Stay Home Notice (SHN) in Singapore: 10 Positive Tips To Survive Your 2 Week Quarantine - Olliechinny

Stay Home Notice (SHN) in Singapore: 10 Positive Tips To Survive Your 2 Week Quarantine

It was the very last week of 2020, and Vince and I boarded the plane back from Zurich back to Singapore. We had planned for an annual visit to our home country every year. But this time, we had to hasten our return right before 31 Dec. This was after the new implementation by the Singapore Government that with effect 1 Jan 2021, the cost of the 14-day Stay Home Notice (SHN) for returning citizens who left Singapore before 23rd March 2020 would no longer be waived.

For overseas readers: The SHN is a requirement for citizens and visitors entering Singapore (regardless of origin) to serve a 14-day quarantine in a designated government facility (usually an assigned hotel room) before they are allowed to return home.

I have since served my 14-day SHN, and I felt compelled to share my personal story: Specifically 10 tips on how to survive and make the best of time during these 2 weeks of quarantine. Hopefully this can help other returning Singaporeans going through the same situation, or that it can at least help you to gain new perspectives!


A Different Flight Experience

The flight back from Zurich felt surreal. For the first time in my life, I boarded a near-empty plane with no more than 20 passengers. During normal circumstances, that might have sounded like great news, since I would have the whole row of seats to myself. Yet this time, the sheer emptiness of the flight felt disconcerting. It hit me hard that this was the grim reality happening across the global travel industry.

 The flight attendants were extra attentive, often coming up to check on me without prompting (“Is everything alright? You need some snacks? Sure, I will be right back” *returns with an entire tray of assorted biscuits*) I felt conflicted as well, not sure if I should be indulging in this treatment, or to feel guilty of flying home during a pandemic.

Touching down at the Changi airport was another jolt to the senses. I’ve never seen our airport so deadpan deserted, filled only with a few uniformed staff to guide travellers through the gates.

Empty arrival hall at Changi Airport Singapore, SHN

I was ushered off to Royal Plaza on Scotts, where I would spend the next 14 days in a 32sqm hotel room.

Tip 1: Start With a Grateful Heart

In my opinion, starting off with the right mindset is KEY to making the best out of your 2 week SHN.

You can choose to treat it resentfully as disruption preventing you from reuniting earlier with your loved ones: Compare with other SHNers who struck the hotel lottery, got large spacious hotel rooms at Shangri-la and Swissotel while you fumed over why you ended up at a budget Hotel! (Note: the hotel rooms are all randomly assigned.)

On the other hand, you could bear in mind the larger reason why you even came back to Singapore (maybe for your job, for your family), and see these 2 weeks as just temporary, and be thankful for making it back home, and for this safe refuge for the time being.

I’d joined the “Singapore Hotel Quarantine Information & Experience” Facebook group (highly recommended to join, tons of useful info from other members) and it was in there where I saw how the quarantine really brings out the best and the worst in people.

There were some very negative comments, complaining about the small room size, poor food and service by the hotel staff. (Granted, some of them were legitimate concerns involving young children, which posed health risks and required a room change.) One comment even called out on the constant rainy weather and asked if there is a hotline to contact to complain about it. My goodness!?

At the same time, there were others sending positive words of encouragement to one another to press on, offering help with errands and grocery runs. Some wrote cards and sent gifts of appreciation at the end of their stay to thank hotel staff. One lady even offered to bake cookies over Christmas and New Year as a gift to those still in quarantine, hoping to inject some festive cheer.

We all experience an entire range of emotions during this time. There were days when I myself felt like those angry commenters, so consumed by my own selfish thoughts that I don’t really bother to think or care for other than myself. Does that make me a bad person? No. it only makes me human. But on other days, it was easier for me to look at my current circumstances and practice gratitude:

  • For the efficiency of the Singapore Government in planning the SHN quarantine arrangements right down to the minute and detail, even footing the cost of the 14-day stay. I’m fully aware that these are privileges not extended towards many citizens by their own governments, and ours had done such a good job putting in so much resources to ensure all returning Singaporeans can have a safe passage back home!
  • For the hotel staff working tirelessly behind the scenes. Admittedly, sometimes there are lapses in services. E.g. mistakes in meal orders, slow deliveries, or no one is answering the phone at housekeeping. But if we remove our glasses of self-entitlement and think about it: These front-liners are the ones working from dawn till dusk with little sleep, putting their family and their lives AT RISK by being in close contact with us! We can show empathy by understanding that their jobs are not easy, and do what we can (be it a thank-you note or a small gift ) to let them know their efforts are not gone unseen.
  • That my Covid-19 swab test was negative and I was given a clean slate of health! Never so happy in my life to be labelled “negative” for anything!

Tip 2: Set Small Daily Goals

I found that when I set concrete goals for myself each day, I felt more in control and purposeful with my time. That if spent wisely, these 14 days could in fact be a highly productive streak.

