The Face Shall Be Set Free

As people are “tired”, masks will soon no longer be required in many indoor settings. Would we really be liberated, and from what?

MRT commuter among many with mask partially-off on the evening after the prime minister announced that face coverings would soon not be required indoors

By Ray Zhang

It was news many were waiting for. Like the rest of you, I saw PM Lee Hsien Loong make that announcement during his televised National Day Rally (NDR) speech early this evening (on MeWatch for me). Before Mr Lee concluded his address, I was receiving text messages from friends, expressing such immense joy at the “best news this year”, as one of them wrote. Mr Lee had just said that “…outdoors or indoors, masks will be optional”. It was amazing how so many people regarded (and still do) the wearing of masks with such disdain—even abhorrence—that jubilation was immediately palpable when the end of its use (in many public places, but not all) was announced to be near (the actual date isn’t made known yet). Mask on would be a thing of the past even when COVID would not. The two would very soon no longer be synonymous.

Rules pertaining to mask wearing outside our homes will be further relaxed, according to Mr Lee, to “prevent people from getting tired”. It is not certain if he meant physically fatigued or tired from wearing masks, even exasperated or weary, or just plain bored. It is amazing to me that even after more than two years of mask-wearing, we are unable to accept it as part of, say, our turn out. And that there are so many who would find all manner of excuses to not wear one, or wear them improperly, even if, as a result, unattractively. This evening, on my way home from dinner with friends, I saw and was amazed by the many commuters on the MRT train who wore their mask at half-mast, ready for total abandonment, even when the wearing of one would still be required in all public transport. A swift and affirmative reaction to the good news, I suppose.

Will this be a common sight soon?

Unlike most of my friends, Mr Lee’s much appreciated and lauded announcement brought me no instant joy. My first reaction was that I would continue to wear the mask when I am out and about, whether indoors or not. Would I then quickly be among the odd, to-be-mocked few? The thing is I do believe the mask has largely served me well. My family and I have avoided the virus since it arrived on our shores in January 2020. Even when minister of health Ong Yee Kung said last October that “sooner or later, every one of us will meet the virus”, I did not make it sooner nor a close encounter. Pre-COVID, I would not even want to meet good ’ol influenza. Why would Omicron and its variants and those before them be welcomed now? I am happy not to have any COVID stories to share, or to affirm how “mild” the symptoms were (even “disappointingly uneventful”, as a friend described her infection). I am repeatedly reminded, “you know you are in the minority”, and I am okay with that.

Last night, I attended a cousin’s wedding, a relatively small affair as it was organised and booked before large gatherings were allowed. Although there were repeated announcements throughout the unusually churchy evening that masks “must” be worn when not eating or drinking, very, very few bothered with the reminder (which by then should have been redundant). I looked across the ballroom of about 15 full tables, and counted only three guests (including I) who had a mask on when not ingesting or imbibing. A relative, seemingly uncomfortable with my steadfastness, said to me, “take off your mask, lah. Why? Scared to die, ah?” I did not think he deserved an answer and turned away to look at the just-wedded couple enjoying their fake shark’s fin soup, happy that my mask—four-ply, in a “misty blue”, picked to match my attire—was exactly where it belonged.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Not Freedom Day, Yet

Those who were out and about without a mask were rather jubilant as whole faces got to bask in the sun. Surprisingly, there were not that many of them

By Mao Shan Wang

Today is a triumph for the “Badge Lady”. And her ilk. I can imagine her walking anywhere on Orchard Road or any open space without a mask and not be interrupted by un-badged individuals coming up to her to insist she wears one. Or social media stars hoping to score an interview to bank on her offline infamy to strengthen their online fame. Mandatory restrictions have finally met Badge Lady’s tenacity—admirable and reviled in equal measure. Although this day makes no real difference for those who persisted in taking an anti-mask stance, it is still a win for the likes of the recalcitrant Ms Show Me Your Badge. She can now be outdoors with her whole face for all to see and for breezes to kiss. Many, like her, can now walk on footpaths or void decks without the hated mask, and be free from the gaze of disapproving eyes.

Despite the relaxing of mask wearing for most outdoor spaces beginning today, not that many people have done away with covering up. This surprised me as I had thought that many had been waiting for this day to arrive. In fact, just after the news of this “significant easing” broke last Thursday, I encountered not an insignificant number of individuals bringing forward this day. Over the past weekend, pedestrians on a busy footpath near my flat were testing how far they could rid the mask ahead of time. Never mind if it was in broad daylight or under the cloak of darkness—they tried and got away with it. On Sunday morning, I overheard a wife telling her husband off when she was told to put her mask on: “Aiya, two more days. Now and Tuesday, what’s the difference?”

So I was really surprised by the humanity that embraced the outdoor today. Rather than the many full faces I had expected to beam at me, I witnessed mostly masked-up glum. At Raffles Place, the lunch crowd kept their masks on in unexpectedly large numbers. Perhaps it was because they were lunching in groups (in sixes, I kept seeing). Those who bared their faces were taking a cigarette break, expectedly next to dustbins. And those who truly delighted in taking on the world with no facial cover in sight—and talking audibly so I’d know of their glee—seemed to be mostly expatriate Caucasians. They were truly visible, enjoying the sun, coffee, and each other. Perhaps they were fast to act because this was the closest to getting back their civil liberties and personal freedom, without which life is hell even when a deadly virus is bent on spreading, and infecting.

I decided to take a train to Orchard Road. It was busier there than I expected. Then the sky darkened very suddenly—like Will Smith’s face yesterday—and, in an instant, it started to be very wet—like Will Smith’s face yesterday too, and the pedestrians disappeared. Someone up there clearly wanted to put the damper on the anti-maskers’ celebration outside. In case the excited people wanted to burn masks? I walked to the Orchard Road-facing entrance of Wisma Atria. It was quiet here. Instinctively, I moved to Ngee Ann City. The few people who chose to stay out of the rain, but were still outdoor, did not take advantage of the “relaxed restrictions”, as the easing has been called, oxymoronic as it sounds. I crossed over to Tangs. Outside was like inside—all wore a mask. In the thirty minutes that I stood where Tiong Bahru Bakery is, I saw just a middle-aged woman with mask off. That was one in, like, one hundred pedestrians! If you missed seeing joyful faces, you would still miss them.

