Voices for a cause: VocaBlends leads donation drive for DLS-CSB deaf community during Covid-19

There are plenty of Filipino organizations worldwide that celebrate talent and encourage charity. VocaBlends (Singapore) is one organization in the city-state which has both competed abroad and showcased singing talent locally. It’s an a capella group made out of Filipino professionals in Singapore.

I came across this post on their Facebook page where they sang “Better World” and are encouraging the community to donate to the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde (DLS-CSB) School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS). Students are stranded due to the community quarantines in Manila.

Here’s an opportunity to learn Filipino sign language while also sponsoring deaf community members. If you’re blessed and able during these tough times, your donation can make a difference.

Learn how you can get involved here: http://bit.ly/2SeK1jI

Friends in Singapore can consider donating via online remittance from your local bank. PHP 1k or SGD 28 can help a stranded student return home.

No donation is too small. 🙂

You can learn more about VocaBlends (Singapore) here.

What organisations are you supporting in times of crisis?

Covid-19: Repatriation flights to Manila from Singapore

This situation is developing.

If you’re an unfortunate soul that has to travel during this period, I can only imagine the anxiety. Luckily, I found a new job a few weeks ago which can keep me in Singapore. The thought of having to travel during this period is very stressful. I was anxious over travel restrictions due to the pandemic.

However, don’t lose hope. It is possible to go home to the Philippines. This is my action plan if I were going home during this period:

  • Check with the airline on flight availability. I’ve listed below what I understand are available options for flights between Singapore and the Philippines. Currently, it’s limited.
  • Understand the travel situation both in Singapore and the Philippines. As of this writing, Singapore Changi Airport has already closed two of its four terminals (T2 for renovation and T4 for reduced travel during this time). Understand that traveling will take longer so this means checking in extra early. Understand that you will be subject to testing and quarantine upon arrival in the Philippines. A fellow OFW shares her experience making the journey from Singapore to Manila here.
  • Prepare for the journey. Face mask, hand sanitizer, cash on hand, etc. I even suggest packing light snacks (Skyflakes!) because of the possibility of limited food options available at the airports.

As of 23 May 2020, this is the current status of Singapore and the Philippines.

SingaporePhilippines
Circuit Breaker until June 1, 2020 – the country will re-open in 3 calculated phases from June 2Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila, Laguna, and Cebu / Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) or General Community Quarantine (GCQ) elsewhere outside MECQ areas

Important: The Embassy of the Philippines in Singapore organizes repatriation flights for Filipino citizens and OFWs. Please check the Embassy’s Facebook for the latest announcements here. With Circuit Breaker ending soon, more flights may appear from June and July.

Flights to the Philippines from Singapore

AirlineFlights to the Philippines
Philippine AirlinesAll PAL domestic and international flights are cancelled until May 31, 2020.
Our flag carrier PAL is operating limited repatriation flights. Learn more here.
Cebu PacificAll CebPac domestic and international flights are cancelled until May 31, 2020.
Singapore AirlinesAccording to SQ, reduced flights are available between Singapore and Manila. Please visit this page to learn more.
Jetstar AsiaAccording to Jetstar from an update in April, temporary flights are available from Singapore to Manila. Details here.
ScootAccording to Scoot, there are no Scoot flights to the Philippines through to June.

Flights to Singapore from the Philippines

  • Flights are very limited as of this writing.
  • It is understood that Singapore is not accepting short term visitors or tourists during this period. Likewise, it is understood that the Philippines is currently not allowing international travel for Filipinos for tourism purposes. I mean, who wants to play tourist these days?! Watch YouTube.
  • Singapore’s Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) provides guidance on re-entry for those with Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP), STP, IPAs, etc. Please check here.
  • Even with proper documents, a rule of thumb is that for re-entry, prior approval from ICA is required before you commence your journey. Please check with ICA!
  • Also worth bookmarking: Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Health for the latest advisories.

Those are the resources I’d bookmark. Get your information from these trusted resources (Philippine Embassy in Singapore, government websites, and airline websites) instead of hearsay.

It’s a stressful time but hang in there and keep safe!

Have you made the journey or traveled during this Covid-19 pandemic? Share your experience and tips in the comments.

