On 27 March 2020, Andrea Goh flew home from London due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She was one of the first batch of students who served her Stay-Home-Notice (SHN) at a dedicated facility here.
The 35-year-old Singaporean, who is doing a PhD in architecture, spent fourteen days quarantined at the five-star Shangri-la’s Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa and documented her stay through daily vlogs.
“I wanted to vlog my experience to show people coming on subsequent flights what the situation was like, to put them at ease,” Andrea tells The Pride.
“I was also proud to showcase to an international audience what Singapore was doing to ensure travellers were safe. Because no other nation at that time that I knew had it nailed down so quickly.”
Her videos attracted thousands of viewers, most of whom were fellow SHN-ers who were appreciative of her candid sharing. At that time, hers was among the first stories that Singaporeans and people around the world were reading about being quarantined.
However, when an online news site misquoted her after it ran a story on her SHN experience, Andrea found herself on the receiving end of hateful comments from netizens she didn’t know. They even tracked down her personal Facebook account and sent her hate messages.
While Andrea says that she has moved past the incident, those hurtful comments took a toll on her.
She says: “Taking in those comments was hard… but I was lucky to be surrounded and supported by my friends and family. I wonder how people, especially teens, deal with this especially now when our mental health may be more fragile (due to Covid).”
Anxiety turns to appreciation
When she touched down in March, Andrea had no idea where she was going or what to expect.
“Everything was very uncertain. Many people, including myself, were anxious.” Andrea says.
However, her fears were soon assuaged when she started her quarantine period at the Rasa Sentosa.
“They really went above and beyond not just ensuring we got our three meals a day but also making sure we were mentally well,” Andrea says.
She says that she was on the fourth day of her SHN when a violinist, Jaz Loh, played Home from the balcony of the room she was quarantined in. A video of the impromptu performance went viral.
After that, the hotel staff started bringing in performers such as fire dancers to entertain its guests on a live stream specially set up for SHN guests. They organised yoga and dance classes. Different departments chipped in. The kitchen team made videos to show recipes (and brought freshly baked madeleines to their rooms), and the housekeeping team even taught them how to fold towel animals!
“I felt like I had to show what they were doing (through my vlogs) because it was not in their job scope. I was really impressed,” Andrea says.
Reaching out to others in isolation
Andrea shared her vlogs in a Facebook group Rasa Sentosa created for its SHN guests and soon realised that the staff were watching them.
She says: “I mentioned that I was craving diet Coke and they brought diet Coke for me after every meal. I also said that I missed laksa and the resident manager sent me laksa-flavoured cup noodles and chips!”
Andrea’s vlogs also provided a platform for her to connect, not only with other guests at Rasa, but netizens as well. Many asked her questions about food, laundry, testing for Covid-19 and whether she had to pay for her SHN.
Krystle, a fellow Singaporean student staying at the hotel, saw her videos and reached out to her as she was going through a hard time. They have since become good friends.
For actively participating and creating camaraderie in the resort’s programmes with fellow SHN guests and being a source of information and encouragement to many, Andrea was nominated by Rasa Sentosa in the National Kindness Award – Service Gold in the Gracious Guest category.
Now in its 26th year, the awards recognises outstanding service staff and guests in the hospitality industry.
Getting noticed online
At first, Andrea’s vlogs were only noticed by a small but dedicated following, but that changed after she was interviewed in an Insider article.
She started to get responses from around the world. International readers thanked her for sharing her experience, and overseas Singaporeans thanked her for alleviating the anxiety they had before arriving home. Others said that they wished their home countries could learn from Singapore and provide similar support for those who need to be quarantined.
That online fame brought a downside, however, after another online news site wrongly reported on what she had told Insider. It had not directly contacted her for comment.
Then the floodgates burst and the negative comments streamed in.
“There were comments like ‘Where does she think the money is coming from?’ ‘Why are we paying for these students to stay in a hotel?” Andrea says, adding that some even attacked her personally and called her names.
These people were concerned over why they seemed to be paying for her “5-star stay” without understanding the context or the arrangement the government was making with the hotel, Andrea says.
Andrea wrote to the journalist to correct him, who apologised and amended his article, but by then, the damage was already done.
“It’s scary because whatever is on the Internet leaves a footprint. Those comments are still there, and they are there forever,” say Andrea.
She got even more worried when a few netizens found her personal Facebook account – where there were photos of her and her family – and continued the cyberbullying attacks.
Andrea says: “It’s easy to brush the comments off and say ‘Don’t bother about these stalkers . They have nothing else better to do.’ Even for myself, as a pretty positive person – and being trained as an architect – I thought I could take criticism. But this was not criticism, it felt quite personal.”
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Communicate differences in opinion respectfully
The sad reality is that too often, people are too quick to judge on insufficient information found online without realising the impact it may have on others or even caring about how the affected person might feel.
Andrea says: “Many of us think that when we hide behind a nickname or avatar, we are exempt from the responsibilities and consequences of what we type. These passing comments seem intangible but their impact may be permanent to the person targeted.”
“I’m all for sharing ideas and opinions. Even criticism is okay if you mean it genuinely… I believe that a difference in opinion does not have to be expressed through rude exchanges but instead, a mature discussion while being respectful of others.”
Would she have still done the vlogs if she had known she would receive those negative comments?
“Yes,” Andrea says without hesitation.
“If it helped just another person go through their SHN with a bit more ease, that’s enough to put the discouragement aside.”
She shares that two days before we spoke, someone left a message saying that she really enjoyed watching her videos and asked if she was doing to do more.
The Gracious Guest award is also a welcomed affirmation that she did something right by making the vlogs.
How else can people show kindness on the Internet?
Andrea says: “Ask yourself before commenting on something online: Would you say it in person?”
“And when people share their experiences online, we shouldn’t discount them.”
“Someone might really need help. If you have nothing nice to say, just don’t say it.”
She hopes that Singaporeans will realise the impact and be more careful of their words and actions online.