Japan’s longest serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, announced his departure from office last Friday, citing his health as the main problem. His abrupt resignation sent shock waves throughout the world, especially Japan as they ponder about the great strides Japan has taken since Abe’s presidency. Throughout the 8 years in power, this premier has rendered a paradigm shift in the Japanese society through its economic, political and social reforms.
Commentators have noted that his loss of popularity as a prime minister in recent months was also the prime reason he is deciding to leave after serving Japan for many years. Despite having steady support from its citizens for seven years, Abe saw a steady decrease in support for his cabinet in 2020.
When the pandemic swept in, Abe was criticised for the way he handled the whole situation.
Who is Shinzo Abe?
Abe, 65 was initially elected to Parliament in 1993 after the death of his father, who was a foreign minister. However, he only started serving as a prime minister in 2006, but stepped down the following year after a scandal broke out.
In 2012, Abe became the country’s leader once again where he made key promises such as fixing the besieged Japanese economy and also amending Japan’s pacifist constitution, which will allow for a full-fledged military.
Abe first exited the office in 2007, after nearly serving for eight years due to his ailing health — a relapse of a bowel disease.
Throughout his time at office, Abe’s presence has definitely left an indelible mark on Japan’s defence policies and economy. Not only that, he also managed to maintain high profile relationships with foreign allies from all over the world.
However, Abe has said that he will continue to serve as a prime minster until his successor is chosen.
Here is a walk-through of Shinzo Abe’s prominent legacy.
Since coming into power for the second time, Abe has changed its international affairs approach. The highly contested Yasukuni Shrine which was dedicated towards war casualties ruffled the feathers of regional countries like China and South Korea. Although Abe visited the shrine in 2013, which created much public outcry, he has thoroughly refrained from visiting the shrine, knowing all too well that it will sour the relationship with South Korea — a huge departure from his predecessors. Similarly, Abe has radically changed the interpretation of Article 9 constitution, which originally renounced the right to go to war. Instead, the reinterpretation of Article 9 allowed Japanese forces to fight alongside overseas allies, drawing condemnation from China and South Korea while simultaneously receives blessings from U.S. This move has allowed U.S. to continue developing good relationships with Japan.
While regional countries like China continue to drive a wedge with the hegemon U.S., Japan under Abe has made great investments in forging closer relationship with President Donald Trump to benefit from economic investments such as trade. For example, Abe has hosted President Donald trump in high-profile summits in Japan. Their intimate relationship, as seen in their close interactions through 32 phone calls and 5 rounds of golf, has allowed Abe to pursue Japan’s interests such as keeping the Trans-Pacific Partnership alive even after America’s withdrawal.
Aside from international or political affairs, Abe has also managed to move Japan’s society towards an inclusive and diverse one with an open market that embraces migration into Japan. He has reformed unproductive corporate culture by creating a new form of corporate governance code and investor stewardship code that aims to increase shareholder control and profitability. Meanwhile, the power of the traditionalist managers weakens. Additionally, Abe has also sought to punish the toxic corporate culture where workers had to endure unproductive overtime hours. Of particular importance, while his party had long resisted Japan’s movement towards gender equality and immigration, Abe has nudged companies to hire more women and minimise gender inequality through the provision of funded daycare centers, encouraging more men to take paternity leave as well as provide companies incentives if they hire women.
Abe will leave behind his biggest legacy, Abenomics, which was aimed to curb the threats of deflation and an aging work force through fiscal spending, corporate deregulation, and cheap cash.
Abenomics delivered great results in the early years of Abe’s term which lifted Japan’s economy immensely and at the same time, lifting Abe’s profile as a prime minister. However, in 2019, the steady growth suffered due to the trade war between United States and China. It then took a further downfall when the pandemic hit Japan, causing its economy to hit a slump.
Who will take over Abe?
Certainly, Abe has done pretty well in his political and public policy approach during his 8-year long term. However, Abe has not groomed a successor during this time, and this creates anxiety for Japan; some scholars have argued that with Abe stepping down, Abe’s rival, Shigeru Ishiba who is the most popular politician will take over. What lays ahead for Japan and its society? It would be tough for the next prime minister to match Abe’s legacy on economic, political, and social policies where he brought the country out of recession and diversified Japan’s labour force.
Ishiba will have a tough challenge ahead as it tries to win the support of its party members as well as Abe’s party who regards him as a political foe. With this tussle ahead of him, one wonders his plans for the future and if he is able to charismatically deliver policies despite the constant tension within the cabinet.