For example, I knew I had to finish up and publish my collaboration post on Liechtenstein. I decided too that I wanted to vlog and blog about my SHN. That made my day more exciting, since I would set aside time to plan, film and edit footage and to write.

There was also an e-learning software course that I aimed to complete for professional upgrading.

I also restarted my 50 books challenge for 2021, and used this time to read more challenging non-fictions and memoirs that I might find trouble finishing when the going gets busier!

Tip 3: Self-Care Is Important

The above being said, that’s doesn’t mean that I was hyped up and on full productive mode every day. It was easy at the beginning to think  “YES! Free lodging and free food by the government! This is like a staycation! ” but soon the novelty started to wear off.

Minus the physical comfort of a fancy king-sized bed, the ready-meals promptly delivered to the room each day, the huge bathtub, the free AC and wifi… At the core of it. I was imprisoned, physically cut off from the rest of the world.

The first three days were the hardest. I was fighting jetlag, sprawled across my unmade bed feeling absolutely tired and uninspired, wearing the same clothes from last night. And I got nothing done off my checklist.

Then I realised that hey, I don’t have to beat myself up for NOT being busy. That it’s okay to let boredom and nothingness wash over me. Even if I accomplished nothing for the day, that’s fine. Since all I have right now is nothing but TIME!

So I treated myself. Made good use of the lovely smelling bath-bombs and bath bubbles (thank you Melissa, Francesca and cousin Adeline! ) and enjoyed a good hot soak in the tub. This became a nightly ritual I relished in.

I played worship music while writing. Treated my face with calming face masks. Dabbled with adult colouring too and experimented with different colours and shades. Binged on junk food too!

Tip 4: Exercise (And Stick To It!)

Since the only distance I could clock within the hotel room was pretty much from bed to the desk to the bathroom…Exercising was vital to stretch out those muscles and get my body moving during quarantine.

I always had trouble sticking to an exercise routine in Switzerland, it was so easy to be consumed by other tasks and think “Okay, I will workout another day”….And that day never arrived.

The 2 weeks under SHN was different, since i had no excuses of errands or other urgent deadlines. When the clock strike 5.30pm, without a word, I get off and change into my exercise clothes and start my 1 hour exercise.  The workout I did was the 2-week shred challenge by Chloe Ting!

Even if you don’t have the necessary workout equipment, now’s the time to get creative! I substituted a yoga mat with a large bath towel, and used two 1.5l bottles as my dumbbells.

Honestly, I don’t think I lost any weight since I was snacking constantly, but with the daily exercising my body definitely got stronger.

Tip 5: Pick Up a New Hobby

There’s just so much Netflix you can watch before you start getting a little antsy. Thankfully, my sister got me an embroidery set to pick up sewing and I threaded right into this new hobby!

I never thought I would have enjoyed embroidering: I’d associated it with the image of old grannies sewing in their living room in front of their TVs. But it proved to be fun, even mentally therapeutic, thanks to its repetitive nature. Also, embroidering requires a lot of focus so that the stitching would be consistent, and I learnt to be slow and patient with the process.

Of all the things I did in quarantine, this hobby was the one that rewarded me with the most beautiful end product. Here’s my final result:

Tip 6: Get Some Food Support

Knowing food was often the most contentious source of complaint by others serving their SHN, and having seen the mountain of unappetising carbohydrates posted by some on the FB group…I was immensely grateful for the well-balanced meals served at my hotel. I think I ate far better meals during the 2 weeks than the ones I cooked for myself in Switzerland!

Still, there were the occasional days when my palette wanted a change in taste, and that’s when having a network of family and friends REALLY helped. They made generous loads of food drop-offs, making sure that I was constantly well-fed and my local cravings were all satisfied. (If you are one of these special people and you’re reading this, thank you for your kind acts of service, I appreciate it so much!)

Over the course of two weeks, I received: Chocolate cupcakes, Famous Amos cookies, milkshakes and bubble teas, ayam penyet, ondeh-ondeh, thunder tea rice, chips, matcha saro pancakes, krispy kreme doughnuts, kaya toast, satays, brownies, old chang kee curry puffs. Talk about fattening up!!

Tip 7: Stay Physically Distant, but Socially Connected

In the name of safety, the entire quarantine was spent in complete isolation. Only at Day 11 when we were called down for the COVID swab test did I finally get to say hi to some real faces, and I was so glad for even that few minutes of human interaction.

While it was a real bummer having to spend New Year’s Eve alone, I’m thankful for technology, which helped in staying connected with loved ones Video calls became my favourite mode of communication: I called my family everyday, and also took the opportunity to reconnect with friends from across the globe that I haven’t spoken to for quite a while.

A family prayer together over Whatsapp on New Year’s Day.

Soon enough, I was transported to my friend’s snowy apartment in Copenhagen. The next day I was chatting with another girlfriend while watching her prepare lunch in Berlin. That definitely brought some cheer to an otherwise lonely day.

