Imagining a Singapore before COVID-19 — issue #10

Imagining a Singapore before COVID-19 — issue #10


If you're anything like me, you've rather heard enough about COVID-19.

Day in, day out, it seems like all we can talk about is COVID-19, our daily case numbers, and how the virus is rapidly changing our world. This should surprise no one—we are living in a defining moment in world history, after all—but it sure feels bleak at times.

Now that our March special report on COVID-19 has ended, we're switching things up by bringing you a curated set of stories each month. 

In this April's issue, join us on a trip into Singapore's past.

During the Roaring Twenties, immigrants sailed here from all over the world, overcoming malaria, tuberculosis, and pneumonia to build the city we have today. They already knew the land as "Singapore" even then, after the lion that Srivijayan prince Sang Nila Utama saw when he landed on our shores 700 years ago.

Or did he?

More recently, what do HDB flats, Gong Cha bubble tea, and Mediacorp actress Zoe Tay's music album have in common? They're among the things we've queued for since 1990, in large enough crowds to make national headlines—yep, all 322 of them.

The stories we tell move us to do extraordinary things, whether it's spending hours in the tropical sun for the things we love or battling viruses and overcrowding to earn a living. We hope these tales inspire and amuse you during your quiet moments at home.

What other stories have you heard or told during these extraordinary times?

As always, let us know if you have any thoughts or ideas for us at!

Editor / Content Strategist

Let's rewind back to...

700 years ago

From the 'nature is healing, we're the virus', memes spreading online to wild boars 'hogging' public spaces in Singapore, one thing's clear: the animals are having a wild time while humans are stuck at home.

Fellow shut-ins, let's revisit the myth of Sang Nila Utama, who named Singapore the 'Lion City' after spotting a lion while hunting. However, Singapore is an unlikely habitat for the king of the jungle.

Which begs the question: What other creatures could have roamed Singapore instead?

100 years ago

The living conditions of migrant workers in Singapore have been under scrutiny recently, as work permit holders residing in dormitories now account for most confirmed COVID-19 cases in Singapore.

It is sobering that 100 years ago, Chinese immigrants in Singapore faced a similar risk. Overcrowding in Chinatown led to a higher incidence of tuberculosis and pneumonia, and likely a rise in the death count then. Today, we have the opportunity to do things differently.

30 years ago

To no one's surprise, hordes of bubble tea lovers risked exposure to COVID-19 to queue for their Final Bubble Tea, after the announcement that standalone F&B outlets will be closed till 4 May.

Take a trip down memory lane to times when COVID-19 and social distancing weren't a thing, and we could queue to our hearts' content.

Data vis spotlight: small multiples

Small multiples is a way of organising data visualisations, rather than a data visualisation type. As the name suggests, it repeats a chart type, at a small size and grid layout, to show progression or patterns of a variety of items, based on a common denominator. This example follows the latter purpose: we show the list of items Singaporeans have queued for from 1990-2019, based on headline counts.

Planning the structure of this story, I already knew I wanted to include a small multiples chart. It's an effective way to present a variety of data at a glance, and show how the pattern varies according to each item. From a writing perspective, I can then zoom in on the outliers (e.g., the two spikes for HDB housing), or explain the lulls (e.g., National Day Parade ticket).

Another advantage of this format is that it works with other chart types as well, so long as it presents small multiples of the same chart. Pew Research Center has a good primer on this. I chose a simple graph chart because headline counts were what I wanted to communicate. I also wanted each chart to look clean and easily understandable, to prevent visually overwhelming the reader when the charts are multiplied.
 —Isabella, writer of "The things we queued for". 

Other related stories

Each month, we curate a list of content related to our newsletter's focus. Here's our pick of things to check out about Singapore's past and other local histories: