These Four Walls

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

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A collection of photos from my personal stay-home experience during Singapore's version of a lockdown, termed a 'circuit breaker' from April to June this year; 

I baked, a lot. 

I baked way too much to feed my family, and decided to gift them to neighbours as well as friends. This little project kept me busy for the most part of the lockdown, and I'm thankful for delivery drivers who were able to safely transport my packages of baked goods to all those willing to be my guinea pigs. Also huge shoutout to all those who drove right to my doorstep to make sure none of my kitchen adventures went to waste. 

Some of my kitchen adventures were out of curiosity for what's trending... 

... While some completely experimental. 

It was also clear that neighbours were also hanging out in their kitchens a lot. We got gifted some delicious goodies, such as this homemade bubur-chacha. 

And I got sent a bunch of my favourite things, so thank you everyone who kept me in their thoughts. 

Apart from tangible acts of friendship, I particularly enjoyed the virtual ones that proved that distance knows no boundaries. 

Other than keeping in touch with people who knew me, technology also made musical and arts performances from all around the world accessible to me without needing to leave home. 

Stunning visual spectaculars were also available simply by peering out of my window. Sunrises are best caught from my kitchen window, and sunsets from the living room's—poignant reminders that there's so much more beyond these four walls, and that the world was still spinning despite how we'd perceived it to "stop". There's so much more, much bigger than ourselves. 

The windows also served to build a sense of community. We clapped, cheered, and sung songs together as a relatively young neighbourhood in Sengkang, to keep spirits going for both frontliners and probably (mostly) ourselves. 

And I officially graduated during the circuit breaker too! 

Not able to eat out? Not a problem. I attempted to recreate some of my favourite foods from a bunch of different cuisines. We have what I'd loosely term 'Western'...

... Some Korean inspired ones mostly because I started to watch way too many mukbangs during lockdown... 

... And of course, good ol' local favourites. 

Ending off this archive of memories from a once-in-a-lifetime moment with a selfie for good measure, which I actually took to support the local business which hand-made the pair of earrings I was wearing. Yes, one of the many local business that sprung up as a result of the lockdown, which was quite inspiring to see. 

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Stream of Consciousness: 2020

Saturday, December 26, 2020

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Well, it's been a good couple of months feebly attempting to act all "business-as-usual" as I experienced fleeting moments of feeling like I'm a protagonist in a dystopian sci-fi novel, and feeling broken when I realize that I'm in fact not in one.

I oscillated between caring about how I was going to get my next bubbletea or McDonald's fix (still can't quite believe there existed a moment in time where these comfort foods were not available to us), and thinking about how best I could help communities falling through the cracks especially during this pandemic (these thoughts typically result in me making a monetary donation, though that is undoubtedly the easiest, most low-involvement way to pacify my own guilt more than anything). Yet somehow, all these concerns seemed to take up equal headspace in my consciousness despite their supposed differences in relative importance, which was a tad unnervingbut I guess that happens when one is confined in their room and every situation is reduced to words at a corner of a newspaper. Your sense of prioritization gets all warped and everything's ends up being the next big thing that requires your attention. 

I reached a point where I could no longer care about the next headline. 

Of course, to have the biggest source of anxiety come from merely reading the text on a page describing a situation far removed from my own life, I'm privileged. I'm not severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and I'm living in a country that is managing the situation in a reasonably controlled manner. Free vaccines for all would be unheard of in so many other places where basic healthcare rights is already a huge debate in itself. 

But I do want to acknowledge 2020 for it's rough patches. It's been a hella bumpy ride. This isn't meant to be a recap of all the terrible things that have happened, but neither do I want future me to look back upon this year with rose-tinted glasses. There'll come a point where the world gets pass this, when people look back and start sharing about how much they've "grown" from this monumental year. I forsee a bunch of advocates touting their new sustainable and mindful practices which they've made into habits throughout this year, which is honestly awesome, but it isn't always healthy to only have role models who emerge from this pandemic with a newfound skill or a "better" way of living. These are badges of honour given out to those who've somehow figured out how to be productive when the world was trying ot put out its multiple fires. 

It's OK to not have these things figured out, I know I haven't. 

Chasing productivity has been such a daunting task, particularly in a remote work setting. Starting a new job in the middle of a pandemic has made it challenging to behave how I would in a "business-as-usual" situation because I wasn't even sure what that entailed. In my first couple of weeks on the job, I recall attending an internal session conducted on managing 'work-from-home' stress and one of the ways which we could self-identify if we needed professional help was by comparing our current levels of work activity with that in a pre-Covid universe. Unfortunately, that didn't end up being useful for me since I didn't have that benchmark to start with—what now? This feeling of unease wasn't something I immediately resolved and I still don't know what my "normal" levels of function are supposed to be, but over time, I've come to terms with my work performance, and words of affirmation from my supportive team mates do help to soothe my jumpy state of mind.  

