Sunday 30 July 2023

SG2SH: 8 Days of the Week

"吃饭咯" was phrase of the day, everyday. Probably also, highlight of the day. It meant meal time. Someone would shout across the corridor after distributing and leaving food at the front of our hotel room door.

Cai Fan everyday

This was what a typical meal box looked like. For breakfast, we usually got vegetable buns and hard boiled eggs. For lunch and dinner, it was normally eggs, vegetables, meat and rice. There was yogurt, and a fruit too, most times an apple or banana. 

We would sit on our hand carry luggage and gather around a small table to have our meals.  

Makeshift dining area

In between meal times, we rotated between activities to keep ourselves entertained. There was a TV in the room with free to air channels. We caught a few re-runs of popular drama series. In the afternoons, 非常勿扰, a surprisingly addictive TV dating show helped us pass time. 

The kids kept themselves busy with the quarantine toy that they had picked before the flight. It was a Gabby doll house. Gabby was our nanny for a few hours each day. 

We also armed ourselves with an arsenal of food and snacks to get us through this unprecedented period.

Bed time for the kids was 8pm. Lights out for us was 10pm. We were living the dream. 

Cars waiting for guests to check out

Everyday, we looked out of the window and saw people randomly leaving the hotel, family and friends re-united at the gate. We always wondered when would it be our turn.

It was always nerve wrecking. What if one of us tested positive? Would we be able to leave on day 8?

It didn't help when our building was locked down after one of the guests tested positive for Covid-19. The status was always up in the air, right up to the moment we received the phone call to check out. Alas the moment had arrived!

Grace eyeing freedom

Like flash, we were out of there the moment our number was called. We could feel it, almost there!

One for the memories

And there we were, out of the hotel! Those 8 days in quarantine, we will remember for a long time.  Finally, we get to experience Shanghai, the people, the history and the culture. And begin our new adventure.

Shanghai, here we go!

Sunday 23 July 2023

SG2SH: Relocating During The Pandemic

 New chapter

And there we were, on the brink of another adventure away from home. 10 years ago, we moved to New Zealand, without a job and with a very fluid plan. This time around (December 2022), we were moving to China, with a job and a firm plan, but also bringing along two precious human beings and relocating during the pandemic. Both situations were equally exciting yet challenging at the same time.

I have lost count of the number of nasal swab tests that we had to go through for the move. Kids included (they were so brave). The first test was done as proof of recovery from Covid-19, and twice more, within 48 hours of our departure time. We were tested again upon arrival in Shanghai, and again daily for the next 8 days in quarantine (rotating between nasal and oral swabs).

Fate based on itineraries

Naturally, there was a lot of uncertainty on where to go and what to do once we arrived at the Shanghai airport. Step by step, we managed to figure our way through countless check points that involved multiple registrations and QR code scans on our mobile phones. Finally, we were greeted by the iconic blue signs that were viral on social media.

We were assigned specific buses depending on where we were going to be based in Shanghai. After about 30 minutes, the bus would arrive and take us to a randomly assigned quarantine hotel.

Scattered suitcases in front of the bus

It was load up and go, no questions asked. No one except the person in charge and bus driver knew our destination. Some passengers tried their luck and asked which hotel, but the in the knows wouldn't budge.

Some of us had maps on our phones, tracking live location with bated anticipation. We just kept heading north on the highway until we turned into a district. In the vicinity was the Crowne Plaza. Immediately, we did a quick search online. 5 star hotel!

Home for the next 8 days

Not quite. The entire building was a far cry from its glory days. And perhaps understandably so. After all, the hotel had been operating as a quarantine facility for the past 2 years. 

Everything in the makeshift reception area (formerly restaurant buffet area) was wrapped in plastic sheets. There was yellow tape everywhere. We were led to our rooms in an orderly fashion. Life in Shanghai had just began.

View of the outside world for the next 8 days

Sunday 16 July 2023

Greetings from the Magical City

Hello world, it's great to be back. Many things have changed since our last blog entry. The evil pandemic finally went away, country borders have reopened, everyone is traveling again, and we moved to China!

When we decided to move from New Zealand back to Singapore four years ago, we didn't plan on moving so soon again. But life unexpectedly gifted us the opportunity to be based in Shanghai, and we grabbed it with both hands and feet.

Shanghai has many nicknames like "Pearl of the Orient" and "Paris of the East". The one that stands out for me is the Magical City (魔都), pronounced as Modu. Maybe because it has that Lord of the Rings vibe to it. Maybe because there is so much history and culture behind the city.

Or maybe because bicycles, motorbikes and cars actually co-exist in harmony on the road. Coming from Singapore, this is truly an amazing sight to see.   

