Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Lockdown life

Okay, so I have received many many (okay, four) emails from fans of this blog checking on me and questioning the lack of posts. It was high time I got back into it.

On Feb 21, I wrote a post about Covid-19 in Singapore and the naive me was like, "OMG we have 86 cases."

Ha. Who'd have thought I'd be shaking my head at my own naivety a few months later.

Watch this and relate.

It's been about 4 months since then, and as of today, the total number of Covid-19 cases in Singapore is 44,122. Every day, we have a few hundred new cases, which, given Singapore's small size, is not exactly negligible. Things seem to be under control though. There is a steady stream of people (in the hundreds) being discharged daily and we have moved on to 'phase 2' of our lockdown (what we call "circuit breaker"), with schools and some public places opening up. Masks are mandatory, of course, and you can get arrested for not wearing one. Except when you're doing strenuous exercise, of course. So if you forget your mask and you spot an enforcement office, run at top speed. Not away, but towards him/her.

Viv and I have been working from home for months now. I worked from home as a freelancer for years after Xena was born, but this is so different. The good -- no waking up at 5:30 am YAY! The bad -- there is no "end of work day" anymore. Everything has fused into everything else. Xena had school holidays for a month, and as we still don't give her any alone screen time, I took leave to sit down and write a full month's 'what to do you're stuck indoors' plan for her. I incorporated all subjects, reading, art, household chores and even workouts, so that she would have stuff to do during our working hours. I have to say that she took it very well and was very disciplined. Every day, she'd carry out her tasks and check them off. (Maa par gayi hai bilkul.)

So Xena's birthday came and went and my birthday came and went and it looks like Viv's birthday is also gonna come and go like this. I had told him (way before Covid-19 hit us) that I wanted a quiet, private birthday this year. Yeh kuchh zyada hi quiet and private nahin ho gaya? Damn.

I don't really miss the office all that much (except my team; I miss hanging out and joking around with them) but I do miss skating a lot and I do somewhat miss the gym. Luckily, Viv found Hasfit on YouTube, which has been an absolute blessing for both of us. Viv, missing his heavy gym weights, came up with the very creative solution of using Xena as his 20-kg weight for stuff like goblet squats. After not doing much on the workout front for most of April and May, I ordered a pair of dumbbells online, and I have been working out using the Hasfit videos at least 5 times a week. Now that Xena's school has opened, I walk with her to school and the return journey is about 2.5 km. All this is great because then I can have less guilt over all the potato chips I have been downing over Netflix every night. To make matters worse splendid, Ruffles has come up with a jalapeno-flavoured pack of chips! Why, why, why would you do this to me, Ruffles? (Well done, by the way.)

Speaking of Netflix, we have discovered a whole bunch of new stuff to watch. We have finished Fauda (awesome), Pataal Lok (great) and Criminal Justice (quite good). When things get too violent/crime-y, we switch to Brooklyn 99 for a break. Two night ago, we started watching Aarya on someone's recommendation, but I found the writing, screenplay and acting really bad so I couldn't carry on after the first episode. I found a Quora thread on "Best shows to watch during lockdown" and Mirzapur seems to be quite a hot favourite, so we might try that out next. Any other recos?

Viv and Xena have been playing tons of games, including indoor cricket (using a yoga mat as the pitch!) and 'dog and the bone' and what not. I was trying hard to pull Xena away from her 389753208750th reading of the Harry Potter books, but she simply wouldn't yield. So I started reading one of my childhood favourites (Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outers) to her over meals, and now she (and Viv too) loves it! It has now become a family tradition to take turns to read a couple of chapters of this series each day.

One of the amazing things that seems to have happened everywhere is that people have started reconnecting over Zoom. Both Viv and I had our respective 'cousins on Zoom' calls (and I'm still pondering over why his was so civilised and mine was dangal-in-jungle level). My sister who lives in the US has started a weekly call between her kids and Xena, and it's heartwarming to see cousins who have only seen one another thrice, interacting and showing off their artwork and what not.

We also have a Friday call with some of our friends from university, and it's nice to have that to look forward to at the end of the work week. The girls in the group have now decided to dress up a bit for these calls because our nice clothes, jewellery and make-up are rotting away. I haven't put on contact lenses or make-up in months. In fact, on Monday, I had to go submit some documents for a tender. I had no contact with anyone, it was just the tender box and me, and YET, I put on eyeliner. (There was no point in putting on lipstick I felt, because we have all been reduced to masked bandits). I came back and reported my eyeliner badassery to some friends and was showered with their hearty congratulations.

