Covid-19: Lest I forget the gritty details (Part 1)

The news of the novel coronavirus in China was already circulating. 24 January 2020, one Mainland Chinese tourist in Singapore tested positive. 25 January 2020, several Mainland Chinese tourists in Malaysia tested positive. The first inkling of what is to come was when I flew back to Singapore from KLIA on 27 January 2020 after the CNY break. I can’t remember the exact reason why the awareness was heightened on this trip back to Singapore. I think it may have been triggered by a university email about travel declarations and the setting up of quarantine and leave of absence (LOA) student housing. The Grabcar driver who picked me up from my brother’s place was wearing a mask. When I arrived at KLIA and saw quite many airline staff and travellers with surgical masks on, that was when Covid-19 (then called novel coronavirus) situation became a reality in my life. I remember looking over at a group of tourists from Mainland China checking-in at the Southern China airline counter.

Travel Declarations

By 28 January 2020, the university had set up an Online Travel Declaration site for staff and students to declare any travel to China. Anyone who had traveled to Wuhan, would be quarantined for 14 days. Anyone who had traveled to other parts of China would be on LOA for 14 days. Initially there were some hiccups. Many prompts were sent to remind students to declare their travel. There were also a number of error declarations where students who did not travel to China, mistakenly entered “yes”. This was followed by some hoohah where these students were prevented from coming to class until their error declarations were checked out by the Immigration dept. I don’t think it got that far, because after a few days, these students were allowed to attend classes again.

Food Delivery for students on LOA

End January 2020 was also when the university moved students out of some graduate housing blocks and converted the units to house international students who had returned from China and had been placed on LOA. Another block was designated as a quarantine unit for people who had close contact with a confirmed case or who visited and returned from Wuhan.

For the 210 students in the LOA blocks, breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided for 14 days. Because of the large number of meals to be delivered, there was a call for volunteers to help distribute meals. I remember going for my first meal distribution volunteer session. It was lunch time on a Thursday (6 Feb 2020). Waiting at the entrance area with other volunteers and with surgical masks on, I saw a Grabfood rider arriving at the block. He must have quite a shock to see that sight. Then a male student, with a mask on, emerged from the LOA block to collect his Subway sandwich. LOA students are not confined to the building, they can travel out but just not to attend classes.

The volunteers had to use hand sanitizer before entering the building. We were told to hang the plastic bag of food on the door handle, to be especially careful not to touch the handle, and not to knock on the door because some students have complained about that. There were also special meals: vegetarian, eggless, no shellfish, etc. We also had to discard the breakfast sandwich and coffee that were left untouched. There were some confusion when the student was quick to retrieve the meal, and then another volunteer might hang another set of meal on that door handle. When I left, I quickly threw away the mask, and sanitized my hands and took the bus to office.

During my second volunteer duty on Saturday (8 Feb), the young folk in charge asked if I still had my mask from the previous session! That just shows people were not so aware of the do-s and don’t-s in this novel situation. I said no and she sent someone to get a mask for me.

I did a third call of food delivery duty on Saturday (15 Feb), by then there were fewer students on LOA in the block. Most have served their 14 days.

Daily Twice-a-day Temperature Taking and Declaration

On Sunday (9 Feb 2020), we received an email that there would be mandatory twice a day temperature taking and online declaration starting on Monday (10 Feb 2020). I was a bit distressed by this because I didn’t have a thermometer and dreaded the thought of the inconvenience of having to go to the hall office or the different temperature taking stations twice a day. I even pondered whether my food probe thermometer might work. I then went to the nearby mall knowing that there’s a baby section at Robinsons (higher end departmental store) and thinking that people may not venture there. To my delight and relief, they had two Pigeon brand baby thermometers. I bought both. I also found baby thermometers at the baby section at FairPrice. While I was browsing the pharmacies at the mall (looking for surgical masks but knowing there wouldn’t be any), I heard people asking the staff for thermometers and there was none available. Texted my colleagues to check if they needed any but did not hear from them. I decided to just buy another thermometer from Fair Price. I passed the two thermometers to my colleagues.

However, it turned out the temperature taking stations were quite conveniently placed and there were not many people queuing at the stations. Eventually the university placed temperature video scanners at some main thoroughfares and we didn’t have to be “shot” in the head daily by the contactless thermometers.

Twice a day temperature taking is still happening. My baby thermometer is very helpful when I’m working from home or is in the office and too lazy to walk out to the temperature taking stations.

More to come ….

Being a temporary resident

I remember back in 2010 when I got my job offer in Texas, I was mulling over how to furnish my future rental apartment. Back then, as an international student, I managed to get by with several pieces of furniture: serta twin mattress, ikea desk and drawer, and ikea poang chair.

