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Escape from Lockdown, Part 3: Pandemic Travel & 21-Day Stay-Home Notice (SHN), from Singapore to Germany with Crystal & Greg Lim-Lange

21 yellow post-it notes lined the floor-to-ceiling glass panel of Fairmont’s suite. Far be it a common sight, but Crystal and Greg have their reasons for doing so.

Between the fancy takeaway sushi and Greg working virtual calls out of their shared bathroom, several had caught wind of Crystal and Greg’s 21-day quarantine stint at the Fairmont Singapore through their fascinating Instagram stories. Among the Instagram followers that expressed curiosity over their SHN experience was us who checked in with them.

Crystal's IG story while serving their 21-day quarantine

We caught up with Crystal and Greg on their 19th day in quarantine. The word “restless” was used but when asked if they would go through it all again knowing that a 21-day quarantine was on the horizon, the couple recounted the very “moment that made everything worthwhile” – seeing Greg’s mother burst into tears at the sight of them – and affirmed their decision.

The endemic COVID-19 situation has caused families to be separated for prolonged periods and, in this case, Greg hadn’t seen his 85-year-old mother who lives alone in 2 years. Mortality issues continue to flood the news and social media and motivates one to reflect on those near and dear to us. It was thus under these extenuating circumstances that Crystal and Greg made the bold decision to travel amidst the stifling uncertainty.

To quote Crystal, “there’s a need to prioritise ruthlessly. If anything untoward happens, we wouldn’t want to feel unhappy or regret. It is especially important to communicate to our family the significance of the bonds we share.”

Knowing the Enemy: On Rules & Regulations

The trip was a long one in the making. The pair had been looking to visit Greg’s mother since the start of the pandemic. So began the year-long research on the various insurance providers, safety precautions, tests and vaccinations.

Greg in his version of PPE

“We were lucky to be able to get vaccinated prior to departure. Greg had both doses, I only had one. On the road, we were careful to take extra precautions. We wore a mask and face shield; I tied my hair up and tightened the drawstrings of my hoodie to cover as much body surface as possible.

Social-distancing on the plane

We flew via Singapore Airlines because it was a direct flight and their service is top-notch. There were probably only 3 or 4 passengers in business class and this was good because it was a consideration we had especially since we heard that if you’re within 3 rows of anyone tested positive, you’d be posted to a higher risk facility, a special quarantine hotel if you will, notwithstanding your existing reservations. We wanted to avoid this at all costs.”

Minced meat noodles served on-board the Singapore Airlines flight

Food on the plane was a local favourite, bak chor mee, elegantly plated in fine china no less. “Kudos to them, presentation was there. There were no hot towels being handed out and more plastic and disposable covers, supposedly so there’s less opportunity for exposure but overall, the food was awesome and the staff were super friendly – they went out of their way to reassure us.”

Braving the Unknown: On Foreign Soil

“Upon arrival in Germany, there was a stark difference in regulations. For one, mask wearing was much more lax and not as mandatory as in Singapore. The customs officer looked through our Covid-19 tests but was only glancing through them and seemed apologetic about having to request our certificate of marriage as Germany was only accepting EU nationals.”

As Singapore isn’t listed as a risk country by Germany, the pair did not have to undergo quarantine during their stay (in May 2021) there. The cities were where the majority of the Covid-19 cases occurred, which Greg’s hometown was rather far removed from. In terms of health and safety, Crystal comically pointed out that Greg’s mother had been fully vaccinated in January, and that was even before German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had the chance to due to the age-based hierarchy in Germany.

“Venturing out of the airport, the autobahn (Germany’s version of highways) was entirely empty with no cars in sight. There’s no real speed limit and we had an Audi electric car waiting on us. It was strange as there was this weird sense of having no limits where you can speed and do whatever you want. The plentiful open spaces gave way to seemingly endless possibilities.”

The irony in that was that nothing was open. “Restaurants and museums were closed, and hotel stays for tourist purposes were disallowed. Some shops were open depending on which city you’re in, but most stores admitted only 1 or 2 shoppers who had made appointments at any one time. Walk-ins were not entertained — they would have to scan the QR code and choose the next available slot.”

As a result, the pair mostly hung out at Greg’s mother’s house and in nature. Located on the border of Germany and Switzerland, Greg’s hometown overlooks Black Forest and provides several hiking and day trip options.

Within the span of a short 15 to 20-minute drive, they could cross the border into Switzerland and visit scenic spots like Lake Lucerne, Zurich and Andermatt. While they were there, Switzerland had coincidentally loosened its border restrictions and was gearing up to welcome domestic tourism once again.

“We could see cherry blossoms and snow, ride the cable car, and dine in at restaurants. In Switzerland, shops and museums were open and one particular shopping street in Zurich had a line a mile long with posh-looking Asian people looking to make purchases and were willing to stand in line despite the cold.”

