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On The Pitch: ONE Championship Lightweight MMA Fighter Amir Khan

Fill Me In

In this edition of On The Pitch, TheHomeGround Asia had the opportunity to have a Zoom interview with professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Amir Khan, about his thoughts before his fight with fellow lightweight contender Park Dae Sung, as well as about the future of MMA in Singapore.

 ONE Championship

Amir, 26, was originally due to go up against Park during the ONE: Collision Course event on 18 December. However, due to changes in the fight card because of the pandemic, Amir will now meet Park in the octagon in the second installment of ONE: Collision Course, scheduled to air on 25 December.

Like most fighters, Amir has been training specifically to fight his opponent. “We’ve created a good game plan that we think will most likely work on him and we ramped up the intensity, volume initially, but towards the fight we’ve tapered down.”

Despite the delay, however, Amir remains unfazed, as he says that he’s been preparing well for the fight. “We’ve been training towards the fight, so nothing much has changed, really. It’s all psychological now, so I’ll just show up on that day.”

More than just physical training

Besides physical training, Amir also reveals that there is a psychological aspect in his preparation. “I do visualisations, and I do breathing exercises to try and calm myself down; I visualise myself in the cage, and all the emotions that I’m feeling, so I just replay that in my mind. I think it just compounded over the two months, so on that day my mind is ready for it.”

He is the third Singaporean professional fighter on the Evolve fight team, alongside the likes of Angela Lee and Linus Lau. Originally a Muay Thai fighter, he also holds a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and is currently one of the top contenders for the lightweight ONE championship belt.

When asked about his strategy for winning the belt, Amir says that he intends to take it one fight at a time. “The plan is to try and take things one step at a time, so I have to finish this fight [against Park], and dominate the next guy, and the next one; slowly but surely I’ll reach there by next year.”

Void deck fighter turned MMA fighter

His confidence about attaining his goal isn’t unfounded. Amir has been training since the tender age of 13. Amir’s foray into the world of Muay Thai resulted from brawls that he would have after school with his classmates, who made fun of him because of his Tourettes’ Syndrome – a neurological condition that causes a person to twitch involuntarily.

Now that he’s managed to achieve substantial success for himself as a fighter, Amir hopes to be able to inspire the young with his craft, starting with his year-old son. “[So far] he seems pretty keen when I show him how to kick and punch… he [also] likes to jump on me and bite me, I guess you can say he’s got some animal instincts! We’ll see how it goes from there.”

In his capacity as an Assistant Coach at Evolve, he’s also been doling out useful advice to aspiring young fighters. “[When] kids come up to me and ask for advice, I’ll share my experiences and knowledge with them, stuff that I’ve acquired from my past experience, and try to help them in any way possible. Mostly it’s to help steer them in the right direction, and to help [clarify] their thoughts.”

He also bases his advice from past coaches, as well as his background in sports science. “I’ve been through good and bad training, so I know what’s good for an individual. I’m also studying sports science, [so] I have the knowledge to back it up as well. So with all that added knowledge, I try not to give advice that is too challenging. I like to be as specific as possible, without telling them what to do.”

Even though he respects each individual’s choice, he maintains that there are certain qualities that a fighter should embody. “[Apart from things like] discipline [and] hard work, I also feel like relentlessness and perseverance [are important]. When you fall, you need to get back up and keep on believing in yourself. Not only when times are good but especially when times are bad, you have to have that self belief.”

What future does MMA have in Singapore?

As a fighter cum assistant coach, Amir sees huge potential in the MMA scene here in Singapore. “I think it’s gonna be big. The sport is definitely catching up, and a lot of people are into it. I see a lot of young fighters training and they want to be professional fighters. It takes time, because now they’re young, so it will take time for them to build an amateur status and get opportunities. I think in 10 years there will be many more Singaporean fighters, and it will be [considered] normal.”