Knowing I am going start a new job, somewhat of a new life, do I still go cheapo, poor international student style, or spend more on better quality furniture? The conundrum was I didn’t know how long I would be in Texas. Will I be there for 2 years, 5 years, 10 years? I had no concrete plans.

One day I mentioned my struggle to Inkeri, and she wisely said to buy moderately affordable furniture that I like and if I have to move again, I could donate my “nicer” furniture to others who need it. I was placated and happy with this advice.

I stayed in Texas for 16 months and then moved here. As advised, I asked around in church for anyone who needed furniture. At first I was given a name but the lady never followed through. So I went to ask the condominium maintenance staff if he knew of anyone who needed relatively new furniture. He came over the next day with a few friends and carted away my bed, mattress, study table, sofa and bookshelf.

When I moved into my previous place, I took Inkeri’s advice again and bought some moderately affordable furniture, but because I was no longer a poor international student, I could afford to buy more. Buying more included getting nice-for-now-but-what-about-later? pieces like the Ikea glass cabinets for my lego sets. Felt like such a great idea at first. When the Cheah family, who happened to be visiting then, had finished assembling it and we had to move it to the upright position, I felt a pang of regret – it was so heavy and so fragile. But it’s too late. Well, I had the 2 glass cabinets for 5.5 years and proudly displayed my slowly yellowing lego sets.

When it was time to move again, no one wanted the glass cabinets when I contacted two charitable organizations. I ended up having to pay $150 for people to discard the cabinets along with my spoilt treadmill.

Now that I’m at this new place, which feels even more temporary, I dread buying furniture because when I have to move again, most likely I have to pay people to throw away the things. But I also don’t like the feeling of living out of boxes and not having a “permanent” place for things. I’m rummaging through 3-4 boxes to find my things. So I bought a few “lightweight” shelves for my books, and the other day I went to buy one more shelf with a cover for my lego sets.

Come to think of it, with my cheap furniture and mattress on the floor, I’m back to living somewhat like a poor international student. Except that I have a Nespresso machine and an Aeroccino milk frother!

Sometimes I think this stress of I-have-so-much-stuff-what’s-going-to happen-when-I-have-to-move-again is self-imposed. Maybe the difference now compared to Texas days is that in this country, donating to someone who needs it is not as simple or easy.

In the end, I just have to pay someone to either move it or discard it. Cannot run away from that.

Ending 2018

I bought the Assembly Square set back in September 2017. I wanted to use it as a reward for submitting a manuscript on the Equal project. But with all the work on the funded grants, I never got to completing that manuscript. So this big box of lego remained unopened and a reminder of my disappointingly unproductive academic writing life.

I opened the box today to end 2018, and to begin 2019, with something that I love doing. I shouldn’t set aside things that I enjoy to be “on contingent” on my work achievement. Life is too short for that.

December 2019 Fitness Tracker
~ 1 Dec 7:46pm 38:00 FB30R3 D8 Strength supersets
~ 4 Dec 9:30pm 37:00 FB30R3 D9 Upper body & Core
~ 7 Dec 9:12pm 36:00 FB30R3 D11 Upper body — cheated, did not do burnout round
~ 9 Dec 5:50pm 30:00 FB30R3 D12 HIIT + strength — felt like I’m at about 70% of my best form and not getting better
~ 31 Dec 6:20pm 35:00 FB30R3 D13 Pilates/yoga — strained a shoulder/neck muscle this morning, need this.

Overall, 2018 has been a weak year for my fitness. I’m not sure why. I just grew lazy.

Still somewhat living out of boxes

Two months at the new place, still somewhat living out of boxes. I’m undecided whether to get display shelves for my lego sets, and bookshelves for my books. Or just leave them in the boxes. Getting the shelves and a proper bed would be nice, but lately I feel very burdened by the thought of owning big furniture. Getting them is troublesome, and when I move again and need to discard them – another headache.

Moving to this place puts my mind in a limbo. Often reminded that all of this is temporary, often ruminating on what’s next. Don’t know if being in this state of mind is good or bad.

The construction outside will continue to be messy and noisy for another year. But once all the chaos is over and done with, there will be a beautiful lake garden right next to my temporary home. I think it’ll be very nice. Maybe I should hold on until then before making any decision.

November 2018 Fitness Tracker
~ 9 Nov 5:50pm 48:00 FB30R3 D1 Total body strength
~ 11 Nov 6:23pm 31:00 FB30R3 D2 Cardio interval
~ 12 Nov 6:15pm 38:00 FB30R3 D3 HIIT + strength – new place’s wood laminate flooring not as slippery as the old place, downward dog not slipping
~ 26 Nov 7:45pm 31:00 FB30R3 D4 Upper body strength – long break (KL visit and parents visit)
~ 28 Nov 9:32pm 35:00 FB30R3 D5 Lower body strength + HIIT – forced myself to do this
~ 29 Nov 9:27pm 26:00 FB30R3 D6 Static stretches for flexibility

I lost my fitness groove in 2018, so sad.

