, and beef picadillo. I’m working on monggo beans with pork belly next and nailing the right amount of spice for aglio olio.

But sometimes one can’t resist the temptation of McDonald’s french fries. I’d use my Grab food delivery plan to waive the delivery fee — and order in. Just like below.

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Ready to dig in? #grabfoodsg #mcdonaldssg #delivery

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I’ll give myself full credit for getting through the month of March. I am strong.

  • I’ve applied for numerous #nextplay and I’ve received some warm leads.
  • I participated in my first podcast recording. It’s already published. I can be heard on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. I had fun doing it!
  • I participated as a guest speaker for a virtual webinar for entrepreneurs.
  • I’ve increased my LinkedIn followers by 33% in March. I am aggressively building my network. Reaching out to marketers and creatives.
  • I’ve cooked sinigang for the first time.
  • I’ve cooked beef torta for the first time.
  • I am now current with Westworld and I’m almost all catched up with Big Little Lies.
  • I’ve organised video chats with college friends and high school friends.
  • I added three episodes to the Bekpackr series (EP 18, EP 19, and EP 20) in March. I now have twenty episodes of Bekpackr to date. And my 2nd season has a total runtime of over an hour of content.
  • I got to mentor someone as part of LinkedIn Coaches.
  • I was able to send comms out for International Transgender Day of Visibility on behalf of Out@In Singapore. Josiah was kind to let me send the comms out since I’ll be leaving the Singapore office in two weeks.
  • The family is doing good in Cavite. I chat with them more often.
  • PJ is a sweetheart.

I have all those reasons to be grateful. I am taking care during this coronavirus outbreak. I hope you are all doing good too. Celebrate your small wins.

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Listen: My First Podcasting Experience

A few months ago I attended the Asia Podcast Awards which was held at the Google office in Mapletree. I was curious about podcasting. I remember the feeling of entering a room filled with podcasters. Content creators. Storytellers. People who have a knack for sound recording. Writing scripts. It felt like coming home!

After that seminar and awards show, I started to add people on my LinkedIn network who were connected to the podcasting group that were at the event. So happens one of them was Kenn… who did some work for my previous company.

We reconnected recently and he invited me to a podcast recording session at his studio. His studio happens to be just two blocks away from my flat in Bukit Merah.

The studio setup was really sleek. Like a radio booth. Except it was a large room with space dividers forming a semi-enclosed area. At the center, is a large table with up to four chairs. Two chairs had the microphone setup. For Kenn, it was merely flicking a switch of a button to start recording. Magic.

I couldn’t help but feel like a kid entering Disneyland for the first time. I was in front of a content creator, a magnificent voiceover artist himself (listening to him is like watching a documentary on television). I enjoyed the feeling. My heart was racing.

We spoke about how I made a pivot from creative production to marketing. And I also shared some tips on how I use my LinkedIn account to network. I hope it’s useful for freelancers out there. Especially now during the current pandemic.

You can listen to the podcast below. Let me know what you think!

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From Singapore: Covid-19 and how life has changed in 2020

I’m writing this from my room in Bukit Merah, Singapore.

It’s been over two months since the coronavirus pandemic swept the world. Its effects are unprecedented. A volcanic eruption affects and kills people in one area. A tsunami rips through entire coastal areas or a region. A pandemic, however, chooses no borders. It starts in one place. It spreads to others. In days and weeks, it is everywhere.

It almost feels as if 2020 triggered an entirely new simulation. The assassination in Iran. Brexit. Prince Harry leaving the royal family. A volcanic eruption just a few kilometres away from my parents’ home in Cavite, Philippines. And then this mysterious outbreak in Wuhan. Terrifying news coming out of China in January.

***

It’s the end of March. Borders have virtually closed down. Quarantine is in effect in multiple countries. The pandemic epicentre shifted to Europe (Italy, Spain… centres of bad news). The Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been postponed. Leaders of countries have tested positive. This past week, the United States overtook China as the country with the most cases. What was unimaginable weeks ago is now a reality. WTF is going on.

In the Philippines, my family and loved ones on the island of Luzon are under ‘enhanced quarantine’. People are restricted to stay home. Public transportation has been suspended until mid-April. Malls have closed. Only public markets, pharmacies, banks, and select restaurants remain open. As of this writing, my family have been staying at home and relying on relatives or our family driver to procure groceries. My brother has a ‘quarantine pass’ which allows him to leave the house anytime between 8am and 5pm only. I send my mom Zumba videos. We’ve also created a family group chat on WhatsApp so we are aligned on communication at all times.

Here in Singapore, the cases have increased in the past two weeks. A steady and manageable amount suddenly spiked with up to 70+ cases in one day. Mostly attributed to imported cases. These are Singaporeans and Singapore Residents who are returning to Singapore before the borders ‘closed’.