This is a typical traffic cross junction in Shanghai. Look at how everyone just gets on with their own vehicle. Cars, motorbikes, cyclists and even pedestrians.

Where young and old commute

Where lines demarcate safety

Where slow biking is normal

Where bikes can be safe

What magic spell is this? I know a place that could use some of it.

Friday 9 April 2021

7 Years Later...New Post

Hello world! 

Has it really been that long since our last blog entry? How time flies. So much has changed since our last post in 2014. For one, we have relocated and are now back in Singapore. Two, that's the number of young ones we have in the household now. Three, our dogs also flew back with us, clocking all 8,527km air miles. Both Reina and Suarez are well and good. 

A few days ago, Gwyn rediscovered our blog and started reading our previous entries. It reminded us of all the good times and crazy trips that we did with our bicycles, and ultimately, the beauty of keeping a journal. By documenting past and present stories, we try to preserve those memories for our future selves to relive and enjoy. That's why we hope to continue doing it. 

Today is a monumental day for our eldest daughter Kate. She learnt how to ride a bike! You can imagine how exciting it is for us. Cycling together as a family is something that we always wanted to do and today we took a big step closer towards that goal. No pressure, Grace.

There she goes...on her bike
There she goes...on her bike    

We brought Kate to the National Stadium to practice pedaling and balancing on two wheels. It was her third attempt this week. She was getting more comfortable each time and we wanted to keep the learning momentum going. I'm glad we did because today was the breakthrough!

The National Stadium on a weekday is actually a really nice place to learn how to cycle. It is free to use, not crowded, has lots of open space and level ground. There are colored tracks around the main stadium, which are sheltered for most parts. Access from the car park to the tracks is convenient, it's literally park and ride. It is also located near the Stadium MRT for those who don't drive. 

As a bonus, you get scenic views of the Kallang Riverside too!

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Wellington Open Day

Wellington Open Day is back and entry to participating attractions in Wellington was just a gold coin. That's one or two dollars!

The Open Day is such a great idea because it gives everyone the opportunity to visit the different places of attraction around town, without having to worry too much about cost.

This year, there was quite an extensive list of places that we could choose from. We could have taken the scenic cable car ride or explore one of the many museums in Wellington. We could have gone to the Carter Observatory to gaze at the stars or hike along Zealandia to the sights and sounds of the protected wildlife sanctuary.

We were spoilt for choice but our final decision was easy and unanimous. "We're goin to the zoo, zoo, zoo..."

Wellington Zoo is very different from the Singapore Zoo. Area wise, it felt a lot smaller, although the animal displays were by no means any less impressive. It was just a pity that the weather was far from being the best. Wellington has been hit by strong winds of 140km/h throughout the weekend. That kept some of the animals away from their usual parading grounds.

Kate was very well behaved on her first field trip to the zoo. She must have been wondering where we were because she had that curious look on her face the moment we got there, constantly looking around. I don't think she has ever seen so many people in Wellington at the same place and time.

Trying to spot the Sun Bear

Up close and personal

"The only red thing is me!"

We also dropped by Matchbox Studios along Cuba Street to support Shufen, who was participating in ten minute potrait sessions. To draw a potrait of a stranger in ten minutes certainly requires a lot of talent and skill. She has definitely got both and you can view more of her work here.

We thought about a family potrait but ten minutes of posing(not moving) and an awake Kate didn't really match up. Maybe, next time.

On another note, we reckon Kate may have taken a liking for art too, judging from the smiles that we got from her as we walked through the exhibition. What do you think?

Saturday 22 June 2013

SG2NZ Chapter 3: The Job Hunt

In this chapter, we continue to share our experience of making the move from Singapore to New Zealand. Having settled our accommodation for the first six weeks before arriving in New Zealand, securing a job was the next priority. We knew that the longer we went without income, the tougher it would be for us to settle down. Despite the harsh and pressing reality, we were also aware that it was important we remained calm and patient.

The Strategy
Start early. The plan was to begin applying for jobs even before arriving in New Zealand. Seek and Trademe were the two primary job sites that we found most effective - lots of listings and regular updates. We also did some research and came up with a list of possible Wellington based companies that could become our potential employers and applied directly via their career/job portal. Because we were applying from offshore, response was lukewarm and it was understandably so. After all, realistically, most employers would prefer their potential candidates to be available for face to face interviews. Hence, we found it useful confirming an expected arrival date in New Zealand and including that in our applications.

Two weeks before leaving Singapore, I had a couple of phone interviews with different organisations, both job recruitment firms and the company employing. In the last week, I scheduled at least five catch ups with various job recruiting firms in Wellington. When we finally got to Wellington, my first week was already packed with meet ups with recruiters and interviews with various organisations.