What plans do you have for the upcoming weekend? If, like us, you’ve spent most of the week in an office chair in front of a computer screen, there’s no better time to stretch your legs and enjoy some fresh air.
Hiking has become one of the most popular things to do in Singapore, with some hotspots seeing high footfall over the weekends. If you’re looking for something a little quieter, head to these undiscovered trails in Singapore for some well-deserved nature lovin’ — sans the crowds!
1. Kranji Marshes
Kranji Marshes is Singapore’s largest freshwater marshland, containing 57 hectares worth of natural and green habitats. Home to three unique biomes, the area is home to 170 species of birds, 54 types of butterflies, and more. You might also chance upon an estuarine crocodile or monitor lizard along the way!
Head up the Raptor Tower for a panoramic view of the area. Bird enthusiasts will also be delighted to discover species like the Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Purple Heron and Changeable Hawk Eagle. If you’d like to learn more, join the free ‘Evening Chorus at Kranji Marshes’ guided tour through the core conservation area, which is usually not open to the public.
How to get there: Take the Kranji Express Bus from Kranji MRT Station to the D’Kranji Farm Resort, followed by a short walk to Kranji Gate.
2. Bukit Batok Nature Park
Witness a slice of history at Bukit Batok Nature Park, which was developed on an abandoned quarry back in 1988. During the Japanese invasion, one of the most vehement battles took place at the Bukit Timah area. Bukit Batok Nature Park is home to a hill that overlooks the battleground; a WWII memorial was hence constructed on this very hilltop to commemorate the lives lost during the battle.
In addition, the park offers multiple hiking trails that offer magnificent views of the lakes and granite quarry.
How to get there: Take buses 61, 66, 157, 178, 852 and 985 to Bukit Batok East Avenue 6.
3. Tampines Eco Green
Hidden away between the Tampines Expressway, Tampines Avenue 12, and Sungei Tampines, Tampines Eco Green is a secret park that pays homage to all things natural. True to its theme, the park has no lights or pavements. It doesn’t even have a flushing toilet; instead, its toilet is a compost-based one! The park’s signboards and benches are also made from recycled and environmentally-friendly materials.
Take your pick from three trails — Diversity Trail, Forest Trail and Marsh Trail — through secondary forests, vegetated swales, and more. Keep your eyes peeled for any of the park’s 75 species of birds and 35 species of butterflies! The park is also home to the Hanguana Rubinea, a native flower that’s found only in Singapore.
How to get there: 20-minute walk from Tampines MRT Station.
4. Thomson Nature Park
Be spoilt for choice at Thomson Nature Park, which boasts five trails that span a total of 3.8 kilometres. Previously a Hainan Village, bits of its heritage have been preserved in the form of old village houses, old street signs and the remains of a rambutan plantation.
Check out the Run and Figs Trail, as well as the Stream and Ferns Trail. If you’re lucky, you might even chance upon a Raffles’ Banded Langur, an endangered primate; or the Sunda Pangolin and Malayan Porcupine, both of which are highly elusive.
How to get there: Take buses 138, 138A, 167, 169, 860 and 980 to Upper Thomson Road.
5. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Comprising the first ASEAN Heritage Park, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is a haven for nature and wildlife lovers. Home to some of the island’s richest biodiversity, the swamps of Sungei Buloh are home to 140 species of birds, mudskippers, tree-climbing crabs, mud lobsters monkeys, otter, civet cats, monitor lizards, and even the occasional estuarine crocodile!
The Migratory Bird Walk’s Aerie Tower is a prime spot for bird-watching, especially during the migratory season. To find out more, there are free guided walks available every Saturday at 9.30am.
How to get there: Take Bus 925 from Kranji MRT Station to Kranji Reservoir Carpark B.
If you’re raring for an adventure of bigger proportions, tackle the Coast to Coast Trail, a mega 36-kilometre route that stretches all the way from Coney Island to Jurong Lake Gardens. Along the way, you’ll also pass through Punggol Waterway Park, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Macritchie Reservoir Park, the Rail Corridor, and Bukit Batok Nature Park.