Away from the four walls of home, I did not feel “a different vibe”, to borrow the phrase from one of this year’s hosts of the Oscars, Amy Schumer. It did not seem like the mask-off permission had kicked in. It was not that there were few takers; it was just not different from yesterday, the day before, or last week, even last month. While waiting for the rain to stop (and hoping to see more unobscured faces), I struck up a conversation with a mask-less chap who, too was waiting for the sky to clear. He was playing a game on his phone. When he caught sight of me looking, I asked, “is it nice to be with no mask?” He was annoyed with my question. “Don’t wear oso kena, what for wear?” I was not sure I was ready to countenance the displeasure. Or, his respiratory droplets landing on me as he huffed. Or someone else’s when they vociferate or when they cough. As my friends always say, I am prone to attracting those who love to express or expel.

That’s why I have chosen to keep my mask on. I didn’t come this far—more than two years—of carefully avoiding potentially dangerous situations so that I can stay healthy and safe to welcome the coronavirus into my body, even if it is supposed to cause only “mild” symptoms. Mild may not necessarily be pleasant for me. And I do not wish to find out if that would be true. Pre-COVID, I don’t even want to get the flu, so why would I hail the virus du jour. It does bother me, therefore, that social distancing in some settings are no longer necessary. Not going too close to anyone you do not need to be physical with is not only respecting the personal space of others, but also minimising the possibility of exposing yourself to forgotten contagion still present, such as tuberculosis. I am not being dramatic; I am being careful.

What turned out to be rather antithetical was that I saw more people without mask indoor than out. At one mall, a girl and a guy were allowed in even when their masks were chin cups. I politely asked the girl seated at a desk, manning the entrance: “Oh, they can go in?” She looked at me sleepily. “Their masks were not worn properly,” I explained. She turned to look at the couple’s fast disappearing backs and then mumbled to me, “Is it?” Inside, I quickly met bubble tea drinkers happily imbibing as they walked, even when the cups in their hands were empty. Curry puff addicts devoured there favourite snacks and talked excitedly at the same time, from point to point to point. As I went down an escalator, a man riding up opposite opened his mouth wide and inserted thumb and index finger to free whatever was trapped inside. Bad weather, you think?

It did not look like I was able to meet the crowd of open faces that I thought I would. Masks, it seemed, stayed committed to noses and mouths. Did the Prime Minister’s wish come true when he said during his address to the nation last week, “Let us all continue to exercise personal and social responsibility”? Or, did that many really heed his call? I was beginning to feel good about the future when I entered the Orchard Road MRT station to take the train home, a sense of certainty washed over me. The wearing of masks could be part of the return to normalcy! While waiting on the packed platform, flanked by commuters laden with shopping bags, an announcement came clearly through the PA: “Attention, passengers on the platform. Please put on your mask properly. Thank you.”

Photos: Chin Boh Kay and AB Tan

No Pink Shorts In Prison

Defiant to the end, this British no-masker, with a penchant for pastel berms, was not able to convince the judge that the law here does not apply to him

As we have said here on SOTD before, there are those who find the face mask we have to wear for the past year and a half totally unwearable, offensive, and revolting, so much so that they are willing to face jail time to keep one off their delicate faces. The British expatriate, who became famous in May when his no-mask defiance on an MRT train was filmed and shared, was sentenced to six weeks in jail this afternoon after what the press described as a “brief trial”. Apart from not wearing a mask on two occasions, other charges included “causing public nuisance” and “using threatening words on public officers (according to the policemen who arrested him, he had adopted a “boxing stance” and told them, “I am going to fucking drop you”—both he denied). It staggers the imagination that this guy could find mask wearing so objectionable that rage would consume him while reason took flight.

Netizens were quick to express how light the sentence is. When the “Living Man” goes to a living jail, he won’t be spending all six weeks inside as his sentence is backdated to 19 July, the day he was first remanded. He will thus be released in no time. Many are wondering if the relatively lenient punishment for violation as egregious as threatening public health is due to the fact that he is angmo. This is truly how the sentence is seen, even by foreigners. An American reader messaged us to say “it’s ridiculous that expats get the kid glove treatment.” He added, “I’m surprised that the UK has the sovereign citizen movement. I thought it was a ridiculously American disorder.” The Brit expat had earlier called himself a “sovereign” (basically he who decides for himself, not judges or police officers, what laws to obey) and told the court: “I know what a crime is, there must be a victim which is a living man or woman, not a legal fiction which is what you are, officers. You are not living men and women, they are legal fictions. I am living man, I control my public trust,” as reported.

The “living man” controls his public image too. Much was discussed publicly about his attire when he appeared in court on 2 July, wearing a short-sleeved, blue/white foliage-print shirt and a pair of pink, narrow-legged bermudas. The casual turnout for a court hearing shocked many following the case, which led to the question, “are shorts allowed inside State Courts (the Briton was tried and sentenced here)?” According to their online FAQ for visitors, one must dressed “appropriately” when visiting the State Courts (formerly the Subordinate Courts). This means “business wear, smart casual wear and traditional dress”. An accompanying illustration does not show men—or women—in shorts (short-sleeved shirts are allowed). But even those who have never attended a court session know that one must never dress that casually. Yet, the British offender wore knee-baring bermudas to hear his case in court. So did a man purported to be his “legal representative” who had previously been turned away from the courts for “inappropriate attire”, as reported. It’s not clear how inappropriately dressed he was. Lawyers, it seems, are held to a higher sartorial standard. Back to that July afternoon, it could really be hot, but surely not in a court room?

