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A Once in a Lifetime Moment That I Never Want to Experience Again | Life in Singapore during Covid-19

At the start of the island’s circuit breaker (Singapore’s term for lockdown), I went on plenty of walks around our neighborhood. I caught many sunsets, discovered tucked away hidden gems in the Gardens by the Bay, and cross paths with monitor lizards.

Despite being surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens, impressive skyline views, and nature. The city’s mood had become eerie and unsettling. As the days progressed deeper into the circuit breaker. The city fell into a deep slumber and silent. At times there wasn’t a soul in sight and I would find myself walking completely alone.

Having months of walking around alone and not having to fight my way through gobs of people, was uniquely different. But having a city all to myself at the cost of a global pandemic. Is a once in a lifetime moment that I hope will never happen again.

Sarah Emery in Singapore
The bay view from our building

We are now in phase 2 of lifted restrictions and thank goodness! We are slowly proceeding forward but with a sense of caution and vigilance. We are getting back to a somewhat normalcy (it’s wonderful to see friends again), but there are still a few restrictions (we can only gather in groups of 5- at homes, out in restaurants, picnics, etc).

I’m very fortunate and grateful to live in an area, that’s regarded as one of the most beautiful spots on the island. The highly recognized 3-tower & iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel (yes the one with the infamous infinity pool on the rooftop) is in my ‘front yard’. Last year, the touristy juggernaut allured in 12.3 million tourists. A huge difference of what’s it has seen as of late, errr hasn’t seen.

The building we live in is part of the city central business district. We are surrounded by other skyrises such as residential, businesses, and hotels. When these businesses and hotels were no longer frequented. The tone of the area became quickly still.

via GIPHY

In February, measurements of social distancing, masks, and temperature checks were implemented. The Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) also responded. They provide prevention and response plans to worldwide outbreaks. The level code at this time was increased from yellow to code orange. Code orange is the 2nd highest level, with code red being the highest.

In March more restrictions on border control were added. Eventually, it resulted in a full border closure. At this time, you could start to see traveling not happening at all for the foreseeable future. Work from home status started to increase. And large group activities (conferences, cultural, religious, entertainment, sports, etc) were all canceled.

It wasn’t until April, that Singapore declared it’s official announcement of the circuit breaker. Businesses, schools, shopping, restaurants, you name it, came to a full stop. Stay at home was echoed through the island and unless you worked at an economic essential service. Businesses were mandated to work from home.

A path in Gardens by The Bay (behind Marina Bay Sands Hotel) and a bench taped off.

Thankfully, during these months we could still go outside to exercise, but even that was different.

To manage my mental and physical health. I made efforts to take daily walks. We were instructed to stay in our neighborhood, keep our mask on when not exercising, and be constantly moving. It wasn’t allowed to gather in groups, no picnics in a park, or sitting down. Benches and sitting areas were taped off.

Alongside the police who patrolled areas, Safe Distancing Ambassadors were introduced to ensure social distancing, masks were being worn and people weren’t lollygagging about.

Sarah Emery Expat Blogger Singapore

As the circuit breaker extended into its’ second month. Another update to the circuit breaker was announced. One of the updates were, when outside you’re to be solo. Whomp, whomp. No more walks with the hubby.

It was at this point. During my walks, I may have imagined tumbleweed miracuously blowing by with a kick of dust trailing in its path. And somehow the haunting soundtrack from The Good, the Bad and Ugly whistled with the tumbleweed apparition on the cities pavement.

With less people movement. Wildlife in Singapore was appearing more often. In the past few months, I’ve seen more monitor lizards in the area that I’ve ever seen in the first two years of being here. Our local news reported wild boars were spotted in neighborhoods and golf courses. Unfortunately, I have yet to see a wild boar in Singapore (fingers crossed).

A monitor lizard crossing paths at Marina Bay Sands. Monitor lizards can grow up to 3 meters (9.8 ft) in length

What I learned and noticed during lockdown

During our lockdown we stayed at home and adjusted to the new temporary way of life. We definitely hunkered at home 99.% of the time and mainly went out to exercise.

I did visit a grocery store, which we were allowed to do. I went, maybe a total of 2 times. Which was interesting, because I didn’t encounter many people. Like the outside, the inside was a ghost town as well.

What was busy was the online grocery businesses. We learned very quickly to fill up our online grocery cart and throughout the day, to hit the checkout button and pray that we would win a delivery slot.

Sarah Emery Singapore Expat Blogger

I also learned a new vocabulary word, flouting.

I never heard of the word until recently. Flouting: to openly disregard (a rule, law, or convention). The local news used the terminology to describe naughty behavior. When people were caught misbehaving by not wearing a mask, holding/attending group gatherings, etc. They were charged with flouting.

The flow of people traffic changed.

Even though there were few people out. People started to walk on the left side on pathways (which correlates to the side we drive on here). Which is a super bonus, because it’s nice to not have to ‘swim upstream’ as of late.