Alternatively, the North Eastern Riverine Loop is a 26-kilometre trail that runs through Buangkok, Sengkang and Punggol — including Punggol Promenade and Lorong Halus Wetland. This trail is also suitable for cycling if you don’t wish to go entirely on foot! Another option is the Western Adventure Loop, which connects the five parks of Bukit Batok Nature Park, Jurong Lake Park, Zhenghua Park Dairy Farm Nature Park, and Choa Chu Kang Park.
That’s exactly what we love about Singapore — it may be a metropolitan city but, look close enough, and you’ll find little pockets of green space scattered all around that are the perfect escape from all that hustle and bustle.
So, which of these hiking trails will you explore first?
In a press conference held on Tuesday (11 Aug), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing announced that Singapore needs to move in another direction, after describing the nations “worst quarterly performance on record”.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) now expect a year-on-year contraction of 5% and 7%, compared to the initial 4% to 7% projection.
Private economists’ predicted a downward drop of 12.9%. However, the nation’s quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 13.2% year on year in April through June, a sharp 0.3% decrease from the first quarter. The MTI informed that “the outlook for the Singapore economy has weakened slightly since May”.
The anticipated return to the old normal is hoped for by many. Unfortunately, quick recovery and return to the ways of the past are gone. The “painful truth” is that “we are not returning to a pre-COVID-19 world” and that recovery will be slow and unlikely to be smooth sailing.
“We can expect recurring waves of infection and disruptions,” he said.
Mr Chan also highlighted a few global changes that Singapore has to anticipate. The geopolitical landscape that provided Singapore with the opportunity to grow and thrive in the last five decades has changed, due to tensions amongst the major powers. He highlighted that Singapore has to avoid being between the conflicts of major powers.
“We must avoid being caught between the conflicts of major powers or be stranded in a fragmenting world of trade relations and technological standards,” he added.
The global landscape has changed irrevocably, with global companies reorganising their production and supply chains. Some companies are also reviewing the need for regional hubs and the way their operations are organised to serve different markets. New investments will be making its way to Singapore, but some existing ones may seek to diversify elsewhere.
Mr Chan also added that “It is a fluid landscape and we must do everything we can to defend our capabilities and capacities.”
The nature of jobs has also changed, with remote working becoming the norm, allowing for more global job opportunities to be available for Singaporeans. Still, the nature of remote working will also let other workers in other countries do the same jobs from their homes. Some job posts have advertised openings with the opportunity to work in Singapore or remotely, which affects many PMET jobs, as such work can be done virtually or through automation and AI.
Changes in the economy will also result in more societal frictions and tensions, as those who have more and those with less will contend, and issues such as foreign and local employment, and citizenship, will also arise.
“We will need to better take care of those affected by job and business losses. We have and will continue to do these in a sustainable way that is not divisive, affirm the dignity of work and strengthen our social fabric. These tensions, unless well managed, can divide our society,” he said.
The way forward for Singapore is muddled, but staying still is not an option. The fluidity of the entire situation means that every factor and circumstance is fast evolving. However, the government regularly update the people on the economy and job situation, sector by sector.
Three principles were outlined for Singapore’s moving forward.
Firstly, the country will open for business safely and sustainably. Mr Chan said that “it will not be a binary option of open or close. It can be done. We must stay open while isolating the impacted clusters quickly and tightly.”
Secondly, the government will extend help to businesses and workers, helping them adapt to the new normal. Firms with opportunities will be provided with a boost for growth, as this creates more job opportunities for workers. Examples of such firms include those in info-communications technology, biopharma, supply chains, and precision engineering. Companies experiencing a drop in demand now but have the potential to recover will have their core capabilities preserved so that they can come out of this stronger. Companies will also receive help in cash-flow, from schemes such as Jobs Support Scheme to rental relief scheme. Assistance is extended to companies whose industries have gone in another direction due to reinvention and adaptation.
The last principle includes supporting businesses through establishing the “right macro conditions,”, Mr Chan said. The government will strengthen connections with the world for markets, supplies, technology and talent, to preserve Singapore’s competitiveness.
In a novel move, Singapore will engage in digital free trade agreements to open more markets for businesses, while maintaining existing access to conventional markets.
The future may be unpredictable, and it may be challenging to pull through. However, the minister assured that the government is still committed to every Singaporean, mentioning that instead of waiting for the situation to calm down, they will start preparations now.
Known for their street food and night markets, Taiwan is also famous for their hot springs, which are said to have a plethora of health benefits — such as raising one’s energy levels, and treating chronic fatigue, eczema, and arthritis.