Above all, this year proved to me that academic or career achievements don't equate to emotional well-being at all. Professional accolades-wise, I'm on an all-time high for sureofficially becoming a graduate and starting a full-time job. Yet, this year also marked the lowest I've ever felt in my entire life from a mental-health perspective. It's been a year of transitions and not feeling in control, so I finally let my emotions get the better of me, something I've been conditioned to take pride in not doing. Despite the fear of sounding cliché, it has really been an ongoing journey of discovering a side of myself that I usually suppress, and I'm grateful to also have avenues to seek help from. 

There are only four more sleeps till 2021 and as much as we're all hoping for the world to magically heal overnight as the clock strikes midnight, it's unrealistic. The impact of this pandemic is going to be far-reaching, affecting us deeply even in the year ahead and beyond, so here's wishing for the best and sending strength to anyone out there who might need it. 
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Rotorua, New Zealand

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

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Recently, New Zealand has been gaining much recognition - for good reason! Its government's response to the Covid-19 situation has been lauded globally as one of the best and most empathetic, with tangible results to boot. The hopeful and positive news coming from the country has been heartening, to say the least, and has given me the motivation to look back on my extended stay there following the Champions Trophy competition in early February. 

While I rarely extend my trips before or after case competitions because I don't enjoy missing too many classes (catching up is always a nightmare), I did it this time with the entire team and didn't regret it one bit! As we had already explored Auckland during the competition time frame, we decided to rent a car to drive to Rotorua, a neighbouring city about 3-4 hours away. Before that, we fueled up at Odettes Eatery - our final meal with Prof before she departed for Singapore later that afternoon! 

Insanely fresh produce! It'll probably be amazing to some people, but I'm someone who prefers my food laden with preservatives.

Huge shoutout to the guys for driving us safely to Roturua - despite some pretty hilarious wrong turns where we almost trespassed into someone else's residence thinking that it was our Airbnb because of the wrong address keyed into the GPS. We also had multiple stops along the way, though my favourite one by far was to the grocery store to get some food to cook up dinner that evening and breakfast the next day! 

Our Airbnb was a quaint, cozy cottage situated on this gorgeous street. Fun fact: we flew to New Zealand without having booked any accommodation for our extended stay, and booked this place only during the competition. 

We took an evening stroll before dinner, in an attempt to catch the sunset.

Just a man and his best friend.

And the sun started setting as we were heading back to our home for the night!

Feast for the eyes - which also indicates that we had better start preparing our own dinner feast too.

We misjudged how quickly it'd take for us to whip up dinner and ended up eating at around 10pm. I loved this experience though - when I was overseas on exchange, my dorm did not come equipped with a kitchen (just a microwave) and thus I didn't get the freedom of preparing meals with my friends. This felt very warm and homely, though I can't imagine doing it everyday. 

Dinner was pan-seared salmon with a soy sauce glaze, and carbonara shells with bacon bits, paired with wine! 

The next morning, all of us woke up pretty late from the cumulative fatigue from the competition and travelling to Roturua. The guys prepared breakfast though - thanks y'all. 

We definitely bought way too much food for four people over two meals. 

Breakfast was hearty, with toast, scrambled eggs, bacon and ham -  all washed down with orange juice dressed up in wine glasses. 

Coming into this extended New Zealand stay, we didn't prepare any itinerary so we took everything really chill, which was probably in-sync with the locals' pace of life too. We set off for the day's activities only in the early afternoon. 

Made a stop by a random lake - I believe it's Lake Ngahewa

Dashing across highways like these weren't the safest, but we did it to get to the lake. 

After the brief stopover, we made our way to Wai-O-Tapu, a geothermal sightseeing attraction. Roturua is part of a volcanic zone, and has also been nicknamed 'Sulphur City' due to the hydrogen sulphide emissions so yes - it smelled a lot like 'rotten eggs' when we were touring the attraction. 

Unfortunately, I didn't study Geography well enough to explain what this is. 

Hi gurl!

Hi boys.

If anything, it was a pretty relaxing place to be at, though the sun rays were hella unforgiving. 

Not quite sure who they're referring to when they point to the bin. 

There was so much heat being emitted from these craters, I definitely would not recommend jumping in.  

I love this photograph!