Knowing that MMA has had a reputation for being a violent and gory sport, Amir is also keenly aware of some of the misconceptions that people have about MMA. “I feel like fighting should be just like any sport, like golf or basketball. It should be a legitimate sport. People choose to fight because it’s their passion, not because they’re gangsters. I think I’m a nice person, I’m quiet and all, but you wouldn’t think that of a fighter.”

“Amir’s done it, so can I” 

To round up the interview, we asked Amir what he would like to be remembered for, as one of the pioneer professional MMA fighters in Singapore, and as an assistant coach.

“[Up till now], there’s never been a ONE Champion produced locally in Singapore, so I would like to achieve that, so that people can look up to me and say, if he can do it, so can I. Because right now maybe there’s not much belief in it because no one has done it, and it’s almost like an impossible task, so I would like to do it, and I feel a lot of people will follow after that.”

To aspiring fighters, he says that success is possible if one has passion. “I believe with passion, there’s always a way if you want to succeed in anything, no matter how old. Obviously for sports, [if] you start at 30, you will have a disadvantage. But still it’s never too late to experience it. I would say try [MMA] if you’re curious; after a few competitions, you’ll know if it’s for you. You don’t want to be old and [have regrets]. Just commit to it and don’t look back.”

 MMAsucka.com

Want to see Amir in action? Watch him go head to head with Park Dae Sung live on ONE: Collision Course II this Friday, 25 December on ONE Championship’s YouTube page, or on the ONE Super App!

 

Join the conversations on THG’s Facebook and Instagram, and get the latest updates via Telegram.

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Asia Culture Culture Entertainment International Lifestyle Local Popular Review Singapore Sports THG Youth

Mythbusters: Unravelling the Vegan Lifestyle at Singapore Vegan Festival

Over the last weekend (21 and 22 November), EatRoamLive held the second iteration of the Singapore Vegan Festival (SVF). The two-day event saw the Singapore vegan community coming together to shop amazing deals on vegan products and services, attend workshops and talks, learn from one another, and share their journeys and experiences.

As someone who has always been curious about the vegan lifestyle, I went into the festival with an open mind to learn more about this community here in Singapore and beyond. Admittedly, there were some assumptions I held about veganism prior to this which had held me back from adopting a vegan lifestyle; some of these were that veganism is a difficult diet to maintain, that I would be heavily restricting my food options, and that I’ll have to take supplements to ensure my nutritional needs are met.

However, all these myths and misconceptions were quickly debunked during the festival! Do read on to learn more about what was shared during the festival, and how it has completely changed my perspective on a vegan lifestyle.

Vegan food is boring

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Asia Culture Culture Entertainment International Lifestyle Local Review Singapore Sports THG Youth Uncategorized@#

Mythbusters: Unravelling the Vegan Lifestyle at Singapore Vegan Festival

Over the last weekend (21 and 22 November), EatRoamLive held the second iteration of the Singapore Vegan Festival (SVF). The two-day event saw the Singapore vegan community coming together to shop amazing deals on vegan products and services, attend workshops and talks, learn from one another, and share their journeys and experiences.

As someone who has always been curious about the vegan lifestyle, I went into the festival with an open mind to learn more about this community here in Singapore and beyond. Admittedly, there were some assumptions I held about veganism prior to this which had held me back from adopting a vegan lifestyle; some of these were that veganism is a difficult diet to maintain, that I would be heavily restricting my food options, and that I’ll have to take supplements to ensure my nutritional needs are met.

However, all these myths and misconceptions were quickly debunked during the festival! Do read on to learn more about what was shared during the festival, and how it has completely changed my perspective on a vegan lifestyle.

Vegan food is boring

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Local Review Singapore

Omotesando Koffee Review

After hearing our subeditor rave about her Omakase experience in Japan and “the best tasting coffee” she ever had, the THG team visited the coffee joint’s Singapore chain to check out the hype.

Here’s our review of Omotesando Koffee!

Address: 6A Shenton Way #04-01, The Work Project, Downtown Gallery, Singapore 068815

 

Join the conversations on THG’s Facebook and Instagram, and get the latest updates via Telegram. 