Hot springs have been a large part of Taiwanese culture since the 1800s, when Taiwan was under Japanese rule. During their rule, the government in charge developed the hot springs on the peninsula, with many influences from the Japanese onsen culture. The first hot spring hotel was opened in Taiwan in 1896, by Hirado Gengo; this paved the way for the development of hot spring culture. Fast forward to today, Taiwan now has more than 100 hot springs — one of the most in the world. Additionally, it has also been dubbed the “Hot Spring Kingdom”, and is ranked among the top 15 hot spring destinations in the world.
The most accessible hot spring from Taipei City would be Beitou, which is easily accessible via MRT, with a journey that takes approximately an hour. Since the 1970s and 1980s, many hotels and resorts have been developed in the area as well.
Here’s how to get to Beitou:
- Take the Red Line to Beitou Station
- At Beitou Station, transfer to the pink line and alight at Xinbeitou Station
The hot springs and other interesting tourist attractions are a mere 5 minute walk away from the MRT station, so there’s no worry of getting lost. Alternatively, visitors may also opt to take a taxi, which would take about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on traffic conditions.
Beitou not only has many hot spring resorts that cater to various price points, but is also home to a Hot Spring Museum, which provides visitors the origins of hot spring culture in Taiwan. What’s interesting about the museum is that the building is a restored Japanese colonial-era bathhouse which gives visitors a comprehensive introduction to hot springs in Beitou — a perfect way to learn about hot springs before (or after) experiencing it!
At Beitou, the dormant Datun volcano provides Beitou with an infinite supply of thermal waters, and the area is surrounded with resorts across all price points to suit tourists’ varying budgets. First time visitors usually opt for the well-known public hot spring, located near the Hot Spring Museum.
In Beitou, there are three main types of hot springs:
Green Sulfur Hot Spring
This type of hot spring has a high concentration of sulfur, and its colour is reminiscent of jade. It is the hottest out of the three, with temperatures ranging from 50 to 75 degree celsius. What makes this particular type of hot spring so highly sought after is its rarity—it can only be found in Beitou and Akita, Japan! Many believe that the green sulfur hot spring is useful in treating skin diseases, gout, rheumatism, and fatigue.
Red Iron (Ferrous) Hot Spring
Unlike the green sulfur, this hot spring’s water is clear, and has a slightly lower temperature of between 40 to 60 degrees Celsius. It is believed to relieve nerve strain and inflammation.
White Sulfur Hot Spring
Do not be fooled by this hot spring’s creamy and milky appearance — the hydrogen sulfide in it gives off an extremely strong odour, similar to that of rotten eggs! It is also extremely rare, as it is only available in Beitou and the Kansai Region in Japan. Its temperature is the lowest out of the three, at approximately 45°C. This hot spring is typically used to treat ulcers, chronic skin diseases, liver diseases and diabetes.
The most affordable option in Beitou would be the Millennium Hot Spring Bathhouse, which costs NT$40 per entry. Run by the government, this bathhouse has a variety of hot spring pools for visitors to experience a hot spring for themselves. However, a possible downside for some would be the restrictions at the bathhouse. As this is a shared public facility, visitors are required to be dressed in bathing suits. Hot Spring attendants are also constantly walking around the area, which might cause some unease.
For those who would like to have a hot spring experience in private, there are quite a few privately-owned resort establishments in the area. One of the most reputable ones is the Yitsun Hotel, which was built in 1901. Its original name was Xin Nai Tang, but was later changed to its current name in honour or Dr Sun Yat Sen’s given name — Sun Yi Xian — who was believed to have visited this hotel and was impressed by the quality of the hot springs.
Many of the guestrooms at Yitsun are decorated Japanese-style, in honour of Japanese influence on Taiwan’s hot spring culture. The baths are separated by gender — one for males and one for females — and are set in grey slate stone, and are about 60 °C, making them perfect for long dips.
Being one of the hallmarks of Taiwanese tourism, and with such a rich history, Beitou is definitely a destination to add to your travel bucket list!
Did you know? National Relaxation Day is an internationally celebrated annual event, held every August 15th. The day was first founded in 1985, by an American fourth-grader, Sean Moeller. The intention is simple — to take a day off for yourself to refresh and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit.