So that is what has been happening here. And how have you been?

PS: Half the year is over, guys. Half the year is over

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Sigh baba


No, I'm not sighing because of the Covid-19 situation (which I admit is quite sigh-inducing indeed).

I'm actually talking about Sigh, the butterfly, which we released this morning.

So the other day, my boss' boss was telling me about her lime tree and the caterpillars she sees on them and asked me if I'd like one. Would I like one?! I jumped. Of course I'd like one. Who wouldn't? She knew I'd like one. Six years ago, Xena and I had purchased a caterpillar from a caterpillar farm just to be able to see it go from caterpillar to pupa to butterfly. Xena was tiny then. (She had named that butterfly Lydia, even though we found out later through Google images that it was a male.) I couldn't wait to do it all over again, with an older Xena who understands stuff better and is about to embark on learning about life cycles in Science at school! Talk about timing.

Not to mention that it is the ideal fuss-free pet for people with pet-commitment issues — feed it, admire it and when it turns into a butterfly, just release it.

A few days later, on the 12th of March to be precise, boss' boss walked over with a transparent plastic box with holes on the lid and leaves inside. "OMG!" I shrieked. My audible fawning attracted the attention of my team, who walked over to admire it. Imagine a bunch of Science editors looking at a very hungry caterpillar munching on leaves. Yeah.

And just like that, I had a thought. Maybe I could keep the caterpillar at work instead. It had been an incredibly stressful week at work with 12 books going to press at once. We had worked on a chapter on life cycles together. It would be so wonderful to actually view a real-life 3D version! It would be our team pet, and we could watch it go from caterpillar to pupa and when it turned into a butterfly, we could all walk outside and release it into the big, bad world.

Xena had seen it before. These guys hadn't. So I told them.

"OMG we have to name it!" I asked one of my teammates. "Any clues?"

"Err... Sci?" She said, presumably because it belonged to the Science team.

I misheard her.

"Sigh? I LOVE it! It's the perfect representation of our feelings these last few months."

And so, Sigh it was, much to the amusement of my teammates, especially the babies (interns).

And how Sigh ate. It went through the leaves in the container in half a day and just as I was about to walk to the boss' boss' room to put in a formal request for more leaves (caterpillars are incredibly picky and will only eat the leaves of the kind of plant that the eggs are laid on), the whole Covid-19 thing blew through the roof. It was around 3 pm and we were asked to immediately vacate the premises for disinfection as someone in the office (I don't know who... there are like 500 people in my office) had been sent for Covid-19 testing.

As I packed my stuff, I knew the original plan was off — I couldn't leave Sigh in the office. I didn't know when/whether we'd be going back and it would surely starve to death.

So I got him home.

Except that I don't have any lime trees or lime leaves.

So I used the neighbourhood WhatsApp group for the reason it should be used (forwards on how to beat the Coronovirus with ginger and garlic... not).

One of my neighbours quickly replied and said she had a lime plant. I dashed over and picked up some leaves for Sigh.

It ate and it pooped for days on end. And soon, I had no more leaves. Another neighbour told me that I could get some from the community garden. So Xena and I marched off and came back armed with tons of leaves, which we stored in the refrigerator.

And how it ate and pooped.

Many of us were already working from home by then, but I took regular photos and videos of Sigh and kept the team updated. Watching it goggle the leaves also provided Xena with a lot of indoor entertainment, now that we couldn't go out all that much.

By 17th of March, Sigh had stopped eating, and crawled up the side of the container. From my last butterfly life cycle experience, I knew it was going to pupate very soon.

The next day, 18th March, this is what I saw. The fat, wriggly caterpillar had turned into, err... a green seahorse.

It stayed like that, unmoved by the happenings in the world. In the middle of the chaos, lockdowns, and insanity shaking up the whole world, it was the only thing that stayed unchanged.

Or so it seemed.

By the morning of 26th March, aka today, the pupa had started to become translucent and I could see the markings of the butterfly's wings.