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Gadgets Highlights International Review Singapore

New Apple Fitness Service Introduces Healthy Competition to the Fitness App Industry

Testing italics 

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is reportedly working on launching a bundled fitness-oriented service by October for the higher end, to push its services business into the fitness and digital health industry. Apple’s fitness app is set to move into the digital-only subscription fitness space dominated by Peloton and Nike, that provides access to a library of virtual fitness classes at a monthly price that is lower than your typical gym membership.

And while the details remain unclear, Apple’s fitness app sounds very much similar to Peloton (NASDAQ:PTON) offerings: a digital-only subscription offer that provides access to a content library of virtual fitness classes.

The question is: Will Apple be giving Peloton a run for its money?

Following the report of possible competition from Apple, shares of Peloton, the trendy at-home fitness service that streams classes to a spin bike or treadmill, fell more than 4% in premarket trading — but then quickly recovered — and closed at $65.65, up 2%. Though Wall Street analysts remain confident that the exercise-bike company can maintain its lead in the virtual fitness space.

During the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an upsurge in interest for at-home fitness classes due to gym closures and a preference to reduce contact between individuals. During the pandemic period, guided workout app downloaded grew 220% year-on-year globally.

In broad strokes, the plan echoes products from Peloton and Nike, which offer streaming classes at a monthly price that is lower than your typical gym membership — a trend that has recently gained popularity as people have been flocking to at-home fitness classes during the coronavirus pandemic that has forced temporary gym closures across the globe. As a result, Peloton shares have been up more than 120% this year thanks to a surge in sales for its bikes and treadmills, even garnering diehard fans that some would consider ‘cultish’.

Apple’s new fitness app will be available on the company’s devices, like the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV, while Peloton’s offerings are tied to hardware devices such as bikes and treadmills. As compared to Apple, Peloton already offers thousands of on-demand classes in addition to live-streamed ones. Whilst the former has lots of groundwork to be done, given how its recent new video streaming platform does not have a particularly robust content catalogue. It is also unclear how much Apple’s fitness subscription service would cost. Though it might make sense to bundle it with the Apple Watch.

In Q3 2019, Peloton’s digital-only subscription revenue represented only 1% of total revenue, which means that the biggest value in digital subscribers for the company is their potential conversion to connected fitness subscribers.

“We think Apple’s new fitness app could compete vs. Peloton’s digital only subscription offer, but will have limited impact on Peloton’s connected fitness base that uses Peloton’s bike or a tread,” Bank of America Securities Analyst, Justin Post wrote. “Longer-term, it is unclear whether Apple would partner with other at-home fitness hardware companies, or create its own proprietary bike/tread, though we think former is more likely than the latter.”

One potential partnership could be ReflectFitness Asia, a one-stop portal filled with digital classes on demand or live-streamed, and supported with resources related to fitness, health, and exercise. Launching in October, ReflectFitness builds upon its community roots and creates a digital ecosystem that revolutionises the way people exercise and consume fitness related information. ReflectFitness aims to make exercising in the comfort of home, at the user’s own time, simple and convenient. Operating with paired accessories such as heart rate monitors to track output and progress after each workout, world-class Reflect instructors will provide live and on-demand one-on-one style workouts including Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Pilates, Barre, Kickboxing, and Zumba, all within the ReflectFitness ecosystem. The portal also allows users to compete with friends through community challenges and leader boards, creating an exciting platform to engage friends and family on the user’s fitness journey.

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Culture Featured Lifestyle Local Singapore

Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore, Explained

Growing up in Singapore, there was always a month in the year where respect to the dead was commissioned. The trail of incense and joss paper burning signaled the beginning; the flashy live performances (‘Ge Tai’) its peak.

The seventh month of the lunar calendar (July or August in the Western calendar) is known as ‘Ghost Month’ and the 15th day of the seventh month ‘Ghost Day’. A special custom to honour the spirits of the dead, it celebrates the Taoist (and Buddhist) belief in the afterlife. This year, the festival is held from 19 August to 16 September 2020, and as I’m writing, a familiar haze of smoke signals Ghost Day (2 September) is in full swing.

