Monday, January 3, 2022

Back to School (In Singapore)

Ovidia--every other Tuesday.

The 2022 school year in Singapore starts today, Tuesday January 4. 

It’s an even bigger shift after two years of Covid induced HBL (Home Based Learning) though some schools started bringing students back last October. 

(Yes, the kids are prepared. Vaccinations of children aged 5 to 11 started last December—this is Singapore after all!) 

I’d have thought children would be happy to stay home with year end exams cancelled, but as one child told the newspapers, ‘I feel like my hard work is wasted’.

And the main reason schools are reopening is ‘for social-emotional well-being of students’. 

HBL was hard on their parents too. Like one of our security guards who’s a single father requested gruelling months of night shifts only so he could teach his seven year old son at home during the day, because the child’s caregiver is his grandmother who can’t read English well enough to help him with his schoolwork. 

Even I can see staying home in isolation might get tough, though I was never a great fan of going to school (though this was in no way the school’s fault). 

I was lucky enough to have a plethora of phlegm producing allergies, easily dislocated joints, a heart valve problem and epilepsy.

I say ‘lucky’ because all this meant once I answered a question about the lesson of the day (not a problem because I read all my textbooks once I got them) I was usually allowed to spend much of my time reading in my corner of the classroom or lying down in the sick bay, and even then, reading was what I liked best to do. 

Looking back I see I was probably a very difficult student and I bless those long-suffering teachers!

(Me in my corner of the class. I'm so glad to be done with school forever--it's almost worth growing old for!!)

Even so I remember being excited about starting the school year. 

A new school year meant new books and new stationery and new boxes of chalk (yes I’m that old) in the classroom. 

But most of all, all the promise of the semester to come. I loved making lists of what I hoped to do. 

Mini bucket lists, in fact. And I still do. 

My favourite part of the year is that liminal space between Christmas and New Year that I try to keep free of all work so I can think about the year just passing away and the year just coming up. 

But then I read Annamaria Alfieri’s post here yesterday--and I can see why fucket lists make more sense, especially at the age I’m at now! 

But it’s hard to give up my precious mini buckets so maybe I’ve come up with five of each for my first quarter of 2022… 

January-February-March Bucket List: I will— 

1. Edit proofs of Book A 

2. Write a first draft of Book B

3. Play around with crazy ideas for Book C—the crazier the better at this stage 

4. Write 6 Murder Is Everywhere posts :) 

5. Rewatch all the episodes of Golden Girls 

(my January mini-bucket. The flowers and fruit are from the Golden Dew-Drop)

January-February-March Fucket List: I won’t— 

1. Finish eating anything I don’t like. 

 2. Finish reading anything I don’t like. 

3. Say yes to things I don’t want to do / attend 

4. Say no to things I feel I don’t deserve 

5. Save my dried burdock strips for ‘someday’ when I feel I deserve them. 

The world isn't going to end if I drink up my whole cache of burdock tea in the next three months. 

And if it does, it was likely going to end anyway and I’ll be glad I drank my tea before it happened! 

By the way, today is also the 11th of the 12 days of Christmas. 

The English version of the song marks today with ‘eleven pipers piping’, but the French version ‘Onze plats d'argent’ or eleven silver dishes is much more appealing.

We’re celebrating with popiah—very thin wrappers around a largely vegetable filling. They used to be popular in the Spring when there was an abundance of young vegetables after Winter, hence 'spring rolls'.

We've got eleven dishes of various ingredients spread around the table. My late mum used to make this on special occasions (it’s a lot of work) but being practical/lazy I have a favourite supplier. 

With the salted mustard greens soup that makes eleven...

The main, hot filling is usually made of strips of bamboo shoots cooked with dried shrimp and pork bones but you can get a vegetarian version too. 

The fun is in assembling it yourself.

Prepare by spreading a thin layer of sweet black sauce and garlic and chilli paste on the skin. The lettuce leaf holds the hot mixture—squeeze out as much liquid as possible first... then top it up with beansprouts, egg, shrimp, coriander, lap cheong (chinese sausages) and whatever else is available.

This you fold into a neat roll or packet.

and some people slice it into neat discs to be eaten daintily with chopsticks, but if you're like me you just eat it as is!

And it's delicious!

But that's not the only point here. When I was young I remember being told that the way you wrap your first popiah of the year shows what your coming year will bring you. 

Are you going to try to pile on and pack in so much stuff that the thin delicate skin of your popiah/ your life tears and falls apart? 

Or are you going to play it so safe and cautious that you end up with little more than a dry and safe but bland and tasteless wrapper around your days?

(Note: If your popiah bursts, you can always lick your fingers and plate!)


  1. Your post covered quite a bit of interesting ground, Ovidia, and it gave me an idea for a new form of New Year's blessing to offer our readers: "May your popiah be filled to the brim, but never burst."

  2. Yum! "Balance in all things," even popiahs.

  3. We now have Sujata, Susan, AND Ovidia telling us about wonderful local delicacies. I need to try to sample them if ever covid cooperates...

    1. Would love to have you (plural to my blog family) here to sample and give your own take on our foods!