Again, we hear people say they are surprised that those who look this smart would be this far from smart. Some women were astonished that a “not-bad looking” Caucasian man, who “dresses well” (also, they think, in that May video that got him caught, when he wore shorts too), would so flagrantly disregard our laws. Manner of dress never reveals the law-refusal or ignoring nature of people. Certainly not the show of legs either. For some reason, this pandemic has unambiguously point to us how selfish and uncaring individuals can be, how mandates can be ignored, even ridiculed, how public decency is somehow outmoded and to be cast into the bin of lost social discipline, along with chivalry and courtesy, mindfulness and kindness, and used masks. Perhaps prisoners’ garb may serve some corrective function. But the “living man” won’t be in prison long enough to miss his pink shorts.

Update (19 August 2021, 13:05): According to CNA, the Briton is out of jail and has been handed to Immigration and Checkpoints Authority for deportation.

Illustrations: Just So

Tokyo Olympics: That Mask

Nike’s version for Team USA is clearly a winner

The American Olympics team did not make quite the mark at the Opening Ceremony, fashion-wise, so much so that there were calls in their home country for long-time Olympics fashion provider Ralph Lauren to be replaced by a fresher name/brand. But the mask the athletes wore when the Games proceeded definitely did. Created by Nike (it’s become unimaginable for Team USA to wear any other sports brand), the mask—called Venturer—is eye-catching, whether the wearer is on the sporting grounds or on the podium receiving their awards. That’s the most noticeable part of their all-white get-up, more than the sneakers they wear or, in the case of the winners, more than their medals! Even without the Swoosh. Facewear trumps footwear.

The white mask is certainly a form of wear these days. And Nike, aware that American athletes at the winners’ podium will get their well-deserved close-ups, fitted them with a mask that is a statement piece, distinguished by the unusually pleated front that could have come from the Miyake Design Studio. Comparison has been made to the mask Batman’s nemesis Bane wears, with one Netizen actually saying “TeamUSA face masks are creeping me out”, but they do not look to us as sinister as the super-villian’s. According to Nike, the geometric ridges are supposed to “evoke the folds of Japanese origami”. But they resemble more closely to hand-folded fabric pleats of takumi artisans, such as those by Kyoto-ite Yuko Shimizu of YS Planning Co, part of the famed pleating machine manufacturer Sankyo. Perhaps Americans are less aware of pleating as an art form?

Swimming star Caeleb Dressel wears the Nike Venturer. Photo: Getty Images

Through a media release, Nike states that the “pleated design allows for optimal air flow and air volume within the lightweight, mesh mask”. Nothing about safety or its ability to block out pathogens is mentioned. Nike did say that the Venturer is “not medical-grade”, like most cloth masks. That means it should not be treated like an N95. Because of its comfort and breathability, the mask is designed for sporting activities or working out. The mask is suitable for prolonged wear and activities that might be described as “intense”. It comes with a chin rest and a nose cushion (apart from the surface relief, the reason why the mask juts out, but, thankfully, not beak-like?), and adjustable straps for a better fit. The mask is reportedly washable, hence reusable. In sum, Nike has certainly considered the Venturer’s aesthetic value and pull.

Unsurprisingly, the mask is available to buy at Nike’s online store, but for a tear-inducing US$60 each. That will give you the mask itself (available in sizes XS to XL and only in black, it seems) and a carry case. Despite its creepiness to some, the Venturer is, at present, out of stock. Are people snapping them up as an Olympics memento? At the Nike website (including the Japanese), the page on which the mask is supposed to be available simply reads, sans photos: “the product you are looking for is no longer available”. Read: sold out.

The Nike Venturer mask is not available on the site. Product photo: Nike

No! She Won’t!

COVID-19 continues to spread, but one “MBS woman” was determined to be a serial no-masker. Virulent viruses be damned

You can’t judge a person by the mall she is in. You’d think that someone who shops (or dines) in The Shoppes in Marina Bay Sands (MBS) is sophisticated. Or, knowing, right-minded, compliant, respectful, empathetic, or amicable. But there is also a strong chance that she is strikingly none of the above. One woman very recently showed that patronising the swanky outlets in MBS can go hand in hand with patronising the attentive staffers of the mall. In a 90-second video circulating wildly since four o’clock yesterday afternoon (watch it here, if you have not), she showed that she was exceptional and that no one could tell her to mask up, even if the wearing of one, as everyone well knows, is still mandatory. Despite an even more real and present danger posed by the relentless pace of COVID-19 infection now, she would not be coaxed into doing what, at that time and place, was the right and socially responsible thing to do.

The woman was in a line to get into Toast Box. When told nicely to put on a mask by a safe distancing ambassador (and, later, another) because she clearly had not, she demanded physical identification of the person performing her duty. “If you have no badge, why are you asking me to do something?” With an expression of pure disdain, she demanded to know under whose instructions the uniformed enforcer operated under. “Who are you representing?” When told that she represented MBS, the older woman hit back by impugning the younger. “That’s what you say. I can say that I’m the police.” She challenged the officer to apprehend her. “Are you arresting me?” And to blow things up. “Are you creating a scene?” She will only respond to persons who are authorised to be instructional. “If you want authority (?), then put on a badge.” She dismissed the persistent girl as one too subordinate to warrant her attention. “I don’t wish to speak to you.” Her face continued: You can’t compel compliance; you can’t order obedience. I know. Be gone.

Not for one second did she appear to be aware that other shoppers were with masks on and that she was clearly the one sticking disturbingly out

It was not that she did not have a mask with her. She was seen carrying one—a blue surgical mask on her right hand, with one of the straps in the fingers of the left. At one point, she seemed to be twiddling with it. But she simply refused to be bring it to her face. Not for one second did she appear to be aware that other shoppers were with masks on and that she was clearly the one sticking disturbingly out. Or, care that others in the line and around her could be uncomfortable—even annoyed—with her objectionable refusal. In less than two hours after the video was shared online, photographs and two other videos of the said woman began appearing on social media, showing her also mask-less at other public places. She was similarly defiant: she was indifferent to those around her. She was recalcitrant.