Most of us live in a fast-paced, constant state of ‘doing’, but as the founder of this day suggests, it is important to find ways to relax and unwind from a busy lifestyle. So, in honour of National Relaxation Day, take a moment for yourself and explore the following places to let your hair down:
With dozens of shades of green, fresh air, and a sense of expansion, parks top the list in terms of being ideal places for relaxation. Research has shown time and time again that there is a strong link between nature therapy and a decrease in physiological stress and immune function levels — because of our evolutionary history, it is thought that we are essentially adaptive to nature.
A recent study supports this, and shows that these stress-relieving benefits can easily be achieved in as little as 10-minutes. If you live in a concrete jungle, opt to take a stroll through the nearest park or spend a lazy afternoon picnicking with friends and family for the ultimate rejuvenation.
Some of the biggest cities in the world also feature the most stunning pockets of green — from Hyde Park in London to Central Park in New York City. Indulge in an urban oasis — your body will thank you for it.
If parks are not your thing, the beach is a fantastic alternative for outdoors relaxation. There’s a reason tropical vacations are in vogue — the mere visualisation of aquamarine waters and powder soft beaches can have a calming effect on the body.
Because beaches are often not centrally located, they’re best for the days you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. With no shortage of relaxation activities — ranging from getting that Vitamin D with friends to swimming and walking along the beachfront — it is easy to spend a whole day at this invigorating location.
While the Mediterranean cities in Europe (think Spain and Portugal) offer some of the coolest beaches in the world, Singapore comes a close second. Check out Sentosa Island in Singapore, for some of the island’s prettiest beaches.
Beyond being educational institutions of the arts, museums are also restorative sanctuaries of the mind and body. The beneficial effects of art on human health and well-being have long been documented, and art therapy is very much a trend.
A fascinating article by Psychology Today makes a strong case for museums as healing places, arguing that museums can provide the same revitalising effect as spending time in nature by offering the same characteristics that enable one to shift mental gears, and refocus attention in a less effortful way. Findings from a 2008 study showed that museum goers have reported benefits like restored attention, tranquility, and reflection, further corroborating the association between museum visits for leisure and stress reduction.
Home to the Renaissance, Europe is the best continent to visit for some of the most spectacular masterpieces of the world. Other than Le Louvre in France, check out The British Museum in England or The Uffizi Gallery in Italy for national collections that have withstood the test of time.
Given that reading a book can help provide a welcome escape from routine and everyday demands, it makes sense to head to the one place where books are the ‘cells of life’. And in a world filled with distractions and white noise, the library provides a safe haven for those seeking absolute peace and quiet.
Cosy nooks offer the passing traveller comfortable corners to while away the afternoon, while a cornucopia of resources promise to entertain and inform. Individuals will face little difficulty in finding a new world to lose themselves in with columns of books and magazines to choose from. According to a 2009 study conducted by the University of Sussex, reading can reduce up to 68% of stress, and just 6-minutes of reading can reduce your heart rate and improve your overall state of being.
As with museums, Europe showcases some of the most beautiful libraries in the world due to the rebirth of the literary arts during the Renaissance. Trinity College Old Library in Ireland is one of the most magnificent of the lot, with dark mahogany arches and millions of rare manuscripts collated since 1712.
Often cosy and well-lit, cafés are great places to chill out in a city, be it for brunch or a mid-day break. For a lazy afternoon, bring along a book to read, or have an intimate setting with a couple of close friends or your date. If you run out of things to do, take up people watching — you’ll find that the conversations and interactions around you can be disarmingly familiar and pretty funny, usually unintentionally.
The initial wave of COVID-19 in Singapore came in the form of dormitory clusters, bringing the number of cases up to the thousands daily in its peak. More than 300,000 migrant workers living in dormitories went under lockdown since April. The infectious spread travelled fast and wide, with signs of slowing down only in August.
Workers had to live in fear of catching the virus. Some of them spoke up about their experience in the dorms during quarantine, such as Pugal, who caught the virus in a dorm and had to be moved in an isolation ward. Now, as the cases dwindle and migrant workers shift their focus to employability after the lockdown has been lifted, their worries are not dashed. Instead, they remain, perhaps even more amplified due to fear of a loss of income.
There seems to be a spike in the number of migrant worker suicides in the recent weeks, following reports of unnatural deaths. Questions on the conditions of the workers’ mental health ensued, along with concerns on how the government is handling it.
