Starting my Japanese language beginner’s class soon

This came in the mail the other day!

My first Japanese language textbook courtesy of Tomo Japanese Language School

Of course, iPad not included! That’s just me showing off my [Kana Drill] app which I’ve been using the past two weeks to learn Hiragana and Katakana. I’m also using [Duolingo] to get me into the flow of Japanese basic phrases and greetings.

Our classes were supposed to be physical and in-person at the school. But with Phase 2 Heightened Alert, we’ve reverted to online classes. I’m still looking forward to this. I’m excited to meet Sensei and to have real classmates that I can learn and practice with.

What are my goals?

  • Move to Japan in the future. Putting it out there that I am considering moving to Japan in the near future. How near is that future? I’m thinking in a couple of years. Some context: I grew up in Okinawa, Japan when I was a kid. Since then I’ve remained fascinated by Japanese culture, food, technology, gaming, and geography.
  • Learn a third language. I can speak English as it’s my native language. I learned how to speak Tagalog during my university years. Now, I want to be able to write and converse in Japanese. I’d like to be confident at writing, reading, and speaking. I understand it can take a few years. But I’d like to be invested in it.

My classes start in June. ❤

Phase 2 Heightened Alert

When Singapore’s response to the pandemic is one of the world’s best (as compared to countless other developed countries), you feel a sense of gratitude. You feel comfortable. Like there’s nothing to complain about. You feel safe. There are inconveniences like being required to wear a mask in public or checking into malls and restaurants using an app. But most of these measures are fine. They are necessary. Since the pandemic began, we had one large shutdown called the “circuit breaker”. Afterwards, an organised shift from Phase 1 to 3. With each phase number came lesser restrictions and more mobility for everyday life to resume.

And then, May 2021 happens. Almost right after a news article declared the Lion City as the safest place in this pandemic, a cluster forms at Changi Airport’s Terminal 3. Cases appear at different parts of the city. It’s silly to compare this to countries like India which, as of this writing, is ground zero of the pandemic. This proves that the virus can turn things around quickly for even the most highly prepared countries. It really is true… “no one is safe until everyone is safe”. And Singapore had another wake-up call in the past three weeks.

I’m emotional over this new outbreak. Many cases are close to home. I feel like we’ve done everything already to be as safe as we can be. But it doesn’t feel like it’s enough… 😦

I’ve had my first exposure alert borne from a single visit to White Sands Shopping Mall on May 4. I went to White Sands to eat a late lunch in a near-empty restaurant. I went downstairs to the basement to dapao my favourite kopi C. I was in the mall for less than an hour on a Wednesday when it was probably the least crowded. And yet, an infectious case was working at a pharmacy in the basement area. Alerts, as I understand, are generated if you are in the same postal code / building as an infectious case during a set amount of time. If I recall that afternoon, my visit was brief and rather transient: (1) eating in an empty restaurant on the third floor and (2), buying kopi C from Ya Kun Kaya Toast. I remember that visit to Ya Kun, I was attempting to use my Apple Watch to pay for kopi C — and it didn’t work. I ended up paying in cash.

White Sands eventually had some COVID-19 cases. The man at the pharmacy and then a cluster from Wok Hey… which is also at the basement. Ya Kun, if I’m not mistaken, is actually the mid-way point between the pharmacy and Wok Hey. But never mind, my visit was brief. Three minutes according to my SafeEntry. But this is enough for me to get included into the government’s surveillance operations for White Sands. They are “strongly encouraging” anyone at White Sands between May 2 and 11 to go for free testing at a regional testing centre. I was apprehensive at first (scared of getting swabbed, I haven’t experienced it yet). But then I felt strongly that it’s my duty as a resident of Singapore to check my health and my status. I’ve felt okay the past two weeks. Perhaps only anxious at times with the news. MOH and the news outlets publish information about the day’s COVID-19 cases (places where they’ve been) in the late evening hours. LOL. That’s not helping me catch any sleep.

I’m going for my first COVID-19 swab on May 29 as part of the government’s programme to conduct surveillance to see if there are more cases at White Sands. Two of my flatmates, who were also at White Sands during those dates, are going for testing as well. None of us at home are sick. We all feel fine. We are just doing our part. Plus, the test is free anyway.

After the latest string of clusters, home is now the default. It’s recommended by government. Work from home is also the default. I think it’s a soft circuit breaker. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the next week or so. If cases die down to below ten, below five, or back to the ones and zeroes we’ve gotten used to in recent months. Or if it goes the other way and we have a full lockdown.

Many of the recent cases are close to home: White Sands (where I do groceries normally), Pasir Ris Elias Community Club McDonalds (where we order our McDonalds from occasionally),and Changi Airport (I frequent Jewel Changi Airport, we even had a staycation there). Recent cases are distributed in diverse spaces from the country’s top hospital, to schools, shopping malls…

Dining in is banned. This is now a common sight again.

I’m writing this to document this period. I’m waiting for my turn to get vaccinated. As of this writing, they are vaccinating those who are 40 and above. Be safe, everyone.