About 2 hours later, the butterfly emerged from the pupa! What a gorgeous little thing, and how phenomenal that this large fluttering butterfly had been all squashed and folded up inside a casing that was a quarter of its size.

I was so glad that both Viv and I were working from home today. If we'd not been around to release it, who knows — it would have died of starvation.

And here's the video of the official 'release', which my team had requested me to take. Xena was in school so she also had to make do with the video.

Bye bye, Sigh! Be good!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Viral post

So lately, I have gotten myself deep into Punjabi music. How?? Why?? Well, it just happened. When you leave for work at 6:40 am and take a 45-minute bus ride, you zone out in the bus and do not have any energy to change the autoplay music. You just let it do its thing. And once "it" realises you ain't budgin' your ass, it will really do its thing. Once in a while, you jerk awake because you hear a guy singing, "Mainu lehenga le de mehenga ja marjaniya". (Buy me an expensive lehenga??) Or "Sun le hun ek gal sohneya, Singapore le chal sohneya." (Listen to me, my darling; take me to Singapore.)


No one, I repeat, no one in their right mind is asking anyone to take them to Singapore at the moment. We used to be the hub of trade and travel; we are now a hub of the Covid-19 virus. I never thought I'd see Singapore so high up in a negative list.

It's been crazy. But we have seen crazy before. I was here when SARS hit in 2003, and I remember the temperature checks before we were allowed into the office, the uncertainty, the panic, the deaths. There was no social media back then, which was probably a blessing. I cannot imagine the kind of forwards that would have circulated.

So yeah, we have 86 cases and things are still kind of uncertain. Anyone with a respiratory symptom is being given a 5-day medical certificate. Anyone who has been to mainland China has to be quarantined. Anyone who has any contact with anyone who has it has to be quarantined. Companies that can afford it are having some or all of their staff work from home.

The fear is palpable. Any cough or sneeze you hear in the bus is enough to cause a mild panic attack, especially if you're not wearing a mask. We are out of masks and sanitiser. The entire island. Totally out. Not a single shop has a single mask. I was ranting about it to a colleague (I take public transport three times a day) and she recommended her 'dealer' to me. A lady in the Admin department is actually her dealer. You need to email the lady that you need a mask and she will literally say, "Meet me at the back door in 5 minutes." where she will discreetly hand you the contraband. It's hilarious.

So I have 4 masks in the office and 4 at home but because that's all I have, I am not using a mask daily like many people I see in the bus. Sometimes I look at the masked folks longingly, and I can sense them giving me a proud "Mere paas ma(sk) hai" look. The class divide between the haves and have-nots is sharp. But I did attempt to hand-stitch my very own washable, eco-friendly masks. I made three pieces, one each for Viv, Xena and me. They are not very successful though, because they don't have the metal strip that keeps the mask tight over the bridge of the nose, and the elastic loops keep slipping off too.

So I am clinging on to the 8 masks I have and like a good law-abiding citizen, following the government's advice on saving the masks for trips to the clinic or hospital, in case we need to. Speaking of government, my Mom told me that our Prime Minister's speech was going viral in her circles. Bloomberg covered it too. Did you see that kickass speech? Clear, calm, decisive. (And yeah, he delivered it in 3 languages. And yeah, he's a coder.) So I feel incredibly proud of him and also incredibly sorry for him for possibly being the first Prime Minister in the world to have to use the words "toilet paper" in a speech addressed to the nation.

Yes, the trigger for his speech was the insane hoarding that happened that week. Supermarkets were wiped clean. People were sweeping all the instant noodles, all the rice, all the toilet paper into their trolleys. Clearly, the sense of panic was its peak. Like a friend said, it felt like we were going to war.

But immediately after this speech, a sense of calm swept the nation. The National Trades Union Congress supermarket even issued a video the next day, showing that they had 9 million packs of toilet paper in their warehouse, in case junta was shitting their pants over the virus. Suddenly, toilet paper and instant noodles and hoarding were the hot topic, sidelining the virus. There were memes and jokes and forwards and we all laughed and moved on.

Speaking of forwards, I received some lovely ones from India, about how homeopathy can cure the disease (scientists and researchers all the world racing to find a vaccine are just doing timepass, no? I sent this right back.) and how drinking ginger (or was it garlic? Whatever.) water can kill the virus and oh, drinking hot water too because "the virus is not heat-resistant and dies at 23-26 degrees" (and our body temperature is...?) Finally, someone sent the one forward that made logical sense.