Reacting to the video, some people said they were surprised that someone who spoke well, and dressed “so smartly” (in leather shoes!) would be that disagreeable and difficult. As we have pointed out in SOTD, manner of dress and a person’s behaviour are unrelated—the smartness of one is no guarantee of the decency of the other. The MBS woman, as she was referred to until her name was broadcast on social media last night, would know something about a smart turn out. She was reportedly an ex-officer in the navy. What is it about former military officers who are predisposed to easily take umbrage?

She was attired in an androgenous, no-nonsense style typical of women of a certain age. Everyone with a social media account saw that she wore a plain, blue, long-sleeved shirt, folded at the cuff, and knee-length and sand-coloured shorts. She carried a red leather (could be PU) east-west tote on her left shoulder and had on scruffy light-brown loafers. On her left wrist was a rectangular dress watch with brown leather strap. In that hand, she held a set of smartphone and a pair of dark sunglasses. It is arguable if what she wore was contemporary, let alone stylish, but it was pulled-together. All of which substantiates the visible truth: just because you look smart doesn’t mean you are smart.

Update (18 May 2021, 8pm): According to Lianhe Wanbao, the said woman will claim trial to a different charge of breaching COVID-19 rules in a separate incident in Newton Hawker Centre last year

Illustration: Just So.

Onward Mask!

Even with the vaccine roll-out, it would still be a while before we could go mask-free. Yet, many people out and about are starting to go mask-less or half-masked. Is it really so awful and unbearable, one year on, to wear a mask? Even when new clusters of infection have emerged?

By Ray Zhang

It’s now more than a year since the Circuit Breaker was announced two Aprils ago. The mask has since become a must. But concealing more than half of one’s face can’t seem to be as habit-forming as burying oneself in whatever that’s coming out of one’s smartphone. Protection against a pandemic is not good enough a reason to put on a mask, but “inconvenience” alone is convenient an excuse to let the face go naked. In an unscientific poll I conducted to have a sense of why—even when I have already guessed—people are so resistant to masking up, “inconvenient” ranks at the top, followed by “heat” and “sweat”. Interestingly, three people even cited “ugly” as valid reason not to wear a mask. Which is kind of confusing when it appears to me that ugly fashion is still the rage. A neat little mask is ugly, but tattered-to-bits denim cut-offs not?

This morning, on my way to the supermarket, out of the first eight people I met on the void deck and footpath, two were totally mask-less, three had their mask pulled down to below their chin as they talked on the phone, one wore his below his upper lip, and one with the mask dangling from the ear, as naturally as a drop earring. Only one lady was kind of masked—she was wearing what in the middle east would be known as a burka. Until I finally saw a properly masked pedestrian, I wondered, was this a lull day for masks? Did I miss a public announcement? Was I the odd one out? Did I look ugly?

Despite the many ‘fashion’ masks now available, the mandated face covering can’t seem to catch on. It isn’t as though we have been forced to wear a balaclava. Or, a bra repurposed as a mask! Yet, the mask requirement is dreaded and frowned upon, as if it is a parental order. People find every excuse, every opportunity, every time to be bare-faced. “I’m eating,” they’ll say, and not an eatery or vendor in sight. “I’m drinking,” they’ll say, and the nearest bubble tea shop is at least two kilometres away. “I’m smoking,” they’ll say, and the puffing is conducted right in the middle of a bus stop. “I’m cycling,” they’ll say, and none appears to be training for the Tour de France. “I’m catching Pokémon,” they’ll say, and you’ll want to throw a Poké Ball at them. “I’m coughing,” they’ll say, and you’ll want to run far, far away.

Fashion will remember this past year for not only loungewear but also face wear. We aren’t referring to the pre-pandemic issuers such as Marine Serre (Financial Times calls her “the designer who saw it all coming”) and Off-White, but also other designer brands, from Burberry to Missoni, to the couture ones for auction and those given free at the Louis Vuitton show here last March. Masks ascended from the lowly surgical ones to those that deserve a spot on the red carpet, from those that are made at home to those custom-made in an atelier to go with a hat or a dress. In fact, I often see many who prefer masks that wouldn’t give the impression that the wearer works in a hospital or had just picked one from a box bought at 7-Eleven. There are now special occasion masks as seen by the many ang-pow red ones (and printed with Oriental motifs and zhuheyu [祝贺语 or auspicious sayings]), sold in Chinatown during the Lunar New Year three months ago.

Magazine editorials have been sharing stories with headlines such as “Where to buy fashionable face masks”. We didn’t really have to look far. As soon as the Circuit Breaker ended on the 1st of last June and we could resume shopping beyond essentials, masks of the fancy variety started appearing, from stalls in the wet market to those in malls. The first fancy mask I bought was from a friend’s cousin, who first made them at home towards the end of the Circuit Breaker to sell, in anticipation that people would want those not in that ubiquitous green/blue. She even allowed me to choose different fabrics for each side of the mask. And to add a pocket in the interior to allow a filter to sit in, as well as decide on the length of the ear loops. The transactions were done through WhatsApp! A fabric mask, I soon found, could be comfortable and breathable. The best part: they could be selected (assuming there are enough to choose from) as one chooses socks. That, for me, was the first step to incorporating masks for my OOTD.

Despite the mask’s fashion potential, it was not destined to be part of our outdoor life or sartorial choices. Many would find excuses to reject it. Or just appear to be wearing it—achieving various degrees of coverage, but never total or adequate to be considered safe. It is puzzling to me that after a year, and despite constant reminders, there are those who would not wear a mask properly, to minimise infection. You must have seen masks worn like some frivolous, any-how face apron, with nose exposed, or the spaces between the nose unsealed. Or, with those pleated masks, not stretched out vertically, but just plonked on, like a piece of Koolfever for the mouth. Those are on individuals at least situating the mask where it is meant to be. Others wear it anywhere but on the face. I have seen masks hug biceps, cup elbows, serve as bracelet on wrists, worn as an anklet, employed as hairband, chin brace, and neck wear. And just as I thought I was exposed to every possible not-intended use of a mask, I saw, on the upper deck of a bus last week, a snoozing man wearing one as eye mask!