History

The festival’s origins come from a Buddhist tale of filial piety, where a Buddhist monk called Maudgalyayana (or Mulian) wanted to save his mother from perpetual hunger in the pits of hell. Buddha explained the only way was to make offerings to the monks returning from their annual retreat (15th day of the seventh month), as they could offer prayers that would bless his ancestors and relieve their suffering. As the story goes, Mulian’s mother was eventually raised from the status of hungry ghost to human being through this ritual, and thus, a new tradition was born.

Background

During Ghost Month, Chinese believe the Gates of Hell are opened, allowing spirits to roam the land of the living and visit their family members and descendants. These hungry ghouls are in constant search of food and entertainment, which is why all sorts of offerings are made — to keep the dead appeased and out of trouble.

While Taoists celebrate the festival as ‘Zhong Yuan Jie’ (or中元), the Buddhists name it ‘Yu Lan Pen Jie’ (or兰盆节’) — after the sutra from which the origin of this festival was derived. In Chinese tradition, deference and reverence to all ancestors is demanded; one of my earliest memories of Ghost Month was being instructed to say ‘excuse me’ whenever I passed offerings or prayer sticks, as an expression of respect.

Today, accidentally trampling on food, stepping on incense ashes, or kicking over joss sticks is still very much taboo, unless you’d like to suffer the wrath of angry spirits. The Chinese are a superstitious lot, but much of these special customs are centered around educating the next generation on proper decorum and the value of respecting the community’s elders and family members.

Offerings

Following that line of thought, making offerings are a significant part of Ghost month tradition — families burn joss paper replicas of anything their ancestors might need in the afterlife. Paper money is the most common offering, but believers also burn paper cars, luxury houses, clothes, even paper durian and pets.

Much of the joss paper burning now takes place within dark-coloured metal bins scattered around heartland estates and at temples where large furnaces facilitate mass prayer. The tradition of offering joss sticks or plates of food (often unpeeled fruits, cake or a cup of tea) still holds, and you’ll see these along pathways and public housing void decks as an aid to prayer.

travel_hungry-ghost-festival-singapore_1
kiawui/Instagram

Ge Tai

Because wandering ghouls need entertainment, flashy performances and raucous auctions are also a mainstay. Unique to Singapore and Malaysia, these live performances are called ‘Ge Tai’ (literally translated to be song stage), and it’s often thrown by religious affiliations and temples as a culmination of Ghost Day. Large tents are temporarily set up in open fields, or in my case, an open car park and crowds of heartlanders and believers gather to watch.

Auctions are part of the lively affair, during which dinner attendees (usually members of the hosting association) bid for items ranging from a fan to thousand-dollar liquors. Winning the bid is as much about saving ‘face’ (prestige and social standing in the Chinese context) as an ego boost; things can get heated as bidders try to one-up each other.

As the night wears on, the live performances take over — singers in flamboyant, glittery costumes take center stage to perform songs in dialects — Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Mandarin. The occasional Chinese opera performance and irreverent comedy dialogues intersperse the jazzed-up performances — it’s a heady mix of old and new that entertains with choreographed song numbers and technopop LED. Just be sure not to sit in the first row, as that is purely reserved for the ‘honoured guests’.

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Asia Highlights International Japan News Popular

Japanese Prime Minister’s Resignation: A Walkthrough of Shinzo Abe’s Legacy

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.

International Policy

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.

Domestic Policy

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.

Economic policy

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.

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International Japan News

Japan’s Revolutionary Transparent Toilets Reveal Deep-Seated Problems

Social and cultural issues drive the need for transparency.

On the ground, sentiments regarding Japan’s new transparent toilets have been a mix of privacy concerns and praises for safety; on Twitter, most Japanese netizens have felt that they were impractical due to fears of malfunction.

But what exactly are these transparent toilets?

THE TOKYO TOILET Project

These transparent toilets are part of a new project unveiled by The Nippon Foundation in early August. As part of this project, three conjoined transparent toilet cubicles were installed in Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and three other in Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park.