Moving is an emotional workout too

The first time I viewed the apartment back in November 2012. I moved in January 2013.

The last time I looked at the apartment on 20 September 2018.

You grow accustomed to things. I remember really disliking the location of this unit because everyone who walked into the apartment block can look into the laundry and kitchen area. But once I put up the bamboo blind, it wasn’t that bad anymore. I only fully appreciated all the closet space when I saw that my new place has less than half the closet space. At the same time, maybe it’s good to not have so much space so that I won’t indiscriminately accumulate a lot of junk. The old place was also really quiet and I did not share any walls with any neighbours.

The move really zapped all my physical and mental energy in September. I only managed to squeeze out 4 workouts.

September 2018 Fitness Tracker
~ 5 Sep 9:37pm 35:00 FBStrong D15 Total body strength — At least squeezed one in to start the month
~ 23 Sep 6:35pm 27:00 FB Build a better booty workout — First workout in new home, the floor is noisier, the lights are brighter, without any beds this room feels like a dedicated workout gym.
~ 26 Sep 5:05pm 31:00 FB 3 Day Flexibility Challenge Day 1 — Need a nap
~ 30 Sep 6:15pm 35:00 FB Upper body + Abs workout

Isn’t it ironic?!!

The ventilation hose for my dryer broke over 2 years ago. The original ventilation hose is over 2 meter long, when it broke it was only less than 1 meter long. Since my dryer was located in the laundry area, which is kind of outside the apartment, I didn’t bother changing it. However, when I realised I was going to move I knew I had to get a new ventilation hose or else I would not be able to use the dryer at my new place where the dryer will be placed inside the apartment. I went to a few hardware stores and checked out on the internet but couldn’t find one.

Once I moved to the new place, the urgency to get the ventilation hose increased. I contacted the manufacturer online but no reply after waiting 48 hours, so I ended up calling their customer care center and they have the ventilation hose at their retail office. It would cost $55. That office wasn’t near my place and I had to make plans to squeeze time out of my busy schedule to go there.

I scheduled a quick side trip while on my way to a school meeting to get the ventilation hose. But I left work slightly late and ended up would not even make it to the meeting on time without the side trip, but I was kinda desperate so continued on to the retail office to get the ventilation hose but sent a message to tell the others that I would be 20 minutes late. Finally, I got my hands on the ventilation hose and I was so happy I can finally wash and dry my laundry. That night, I figured out how to fix the hose to the dryer and carefully arranged the hose to vent out the window. I did my first load of laundry drying in over a week.

The next morning, I did another load. When the load was almost dry, the apartment experienced a power trip and I detected a burnt smell. I had to call campus security for campus maintenance number. Waited for the electrician to un-trip the power to the apartment (needed to save the Haagen Dazs ice-cream in the freezer). According to the electrician, the power socket is ok but something broke in my dryer. Now I have to call a repair person to come check out the dryer. As if I do not have enough things on my to-do list already!

I was just thinking – Isn’t it Ironic?!! I spent so much time fussing over the dryer ventilation hose. Yesterday, I thought my dryer issue is all over and I can get on with my normal laundry routine. Then this morning, it was like I dropped down a snake in a snake-and-ladder game and fell even further behind. Now I have a broken dryer and a $55 nice shiny flexible aluminium almost brand new “useless” ventilation hose.

Moving is a strength and endurance workout

Just packed and sealed 8 boxes of books. Quite a workout — hulling, pulling and pushing the boxes of books around. This is just the first hill of the moving marathon.

Here is August 2018 Fitness Tracker:
~ 1 Aug 9:57pm 38:00 *249cal Ave119 Max155 FB30R3 D11 Upper body burnout — First workout to start a busy month
~ 5 Aug 5:30pm 40:00 FBStrong Day 1 lower body — Trying a mostly strength training program, and not using the heart rate monitor. The lunges kept my heart pumping.
~ 6 Aug 8:15pm 41:00 FBStrong D2 upper body burnout — cheated a little, skipped burnout round of pullover and hammer curl.
~ 8 Aug 6:17pm 34:00 FBStrong D3 Core
~ 11 Aug 5:52pm 41:00 FBStrong D4 lower body — right knee iffy
~ 12 Aug 4:42pm 40:00 FBStrong D5 functional upper body workout — good one
~ 14 Aug 9:18pm 35:00 FBStrong D6 Relaxing stretching workout 🙂
~ 15 Aug 8:47pm 45:00 FBStrong D8 HIIT cardio butt and thigh — stressful day 🙁
~ 18 Aug 6:10pm 40:00 FBStrong D9 Upper body workout bored easily
~ 19 Aug 6:20pm 30:00 FBStrong D10 HIIT + Abs — I think my abs are a tat stronger, not shaking as much during planks
~ 20 Aug 10:30pm 31:00 FB fluid full body stretch — I should always schedule a stretching session after every evening class.
~ 22 Aug 9:15pm 31:00 FBStrong D11 Strong lean toned arms
~ 26 Aug 8:40pm 27:00 FB Stretching pilates yoga blend — good stretch after a 6-hr bus ride
~ 27 Aug 11:59pm 15:00 FB Restorative yoga pilates workout — video hung in the middle, so did some freestyling stretches instead
~ 31 Aug 6:18pm 41:00 FBStrong D12 Lower body workout — last one for August
Not too bad considering the hecticness of a new semester teaching 3 courses a week.