When I spoke to people around me, I sensed that no one saw a deep divide in this country over the requirements to wear masks, unlike, say, in the US (and many other places too). There are those who just wouldn’t mask up, but are not against the mandate or opposed to it forcefully enough to need to prove it at the polls last year. And I don’t think scientific evidence for the usefulness of mask wearing is seen through partisan lens—they are just totally ignored. I sometimes wonder if, despite the MOH’s best efforts in educating the public, people just have no understanding of how the virus is spread, even now when dangerous and more infectious variants are evident. I continually see those who remove their mask to cough, to sneeze, to spit; to talk at the top of their voices and to laugh as if to let out something that can’t be contained inside. Audible and exuberant conversations rule! Just this afternoon, at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, a group of five garrulous women were cackling and howling behind me, unaware of the respiratory droplets they were jointly projecting. All of them were without masks even when it was clear to see that they had finished their beverages. They were having a rollicking good time. When I turned to look at them, they laughed even louder and harder, in blatant, eff-you defiance.

The pandemic has shown how in-your-face selfish people can be and how unwilling (or unable) they are to see how their actions and unthinking may affect others. Once, I asked a woman shopping at a supermarket to wear her half-mast mask properly. She replied, “why, you scared to die, ah?” How do I even begin to understand those like her, let alone react to such impudence? I wonder if the inability to wear a mask properly stemmed from the first reusable masks issued free to us by the government in April last year. They were uncomfortable and fitted poorly, but people still think that’s how masks are supposed to fit and sit. Those who wear their mask below their noses will claim that their snoot is “too flat” to hold the mask up. Those with a prominent proboscis will say it’s “too high” to be contained. Even when masks come with a firm flexible bridge that can be pinched to secure the top to the nose and to reduce the gap around it, when cloth masks and similar are designed for a more secure fit, when there are even 3-D versions, errant noses still must willfully stay outside the confines of a mask, like a sprout top.

Unusual as this might seem, I rather like wearing a mask. I am agreeable to the practice, I also discovered, because of the joy I derive from anonymity—to be unknown and be left unidentified, as if an apple in a crate of other apples. This, to be sure, isn’t the same as being incognito, which suggests deliberately having one’s identity concealed or being mysterious. Enigma is not my thing. Batman is not an inspiration. Rather, I have always liked to be lost in a crowd, even an individualist such as I. But as people flout mask wearing and social distancing, contrary to what our upbeat authorities would have us believe, I find that obscuring my face means I have more courage to gently remind the recalcitrant to play their part and, if the need arises—which, regrettably, is often, cast gentleness aside. There are those, I have witnessed, who would only act when scolded. Or, when they see seething anger.

But there are also those who are impervious to outrage. Or even the admonition of a public prosecutor. As I write this, news broke that the woman known as “Ms Sovereign” was defiant when charged in court for not wearing a mask and for being a public nuisance. CNA reported that she “had her mask below her nose throughout her time in court”. In fact, other reports noted that she arrived similarly half-masked. Unsurprisingly, as with many who must have no mask on (or can only wear them improperly), there is a reason: hers apparently medical, but it did not convince the court. She claimed to be suffering from asthma, but according to CNA, at the Shunfu Road wet market during the Circuit Breaker, when she was confronted for going mask-free, she “retorted that she did not need to wear a mask as she was not sick.” She was, more importantly, a “Sovereign”.

I suspect she was, and probably still is, the only Sovereign on our soil. But, she is, of course, not the only person who would expressly not wear a mask, Sovereign or just regular citizen. In my estate, I repeatedly see a man and a woman (unrelated) who are always bare-faced when out, since day one of the Circuit Breaker. Despite my disapproving eyes, they never seem to get the message. I wonder what excuse they might have if I were to confront them. Could it also be medical? Or simply mental? Once, out on an errand, I saw a middle-aged man going without a mask as he was jogging—shuffling, really—but, at the same time, carrying two bulging Fairprice plastic bags, one on each hand, and on the left, a long umbrella! Two school girls walking past, giggled at the sight. I think I was the one going bonkers not seeing the joke.

Update (9 May 2021, 6pm): It really happens! I have not exaggerated.

Illustrations: Ci Ke

Manic Mask Day

Uniqlo masks are here, and shoppers are rushing for them, just like those in Japan did

By the rather late opening hour of eleven, extremely long queues had formed outside many Uniqlo stores here. Shoppers had lined up for the brand’s AIRism masks, launched today and met with the same enthusiasm as a KAWS T-shirt drop. Over at the first Uniqlo store to open on our island at Tampines One in 2009, the buzz was that the queue had formed as early as nine, but one of the centre’s security guards said that people came as early as eight (one staffer later confirmed that to be true). Three minutes past eleven, the line outside was more than twice the length of the entire facade of the store. Even bubble tea stall Chi Cha San Chien, three floors down, wasn’t enjoying such a long line.

When we asked a middle-aged woman, laden with grocery, how she came to know about this particular mask, she replied with a frown, “It’s all over the news.” When we wondered if she thought they’d be better than what she has been wearing so far, she rejoined as if she was asked a stupid question: “Must be, lah. If not why so many people queue?” But she decided not to wait when a shopper emerging from the store—happy that she had secured the masks—told us she was in line “for at least 45 minutes”. Was it worth the wait? “Aiya, can lah. Not very long, what.”

