Yeoh Siew Hoon
Yeoh Siew Hoon

I apologize for the long silence between Postcards From Asia. It's because postcards are generally written when we travel somewhere, and we can say "Wish you were here" with part sincerity, part gloating.

My excuse is I haven't been able to travel anywhere since March 15, the longest spell I've been at home since dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

The borders of Singapore remain closed except for reciprocal "green lanes" for essential travel to Malaysia and China and unilateral green lanes to New Zealand and Brunei -- that means they can enter Singapore under fairly relaxed conditions, but it may be another story when they return home.

These lanes are hardly possible for the ordinary traveler. While Singapore is furiously trying to open up reciprocal green lanes for leisure travel with less onerous requirements such as a 14-day quarantine, the reality is we remain grounded in Singapore, and travel companies are shedding jobs at a pace that is heartbreaking for the people involved and gut-wrenching for the economy.

Just this week, Singapore Airlines Group, one of the world's most profitable airline companies, announced cuts of about 4,300 positions across its three airlines. On a tiny island like Singapore, when you can't fly anywhere, you are basically as good as, well, stuck.

However, I have started to travel again, hence the inspiration for this postcard. I have become a domestic traveler. Singapore is spending $33 million to get us at home to explore home, and it has given us $257 million in tourism credits to spend on holidays at home.

I have been out on the open sea sailing to Singapore's Southern Islands, an area I haven't explored in the 20 years I've lived here, simply because there were always other oceans to explore. But now this is the only ocean open to me.

The tropical evening breeze, the glow of the promise of a golden sunset, birds chirping overhead -- it felt like I was on a yacht in the Mediterranean.

The cruise starts from Sentosa, which is the most developed of the Southern Islands, and one can only imagine the authorities wishing they had done more earlier to develop the rest of the islands, six in all. Because if Singapore ever needed more island playgrounds, it's now.

You can stop off on the different islands. There's a turtle hatchery on the Sisters' Islands, set up to study local sea turtle populations. Lazarus is the most popular spot to pop out for a walk or a lie on the beach or a swim.

My next excursion was to the world-famous Singapore Zoo. It is operating at 25% capacity, and you have to book tickets as well as your time in advance to help manage capacity. This is one good thing Covid has done -- no more queues, just show up at your time, do your Safe Entry check on your phone, scan your QR code ticket and you're in.

It was good to see the animals again. In a podcast I did earlier with Wildlife Reserves Singapore CEO Mike Barclay, he told me how well the animals had been looked after during the lockdown and how some of them enjoyed having the run of the place; the African penguins going for their daily walks became a social media sensation.

It appears, too, that some of the more social creatures really missed having humans around; for others, it took some adjusting seeing us again. The monkeys and the gibbons were indeed in full flight, showing off. My heart leapt when I saw the white tigers, as majestic as ever. And just seeing the pelicans float by peacefully made me dream of future sailings I will have once this thing blows over.

Certainly, this time has been good for nature, and I hope we remember that when we get back on the road.

My next adventure -- you can tell I'm making up for lost time -- was a visit to one of Singapore's very few farms, Bollywood Veggies, which offers farm tours as well as a bistro.

Covid-19 has helped Singapore realize that it is too dependent on external sources for food. Ninety percent of its food supply comes from outside, so the government has set a "30x30" goal to produce 30% of its own food by 2030.

And as a start, it's sent people like me packs of seeds to begin working our green thumbs.

Some hotels are taking the lead. Raffles City Hotels, which includes the Fairmont and Swissotel the Stamford, has opened an aquaponics farm on the fifth floor, and it is hoped the 4,800-square-foot farm will supply produce to meet an estimated 30% of vegetable and 10% of fresh fish needs across the hotels every month.

We won't be traveling across borders anytime soon from Singapore. So, when I'm not exploring home from home, I might as well tend to my vegetable garden for the time being. 


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