Photo by Ina Carolino on Unsplash

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What Filipinos can do at home during Singapore’s circuit breaker

In this post, I write about what Filipinos can do in Singapore during the circuit breaker.

Many places around the world are in lockdown due to the pandemic. Singapore is no exception since it began the circuit breaker period on April 7, 2020. As of this writing, circuit breaker will end on June 1, 2020 with the re-opening of business in phases.

First of all, stay home!

With exception to going out for exercise from your household solo, stay at home. Stay at home. Stay at home. Be safe. Here are some suggestions on what you can do.

Learn new recipes with Panlasang Pinoy

Since circuit breaker began, I’ve brushed up on my cooking skills by watching my favorite Filipino cook on YouTube, Vanjo Merano. The way he explains recipes is clear and easy to understand. Subscribe to his YouTube channel here if you haven’t yet.

If you must exercise, do it at the nearest park.

Of course, with all the food you’ll be cooking and eating… keeping healthy means keeping fit with exercise. We’re lucky that during circuit breaker, we’re still allowed to leave our homes for essentials and solo exercise. Remember to follow all government rules during this period like wearing a mask if you’re not exercising. Jog solo and NOT with your housemates (yes, we Filipinos tend to live together in houses). Bring your mask with you and your EZ-Link card in case you somehow jog too far. At best, please try to stay within your neighborhood. If you’re going to the park, you can check if it’s crowded using this NParks safe distancing tracker.

Connect with friends and family back home

During this circuit breaker period, I’ve connected with my friends and family in the Philippines. I recently had a call with my college friends, high school friends, and family. My brother even organized a virtual lunch one Sunday so my partner and I can eat together with my family.

Put together a balikbayan box to send stuff back home

With the downtime, it’s also a period you can declutter things you’ve accumulated over the years in Singapore. If you have shoes, bags, and articles of clothing you can send back to the Philippines… use this period to assemble a balikbayan box and have it shipped. Shipping is an essential service. You can learn more on the LBC website.

Support a charity or charitable organisation

Many of us in Singapore are blessed to have jobs and a work pass. While we provide for our loved ones, let’s not forget we can also provide help for charitable organizations both in the Philippines and Singapore. In Singapore, you can look at supporting HOME or give.asia which provides assistance to migrant workers. In the Philippines, ABS-CBN Foundation has a donation drive called “Pantawid ng Pag-ibig” (Bridge of Love) which is calling for donations in the fight against Covid-19. Learn more about ABS-CBN’s initiative here.

It’s important to stay healthy and safe during the circuit breaker. As a Filipino on an employment pass in Singapore, there’s an added layer of stress of not wanting to make the simple mistake of being in a crowded place or being caught without a mask. Please follow all government advisories and stay updated. During circuit breaker, stay home and only go out for essentials. Don’t forward unverified news. Stick to reliable sources of information.

My sources of information: Singapore’s Ministry of Health website on Covid-19 and the Philippine Embassy in Singapore.

The health of all depends on each one of us.

One of my favorite quotes from the gov’t daily WhatsApp reminders

How are you keeping sane during lockdown or circuit breaker?

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Integrating into Singapore: Benefits of joining a dragon boat team

In this post, I write about the benefits of integrating into the community by joining a local dragon boat team.

A few years ago a friend and I were having a drink at a bar in Tanjong Pagar when we overheard Tagalog being spoken at a nearby table. Eventually one of the people at that table heard my friend and I speak in Tagalog too so she came over and introduced herself as the women’s captain of a local dragon boat team.

What happened next was something I never would have expected of myself. I signed up for a dragon boat team. Since moving to Singapore, much of my life has been work and home. Joining a dragon boat team changed all of that. I became inclined towards sports. I met many people with different professions. I felt like I was part of a community.

Here are the benefits of joining a dragon boat team.

  1. You develop your body.
  2. You develop your social skills.
  3. You build camaraderie.
  4. You get encouraged to cross-train and try out other sports.
  5. You participate in learning more about Singapore.

Developing your body. Joining a dragon boat team means you’ll be subjecting yourself to regular training. In my four years paddling, we only had a few weeks each year as off-season. The rest of the year was dedicated to training physically and mentally for dragon boat races.