Now that more and more people are out and about. You still have a few groups/individuals that walk on the wrong side. I chalked it up to 1) they don’t live in the area 2) they’re bad at picking up on social cues & noticing that the majority of people around them are clearly walking in an orderly fashion. Get with the program, peeps 🙂

Sarah Emery Expat Blogger Singapore

The last thing that I’ve learned, and (I can’t believe I’m disclosing this).

When the restrictions lifted and life slowly began to emerge. This was when I noticed that I forgot we live on an island where people speak multiple languages. I guess this is what happens when English is the only language I heard over the past 3 months.

I was in the lobby of our building and passed by a handful of people on my way out. It was then, I distinctly heard two different languages (other than English) being exchanged.

Sarah Emery Expat Blogger Singapore

When borders open and it’s safe to travel again. I will take that as the final signal that public health safety is stable.

Stay happy, healthy and safe my friends.

Outdoor enthusiast thriving in the expatriate traveling lifestyle. Looking to connect with your sense of adventure.

61 Comments

  • Leesa

    It’s a strange thing, this pandemic. It has had so many horrible outcomes, but then again, there have been some that are almost magical. The canals in Venice have fish in them again. You’re seeing wildlife in areas where there wasn’t any before. It’s an odd dichotomy.

  • Tracy C

    Wow! Your area of Singapore is so lovely. I think our restrictions here in the states were lifted too quickly, mainly because people openly disregarded the mandates. Even now, masks are a political issue and many people refuse to wear them. It’s infuriating to me because I see another lockdown in our not-so-distant future.

    • Sarah Emery

      Oh my goodness! Yes, very much of a weird post apocalyptic vibe to it. I hope you are well and safe Brianne in NYC – I love that city so much! I couldn’t imagine it on mute.

  • Stephanie S

    Covid-19 has changed so much of our lives, and I am wondering if, and when we will all go back to normal. I’m happy to hear that you were able to get your daily walks in. Fresh air really does help, and make a difference. I have been making sure that we all get outside and just experience nature.

    • Sarah Emery

      Being outside in nature has been my saving grace! If we weren’t able to get outside, I don’t know how I would have handled it. I hope you’ve been spending as much time in nature as you can. Thanks for the read and stay safe and healthy Stephanie.

  • Matt Taylor

    It is nice to learn more about how others are dealing with the pandemic and quarantine. I will say your views are much more pleasant than my neighborhood walks. Not it is hotter than hades outside here in Phoenix, so I don’t even do those walks anymore.

    • Sarah Emery

      Thanks Matt. Yeah, I hear Phoenix has been very hot these days. Ugg! That’s why I opt to walk early evening or at night. Singapore’s is hot and humid year long, so I’m very choosy when I go outside. Stay safe and cool!

  • the joyous living

    so beautiful. i recognize the ship ontop of the skyscrapers from ‘crazy rich asians’. 🙂

    i like that they have sides of the road to walk along. that’d be very helpful here. stay safe!

    • Sarah Emery

      Ha ha! Yup, that’s the one. There are a few lovely restaurants on top of the ‘ship’, which have impressive view (obviously) and the food is delicious. I’ve also danced off my tush in the same spot (during a Silent Disco), in the scene of CRA. You have to come to Singapore and experience for yourself.

  • Nkem

    I can only imaging how a place like Singa would be creepy and odd during lockdown. As you mentioned, it’s quite manicured and “perfect” so it probably felt dystopian!

  • Ann

    theres not much difference here in Sweden where I live, in a small town in the middle of nowere 😀 Wild life in my backyard everyday 🙂

  • Gervin Khan

    This pandemic really gives us a lot of ups and downs but gladly, we were able to managed everything despite of the effects of COVID19.

  • Marie Phillips

    In my part of the US, we have socially distanced well. It wasn’t until tourist season that our numbers rose. And my surroundings and life sounded much like yours. I walked along the shoreline that is less than a block from my house until I couldn’t stand the repetition. Then walked at parks until I got tired of them. And then I started implementing my work with what I was doing to get out of the house and it helped. But I so long for life to get back to normal again. Thank you for your story.

  • Daniel Sierra

    Amazing photos! At least you can enjoy nature and those beautiful places! The world has change and we need to get use to a new normal. Stay safe!

  • Hayle Knight

    WOW this is really eye opening. I didn’t realize how strict it was there. Here in the US we are having a hard time just getting people to wear masks, let alone do what all you guys are. Good luck, my thoughts are with you

    • Sarah Emery

      It’s so heartbreaking to read what’s happening back in the States. I do hope the U.S. realigns and unite themselves to respond more effectively to the pandemic, and not to politics. I admire Singapore’s response to the pandemic, as they’ve done exceptionally well and continues to be solution oriented. The leadership, officials and frontline workers (& their families) are remarkable. Hayle, stay healthy, keep vigilant and remember the golden rule of 3 …. mask, keep a distance and wash your hands. Be well my friend.