Revisiting Yishun’s Northpoint in 2021

The pandemic has kept most of us from travelling overseas for leisure. What’s the next best thing to do? Go visit a shopping mall in Yishun.

Massive Northpoint City in Yishun

I used to live in Yishun. It was one of my first neighbourhoods in Singapore. Back then, the neighborhood shopping mall was a simple building with an L-shaped layout. The mall sat opposite the MRT station. The bus interchange was as simple as it could get. Two sides lined with bus berths. It was open air and you can feel the humidity each time.

Before and after (from Google Street View)

How I remember Yishun vs how it looks today (in 2021)

Eight years later and that bus interchange is now air conditioned with a condo built on top of it. Northpoint mall is now Northpoint City and it looks like it doubled in size. A large tunnel between the MRT side and the shopping mall was built. This tunnel is lined by shops. The entire vibe reminds me of subway stations in Hong Kong and Tokyo. (Or, Orchard… of course.)

It was also pretty packed with shoppers queuing to enter the mall. Due to capacity limits brought by the pandemic, queuing to enter is normal.

This is the newer tunnel that links Yishun MRT to the shopping mall.

Once inside, I was completely wide-eyed. Funny because most stores and restaurants you’ll find branches in other malls across the island. But it was fun because I was looking for traces of the old mall.

I was hungry and happily found a Wee Nam Kee at the basement level. I ordered my favourite roast chicken rice set with dumpling soup. I also added a glass of lime juice.

Wee Nam Kee at Yishun’s Northpoint City

I met up with my friend G who lives in Yishun. He knows how excited I get about revisiting places in Singapore so he literally gave me a level-by-level tour of Northpoint City. He also added tidbits about shops he remembers growing up.

Waffles, ice cream, and coffee with G in Yishun

I was overwhelmed by the amount of people in the mall. Because I live in Pasir Ris, I’m not used to seeing so many people packed into one building. Even in Tampines, there are three malls that sit next to each other… so there’s an open air vibe there.

I couldn’t help but reminisce about my first chapter in Singapore many years ago. I remember the takoyaki stall outside the grocery store in the basement. It’s still there and the signages look welcomingly dated. I see where the old mall gives way to the new extension. The flooring changes. The way the shop signs are displayed look different. If I can add, what’s alluring here is the hodgepodge of old and new. Because finding traces of history vs development in this city is important. LOL I KNOW IT’S JUST NORTHPOINT. But for once, I’m seeing something where both co-exist. They didn’t have to knock down the old Northpoint in the process.

But yeaaaaah… hella lot of people. Social distancing ambassadors were around. QR codes for SafeEntry were everywhere. But I didn’t want to linger at the mall for too long.

This section is part of the extension of Northpoint. You’ll notice barricades because people arriving from the bus interchange have to queue to enter the shopping mall. They are doing controlled entry.

Thank you again G for showing me around!

The sooner, the better

That’s the easiest way to describe how I now feel about vaccines at this point.

Since vaccines started rolling out worldwide in recent months, I was hoping my family in the Philippines could get access to a particular vaccine that both science and the world media say has “higher efficacy” (quotes intended). But that particular vaccine isn’t available in most developing countries.

The question becomes this: Can we afford to sit and wait for a particular brand of vaccine while the pandemic infects more friends, colleagues, and people we know?

We don’t have the luxury of waiting. We know some people and some countries are able to quietly enjoy that luxury. But not in the Philippines. Many Filipinos, including many of my family and loved ones, don’t have the luxury of choosing which vaccine.

The best vaccine is the first one offered to you by your country’s health ministry. If it can prevent severe illness, it is already miles ahead of having no protection at all.

I’m happy my mom got her first jab on May 6 at the Tanza Specialists Medical Center in Cavite. She is scheduled to get her second jab in a few weeks.

Our family has agreed that all of us will aim to get fully vaccinated as soon as we can.

Singapore Favorites: Kimoto Gastro Bar

My boyfriend and I discovered this kushiyaki izakaya at The Sail when I used to work at LinkedIn. It has my kind of vibe: Japanese skewered meat, Japanese beers, a long bar table, and with minimal foot traffic. It’s like a secret! Very hole-in-the-wall and hidden if you don’t know where to look.

My friend A and I met up at Kimoto Gastro Bar to catch up over some Asahi beers. I’m glad the establishment is still open during this pandemic.

Sorry to make you squint. Here’s the menu at Kimoto Gastro Bar.

They have donburi available but I am eating less rice these days so I’m fine with the kushiyaki. The Buta Bara (2 sticks) for SGD 7.80 is SO GOOD. It’s addictive. The pork belly is juicy and freshly grilled. We couldn’t stop ordering. I think we had three plates of that!

We also ordered the Sasami (2 sticks) for SGD 7.80 which is tender chicken breast with wasabi and lime. WASABI on a kushiyaki – amazing haha! The other item on the plate is the Enoki Maki wrapped with pork belly for SGD 4.80. Sinful. The juicy pork belly wrapped around a crunchy filling of enoki mushrooms.