Here are some examples of regulations enforced in Singapore:

  • All short term visitors (tourists, essentially) are no longer allowed in Singapore.
  • All returning long-term visit pass holders (work visa holders such as myself) will no longer be allowed to re-enter Singapore. Only those working in the medical or essential services are allowed back in.
  • Social distancing was encouraged in the past few weeks. But in the past few days, it is now strictly enforced. Penalties for non-compliance will be taken seriously. There are actual ‘social distancing ambassadors’ out on the streets now.
  • Cinemas, bars, karaokes, and ‘discos’ (yes, they used that) closed down this past week. These measures are effective until the end of April.
  • Gatherings of more than 10 people are discouraged now.
  • Virtually all big events with many people = postponed or cancelled.
  • Malls are enforcing single or fewer entry points to monitor how many people are in an establishment. The number of people per square meter will be monitored.
  • By this point, many employees are working from home.
  • I am now working from home, indefinitely.

Some of the things I’ve observed:

  • Video conferencing is the new norm. Not only for work-related calls. I’ve organised video conference calls with college friends and high school friends.
  • The appetite to go out has decreased more in recent days. In early March, I felt fine going out to meet a friend or two. Stay in small groups. Try to live normally. But towards the end of March, with the growing number of cases… I just don’t have the energy. I’d rather stay at home and cook.
  • I’ve cooked a record four times in a week. I’ve also cooked sinigang and torta (Filipino-style beef and egg patties) for the first time. Proud of myself.
  • I’m dealing with anxiety more. Not being able to see my colleagues. Living with uncertainty over employment options that exist or don’t exist.
  • Doing online groceries is easy. But booking a slot for delivery is difficult.
  • I apply isopropyl alcohol almost every 15-30 minutes. I have two bottles with me in my room (one near my bed, the other on my home office table). I’ve also placed one outside to share with my flatmates in the dining room.
  • I limit grocery time to once or twice a week.

Here’s the beef. And there will be profanity, for good reason.

Singapore has done a fucking good job of managing the COVID-19 crisis. The Singapore government has been praised by the World Health Organisation. The measures from communication to quarantine – it works for a country that is largely disciplined to follow. Because it’s what works best for the greater society. Even the prime minister did a tremendously amazing job at speaking to his people in a nationwide address. PM Lee is calm, reassuring, thorough but concise. There is no non-sense compared to how neighbouring countries have tried to manage this.

Singapore even has an epic stimulus plan to support affected sectors in the country. These measures are aimed to help its citizens navigate this extraordinary time. Singapore prepared for this rainy day. And holy shit, it’s paying off.

BUT for the resident population, non-Singaporeans, those of us who are on work visas. I can’t help feeling anxious as to the support people like me will get. I’ve been paying taxes in Singapore for eight years. I am law-abiding and respectful. I’ve integrated and contributed. But once my work visa gets cancelled, what will happen to me? Every resource for Singapore is intended for Singaporeans (and I respect that, nations should feed its own people first). But there are those of us who are not Singaporean but call our Singapore home. I don’t know how to feel.

***

Here are my worries:

  • When my work visa gets cancelled in a few weeks, I’ll lose my status as a resident and long term visa holder. I’ll revert to short term visa. Will I still get my 30 days to remain in Singapore? Or have the rules changed? Will I be picked up by a van and ushered straight to the airport… only to discover there are no flights to Manila. Where will I go?
  • Will I be able to secure a new employment opportunity in the next few weeks? And if I do, will the government approve my new work visa? Or are they restricting as well since the job market has suffered and Singaporeans must be considered first? They are already supposed to be considered first (I agree, respectfully), but are levers being pushed harder? Will my attempts at new employment be futile?
  • My family in the Philippines. Cases are going underreported. Hospitals won’t be able to handle an outburst of cases if the situation deteriorates similar to countries in Europe and North America. If I do get sent home to the Philippines, will I be able to transit from airport to my family home? How will I do self-quarantine in my own Cavite house (or should I self-quarantine in Manila)? Is there food near my hotel or AirBnb if that happened?
  • Does my family have enough to eat? Is the situation stable (it is) and will it stay stable in the next few days and weeks? The Luzon-wide quarantine is valid until April 13. Will it be extended? For how long? What is the government doing to protect the vulnerable like the urban poor or senior citizens. What if crime rates increase and criminals take advantage of this situation?
  • My relatives, uncles, aunts… are in their 60s and 70s. What about them? Those who live in congested neighbourhoods. How are they coping? What happens if they’ll need help and will we be able to help them? Will we be able to help ourselves first?
  • How long will this last? Do I trust my government to be doing everything it can? Or is the incompetence now clearer than ever. And the mortality rate will increase with hospitals overwhelmed?

I rarely am an alarmist. But the alarms are ringing. They’re ringing in Singapore, in the Philippines, in the United Kingdom, in the United States.

This is the biggest global disruption in recent memory. We can’t compare it much to anything similar. Our generation did not grow up in a world war. There were wars in places. But you can still enjoy a margarita on a beach somewhere. Today, you can’t. Well, you can make one at home. But you know what I mean.

I hope the new testing kits I keep hearing about get created and distributed quickly. I hope the crisis gets managed in hard-hit countries like Italy and the United States. Developing countries look to the developed ones for hope. The world looks to China for hope (our Beijing office re-opened). I’m not going into the narrative of blame. Covid-19 has changed life as we know it in 2020. I hope we learn from every mistake we encounter.

Stay safe and I’ll keep you updated on more. This is my first written blog recently. I’ve been producing videos lately as a form of stress relief.

I get my updates from Singapore’s Ministry of Health.

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