A staffer told us that they had, in fact, anticipated that the response would be this good. Yet, it was not certain why there seemed to be some confusion as to what the procedures were apart from the queuing, which became a tad disorderly outside the designated area, where there were no marking to tell people where to stand. Two uniformed, social distancing enforcement officers had to tell many to keep their one-metre distance. A staff member went through every single person to make sure they had scanned the QR code for SafeEntry although they were yet in the store. Another made sure those too preoccupied with themselves were not an obstacle to others coming down an escalator. And another, with a tray in hand (on which samples of the mask were available for viewing, not trying), handed out little, crudely-printed-and-cut “purchase tickets” (she had to handle inquiry too, which meant she missed some waiting in line). Quite a hive to go through just to purchase a mask.

The number of packs a shopper is permitted to buy is restricted. It was clearly advantageous that a decision be made prior to visiting the store. The masks can be had in packs of three for S$14.90. They are available in black or white (no mix!), and in three sizes: S, M, and L. You are allowed to pick only one colour in one size (if you have selected a black in small, you can have a white in small, not two of the same colour for one size), which means a customer may buy up to six packs of masks per visit. Once sold, the masks cannot be exchanged or returned. Interestingly, no member of the staff was seen in the AIRism mask.

The queue moved fairly quickly as the line was dedicated for mask-buying only. Other customers not purchasing the mask may use a separate entryway. Despite this, most customers told us that they were in line for close to an hour. We were informed by one of the crew members that all the points of sales were opened and all were processing mask purchases with only one point catering to regular customers. But one shopper later told us that when she got to the counter, the reverse was true: only one out of four cashiers was serving mask buyers, while the rest attended to other shoppers. How many packs did she buy? “Only one,” she whispered. “If good, tomorrow I buy some more.”

As it turned out, the masks were sort of limited. According to a staffer, they would be available for three days only. Each store is supplied with a fixed quantity per day. About a thousands packs are limited to each store, with the larger outlets allotted more. “We won’t be restocking for today once what we have for now are sold,” she informed us. Upon hearing this, a woman immediately called someone and told the person on the other end of the line in Mandarin, “Eh, once finish, no more, leh. You want, better come now.”

At first encounter, the mask, as noted by first-time users in Japan, looks rather like underclothing (pouch of men’s thong?!). But they are not as thick as originally described. According to Japanese media reports last week, Uniqlo had “redesigned” the AIRism mask “following customer complains”. At its first launch, many Japanese had thought the masks too thick for warm-weather use, and that they were not as breathable. The new version, still three plies of the AIRism Cupro fabric (here, essentially 90% nylon and 10% spandex) for the front and rear, is now made of a mesh-weave, rendering the full mask lighter and definitely more breathable. It appears that they have made some adjustment to the fit, too. The mask is not as snug as it was previously reportedly to be. In fact, some women tried on the mask after the purchase, and thought the M size too large for them. And as there is no wire sewn into the bridge, the area around the nose tends to gape. The mask seems to cover a large area of the face too, with the base stretching along the entire jawline, possibly a con rather than a pro for those concerned about “maskne”.

Although many people consider the Uniqlo AIRism mask a ‘fashion’ mask, the actual product is far more basic and utilitarian, totally apart from ‘designer’ masks now appearing like mushrooms after the rain. There is no branding, no fancy stitching or interesting seaming, and definitely no attractive, contrast-coloured, adjustable ear cords. They don’t even look as attractive as those sold by home sewers who use cottons for quilting for their masks. Yet, from the enthusiastic response, it is clear that Uniqlo’s have captured the interest of mask wearers, even if many others are beginning to be lulled into a false sense of security and have become slack in the wearing of masks, thinking that the low community transmission numbers today are a good reason for masks to become chin support.

We managed to get our hands on a pack of the mask, so we thought we’d put one to test. The mask feels really comfortable in the hand, and the tactile superiority on the face is unmistakable. It definitely isn’t snug, and is comfortable to breathe in. And, more importantly, it did not heat up even outdoors. We took it for a ten-minute walk under the noon-day sun (the outer layer comes with SPF 50 protection) and, to our surprise, it was not a heat trap for the mouth area. One SOTD reader even told us that her glasses did not fog up. Next, we spent two hours in a room with the air-conditioning deliberately turned off (only an electric fan was on), typing this post, and we did not feel a desperate need to yank it off.

Earlier, outside Uniqlo when it opened its doors, a man had asked one of the social distancing enforcement officers what the queue was about. When he was told that the people were in line to buy masks, he wanted to know if the masks are better than those “they sell outside”. “These masks are cooler,” the helpful young chap said. The man persisted: “But are they better?” The target of the questioning coolly replied “Yah! Uniqlo, mah.”

Update (24 Aug 2020, 15:30): The queue outside the Uniqlo Tampines One store is no more. A member of the staff informed us that the masks are still available. Inside, there is a queue for regular purchases, but none for masks.

Update (24 August 2020, 20:30): A poster announcing the availability of the AIRism mask is now plastered with a “Sold Out Today” label. A few people ask the person regulating entry into the store if there would be more masks available and are told to “come back tomorrow.” They are not informed that the masks are available for three days only.

Some observers are surprised that the Uniqlo AIRism masks did not sell out a lot sooner. There is suggestion that many consumers have had their fill of masks and many are hoping that face coverings would no longer be required. As such, they do not see the need to buy more. In addition, many do no require any more black or white masks since the free ones issued to citizens and PRs prior were in black and, later, white. Uniqlo AIRism masks would be available in grey in Japan next month. The store’s staff is unable to tell us if that colour would arrive here in the future. In fact, no one knows if the masks would be available again after the 26th of August.

Update (26 August 2020, 18.15): At Uniqlo’s Orchard Central Global Flagship Store, the AIRism masks are still available at racks placed in the second and third floors. It does not look like they will sell out by this evening. A cashier told us they will continue to sell the masks tomorrow, until stocks run out.

Note: Uniqlo is careful to state on the packaging that their “masks do not completely prevent infection (infiltration)”. Use judiciously

Uniqlo AIRism masks, SGD14.90 per pack of three, are available at all Uniqlo stores from today until 26 Aug (Wed). Photos: Chin Boh Kay

Out In Ten Days

Uniqlo’s wildly successful mask will be launched here on 24 August. At last


AIRism masks B&W Aug 2020

The word is out. Uniqlo’s Airism mask will be available here in less than two weeks. This is good news for the many who have waited eagerly for the release of the mask after reports of its unprecedented success in Japan when it was launched in June went viral. The snaking queues at Uniqlo stores there are, similarly, expected here.