  • Knycx Journeying

    Thanks for sharing your side of the story in a different part of the world. The virus has fit us hard and nowhere on the world could be exempted from this global disaster. Hopefully we all will stay strong, and most importantly, stay safe. – Knycx Journeying.

  • Nicole Anderson - Camping for Women

    Wow Sarah, that was a really interesting account of life there at the moment. Singapore has always been such a cosmopolitan, vibrant city, full of life and activity and it’s hard to imagine it the way you describe. Hopefully things will start to turn around soon. I would love to visit soon and experience the gardens by the bay as well as their zoo and number of botantical gardens again. Stay safe in the meanwhile.

  • Elicitfolio

    Great article! I felt like i was there! I visited Singapore in 2018 and loved it! The energy and architecture were amazing. I can’t imagine what it was like in person after COVID. Eerie!

  • Angelica

    It’s crazy how this pandemic has effected everyone differently. I live in NYC and moving apartments in February just before things got bad. I’ve really have had to slow down my life to stay safe. I had a hard time finding a place to do laundry and to shop for groceries. Normally, I would walk in and do what I gotta do without thinking twice but now I have to plan out when it would be the least crowded and how to get in and out quickly. I enjoyed reading about your experience, thank you for sharing!

  • Alyssa

    Yes, you’re really fortunate to be stranded in a beautiful place but being outside and seeing there are little to no people is unsettling. This pandemic has really affected everyone and lots of small business owners. I definitely learned a lot during this time.

  • Britt K

    This whole COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown have really forced us all to take a step back and reassess our lives and our priorities, hasn’t it? We locked down in early March and are now in phase 2 of reopening. Here, that means you can gather in groups of up to 10 but there are restrictions as to what can be open still. For example, restaurants were allowed to open their patios with distancing measures in place, but they still aren’t allowed to open indoor dining rooms. Most of the country has now moved to phase 3, but we have been held back due to higher numbers in our region.

  • Ashten

    Wow! Singapore is beautiful! I have only been there one time and it was breathtaking. Maybe one day I will get to return! You’re blessed to be in such a beautiful place during this time!

  • Lene

    We live in a very strange time, for sure. I’m in Toronto, Canada, and so much of what you describe has been happening here, too (well, except for the monitor lizards and wild boars). Although most of the provinces now entered Stage 3, Toronto remains in Stage 2. I’m okay with it. It makes people more careful. Please stay safe.

  • Kat

    Wow, crazy that at one point you weren’t allowed to walk with one other person outside. Here, they didn’t restrict the size of groups as long as they were from the same household, but they didn’t allow two people to shop together. I think Singapore was a lot more successful in keeping infections low than the UK, though!

    Hope you and yours stay healthy and safe.

    • Sarah Emery

      Yeah, it was quite shocking when that update happened, but I understand why it was necessary. What times we are all living through, right? I hope you and yours are all happy, healthy and safe.

  • Monidipa

    One of my elder brother lives in Singapore with his wife and yeah almost same experience. I really loved your clicks in here.

  • Marjie Mare

    The COVID-19 pandemic has really had a different effect on everyone and perhaps will change our lives forever. I have reflected and given deep thoughts and came to the conclusion that we need to use this experience as a positive way to appreciate all the little things in life.

  • Mohamed

    This pandemic has really revealed to us situations we never even imagined we would ever see! It’s a good thing at least your environment was nicer. Got to be thankful for that.

  • Subhashish Roy

    It’s so sad to see Singapore like this all deserted. I was there in August last year and had such a great time. Seeing the taped bench in Gardens by the Bay seems unimaginable but that’s the way it is going to be for some time to come.

  • Erica (The Prepping Wife)

    My husband and I went to the mall about a month ago, when my state started opening things back up again (which really was too quickly, for as much as I enjoyed it too) because he needed work clothes. It was so eery being in a mall that was almost devoid of people. It looked like a scene in one of the video games he plays, where the zombies are about to come out of nowhere. Your description of being alone during your walks was totally relatable in that regard. It has been a crazy year, to say the least. I’m still not even sure if schools will open up in the fall or not. Seems they go back and forth often. I’m grateful that the plague, as I call it, really made me stop and take a step back to evaluate priorities and not take anyone in my life for granted, and life really slowed down. I appreciate so many little things now. But mental health has been a constant struggle with not seeing friends and having even a semi-normal life. I am ready for things to return to normal, but I kind of hope the slowed-down pace of each day stays even past the plague.

  • Renata

    It’s good to hear from Singapore, one of my very favorite cities in the world. I guess that the lockdown thing was difficult for all of us, no matter where we were.

  • Cathy

    We used to live in Singapore and my daughter was born there. I miss the place and i totally get what you mean, this pandemic is such a unique experience indeed. We now live in Melbourne and we’re on second wave. Hopefully all will be well. Stay safe!

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