Is Hall Life Still Hall Life with COVID-19?
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Disclaimer: All photos shown strictly adhered to Safe Management Measures at the point of time they were taken. With effect from 20th August 2021, according to Safe Management Measures for NUS hostels, mask-on group activities were allowed to take place in groups of up to 5 people. However, with effect from 28th September 2021, mask-on group activities are limited to a group of maximum 2 persons.
Ahh hall life. Before coming into university, I’m sure some of you out there were like me, scrolling through tons of Youtube videos titled “Life in Hall”, “Move into Hall with Me”, “Guide to Hall Life” and the like, trying to decide whether to stay in a hall and which hall to apply for.
Most who have experienced hall life say that university life is definitely not complete without staying in a hall. They rave about hall culture, fondly reminiscing about the great friendships they’ve made, the countless late night suppers, the fun activities they did with their hallmates, and not forgetting the lack of a healthy sleep cycle.
Sounds like something you would want to be part of, right?
But I mean, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Is hall life in COVID-19 really still hall life? Is staying in a hall still worth your money and time?
COVID-19 at us and all our plans
Well, as a freshman staying in Temasek Hall (TH), let me share my own perspective.
Why Hall Life is Still Hall Life
Even in the current pandemic, you still get opportunities to make friends and gain experiences that you definitely won’t have if you were to stay at home.
Honestly, I think the majority of what makes hall life hall life is the people. If everyone in your hall was anti-social and preferred to stay in their own rooms 24/7, then there’ll be no fun after-school activities with friends that you can post on Instagram stories. Staying in a hall almost guarantees that your social circle will be expanded. If you decide to stay home, then you’d have missed out on meeting a whole bunch of people who come from very diverse and interesting backgrounds. In my hall, I’ve made friends with people who are small business owners or even national athletes, which also lowkey makes me question what I’ve been doing with my life.
My friend's reworked jewellery store
Another friend co-owns this cafe, cool right?
The people in hall are so nice too! I may or may not have a strong dislike of lizards, and perhaps opposites attract because there was a week in hall where lizards appeared on my wall almost everyday without fail. Upon immediate sighting, the first thing I grabbed was not insecticide, but my phone to announce my situation in the block chat to ask for help. The heroes who sent “coming” into the chat in response to my not-so-desperate texts included people I never really spoke to, but came to help anyways since they were unoccupied and fearless. Besides that, whenever an untimely parcel delivery comes for an unavailable recipient, people would help to collect on behalf of the recipient. Occasionally, you’ll get updates on the progress of your laundry in the block chat.
Just a bunch of laundry-related messages I always see in the chats
It’s also not surprising to see hallmates offering to buy food or groceries for anyone in the block because they happened to be in the area.
Block residents helping to feed other block residents
One thing that's probably unavoidable and is also an integral part of hall life is the late night suppers, especially for my block because we’re literally 3 minutes away from what we call the Supper Stretch - a street of food alongside Clementi Rd.
Supper Stretch as seen on Google Maps
I always say to myself that eating so much at night isn’t good for my waistline, but I’m already guilty of going on quite a few supper runs. (I just went on one last night.) From enjoying a refreshing cup of milo beng, to snacking on cheese fries, to eating fuller suppers like maggi goreng with 辣子鸡 (Sichuan spicy chicken), I can safely assure you that weight gain has been the most effortless component of hall life, at least for me.
Yummy plate of maggi goreng I had past midnight one day
Since we’re in a pandemic, many of our lectures and tutorials are conducted online, which means that students are spending more and more time in hall instead of around campus. Quite a few of us are almost always in hall, preferring to attend classes in the comfort of our rooms or in the hall’s communal areas, while of course adhering to Safe Management Measures (SMM).
Since people are around, back when SMM still allowed for activities to occur in groups of 5, I used to go to the first floor or the block’s lounge to study together with a few other residents. Some of us also occasionally ate our meals together, and we even went on late night runs, something that used to be a thing. Nowadays, I don't exercise as much. The most exercise I get is probably during my journeys to my limited in-real-life classes, in which half the time I spend chilling in the shuttle bus. But I digress.
We ran to Vivo on a whim one night and only got back to hall past 2AM
Because there always seems to be people around, you’ll find that there are days where almost every single thing you do is somehow accompanied by another person. Even when I’m not purposely looking for company, it’s still nice to see people around and have small, short chats in the staircase or in the hallway.
That one time I went downstairs to do my laundry, ended up bumping into 3 other friends, and realised that we were all coincidentally wearing yellow. (Don’t worry if you noticed we were mask-less, we took it off just for this photo.)