In May, a 27-year-old migrant worker hailing from Bangladesh was found motionless at a dormitory in Kranji. A few weeks before that, a 46-year-old Indian national died from his injuries after lying motionless at a staircase landing at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. On July 24, a 37-year-old Indian worker was found dead at 512 Old Chua Chu Kang Road. His case is still being investigated. Amidst the official reports, there have been videos circulating on social media, showing some workers standing dangerously close to the edges of rooftops and high ledges.
One particular video posted around July 22 showed a worker on the edge of a ledge at PPT Lodge 1B dormitory in Seletar. MOM has addressed this particular case in a Facebook post and mentioned that the worker had bought a flight ticket home on his own accord, but it was not approved. A dispute occurred as he did not discuss with his employer his attention to return home, causing him to react in such a drastic manner.
On August 2, another worker harmed himself by slitting his throat. He was found on lying in his blood on a stairwell in his dormitory at Sungei Kadut. He has since been brought to the hospital and is now in a stable condition.
The recent incidents have highlighted how the confinement has severely hit the mental health of these workers. Stuck in prolonged confinement, along with uncertainties surrounding their health and jobs, have affected the state of many migrant workers’ mental health.
In an interview with CNA, Mr Justin Paul, non-profit organisation HealthServe’s mental health programme manager, mentioned that there have been more cases of workers either attempting to harm themselves or having such thoughts due to the stressful situation. More workers have been utilising their mental health services, with 71 workers reaching out to HealthServe in April. The organisation saw 244 workers in June, and 207 in July. HealthServe has received about 750 queries from workers so far in total.
The situation escalated and worsened right after the circuit breaker ended, as many of the workers were hoping to go back to work after being isolated for two months. When they realised they couldn’t, their stress accumulated and started to manifest in several ways.
Help from NGOs and employers are available for foreign workers. The COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition has been providing goods like coffee, tea and shavers to the workers since the circuit breaker, with more than a million of these provisions distributed. The volunteers have also been providing social support, such as programmes to befriend workers and cutting their hair.
Employers like Ms Calsia Lee, director of interior design firm Collective Designs, have provided moral support through calling their workers at least once a week and sending them cakes occasionally. Workers are also included in a Whatsapp chat group to reach out anytime.
MOM has been attempting to ease some of the migrant worker’s worries through keeping them updated on COVID-19 news via daily messages, and materials in their languages to promote mental health and well-being. The articles are educational and help them identify symptoms of distress, encourage them to look out for each other, and provide outlets for them to reach out for help. Moving forward, MOM has also allowed time-scheduled breaks for foreign workers to leave their rooms and access common areas.
Of the major sporting events around the world that have been struggling for a semblance of return to normalcy, a considerable mountain looms — the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Initially scheduled to begin in July, the event has been tabled altogether for an unknown date, with officials announcing a return “by the summer of 2021”.
But medical experts say that the Games, which involve over 200 countries, would pose a major health risk to not just the Japanese public, but to participants and officials all over the globe, with antibodies and vaccines predicted to be insufficient even if available.
“With events like the Olympics, the virus will come in for sure and the number of infections will shoot up inevitably,” Daiichi Morii, one of the doctor’s from Osaka University Hospital’s infection control team, told Reuters.
“The virus is barely under control as we are putting a halt on the inflow of people from overseas. With the Olympics, the number of infections will inevitably rise.”
Experts also believe that, despite hundreds of potential vaccines in trial, none will be ready in time for the Olympics, a sentiment that is echoed by professor Atsuo Hamada of the Tokyo Medical University Hospital.
“Even if a vaccine has been developed by then, it’s near impossible for it to go around the world.”
With a population of 14 million in Tokyo alone, Japan’s relative success in containing the virus effectively means very few antibodies among the population. According to a government survey, only 0.1% of Tokyo residents have coronavirus antibodies, as compared to 14% in New York and 7% in Stockholm.
Tokyo, as well as some of its bordering areas like the western region of Kansai, have also seen new single-day records for the number of infections ever since the government lifted its nationwide state of emergency in May 2020.
Yet despite seeing a spike in new infections over July, the country has marginally skirted the destructive effects in comparison to other countries around the world, which has led authorities and the government to rule out the abolishing of the Olympics altogether.
President of the Olympics organising committee Yoshiro Mori has reiterated his hopes for the Games, stating that a watered down, simplified version will provide a safer environment, as well as cut costs, although no concrete plan of action has since been announced.
Yet, concerns are aplenty throughout the city. In a Tokyo voter survey conducted by one of Japan’s most substantial newspapers, the Asahi Shimbun, almost 60% of citizens polled have reiterated that the Games should be postponed further or better yet, cancelled altogether.