The Interview
I went through a fair bit of interviews during the first two weeks and I must say that the interview experience is very different compared to Singapore. With the two organisations I was speaking to in the first week, the first round of interview was done at a cafe, over a cup of coffee. It was relaxed yet formal. It wasn't just about work. We were talking about sports, difference in cultures and how I'll experience four seasons in a day in Wellington. Back in Singapore, interviews were likely to be more formal, less chat more serious. I was pleasantly surprised with how interviews were generally conducted here. It was then that I realised I got my first hint of work life balance.

When it did get serious, it got serious. For one organisation, I had to take a practical technical test over the weekend and present my results the following Monday. For the other, I was put through a really tough session with senior management. With some talent and more divine intervention, I had two job offers by the end of week two. It was surreal. There could have been more interviews set up with different organisations, but by then I already had my heart set on one.

Gwyn's job hunt experience began after six months of rest. Coming from a fashion background, it was always going to be challenging looking for a similar role in Wellington. Luxury fashion brands are just non-existent here. If there is one thing that we learnt from her experience, it was the importance to re-invent yourself to fit the climate you're in. While there are no opportunities in fashion/branding, there are transferable skills that can be ported over into other fields. Twelve months down the road, Gwyn has done very well to re-invent herself to be in the public sector. From fashion to government, now that's two opposite ends of the spectrum.

In a nutshell, the job search in a new country can be daunting and straining at times, but it's really important to stay calm and patient. Starting early is always a good idea and being adaptable is another virtue. Have faith, be humble, believe in yourself and you could go further than you think you could. For anyone thinking of making a similar move to New Zealand, we hope you can gain something out from our experience. Best of luck in that job hunt!

For more Singaporean Guide on Moving to NZ (SG2NZ), click here

Thursday 6 June 2013

SG2NZ Chapter 2: Having Faith and Roof Over Head

Once we got our sparkling blue stickers in the mail, we sold the car, quit our jobs, packed our bags and moved to New Zealand, arriving at Wellington airport with just a backpack, suitcase and bicycle each. It was a bold move but we didn't really give much thought to it. We just knew that we should at least give it a shot. Like the old saying, never try never know. Besides, if things don't work out, we'll just come home.

It was not all spontaneous though as we still did arrive with a plan of some sort. Our focus from the get go was always about settling our accommodation and securing a job.

Having friends in Wellington was a good start. We were fortunate to have known some friends who were already based in Wellington and they gladly offered to take us in when we first arrived. For the first two weeks, we bunked in their living room while slowly finding our feet on New Zealand soil.

Prior to leaving Singapore, we had contacted two hosts from Helpx. Helpx, also known as Help Exchange, is an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farm stays, home stays, ranches, lodges, Bed & Breakfasts, backpackers hostels who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation. On average, 3-4 hours work is expected and exact working hours are flexible depending on hosts. For instance, we could work in the morning on some days or afternoon on others. This arrangement was ideal for us as it allowed us to schedule interviews during our job hunt, while working for food and accommodation. We planned two weeks each with Moana Lodge, a backpacker hostel, and a home stay with wonderful hosts, now good friends and dim sum buddies, Niels and Janette.

In our opinion, Helpx is a really good way to start for anyone new to the country. It's a great and effective way to know more people, especially locals, build relationships and gain valuable experience about living in New Zealand. We have made so many friends, many of which we still keep close contact with and learned so much from our stays.  By working for your food and accommodation, it is also a good way to manage your checkbooks. How we started, we had secured six weeks of accommodation without taking too much out from our kitty.

With so much uncertainty, we were living in the moment, day by day, one step at a time. Faith played an important role for us as well. I remember visiting church often and keeping our faith with constant prayers. Keeping a positive mindset was also extremely important.

Any plans made were short term and things were always changing. I remember how close we were twice to committing to rent, only for better options to arise at both times. The first was when Moana Lodge offered us to stay on for another 6 weeks to help run the place while the owner had to go away for a knee operation. The other time was when Janette recommended us to her neighbors who were going away to Europe for four months, to help them look after their property while they were away. One thing led to another and we ended up house sitting for Robin and Russell in their lovely home for four months. They even left us both their cars to use. Up to this day, we count our blessings and are still amazed by how things have worked out. Surely there was divine intervention.

In a nutshell, adopting an open and positive mindset is certainly crucial when you first arrive in a new country. Things may not always go according to plan and you must always be ready to make changes. Staying with friends, volunteering with Helpx and house sitting arrangements are great ways to secure accommodation. We're not saying that it will definitely work for you, but it did for us and who knows, it might for you too.

For Chapter 3: The Job Hunt , click here

For more Singaporean Guide on Moving to NZ (SG2NZ), click here