In the current pandemic, no doubt there are limits on the amount and type of activities which can be carried out, but there is still one major activity that I’d say adds to hall life - Angel and Mortal.
For those that have never heard of this activity before, basically, what happens is that everyone is an “Angel” to a randomly assigned “Mortal”, another person in the block. Angels have to “welfare” (do nice things for) Mortals, like writing notes of encouragement before exams or getting small gifts for them.
This activity not only helped us bond with our Mortals, but it also showed me how thoughtful and meticulous people in TH were when it came to caring for one another. When some of my friends were stressed out due to heavy workloads and exams they had coming up, their Angels very sweetly prepared a snack alongside a little note for them. Many of the Angels also bothered to find out what their Mortals were craving for on a particular day, and surprised them with said food when they came back to hall. There were times where some of my blockmates were stuck in class during lunchtime, and their Angels got them lunch so that they didn’t have to go hungry. Some Angels even personally cooked for their Mortals, making everyone else jealous because the food they made looked so mouth-watering.
My friend received kimchi fried rice from her Angel
I’d say this sense of close community and the many interactions you get to have are unique to hall. Every resident here is akin to a close extended relative; unless you’re staying in a kampung with your three uncles, six aunts, and cousins from once removed to seven times removed, then staying at home wouldn’t give you this sense of community that hall gives you.
Why Hall Life is Not Really Hall Life
One disappointing thing is that—say it with me—things keep getting cancelled！
As you might have guessed, our orientation camp was mainly held on Zoom, and I’m sure we can all agree that camp vibes are different online, and not always in a good way.
For hall residents, we usually check-in a week before school actually starts, which means we have a week in hall where we are mostly unoccupied. From past stories I’ve heard, the seniors usually spend that one week “partying” together: having mass gatherings, playing block-wide games and more, which are all prohibited activities now. I thought I’d spend the first week holed up in my room and having to resort to cleaning to entertain myself, but fortunately, the organising committee had planned a few activities where the block split up into groups of 3 to 4 to play mini games and explore different routes around NUS. While I appreciate the efforts that the committee put in to create alternate activities for us, small-group activities still don’t hit as hard as mass activities.
In the beginning, we were still able to participate in hall CCAs, in which people were arranged into different time slots and venues in order to adhere to SMM.
Taken during tennis practice!
However, due to recent tightened measures, CCAs have been cancelled completely, along with CCA events like cultural performances. Some of the cultural CCAs had already started preparing for the various performances before SMM tightened, and it sucks that members are no longer able to participate in signature events that are supposed to take place annually.
Seriously speaking, I feel a little empty without CCA practices, and I’m not exaggerating. It is not just me that feels this way. I used to attend at least 3 different CCA practices in a week, and I find it weird that my nights are now CCA-less. Some might consider it a blessing because they get more time for studying, but I don’t think I’ll consider it a blessing in the long run. After all, I came to hall because I wanted to be involved in the various CCAs I was keen on.
One of the events that TH is known for and is also unique to TH is Temasek Hall Overnight Riding (THOR), which is an overnight cycling activity with planned pit stops to a bowling alley, Gardens by the Bay, and more. When I applied for TH, THOR was one of the events I was most excited for because it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Before COVID, fellow blockmates would ride together, but during COVID, the block was to be split up into much smaller cycling groups and distanced from one another. Despite that, I still looked forward to THOR because I expected it to be a night (and a wee morning) full of memories that I’ll look back on in the future. However, as you might have already guessed, THOR was cancelled. Well, with the rising cases, bopez (short for bopian - a term I picked up in hall) I guess.
Last but not least, as mentioned before, small-group activities just don’t feel the same as mass activities. You don’t get as hyped as you do in a small group as when you are having fun with a huge group of people. The atmosphere and mood are just different. That’s one of the major things I feel we’re missing out on as freshmen in hall this year, which is one of the reasons why hall life is not really hall life.
Ultimately, in the current pandemic, we don’t really have a choice when it comes to SMM. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry, right?
I think it is up to us to make our own hall experience enjoyable and memorable in times like this. Hall life may not be the same as the previous batches, but our hall life is still whatever we make it out to be.
Personally, staying in a hall in COVID-19 is worth it for me because there are still new experiences to be gained. Although there might not have mass activities, the people that I’ve met here in TH make my hall life meaningful and worthwhile. Even though it’s only been a short while, I’ve already made many memories that I treasure and know that I’ll fondly look back on in the future. What we can do now is to make the best out of the current situation and seize opportunities to participate in activities whenever legal, safe and possible.