During her time on European soil, Crystal also observed an entirely different mindset. Several protests and marches across Europe consisted of people proclaiming that Covid-19 is a scam and protesting mask wearing as an infringement upon their civil liberties. Contact tracing as practiced in Switzerland is rather much optional. “Pen and paper were handed out for guests to jot down personal details, and there was no guarantee that the information provided was accurate.” Finding oneself in a situation as unfamiliar as such can be disorienting, but this difference can be reconciled with a shift in perspective. A quote by Anne Frank “our lives are all different and yet the same” rings particularly true here.

Biting the Bullet: The Return Trip

24 hours before they left Germany, the announcement that Singapore was entering Phase 2 (Heightened Alert; HA) was made.

“We’re lucky to be able to return.” Crystal mused. The couple expressed that they would have stayed there for 3 months to wait out the HA restrictions if they didn’t have business and 3 young kids to tend to in Singapore. Alas, they decided to “bite the bullet and serve the 21-day quarantine.”

Taking the necessary precautions at the airport

The return flight was largely similar — with the masks, face shields, social distancing in place and the lounge spectacularly empty — save for a few idiosyncrasies. “It was weird that people were allowed to remove their masks and to drink water at the crowded boarding gate area but the same was disallowed in the empty lounges.

Arriving in Singapore, a small army of staff decked out in personal protective equipment (PPE) greeted and guided them through the corridors. “From the moment we stepped off the plane, there was no room for confusion as there’re staff monitoring you and waving you through immigration. After the swab test comes the baggage collection area, and they then walk you out to the bus bay and usher you onto the correct bus.”

The Final Leg: 21-Day Quarantine

Determined to make the most of their 21 days, the first thing Crystal did was to search for a suite upgrade. Variable factors like space, ambient noise and internet connectivity could not be left to chance due to the nature of their work which requires a highly controlled environment.

“Greg’s a clinical psychologist so we needed a place with ample space to give him and his clients utmost privacy. There’re about 6 or 7 hotels that you can contact to enquire about suite availability. For our stipulated quarantine duration, all the hotels I reached out to except Fairmont could not accommodate guests till August — I think I booked the last suite in the whole of Singapore.”

Having pre-booked a suite, they had a letter from Fairmont Singapore certifying that they had pre-arranged accommodations. The check-in process at Fairmont was superbly smooth and well-coordinated. Like a well-oiled machine, guests were efficiently escorted to their rooms upon arrival.

Living to Eat

Perhaps the most common enquiry to date is concerning the quality of the food. While the couple was mostly satisfied with the quality of the dining options provided by the hotel, they could not quite pass up on the chance to go on a gastronomic escapade.

“The quality of food really depends on which hotel you’re at. Some get an outside caterer so that’s dismal. Fairmont Singapore (where we stayed) did a great job — they have an in-house restaurant and the food can be ordered through Google forms that provides 3 choices for each meal per day. The option to upgrade to a healthy vitality menu where everything is more health-based is available at a higher cost. We did that for a while. Then we thought, there’s so little we can do, so we might as well eat well and splurge a little.

The silver lining in a pseudo-lockdown is how it has gotten just about every restaurant on the various delivery platforms. In times like these, we’re glad to have saved a bunch of Instagram posts for inspirational quarantine food ideas.

It helped that we had friends and family sending food our way. Naked Finn also sent us their ultra-yummy new menu item; banana wrapped fish.”

Shaking Things Up

For entertainment, they are like most others in that they partake in what’s available on Netflix. In addition to having a typical list of shows to watch however, Crystal is also an education junkie. She’s big on growth hacking and self-betterment – she had a “to-learn list” at the ready to camp out the duration of the quarantine. “It consists of a list of master classes and recordings of conferences and virtual workshops whose topics caught my intrigue but I never had the time to watch previously.”

Xiaomi treadmill

On physical upkeep, they stressed the importance of having a consistent workout routine. They had rented out a Xiaomi treadmill for the duration of their stay. Even as we spoke, Greg was cycling on an exercise bike.

Crystal's mindfulness nook

On combatting the mental struggles of being quarantined, the couple took joy in otherwise tedious activities — assembling their new ergonomic chair where they’re sitting in for 7-8 hours a day was apparently “a fun quarantine activity”.

As far as survival hacks go, the ironing board ironically comes the most highly recommended. “It’s multi-purpose and it’s a great table, especially for a romantic candlelit dinner on the balcony. It’s probably the most used item in the room.”

Rather than taking this time for themselves, the pair busy themselves with work and utilise every inch of the suite in the process. “When the sun hits the balcony, I lay out a mat to bask in the sunlight while looking down at Raffles hotel pool and imagine I’m there.” Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better than this, Crystal quips about Greg’s “favourite” spot and that had us rollicking in laughter.