This is not quite a fashion mask as some thought it might be. Made of Uniqlo’s signature AIRism fabric, essentially Cupro fibres (regenerated cellulose fabric made from cotton waste, such as the linter, that is chemically processed to yield the softness and fineness it is known for), the mask is rather simple and nondescript. It is touted to be breathable and, reportedly, “free of the stiffness or thickness” felt in other masks.

Despite this pliable quality, many wearers in Japan have reported that the triple-layered mask is too thick. It is also rather warm when worn in summer, or the equivalent of our all-year weather. But this might not be a deal breaker for some, as the availability of two colours—black and white—and three sizes—S,M, and L—would be enough lure for those seeking something less crude and more comfortable than the black ones earlier issued free to most of us.

Note: According to Uniqlo, the masks are “not proven to reduce the transmission of disease. AIRism Masks do not completely prevent infection (infiltration).”

Uniqlo AIRism Mask, SGD14.90, is available in packs of three at Uniqlo stores. Product photos: Uniqlo

The Hottest Mask

Uniqlo’s first face mask was launched in Japan last Friday. It was, as predicted, completely sold out


Uniqlo mask JPNUniqlo’s sold-out AIRism face mask. Screen grab: ANN News/YouTube

Given the state of fashion retail, it would be difficult for any brand to enjoy a 100% sell-through. Yet, Uniqlo was able to beat the odds when their debut face mask sold out (at some stores by noon) on the day of launch last Friday, in Japan. That the mask would be completely snapped up was predicted earlier in the week, but no one saw that online sales would crash Uniqlo’s website as it did. The company announced that “there is currently a problem with the connection to our online store due to a large number of accesses from customers.” The humble mask, made from what was initially created for use in undergarments, is this covetable.

According to AccuWeather, it rained when Uniqlo opened their doors that morning. But those in need of face masks were not deterred. Local news report showed long queues at popular branches, such as those in Shinjuku and Ginza. Our Tokyo source told us that he received text messages from friends urging him not to go as the queues were too long, and, at some stores, the masks were already sold out. The speed of sale could be borne out by the post of one Twitter user, カニちゃん (Crab). In the 45-second video clip, shoppers were seen running ahead of him to join a queue in the Uniqlo store in Mark IS, Yokohama. By the time he arrived at the line, easily a hundred shoppers were already in the queue.

Uniqlo mask JPN P2The single-colour AIRism mask. Photo: Men’s Non-No

The Uniqlo mask is priced at ¥990 (or about S$13). Each pack contains three masks. They are available in three sizes: S, M, and L, and all only in white. Although touted as “cool and dry, smooth and breathable” and branded AIRism (a fabric associated with underclothes, and later performance wear, as well as fashion tops under the Uniqlo U sub-brand), many users noted (complained?) that the mask is rather “thick”. Japanese Netizens now consider it a “winter mask”. Uniqlo’s online literature states that what they offer is a three-ply mask, including a middle-layer filter that is supposed to be a barrier to bacteria and pollen. The mask also blocks UV rays. How popular the mask will truly be may only be known after the first wave of use. Uniqlo Japan has not said when stocks would be replenished.

Nor when they would be carrying the mask here. The Singapore office has not released an official statement. Uniqlo SG stores are presently still closed. If the Airism mask’s initial frantic demand in Japan is any indication, it will, similarly, see frenzied reception here and do exceedingly well. Expect shoppers running for them too.

Two Of A Kind: Tiled Covers

The present is indeed the time to see how creative magazines are. Or, how alike


V vs PWhich cover is better? The June issues of Vogue Netherlands and Prestige Singapore

Unprecedented times call for unusual solutions. Creativity is still all-important, but even that can be squeezed due to restrictions beyond one’s control. Magazines, as we know, are hit especially hard. Photography, whether indoors or out, is almost entirely disallowed. No photo, no cover? Certainly not with the case of Vogue Italia’s April issue. Its cover was left blank, save the masthead. While there are some, such as Female and Pin, that have used illustrations to rather arresting effect, others prefer to stick by the old book. However hard it is now to organise a shoot, magazines—aided by apps and other tech, such as reigning star Zoom—continue to put a face to front their title.

The tiled cover seems to be the choice of the month. Why have one photo when you can have nine, or more? At least two magazines embraced this option. The June cover of Vogue Netherlands features nine models shot in the first week of the lockdown in Amsterdam. According to the magazine, the shoot was assembled over video calls, text messages, and phone conversations. There is a photographer involved, even a stylist. The models probably did their own hair and makeup. Each photo has a border and an almost retro quality about them, as if a ‘vintage’ in-phone photo filter is applied. The result is rather Warholian, and the tiling of the photos too—seductively pre-Instagram for an Instagram age.

Also opting for a tiled cover is Prestige Singapore. Consistent with their usual cover subjects, the current issue features face-masked society ladies, deliberately not named to suggest “resilience” as a collective whole. Although not identified, these women (and men and one family)—totalling 100 faces (including those featured inside)—are described by managing editor Yanni Tan as “friends of Prestige”. The photos, mostly selfies, were submitted by the participants. It is fascinating that all of these society figures are willing to obscure their faces and share the limited real estate that is the magazine page. These are unprecedented times indeed.

Photos: source

Nylon In Neutrals And Nudes

So now we need masks to match our underwear? Kim Kardashian seems to think so



By Mao Shan Wang

I know masks are a must now. Although slowly available at retail again, surgical masks, despite being better than cloth ones, are not appealing enough that people are making their own, including those who fashion face coverings with brassieres. Of course, these days we are not averse to underwear not worn under. Still, it feels a little weird—even creepy—to want a bra cup to hug half the face. This may account for the persistence of Internet memes and jokes that josh at those who are partial to bra-masks.