On 2nd and 5th January, my sister and best friend also gave birth to their new bundles of joy! These were the two highlight events of my quarantine, as I saw the precious faces of these newborns for the very first time.  For now I can only interact with them from behind the screen, but I can’t wait to get out and hold them in my arms!  

Tip 8: Use This Time For Self- Reflection

My SHN had coincided with the end of a tumultuous 2020, and the ushering in of a new year. These 2 weeks opened up a much-needed time and space for some quiet self-reflection.

I had lots of thoughts to myself. What kind of partner, daughter, sister, friend and dog-parent do I want to be this year? What are my new goals and priorities in 2021? Is there something within me that I should change, quit or learn to let go? What story do I want to share at the end of this quarantine experience, or even after this whole pandemic?

I spent my time doing a lot of reading too. If you follow me on Instagram, you would know that I’d completed a 50 books challenge last year and I’m dead-set on keeping my record for 2021!

I’d managed to finish four books, two of which I greatly enjoyed, and found extremely helpful in providing me a different perspective on busyness, and how to improve communication in my marriage.

Tip 9: Keep Up With The Cleaning

Your hotel room is going to be your living space for 2 weeks. Make sure it doesn’t erode to a rat cage by the end of your stay. For that, only YOU are responsible for its upkeep, since no one else will be able to enter your room!

Here are some useful items I suggest to bring along for your SHN:

Kitchen spongeI use this to scrub the sink and bathtub each week
Clean towel or antibacterial wet wipesFor cleaning surfaces, especially the desk since it would likely double up as your workdesk and dining table during your stay
Dishwashing liquidComes in handy for washing utensils
Laundry powderFor the days when you have a light laundry load e.g. intimates
HDMI cableFor plugging in your laptop to the TV screen for better screentime
Swiss army knife or scissorsFor opening up deliveries/ food packages

You can also request for a vacuum cleaner from the hotel staff to keep the dust away.

The hardest part of cleaning was changing the bed-sheets. If you have never done it solo… speaking from experience, it’s super challenging, especially for a massive king-sized bed!

Tip 10: Find Ways To Go Green

Having lived 2 years in Switzerland, I had slowly built up a habit for recycling and fighting waste. The amount of plastic I’d accumulated and the waste I’d contributed to over the span of my 14-day SHN was appalling 🙁

Although the greener alternative would be to serve our food in reusable plates, for hygiene reasons, our meals were all served in sealed, single-use plastic boxes. The hotel staff provided plastic utensils for every meal, and that would have meant 14×3= 42 sets of plastic cutlery!!!! I had to write in to inform them that I brought own metal utensils so they could stop delivering the plastic ones.

If you are serving your SHN and reading this, I urge you to find ways to make your stay a greener one. Off the AC and lights during the daytime when not in use. Bring your own reusable utensils. Fight food wastage by inform the hotel staff not to send food, if you are not hungry or have food-deliveries arranged already. Bring your own shower gels instead of the ones offered by the hotel.

I know it might sound like a singular futile effort coming from just one person. But if you think on a larger scale of things: there are currently over 15,000 people serving SHNs in Singapore. And that number is even higher on a global scale. If each of us were to play our part in reducing food waste and plastic usage during these 2 weeks, it will amount to a significant difference!

Day 14 arrived at long last, I could finally prance out of the room and return to the real world!

Surprisingly, I found my excitement mixed with a tiny tinge of sadness. No doubt, it was isolating be cooped in a hotel room for 2 weeks. But within that four walls, it had been a safe sanctuary protecting me from the outside world. I felt like I went through a 14 day detox, shedding away old thoughts and regrets, and rebuilding myself with renewed focus, energy and hopes for the coming year.

To all those who are currently serving your SHN, know this too shall pass! I hope you would see this period not as an annoying disruption, but a meaningful pause in time to reconnect with yourself, or to catch up with the things you’d always wanted to do. Take this time to connect with others and be kind, both to yourself and to others.

To people who have friends serving SHN, offer help and extend your care, be it through a call, a whatsapp text to check in on them, or drop them something that would come in handy during their stay. This is time when your smallest gestures mean the world  for them.

After spending 14 days in terms of 6 hour meal time-slots, and counting down till the day I can break free…I’m SO relieved to have survived this SHN!

Gonna fully enjoy my one month and spend time with my family and loved ones!

Love, Ollie

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  • Una Oni

    I am presently serving my SHN. Your write up is so useful. I have gone through most of your experiences too. I decided from day 1, I will make a good use of this 14 days which I regarded as necessary save measure for the benefit of all. I flew in from the Uk and got a GOOD hotel with excellent service. However, I wish I had researched the experiences of others like you who
    had done this b4 I arrived. I went into it BLANK. No idea what to
    expect, but I’m grateful I have taken a positive attitude to it than
    resentment. Thank you.

    • Olivia

      Hi Una, I’m so glad my writing helped inspire you to make great use of your time while serving quarantine. It will pass by really quick! Glad that you landed in a comfy hotel!

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