The main aim of these installations is to address two main concerns surrounding public toilets, especially those located in parks: cleanliness and safety. They come amidst stereotypes among the Japanese public that public toilets are “dark, dirty, smelly, and scary”.

These stereotypes could be caused by mysophobia and sexual harassment.

Mysophobia

A cultural phenomenon in Japan, ‘keppekishō’, could be one possible cause of the nation’s fear of using public toilets. Roughly translated, the term means “fastidiousness” or “phobia of dirt”.

From antibacterial products to squat toilets, Japan’s obsession with cleanliness has always been fascinating.

Yet, it has also been a sign of a serious mental epidemic. According to an anonymous 52-year-old Japanese reporter, his fear of contamination by germs in toilets became so extreme that he would avoid public toilets in train stations altogether.

Of course, he isn’t the only one suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and there are many more like him.

Sexual harassment and perverts

The Japanese social phenomenon of ‘sekuhara’ could be another possible cause of the fear of using public toilets. The term is an abbreviation of ‘sexual harassment’. In a country where sexual harassment and public indecency are grossly under-reported and under-criminalised, public toilets are hotspots for sexual predators to lurk in.

In 2018, two men were arrested on the same night for willfully entering a Sapporo supermarket’s women’s toilet. One of them was caught secretly filming a female supermarket employee from a neighbouring stall while the other was wearing women’s clothing and occupying a stall. Both of them were middle-aged men.

Public harassment faced by Japanese women has been reported to be much more common than that faced by Japanese men. 47.9% of Japanese women surveyed in 2019 claimed that they had been touched inappropriately before, while 41.9% of them claimed that they had experienced close physical contact (presumably unwarranted).

Similar campaigns in other countries

In a bid to weed out voyeurism, Seoul’s government dispatched 8,000 workers in 2018 to inspect “more than 20,000 public restrooms, in subways, parks, community centres, public gyms and underground commercial arcades”.

In the West, the British Toilet Association (BTA) had implemented the “‘Use Our Loos’” campaign in the same year to have more toilets in businesses open to non-customers, following a 39% decrease in the number of public toilets. The aim of this campaign was to make public toilets more accessible to the general public.

Would Japan’s transparent toilets campaign work in Singapore?

Unfortunately, no. This is simply because the Singaporean government’s focus has always been on keeping local toilets clean and improving mass awareness of good toilet etiquette since 1982, when the first “Keep Public Toilets Clean” campaign was launched. Therefore, a campaign like THE TOKYO TOILET would be highly irrelevant to the imperative needs of our nation in its current stage of development and would not soothe Singaporeans’ fears of public toilets being dirty.

A step forward in the right direction

While these newly-sprung toilets continue to garner attention from both Japanese and international news media, unwelcome fundamental issues have also been brought to light. Thankfully, The Nippon Foundation has acknowledged the presence of said fundamental issues.

Still, the country lacks legislative safety nets for sexual abuse as well as public awareness of and treatment for mysophobia.

On the governmental level, women’s sexual rights protection is nonexistent. In fact, Japan is the only high-income country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) without a law prohibiting sexual harassment.

On the social level, sufferers of mysophobia (and OCD in general) normally delay seeking treatment until their conditions become severe. Moreover, the lack of trained therapists has prevented diagnosed patients from receiving the proper treatment they need.

The transparent toilets are a step forward in the right direction. Thereafter, the real work begins.

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Local Singapore

Massive Retrenchments in Singapore Due to COVID-19

What lies ahead of those affected by the recent string of layoffs?

As Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrinks by a historic 13.2% year on year, retrenchments have abounded. On 18 August, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced that it would be laying off 140 employees from its media sales and magazines operations due to the negative “impact COVID-19 has had on advertising revenues”. This figure is, as of yet, the highest when compared to those of past exercises held by the company in October 2017 and October 2019.

According to the World Economic Forum, a decline in advertising revenues can be largely attributed to “changing consumer behaviour”. In a troubling time when social distancing and stay-at-home measures are the norm, digital consumption (i.e., use of social platforms and streaming services and gaming) has risen dramatically, thus allowing digital advertising to take precedence over its print counterpart.