Moving

According to random websites, the top 5 most stressful events are (a) death of a loved one, (b) divorce, (c) moving, (d) major illness, and (e) job loss.

I’m reflecting on all the major “moves” in my life.

December 1983
I do not remember this move from KL to Penang. I do however remember the first days of school in Penang — how lost and lonely I felt. Back in KL, the teachers spoke in BM more, and the school in Penang, most of the teachers spoke in English.

December 1992
Moved from grandparents’ place to new flat in Farlim. I have some memories of this move. It’s nice to finally have a bedroom of my own. I remember the friends from church coming by to help out.

July 1995
Moved to university dorm to start undergraduate studies. I remember my parents, uncle and aunt, all helping out with this move. It was a proud moment for the family to have a young family member attend university. I moved in with 2 buckets (for laundry) and some clothing, shoes, etc. I also remember feeling very lost and lonely when my parents left.

June 1996
Moved from university dorm to share a room with two sisters in the housing estate near the university.

June 1997
Moved from this house to an uncle’s (dad’s cousin) place in another housing estate near the university.

June 1998
Moved to an aunt’s (mom’s brother’s wife’s sister) place in another housing estate near the university. This house was the richest and fanciest house in that housing estate.

November 1999
Moved back to Penang after completing undergraduate degree. I remember discarding all my university notes and photocopied textbooks.

June 2000
Moved back to KL to stay with big brother and cousin. Started work at a center for students with autism and then started master degree.

March 2003
Moved back to Penang after finishing master degree and quitting job as a teacher in a center for children with down syndrome. By then I had applied to do PhD in the US and waiting for the results.

August 2003
Moved to the US to start PhD studies. I remember the 3 luggage bags that went with me. One extra large, one medium, and a small rolling carry-on. This was a stressful move because I was leaving family and going into the unknown. I remember the farewell meal that mom cooked, and she had made watercress soup but I could hardly stomach the soup while trying very hard not to cry during the meal.

August 2005
Moved from private rental apartment to university’s graduate student housing. My friends from Ghana and Cameroon helped me with the move. After 2 years, I’ve already gathered a lot more stuff than 3 bags full.

November 2009
Moved from graduate student apartment to share apartment with Marcelita. Roommate from South Korea graduated and I couldn’t afford to pay the full rental for the 2-bedroom apartment. This time it was Clare and Mike that helped me move. I even had a twin bed, a desk, a drawer unit and an Ikea Poang chair to move.

August 2010

Drove with Natalie from PA to TX with all my earthly belonging in the Pontiac Vibe. I had to sell and donate a lot of stuff. Only the Ikea Poang chair went to TX. I shipped two boxes of books via USPS.

November 2011

Moved from TX to SG to start new job. This has got to be my toughest move, both logistically and emotionally, so far. Even with the new university paying for the move, I still had to give away a lot of my stuff. But it was nice to have full service move where the moving company packed all my stuff. However, when I finally flew to SG, I still had 3 large bags and had to pay extra for the third bag. There was also a lot of goodbyes to make, both in TX and PA.

January 2013

Moved from off-campus staff housing to on-campus staff housing. Still not so much stuff yet in SG, except for my treadmill. Moving that through every single doorway gave the moving company workers a nightmare.

September 2018 (Upcoming move)

I’m now packing for my next move to another place on campus. Definitely the most stuff so far. This time I will be discarding the treadmill and the dangerously heavy glass cabinets.

How many moves have you made in your lifetime?

Birthday!

“Celebrating” my birthday in an eclectic manner. Now I’m journeying along the North-South highway from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. Earlier I attended Ann’s wedding and met up with several uni friends of more than 20 years.


Baskin Robbins at Pagoh highway stop

The last time I had a traveling birthday, I think, was in 2010 when I flew back to Bethlehem from Dallas after my job interview at Texas A&M-Commerce. The flight was supposed to be on the 24th but was canceled due to bad weather and I ended up spending part of my birthday at Holiday Inn Express DFW.