The 2019-nCoV has mutated to affect the human brain.
The reported symptoms include immediate alarming drop of IQ to zero, lack of judgment, rush to stock of supplies like toilet paper and instant noodles. (This symptom is the same as rush for Hello Kitty many years ago.)
This symptom may appear immediately. There is no incubation period.
The new 2019-nCoV is spread by WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram from person to person contacts
There is no known cure. The infected will die from stupidity.

Someone even sent me a forward about a new song called "Humra lehenga mein coronavirus ghusal ba". Bas, yehi sunna baaki reh gaya tha.

Things are a lot better now. There is a WhatsApp service by the government you can subscribe to, which provides daily updates on how many people are diagnosed and discharged each day, and precautions we should be taking. Lately more people are discharged each day than those diagnosed. My heart breaks though for the Bangladeshi construction worker who is in a very critical condition. The whole country is rooting for him though, so let's hope a miracle happens and he recovers. There was even a 6-month-old baby who had been admitted, but now he's home.

Clusters have been identified (including two churches, a health shop, a meeting at the Grand Hyatt and a construction site) and contact tracing has been very efficient so far. But once in a while, isolated cases do surface. Because of the incubation period when there are no symptoms, anyone could have it and be roaming around, spreading it. We could have it. Our friends or colleagues could have it. We are trying to be responsible. Washing our hands 87639846 times a day. Not touching our faces. Not going to crowded places. Avoiding meet-ups. Of course, none of this will guarantee that we won't get it. We just do the best we can.

Posters have been put up in the office reminding people to wash their hands. Bottles of disinfectant have been handed out to each team to disinfect the usual suspects every day — the work area, laptops, phones, etc. All essential work travel has been cancelled. I was supposed to travel to promote a new school book series we are publishing and sure enough, the schools we were supposed to go to plainly refused to meet anyone from Singapore. I heaved a mental sigh of relief because I have no desire at the moment to go through two airports and one aeroplane.

I will just stay put and wait for this thing to blow over. I will trust the system. After all, Pulitzer prize-winning epidemics expert Laurie Garrett said, "If Singapore can’t do it, if Singapore can’t keep it under control, then we’re all screwed, because they’ve got the best system in the world."

And if things still look bleak, I will sit in the bus wearing my inefficient homemade mask, plug in my earphones and listen to "O teri navi saheli de naallo mere sandal sohneya" (My sandals are better than your new girlfriend).

Saturday, February 01, 2020

The thinking cap

It happened some time last year.

I saw a tiiiiiny plant peeking from my compost pile. Now I had put all sorts of kitchen scraps in there so I had absolutely no clue what plant it was. I gently pulled it out and planted it in a pot, hoping that it was a green chilli plant. I'd been trying to grow green chillies from seeds and had proven myself to be a total failure. Or in the words of monk Jianyu, "pre-successful".

I watered it and the plant grew. And I watered it some more and it grew some more. Unlike my cherry tomato plants Tommy, Timmy, Tammy and Tom, who were sprouting flowers by the dozen, this plant, unwilling to reveal its identity, had nothing but leaves. Xena, frustrated at not being able to name it, asked me to do so and so I named it 'Wildcard'.

Weeks passed by. Nothing but leaves. So I decided to call in the expert. My dad, who has grown everything from ginger procured from an unwilling tour guide in Bali to coconuts found washed ashore at Singapore's east coast beach.

I interrupted my family WhatsApp chat group, which is mostly kept alive by mom forwarding us forwards and asking me to check if they are legit. My favourite is this one:

तुलसी के दो पत्ते मोबाइल के पीछे कवर मे रखे रहेने से मोबाइल का रेडिएशन एक दम चला जायेगा।
प्रैक्टिकल कर के दिखाया बाबा राम देव

Wow. Just... wow.

Anyway, I sent them Wildcard's photo.

Me: Dad, what plant is this? It grew from my compost pile. I can’t identify it. Hoping for it to be chilli.

Dad: Wait for some time; if chillies appear, it is so!

Me: This advice is not useful at all!

Mom: I don't think it's chilli. Maybe capsicum. 