Furthermore, in a debilitating recession, advertisers have been looking to speed up the sales process by focusing on purchase immediacy through “direct response campaigns”.

But advertising has not been the only sector to be severely hit by the pandemic. The hospitality industry has also faced its fair share of large-scale layoffs, with Millennium Hotels and Resorts making the headlines. A day after SPH’s announcement, the said hospitality management group retrenched 15.2% of its Singapore-based workforce. As an offset, the company also reduced its foreign employee dependency by 45 per cent, resulting in a net increase in its “Singapore core” from 61 per cent in January to 69 per cent on 19 August.

drastic drop in the number of tourists is to blame for this phenomenon. In April, visitor arrivals in Singapore dropped to 748 for the first time in history. Compared to a year ago that saw 1.6 million tourists hit our shores, this counts for nearly a 100 per cent dropMoreover, the number of tourists from January to April decreased by 58% compared with the same period last year.

Consequently, the average occupancy rate of gazetted hotels plunged by 27.2 percentage points to 58.6 percent, contributing to a 30.9% fall in overall revenue in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period last year.

Uncertainty creates opportunities

Corporate loyalty can often turn into disillusionment when retrenchment suddenly strikes. Take it from Madam Josephine Low, a 75-year-old lady who was laid off after a near 10-year career at a hotel.

Maybe, the trick to fighting structural unemployment is not upskilling but reskilling.

After all, Mr Andy Yap, once a digital design director of an events company, has now turned to food delivery via mountain bike after he had been axed during a retrenchment exercise.

He claimed, “‘Food delivery is pandemic-and recession-resistant.’”

Governmental schemes

Currently, the most prominent reskilling programme rolled out by the government is SGUnited Skills.

Under this scheme, trainees can learn skills relevant to their preferred industries which will help improve their employability. These certifiable courses are delivered by Continuing Education and Training (CET) centres, including Institutes of Higher Learning. As bonuses, they will also receive a training allowance of $1,200 per month for the duration of the programme, to cover basic subsistence expenses and its highly subsidised course fees will be deductible from their SkillsFuture Credit.

For those who have been recently retrenched, it would be wise to pair this scheme with the Enhanced Hiring Incentive to maximise their chances of getting employed upon completing their reskilling training.

SkillsFuture Singapore

The latter scheme, which is an upgraded version of its predecessor (Hiring Incentive), boasts a salary support of 40% for six months, capped at $12,000 in total for employers who hire a local worker aged 40 and above, and a salary support of 20% for six months, capped at $6,000 in total for employers who hire a local worker aged below 40. These are assuming that the said hired workers have undergone eligible reskilling or training programmes.

But, given the 6- to 12-month length of the SGUnited Skills programme, such would not make for a feasible short-term solution for those who have borne the brunt of massive retrenchment exercises.

Gig economy

With employment agencies unable to cope with the piling application forms following the widespread displacement of workers from their jobs, the once go-to alternative for finding a job has quickly now become a bottleneck to steer clear of. Instead, freelancing has replaced these agencies as a quick fix for those who have lost their jobs.

The two main advantages that freelancing has over the traditional corporate setting are greater efficiency and lower costs. Besides, jobs like food delivery courier and freelance stylist/designer entail the freedom to schedule one’s working week and an extremely short time lag between the application for gigs and the hiring (no traditional intermediaries like job interviews and contracts).

The only downside is that freelancers are not entitled to health benefits. Fortunately, on 4 November 2019, the government enacted the contribute-as-you-earn (CAYE) scheme to divert a portion of their earnings to their MediSave accounts, which would aid in the payment of their medical bills where applicable.

This scheme, however, applies only to those working in the public sector.

COVID-19 has challenged the paradigm that longstanding employment is permanent and has forced us to value subsistence over complacency. And while the future may look bleak from where we are standing, all is not lost: reskilling and job opportunities are out there for us to fully utilise provided we do not give up on searching for them.