It’s a great place to catch up with old friends in Singapore’s CBD.

Glad to also catch up with A who is hella busy these days with his raqs sharqi which is the official or proper name of bellydancing. A shared with me his dance school’s logo. It’s great that outside of his full time role as a recruiter, he is passionately pursuing the arts. You can follow him on Facebook.

A selfie with A inside Kimoto Gastro Bar. What you see behind us is the ambiance of the establishment.

Location: Kimoto Gastro Bar is at The Sail, 6 Marina Boulevard #01-15 Singapore 018985. Closest MRT station is: Downtown. It is accessible as well from Raffles Place MRT. Visit Kimoto’s Facebook.

Preparing for this marathon

Taking a selfie at the Promontory. It’s a beautiful spot for a reprieve when you’re in the downtown area.

I think we are going to live with this virus for the next few years.

Businesses and travel might resume in the next few months. More people might get vaccinated. But I think it makes sense to start planning for the long term. It’s going to be like this for the immediate future. We will be wearing masks and undergoing tests. We will start reading more about hospital capacity in our locale as well as news about outbreaks. Some of us might even catch the virus eventually. I don’t want to be fatalistic in thinking. It only makes sense to prepare for every outcome.

In the past two months I’ve seen friends and contacts become infected. Today, a death in one of my circles. Two of my three immediate family members have received their first vaccine jab. I’m currently in queue for my own shot in a few weeks.

Last week, I went to work in my office for the first time since I started in the job last June. It still wasn’t the same as walking into an office filled with people. The nine of us in the office last week were social distancing from each other and we were all wearing masks.

Though Singapore’s Covid-19 cases in recent months have plummeted, there was a sudden spike with 16 community cases last week. A fully vaccinated Filipino nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) tested positive for the virus. A cluster has formed at TTSH which has claimed the life of one patient. It is the 31st death in Singapore since the pandemic began. The total cases in Singapore is over 61,000. That’s compared to over 1 million cases in the Philippines to date.

The MOH website says that about 849,764 people in Singapore have received the full dosage of a vaccine. They are currently offering it to those 45 and above, as well as front-liners. They say that people below 45 will be allowed to register from June.

I have not been home in the Philippines since Christmas of 2019. While this is the longest time I have been physically away from family, our chats have increased. I Facetime with my mom regularly. We talk about what they had as a family for lunch and dinner. Sometimes I video call from places in Singapore like the ArtScience Museum or the rain vortex at Jewel Changi Airport. They tell me about their isolation at home. My brother and my dad converted a bodega into a home gym. My mom enjoys connecting with relatives via Facebook. They tell me that our driver, Kuya Boyet, helps do grocery runs. Except for my brother, the family stays at home 100% of the time. The only two instances they left the house was to attend two funerals.

It’s reached a point that we’ve discussed the idea of my parents moving to the United States in the immediate future. We’re thinking that once everyone is fully vaccinated, if it would be wiser for our parents to stay in California where there are hospital beds if needed. The idea of an emergency and no hospital able to admit you is horrifying. I can’t believe it’s gotten that bad in the Philippines. I am stressed over the thought of my parents getting on an airplane to take a 15-hour flight to San Francisco. My brother says he will travel with them. I’m thinking if I can meet them in California. Perhaps travel between Singapore and the United States would be safer. That’s why I monitor the news about Covid-19 in the United States.

The idea is that all of this is feasible only after we all complete our vaccination.

***

I am doing fine in Singapore. There are a few upcoming things that might be stressful. PJ’s pass is for renewal in a few months and I’m encouraging him to aggressively pursue the option that secures a work pass for him that’s good for 24 months or valid until 2023 at least. By then, at least one of his siblings would’ve graduated from university already and would be working. He gives so much for his family and I only want to see him thrive.

As for me, my work pass is valid until the middle of 2022. There is much uncertainty over work passes these days. My role is based in Manila but it does not make sense to put myself in a cage in Manila – isolated from my circles during this pandemic – in a job that can be done 100% online. Only if the veil of this pandemic is fully lifted will I consider relocating to Manila for the job. I think I can accomplish everything needed for the role while being safe in Singapore.

Our living arrangement is safe. I share the house with other overseas Filipino workers who are breadwinners in their own right. We have a happy atmosphere of occasional movie nights, birthday parties, and barbecues. It’s rare that I host my own friends these days but I’ve invited some for Nintendo Switch or a chat over beer.

On most weeknights I’m part of an online HIIT and body weights class. It’s something I make a point to participate in as much as possible. The interactions are healthy for the brain. Exercising releases endorphins. It also helps provide structure to my day. I’ve also resumed intermittent fasting. I had to pause in April because of a root canal.

***

We are going to have to live with this virus for the next few years. I suggest we start planning for it instead of waiting for it to magically disappear. It’s so bad in India, in the Philippines, and in countries that are lifting restrictions prematurely. Wherever you are reading this, be safe.