Mori, together with recently re-elected official Yuriko Koike, have set up plans for a dedicated task force with the authorities to be enacted by September to address the growing public concern.
The current re-elected governor of Tokyo, Koike has stated on multiple occasions her insistence on going ahead with the Games. However, no concrete point of action, or plan, has been set out by the government nor the Olympics production team yet.
The delay has cost Japan between $2 billion to $6 billion, having already spent roughly $12 billion in preparation; and while the host country disputes the Games’ possibility, all around the globe the pandemic’s effects are further compounded.
In the United States, television broadcaster NBC, having already pledged about $8 billion for media rights to the Olympic Games’ franchise, are scrambling to find solutions for the circumstances amidst the possibility of a compressed competition.
The US, usually boasting the largest population of participants in the Olympics, now finds itself in the middle of discussions to reduce the participating contingent, or pull certain athletes out of the games entirely.
“It’s impossible to predict what the circumstances will be a year from now,” said Molly Solomon, executive producer at NBC for the Games. “This has a chance to be the most memorable Games in History.”
To date, the US has recorded 4.75 million cases of the virus, with 157,000 deaths. Worldwide, there have been 18 million cases, with 689,000 deaths.
The Olympics have only been abolished during the two World Wars, with one also being Tokyo, in 1940.
Throughout the calendar year, the sunny island’s obsession with public marathons and cross-country events are often met with devout athletes who wish to test their mettle. It’s no secret that our people love a good sweat and soak.
However, amidst the dangers of hosting mass public events and gatherings, and with infection cases gradually declining since the exit of the ‘Circuit Breaker’ lockdown, it would be presumptuous for events that cater to tens of thousands to be brought back with such haste.
One such marathon that has been a mainstay in the runners’ schedule is the 2XU Compression Run Singapore.
The event has drawn intense numbers over the years, amassing a cult following of enthusiasts not just locally but from the region to participate in its edgy showdown.
Touted to have sold almost 16,000 tickets over 3 race courses — 5km , 10km, and 21.1km — the 2020 edition was originally scheduled for April 2020 at the F1 Pit Building.
As well, organisers had also introduced two new regional legs in Indonesia and Malaysia, to form the Asia series 2020, to commemorate its 10th anniversary. Runners who took part and completed all 3 would be eligible for a limited edition 2XU Conqueror Medal from the respective races that could be combined to form a bigger whole.
But as of July, organisers have released announcements postponing the races to April 2021, in a move that was highly expected.
Previously, similar events like the Osim Sundown Marathon, the Income Eco Run, as well as the Great Eastern Women’s Run were inevitably shelved and moved to 2021, many still going through the motions of processing refunds and questions from ticket holders.
Besides runs, the OCBC Cycle 2020 event has also been officially withdrawn, the 7,000 strong tournament initially postponed till an unspecified ‘later date’ in 2020. With experts reporting that vaccinations will not be massively available at a rapid pace in the near future of 2020, the writing was on the wall for this one a well.
In a media statement, OCBC has reiterated that full refunds will be made by September for registrants.
In a move of good faith, OCBC has allowed an alternative option for a participant’s entry fee to be donated to Care Corner Singapore, OCBC Cycle’s chosen charity, which supports low income and little opportunity families or households in championing access and tools for formal education.
As a pivot to the physical competition, the company has established a virtual set-up, titled the OCBC Cycle 2020 Virtual Ride, which will be held in Novermber.
Consisting of three categories — The Sportive VR (42km), The Straits Times VR (23km), as well as the Mighty SaversKids VR (5km or 800m), it seems like the company and its sponsors have teamed up to provide the public a safer, less centralised, and non-tangible model of their competition.
In this edition, cyclists who cover the entire distance in their chosen categories, even in indoor bicycles, will automatically be considered to have completed the ride.
All of this information must be tracked by a workout app or fitness tracker on their smartphones, and participants are not required to execute the entire distance in one sitting.
Following completion, an OCBC Cycle 2020 medal and tote bag will also be posted via mail to entrants.
It’s a welcomed move by its organisers, who seek to retain brand loyalty amidst the fallout of public participation and inactivity.
Koh Ching Ching, who is the head of group brand and communications at OCBC Bank, said that without sacrificing the safety of participants, they still “hope to bring the joy of cycling to the community via the virtual ride format”.