Colours of nature. 

And by far the most intriguing sight of it all - what they call the 'Devil's Bath'. It's completely neon green colour, which we described as "did someone drop their green highlighter into the water?" I didn't alter the colours of this photo in an attempt to capture how it really looks like, but I still think it looks brighter in real life. 

It's simply fascinating how this is a naturally occurring hue - apparently the green comes from the deposits of sulphur that rises to the surface and floats atop the water, combined with some volcanic active minerals (but please don't quote me as I have zero understanding of this).

With all that walking under the sun, we needed a break - and headed to the beautiful Terrace Kitchen for a snack break. 

A sampling of their craft beers!

The perfect place to lounge on a weekend. 

Fried chicken bao sliders - perfectly fried with the best crunch and textures from the veggies. 

Truth be told, the main part of our day was a visit to a Maori village that we bought tickets for in the morning before setting off. However, as it was a mass event, there was a specific reporting time - which meant we had to kill some time before that which turned out to be quite the challenge without an actual itinerary around a small city. 

Thus, we ended up heading to Skyline Luge next, which was fun, though we bought too many tickets and got a bit bored after about three Luge rides each... especially since this was something we could do in Singapore. 

I wasn't a fan of heights - not sure if you can see it written all over my face. 

But what's different about Rotorua's Luge from Singapore's version are the breathtaking views you get from the top! 

I was really so happy to see that ice cream was available there too - I don't think I had eaten ice cream yet throughout the trip and New Zealand's pretty famous for its dairy products! So I went all out and got myself a double scoop of Hokey Pokey and Lavender, which tasted amazing, though I might've been too greedy and suffered the consequences. 

The ice cream just kept dripping, and this shot does no justice to the eventual puddle that I left at the crime scene. Seeing my camera strap dangling mid-arm makes me feel all sorts of /uncomfortable/.

For all the time we were trying to waste before heading to the Mitai Māori Village, we ended up having to rush there to make it for what they call the 'evening experience'. The tickets weren't cheap, at more than a hundred bucks per person, but we wanted to gain a unique experience at Rotorua considering we weren't there for long. The Māori culture is something integral to the New Zealand identity, being the indigenous people of the country. 

The evening started where they toured us around the village, showing us how the traditional hangi dinner was being prepared with the hangi pit, or an "earth-cooked oven". 

We also got to see the flora and fauna around the village, where they explained how some of the plants and herbs they grew were used for medicinal purposes in their tribe. 
Some of their warriors paddled an ancient warrior canoe, or waka, down the stream, where visitors like ourselves flanked the sides of. 

They also put up traditional song and dance performances, including the Haka war dance. It was pretty educational, though a part of me wondered how much of these customs were actually practiced in real life, as opposed to simply done for performative purposes. 

The food that we saw cooking prior was served in a buffet style fashion. There were also "non-traditional" food items like clam chowder and a selection of desserts, which made me happy. Of course, this isn't the place to go if you're expecting top-notch food, but it's good enough for me. 

After dinner, they brought us around the village again to look at glow worms. I thought that was a nice touch, considering that a trip to a glow worms cave in New Zealand is typically an attraction in itself. 

That said, would I recommend visiting the village? Perhaps, if you've never been exposed to Māori/ indigenous culture at all - it's pretty eye-opening. However, at times it did feel like a huge performance put up for tourists. Skeptics may find it difficult to enjoy the experience, and the high price tag is also a huge con. As we had previously already witnessed a traditional Māori welcome during our case competition, the performances at the village did feel repetitive. 

But that concludes our little trip to Rotorua! We quickly headed back to our Airbnb for a good night's rest to gear up for the drive back to Auckland (thanks guys, once again) and of course, the flight from Auckland to Singapore. 

Hustling anytime, anywhere: he had another case competition submission! We were also pulled over by the police for exceeding the speed limit along the highway, though I was fast asleep when that was happening. 

Though this trip was short, it was relaxing and comfortable, which was exactly what I needed. Thank you team, for being the true MVPs and having my back, both during case-cracking and even off-competitions. I definitely was the most useless one throughout this trip - not being able to drive, not offering any Airbnb nor activity suggestions, so I'm real grateful they let me leech off them. 

Who knew that this very trip would end up becoming my "graduation trip"? It's insane how things have changed in such a short span of time, but I'm thankful for everything I've gotten to experience, and all the various countries I've gotten to visit throughout the past four years in university. If nothing else, I sincerely hope that the world takes a leaf out of New Zealand's Covid-19 response, and that everything blows over soon. Take care, folks. 
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