Sister: Send for dna testing????


Anyway, fast-forward several months. I was out on the balcony plucking Tommy's latest offerings to make veggie uttapams, when I spotted something on Wildcard that made me do a double take. 


Ladies and gentlemen, Wildcard finally has a name! Please say 'hello' to 'CAPtain'. 

(And yes, mom, you're a genius. Please just stop forwarding the forwards.)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Annual report - 2019

Happy new year, bewdas! Hope 2020 has gotten off to a fantastic start.

2019 was quite an interesting year for me. It started off with me deciding quite suddenly to go back to the office full-time after 8 years of working from home. And it has been a roller-coaster ride. Things are so insanely crazy all the time, and though a part of me thrives on that sort of thing, I have had some trouble trying to do ALL the things that I want to do in my life. I hope to do better this year and have a better work-life balance.

The sense of having become so much older from the last time I worked at this company (I'd worked here years ago as a clueless fresh grad) never gets old. I have babies interns coming and going, and every time I look at one of their resumes, it hits me hard -- when I was in university, these guys were in... um... diapers. When/how did we all get so old?

2019 was also significant because both Xena and I passed inline skating level 5. It had been a loooong time since I'd had an 'exam' so I was really nervous that I'd flunk one of the tricky skills or fall flat on my face during one of the stunts, but all went well and now we have both earned our black certificates (to me, it's the equivalent of a black belt).

This is me, doing a skill called 'toe-heel transition'.

And here is Xena, demonstrating a rather tricky one called 'eagle'. 

2019 was also the year when I threw caution to the wind and travelled to India in June. 42 frikkin' degrees. And I call Singapore hot. But it was nice to catch up with my parents and aunts and uncles and cousins, and then it also rained so it wasn't too bad. 

Xena turned 8 last year, but her 8th birthday was different. Increasingly, birthdays had been making us sick, with all the gifts and the plastic and the wastage and what not. We were really glad when Xena was instantly on board when we told her how we wanted to celebrate her 8th birthday. We had a very small gathering and we expressly forbid people from bringing any gifts (including cash/vouchers). We told them that all we'd accept were homemade cards and handwritten letters and our friends stuck to the instructions. In addition to cards made by her friends, she got some lovely letters from our friends too. There were no return gifts of plastic items smothered in plastic packaging -- we gave the guests a copy of my friend Shub's amazing book on introducing kids to recycling, along with some homemade cookies that Xena had helped me bake. We did not use any plastic cutlery. For party games, we had a treasure hunt on recyclable and non-recyclable items. We hope to continue doing something like that this year too, and hope we don't stress out our friends who choose to have conventional birthday parties. Everyone is free to do what they want to do. This is just a small start towards leading a slightly greener life. There is so much we still feel SO guilty about, so much more we can do. 

Last year was also the year Xena got majorly into Harry Potter. She's on book 5 now; she gets to watch the corresponding movie after she finishes each book. We still don't have cable TV and she still doesn't have any alone screen time (and it doesn't seem to bother her, which is great). Once in a while, we watch carefully curated movies together. So far, so good. 

I had some fantastically good fortune in gardening this year, though I have the blackest thumb I know of and I'm perfectly capable of killing even a cactus. We don't have space inside the house, so I planted some cherry tomato seeds in pots at the staircase landing and crossed my fingers. I also learnt from a neighbour how to do composting, but I still haven't nailed it yet. To my utter amazement, compared to the 6 cherry tomatoes we had harvested when I did the same in 2018, this year we had a bumper harvest. In 6 months, our amazing plants (Xena christened them Tommy, Timmy, Tammy and Tom) gave us about 60 tomatoes. Amazingly, 40 of them were from Tommy and he's still going strong. 

Tommy's gorgeous offerings

Our big holiday in 2019 was Tasmania, which is now my new favourite holiday destination. Highly highly recommended for kids. I've started updating the travel blog, though I'm afraid it will take a while. Because Tasmania is so beautiful, you cannot not take 23094839027534 photos.

This year, I consciously chose not to make any formal new year's resolutions, mainly because I need to sort my work-life balance before I can embark on something serious, but I do have a few vaguely-worded secret ones that I am working towards (and afraid of breaking). Let's see how that goes.

So how have you guys been? Any non-secret resolutions? :)