I didn’t become a muscle stud by paddling (since I still have a full time job and I enjoy my beer), but I noticed my posture change. I enjoyed having a tan (if you don’t want a tan, wear a rashguard). My friends and family noticed I was leaner. I enjoyed this feeling.

Developing your social skills. Whether you are introverted or extroverted, joining a dragon boat team means you get to hone your social skills. You’ll have batch mates and you’ll form your own circles and friendships to interact with. You’ll meet people with different professions.

Building camaraderie. The dragon boat community in Singapore is tightly-knit. Whether you’re paddling within the expat teams or schools, when you spot someone on the MRT with their vest and paddle you know you’re paddling in the similar waters, climate, and races.

Cross-training and trying out other sports. Training with your dragon boat team means you’ll be exposed to try out related sports like outrigger canoeing, running, swimming, and weightlifting. Many of my teammates are triathletes. This is a great starting ground if you’re interested to continue sports.

Integrating into Singapore. I’ll emphasize a need for Filipinos to integrate into Singapore as best as possible. Go out there and meet other paddlers. Participate in races and get a feel of the dragon boat community.

The team that I signed up for was Filipino Dragons (Singapore) or FDS. They are an expat dragon boat team that welcomes all nationalities and backgrounds. Majority are Filipino but they have teammates from Singapore, Indonesia, United States, India, and more. I’ll recommend FDS but there are other expat teams too that you can join which have Filipinos in them too.

Of course, part of integration means being open to joining teams that are part of community clubs and schools in Singapore (if you’re eligible). Dragon boat doesn’t pick nationalities. It’s a fun and competitive team sport for everyone.

What sports are you interested in trying?

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Credits: Image of our dragon boat in action from Laurence Foo

Tips for Filipinos looking for a place to stay in Singapore

In this post, I’ll talk about resources I use to help me find a place to stay in Singapore. This post is for those who are allowed to rent in Singapore. There are no hotels in this post. Renting a room in Singapore is only for people who carry a work permit or an employment pass.

Since I moved to Singapore in 2012, I’ve relocated a few times through the years. I lived in Yew Tee, Yishun, Bishan, Geylang, and Bukit Merah. Neighborhoods may look the same, but trust me, each one is unique.

Initially, I tried using sites like PinoySG to help me find a place to stay (or share). But I wasn’t getting the type of housemate I would feel comfortable with. By that, I wanted to avoid “funky rules” or “stepping on eggshells”. By the way, this will be your “home away from home” right?

Some houses don’t allow visitors. Other houses will say only light cooking is allowed. You’ll encounter tenants who won’t show you the full PUB or electric bill (a red flag) which means your rent is inclusive of the bill. That’s impossible because utility bills fluctuate. You won’t know if you’re paying more and the tenant is earning off of you.

Ask yourself these questions first

Before starting your hunt for a place, ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of housemate are you?
  • What kind of housemates do you want?
  • What’s your budget?

You need to solve these first.

Next, ask yourself if you’re looking to share a room with someone or to rent a whole room. I prefer having my own room because it’s a treat to myself and it’s a safe refuge.

Now as you plan your budget and start looking for a place to stay, you can gauge if the price your paying for the room is fair or suspicious. Most times, it’s pretty fair play in Singapore. But here’s what I’ve discovered:

40-30-30 rule

Many of the units in Singapore are 3-bedroom flats (aka 3+1, the living room is considered an actual room). The arrangement would be a master bedroom which has an ensuite (its own bathroom) and two common rooms. I’ve encountered this a few times but there’s a 40-30-30 percentage arrangement on the unit cost. If a unit is 3,000 SGD the master bedroom will be 1,200 SGD and the two common rooms will be 900 SGD each. Gets?

Should I work with an agent?

Yes and no. Yes, if you can afford it because a good agent will be able to look after your best interests especially if there’s a conflict with the unit owner. An agent will also be able to file all paperwork and make sure you are protected. No, if you’re resourceful (as most Filipinos are) and are able to locate a listing that you’re happy with.