Greg working a consultation from their shared bathroom

“Because of the structure of the room, Greg’s been counselling people out of the bathroom. Whenever ICA calls to confirm our whereabouts, he’s always in the toilet. Once, they wanted to wait till he emerged and I chuckled and informed them that they were in for a long wait because he was having a meeting in the toilet.”

Fighting the Blues

Jokes aside, “having a positive mindset is very important. If you think that you have to be here (quarantined in this room), it feels like you have no choice. When you reframe your perspective into one of choice, like for me it’s choosing to be in Singapore for my business and because this is where my home is, you feel a lot more powerful and happier about the situation.

Split the weeks up into mini milestones and celebrate those. For example, our first was getting to under 20 days, and the next was when the countdown no longer had a 2 in the tens digit and before we knew it, we were already at the halfway mark. Every 2 or 3 days, just focus on what’s in front of you or the next milestone, like marathon runners do.”

For them, this means ripping one post-it off at the end of each day to arrive at a sense of accomplishment. That said, this is by no means a one-size-fits-all approach.

Crystal and Greg's workstation setup for an international conference they were facilitating

For those of you pondering about hitting the roads again, Crystal has some solid words of advice, “you have to have the mindset that anything can happen. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Before we left, the situation was very different, we had gotten approval from the government to complete SHN at home so there was no expectation of a 21-day quarantine. In spite of that, we were armed to the teeth for a quarantine stay, I had packed a big suitcase and in it, some office essentials.

We made contingency plans and researched extensively as the situation is vastly different for different people. Some of my friends who came to Singapore because of a work trip are stuck here with nowhere else to go because they don’t have a second home here so it really boils down to “What is your contingency plan?””

Your Quarantine Essentials

If you decide that it is well within your capacity to travel in this time, here’s Crystal’s failsafe guide to packing for a 21-day quarantine stay:

  • A massage gun and massage oils to fend off stiff muscles
  • Cleaning supplies like wet wipes as there’s no housekeeping for the entire 21 days
  • Essential oils to diffuse a fresh scent (preferably citrus) in the room which otherwise gets awfully stuffy with time
  • Candles to set the mood, adjust the brightness in the room and rid the room of food smells
  • Good quality headphones for privacy and to respect your partner’s personal space
  • Fire stick/HDMI cable to connect iPad to television
  • Yeti microphones for seamless audio on the countless zoom calls
  • Cutlery and mug to avoid wastage resulting from disposable plastics
  • Vitamins, health supplements and face masks
  • Self-care items (yoga mat, juice cleanse etc.)
  • Subscription to edutainment, be it Kindle, National Geographic or anything else
  • Comfy fluffy slippers

These may seem awfully trivial in the larger scheme of things as these items can surely be purchased and delivered during your stay but bringing your own helps you retain a sense of normalcy.

Post-Pandemic Travel: Outlook & Expectations

As the dust settles (and stirs from time to time), ripple effects are observed in how people work and play. With monthly escapes out of Singapore ruled out, it’s understandably difficult to divorce oneself from work and business while feeling mentally and physically claustrophobic being confined to a specific geographic area.

In the same vein, without room to move and roam, all that energy has to be released one way or another. Case in point, noise and distractions were Crystal’s 21-day neighbour along with a frustrated mother and her restless kids. Crystal acknowledges that despite efforts at keeping spirits high and staying positive, not everyone has the support of their very own mental health expert (in reference to Greg) at their disposal 24/7. She was thus motivated to share her top tips concerning her pandemic travel experience.

On being able to travel and return safely, she remarked that “it was strangely liberating to be able to travel and to be on the opposite end of the planet. That said, it’s expensive. We’ve spent 8k on quarantine plus 1k on Covid-19 tests each. If you spend so much money, it’d better be worth it.” This mentality has impacted travel patterns as more look toward longer holidays.

The global population is slowly but surely inching toward herd immunity and we’re increasingly hopeful about the resumption of leisure travel, especially as cross-continent travel sentiment seems to be on a fierce rebound. We’re looking forward to offering our travel and lifestyle expertise in empowering the curious and independently-minded to unlock extraordinary experiences around the world. Share your post-pandemic travel goals here with us by 31 July 2021 to stand a chance to receive a S$50 Blue Sky Escapes Gift Card.

Whether you’re looking to return home to Singapore or planning a trip to a destination with mandatory quarantine, simply reach out to us at ask@blueskyescapes.co to enhance your quarantine experience with our curation of holistic virtual wellness sessions. Start by exploring our collection of wellness experiences here.

Whether you’re looking to return home to Singapore or planning a trip to a destination with mandatory quarantine, simply reach out to us at ask@blueskyescapes.co to enhance your quarantine experience with our curation of holistic virtual wellness sessions. Start by exploring our collection of wellness experiences here.

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