“People deserve to have something they can get excited about during this challenging time.”
The Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) is perceived to be making an announcement in a similar vein soon, with Sport Singapore chief executive officer Lim Tech Yin hinting that virtual engagements for the competition are likely.
Last year, the SCSM attracted over 50,000 participants, with more than 70,000 supporters cheering their loved ones on from spectator zones.
Asia — the largest continent on Earth. Spanning the uninhabited wilderness of Siberia to the lush tropical rainforests of Indonesia, Asia is a hotspot for nature lovers as it has a climate as diverse as its geographic features. It houses some of the most stunning natural phenomenons of the world, including one of the seven natural wonders — Mount Everest.
With no dearth of natural destinations to visit, it can be hard to decide on just one. We rounded up some of the best places to kick back and relax in within the expansive continent.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
With powder soft beaches and clear, turquoise waters, Phu Quoc (pronounced ‘foo-kwok’) is a gorgeous tropical paradise. Comprising 28 uninhabited islands, Phu Quoc offers unspoilt, secluded stretches of quiet and calm, a welcome reprieve from the crowds at more popular beach destinations like Phuket, Thailand.
Marine enthusiasts would enjoy Phu Quoc for the diverse wildlife it offers in its crystalline waters, while avid hikers can look forward to silken waterfalls within the larger UNESCO-listed Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve. Eclectic bars and cafes line the beachfront alongside luxurious resorts and private guesthouses, catering to all kinds of budget preferences for each type of traveller.
Perhaps best known as the place where Elizabeth Gilbert gained spiritual self-actualisation in Eat, Pray, Love, Ubud is a popular cultural and natural hotspot in Indonesia. Perched on the remote highlands, Ubud is especially iconic for its cascade of emerald green rice terraces (Tegalalang Rice Terrace) and showcase of the very best of traditional Balinese culture.
With an easygoing and laidback atmosphere, Ubud is a place where it’s easy to lose track of time — a few days can easily turn into weeks and months, even years. For the ultimate experience, get on the mat at one of Ubud’s yoga retreats — you’ll leave feeling re-energized and rejuvenated in mind, body, and soul.
Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
If you didn’t already know, Sri Lanka has a trove of secluded, sandy beaches, and Arugam Bay is one of them. Located on the East Coast, it’s far enough from the capital and other tourist attractions to be less popular with visiting travellers. With just a single main road running parallel to the beach, there’s not much to the village itself, other than lots of chilling.
Featuring a famed point break, Arugam Bay is a surfer’s paradise, and is regarded as the best surf spot in the country. If you’re not into surfing, you can laze on the beach like the rest of the sun-seekers, or chill at one of the beachside restaurants offering fresh-from-the-ocean seafood.
Koh Kood, Thailand
Just five hours from Bangkok lies this stunning island getaway — Koh Kood. As reported by The Guardian in 2014, it is “Thailand’s last unspoilt islands”. Because of its remoteness, it is the perfect escape from a bustling lifestyle, instead offering tranquility amid the most idyllic of beaches.
Home to a population of less than 2,000, coconut plantations, and sleepy fishing villages, you can expect the pace of life at Koh Kood to be slow and unassuming. Under the lull of waves lapping against the shore and the hypnotic swing of beachside hammocks, it provides the rare opportunity to gently unwind, and temporarily disconnect from the world.
While the spiritual side of Siquijor continues to draw tourists in, nowadays, it is best known for its beautiful corals, white beaches and sparkling waterfalls.
Every night, hundreds of green luminous fireflies light up the island, giving evidence to its name ‘Isla del Fuego’ (or ‘Island of Fire’). When these mystical creatures come out to play, it gives the tiny island a magical, almost eerie glow that lends to Siquijor’s reputation among many Filipinos as an ‘island of witchcraft’. As a wise philosopher once said, “Nature itself is the best physician”.
Finally, the pearl of South Asia. Maldives is beach luxury personified, and features the Indian Ocean in brilliant shades of blue, turquoise, and aquamarine. Colourful coral reefs host a diverse variety of marine wildlife, from striped clownfish to genteel sea turtles. Islands rimmed with the softest of pure white sand make for serene sanctuaries to luxuriate in, and let the worries of yesterday slip away.
While the Maldives comprises a whopping 1192 islands, only 200 are inhabited. At this nation of islands, island hopping is a way of life, and the best means to go about uncovering the hidden gems of the region.