Questions to ask the prospect owner or main tenant

  • How much is the unit cost? – They might not answer, but I’d ask them anyway. I want that transparency.
  • How much is the Public Utility Bill (PUB) each month?
  • How many months security deposit are required?
  • How long is the current contract? – important, what if you’re signing up to move into a place that only has 2 months left in it
  • Who are the owners? – if you’re meeting with the main tenant
  • What are the house rules? – very important to clear in the beginning. Most rules are reasonable, but you might have particulars (e.g. allowing guests to visit, cooking food with bagoong, eating durian)

Things to consider

Virtually all of the places I’ve stayed at in Singapore through the years are within walking distance of an MRT station and grocery store. That’s how convenient it is in Singapore. Even the far-flung areas like Bukit Panjang or Punggol will have your basic needs covered. In case we miss anything, here are other things you can consider:

  • Distance to the bus stop or MRT station – and which MRT line is it? Does it connect to your work place easily?
  • Distance to the grocery stores or town center
  • Parks and park connectors – for your exercise
  • How many people you’ll share the bathroom with – trust me, this might be a problem in the morning
  • Visitors allowed? – some prefer no visitors as to keep the house a “peaceful sanctuary”, others prefer reasonable visitors for obvious social purposes, and in one case a whole church group would meet inside the unit. Check that the visitor or no-visitor arrangement works with you.

My Choice Resource

This leaves me with my choice resource for looking for a place to rent in Singapore.

  • Filipinos in Singapore Room for Rent – I know, the title itself is straightforward. I’ve posted listings here and I’ve discovered places to stay here. You can find a number of rooms and units to rent here.

Tips

  • Don’t let the main tenant or unit owner take advantage of you. Your residence should be a safe space for you. You work so hard to make a living only to live in conditions that give you unnecessary stress. Believe me, there are many rooms and units to rent in Singapore. You don’t have to stay at the same one.
  • Insist on full transparency in electric bills. I don’t like it when a main tenant refuses to show you how much the electric bill is. The costs should always be divided amongst housemates. If you’re moving to a house that is “all-inclusive of bills” this sounds nice, but what if the electric bill is actually smaller than what you’re paying.
  • Engage with an agent. If you can afford it, the advantage of having an agent means you wouldn’t have to deal directly with the owner. If there are disputes, you are paying for an agent that should look after your best interests. An agent will also do the stamping fee (required by HDBs) and they will line up places for you to view according to your interests.

Lastly, once you’ve found a place to stay and have moved in, make an effort to get to know the neighborhood. Hold the lift door open for a neighbor or be open to conversations with neighbors you spot in the void deck. Be kind.

How’s your experience so far in looking for a place to stay?

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Where I bring my friends for Filipino food in Singapore

In this post, I’ll share with you where I bring my friends out for Filipino food in Singapore.

Note (May 2020): Due to Covid-19, these establishments are most likely taking orders for delivery or take-away only. Dine-in is not allowed under circuit breaker rules. Please stay safe.

The best Filipino food should be the one cooked at home. But obviously, not all of us are chefs. I’m proud of Filipino food and I know it’s not as popular as Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, or Chinese. That’s why I’m very particular where I take friends and colleagues for Filipino food.

Gerry’s Grill at Cuppage Road

Hands down an easy go-to especially for bringing in non-Filipino colleagues for a Filipino food treat. I would take them to Gerry’s Grill at Cuppage Road. The famous resto-bar chain in Manila opened up shop a few years ago. Here you can order sizzling sisig (just like how it is back home), a bowl of kare-kare, sinigang na hipon, pancit, lumpiang shanghai… almost all of the Filipino favorites.

One time I brought a colleague visiting from India to Gerry’s Grill and he insisted on ordering a whole plate of crispy pata for the two of us.

The ambiance at Gerry’s Grill at Cuppage Road is also unique. It’s isolated from all the bars and restaurants of the famous watering hole in Orchard. It almost feels like you’ve stepped back into Quezon City.

The price point is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard not to compare how much this plate of sisig would cost back in Manila if you apply SGD to it. But the taste brings me back home to Manila. Worth it especially if you’re introducing Filipino food to your non-Filipino colleagues.

Don Lechon in Paya Lebar

Almost like a secret because of it’s “hidden location”, I understand they recently expanded to occupy a larger space at the side of the canal. As the name goes, expect lechon kawali in your menu. The barbecued pork and sizzling sisig here take you home.

This was a go-to spot for me and my dragon boat teammates before. We would feast on barbecued pork and enjoy with white rice.

You can find Don Lechon about a 5-7 minute walk from Paya Lebar station.

Lucky 69 Bar and Cafe in Boat Quay

This isn’t a Filipino restaurant but it has a “hidden” Filipino menu that somehow blends in next to Malay and Chinese dishes. You’ll have a limited but sumptuous offering here: chicken sisig, pancit, and tapsilog.

Lucky 69 Bar and Cafe is perfect for those working in Singapore’s central business district. It’s also a great night cap after enjoying a drink in the Boat Quay area. I used to eat here after working out at One George Street.

Kabayan Restaurant at Lucky Plaza

Lucky Plaza is home to many Filipino restaurants. But one of the institutions here is Kabayan Restaurant. Stepping inside is like stepping back into time. It reminds me of my first few months in Singapore when I wasn’t able to cook my own food yet. Even the staff here are the same staff from many, many years ago.

This is your carinderia-style eatery. And I mean that in a sweet, flattering way. You have your “viands” and “combo meals”. You point at the dishes you want. Mix your adobo with sinigang. Mix your bangus with lumpiang shanghai. And don’t forget to pick up a Four Seasons drink at the cashier. There’s a separate area for your Filipino dessert fix like biko and halo-halo.

Plus, it seems perpetually they have GMA Pinoy TV playing on the screens here. This is a quiet place to unwind and enjoy Filipino food that’s very cheap. It’s probably the cheapest restaurant for Filipino food.

Other restaurants

Having lived in Singapore since 2012, I’ve come to accept that compared to most other Asian cuisines, Filipino food is few and far between to come by in Singapore. There are a few other places that have come and gone through the years. After Singapore’s circuit breaker, I’m planning to visit these other restaurants (and also revisit the ones I’ve featured here). I’ll be writing more about these so please don’t forget to subscribe to this blog.

What’s your favorite Filipino restaurant in Singapore? Let me know.

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4 favorite places to do Filipino groceries in Singapore

In this post, I’ll share with you my top four favorite places to buy Filipino groceries in Singapore. If you enjoy this content, please don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get notified when there are new posts.

Many years ago, I would load my luggage with groceries from SM Hypermart. I would pack Pancit Canton, Century Tuna, and bottles of Green Cross rubbing alcohol into my luggage to bring to Singapore for personal consumption. Why? Back then, I really didn’t know where to do Filipino groceries.

Today, it’s much easier to find and buy Filipino groceries when in Singapore. Here are my top three places where I’ll go to buy:

  • Lucky Plaza – spoilt for choices
  • Your neighborhood Filipino stores – dedicated
  • ValuDollar – limited selections
  • Major grocery store – your Fairprice and Giant

Lucky Plaza

The obvious place to grab Filipino groceries is at Lucky Plaza. I’ve shopped for sardines and Green Cross alcohol while sending remittances at Lucky Plaza. There is a large selection at Lucky Plaza and you will be spoilt for choice. Many of stores carry the basic necessities. You can also throw in peanuts, grab a cheap haircut, remit cash, and eat Filipino food. Lucky Plaza is your one-stop shop.

Neighborhood Filipino stores

One of the most convenient places to quickly grab Filipino groceries is the neighborhood Filipino store. An example of this is the Katipunan store at Tampines Bus Interchange. Here you can find quick groceries.

ValuDollar

You might be able to spot some Filipino groceries at ValuDollar which is popular among Filipinos. The exact selection for Filipino products at these cram-packed stores might be limited. But it’s worth a look.

Major groceries stores

Major grocery stores in Singapore like FairPrice and Giant carry Filipino items in their International Section. You have to keep your eyes peeled because they are often just a few shelves. But once you spot the Mama Sita’s seasoning and bottles of Mang Tomas, you know you’re in business.

Doing Filipino groceries is easier today than it was several years ago. I’ll be writing about where are the better value places to get Filipino groceries and I’ll run a comparison on price points.

Let me know where you go to get your Filipino groceries!

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