Despite the joke potential of the source material for the Triumph-turn-face-covering, Kim Kardashian has introduced undie-looking masks for her shapewear brand Skims (formerly Kimono). I can understand the desire for a mask that matches a dress, but one that goes with undergarments or shapewear, that escapes me. It is not certain that these nondescript US-made masks are designed to go with the brand’s underwear, but the colours—five of them—are clearly chosen to pair with  merchandise in corresponding shades sold by Skims.



But the aesthetics of the Skims masks isn’t the thing that’s got people talking about and reacting to the product. Rather, it is, like much of today’s culture, to do with colour. According to Netizens—an emotionally fragile bunch, Kim K and her brand are guilty of “casual racism” (as opposed to formal?). A black model wears a mask in a colour that’s a tad too light for her skin, while the ones on the  others are apparently closer to their own skin tone. And online, people are not pleased. On the Skims website now, a different model is used, presumably a reaction to social media dismay.

Despite the negative reactions, these masks are sold out, within an hour of their launch a week ago (you can join a waitlist if you must own one). Obviously, the marketing images are not offensive enough, nor the colour-skin mismatch. These masks are stated as “non-medical”, which likely makes them a fashion item. On the website, they are categorised under ‘accessories’, symbolised by an illustration of a naked torso made slightly more modest by two pasties, and sold alongside waist trainers and body tapes.

It appears to me that Skims is exploiting what is believed to be a social necessity of the present and the near future. And to make them in the colour of (and to look like) underwear appear to trivialise the seriousness of a disease that has pervasively damaged lives. Unsurprisingly, people are scrambling for the masks of no protective nor creative value. For now, celebrity-linked anything continues to have the same attraction as schlock horror.

Photos: Skims

😷😷 The Mask-Have 😷😷

Now that we’ve been told, after conflicting professional opinions, that even a cloth face mask may help in the fight against COVID-19, supported by the issue of one to every citizen by the government, a lot more people are indeed wearing them. Will fashion masks, once a novelty, now be very much sort after?


Mask 1The government-issued cloth mask

Cloth masks: Who’d think they would be so approved that they are now worn as barrier between us and one dreaded coronavirus? Although many experts have said that cloth masks are as effective as a placebo, they are now adopted as a better-than-nothing shield, encouraged by our government who has started issuing a black, suitable-for-the-cinematic-baddie piece to its citizens since last Sunday. So villainous-looking they are, it would be surprising that just two weeks ago, banking halls would allow any visitor into their premises without its removal. Now, many are wearing the freebie at points of transaction, from Fairprice to Gong Cha, yes, to POSB, with more diligence than actresses and their Book tote at the grocers’.

Up close, there is something strangely underclothes-like about these masks. Made in Indonesia, of a fabric that is 95 percent (not 100) cotton credited as BCI (Better Cotton Initiative, or “global not-for-profit organisation and the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world”) and five percent Spandex (for stretch), they are essentially leotard for face. And the ellipses, with a dart in the top-centre (to accommodate the nose), fit like one too—skin-tight, unless the front of your head is narrow across the cheeks and incredibly V-shaped at the chin. But for many—guys especially—these cloth masks slip on too closely like gloves. So fitted they are for some, that there are those who thought they had received masks for kids! Sure, these are not akin to compression wear, which could be of up to 30 percent of Spandex, but the considerably thick three-ply mask may cup too effectively, like good brassieres.

Washing them actually makes them a tad softer, and repeated use will render them a slight looseness (we’ve put ours for a five-day trial). If you wear them daily, and wash them as often (recommended), chances are, you’ll end up with a mask that will give your dish cloth tough competition in the looking good stakes. We tested the cloth mask during the day and at night. There is no tangible difference—the face will be heated up, whether at sun up or down. Not recommended for making a dash to 7-Eleven, unless you are a qigong master who has mastered the art of breathing slowly, minimally, or not breathing at all. As the straps are in the same cotton-blend fabric and not adjustable, they may be too tight for some wearers, even tugging the ears, which could mean that wearing for long hours would be uncomfortable. Comfort is, of course, subjective. Don’t take our word for it. Try them.

Mask 2BP hires copyDouble the protection?

We have seen, since the distribution of the mask (already on sale at Guardian prior), individuals personalising them. The ubiquity of that one black mask (apparently there are others issued with those not in solid black, such as green and white awning stripes. We have not been able to independently verify this talk) unsurprising spurs individualists to make theirs less stark and less evocative of a dystopian world. Often seen is the use of a bandana, folded into a triangle, and worn in a manner that would not be inconsistent with the face coverings of robbers in a John Wayne western. It isn’t certain if this is to double the protection or give the black mask an attractive outer. We have also witness guys wearing a balaclava or a snood over the said mask. Why create more of a heat trap is not immediately understandable.

Now that we have to wear a mask on public transport, as well as in malls and markets, it is likely that what we have amassed, when the single-use were still available, would soon run out. And one free cloth mask will, in no time, be worn till torn. Those with a flair are starting to sew their own. Even if you have never touched a needle in your life and can’t tell the difference between a spool and a bobbin, you can make your own mask, or so we have been told. Countless tutorial are now posted on line, with some blogs offering printable paper patterns too, which would surely delight those for whom such precision matter. Even Wired ran an article entitled “How to Make a CDC-Approved Cloth Face Mask”, if the (US) Centres for Disease Control’s approval makes a difference or is added inducement.

Then there are the no-sew face masks, essentially a handkerchief or the like, folded in a very specific way, to which hair ties are attached to be looped behind the wearer’s ears. Even filters (such as coffee filters, apparently) can be folded inside for added protection. This may be more popular among DIY-ers as they can use whatever fabric (recommend is 100% tightly woven cotton), in their preferred print or pattern, to fashion face masks. We heard that some socialites have been using their Hermès scarves for this very purpose. While T-shirts, too, can be used, we weren’t told of those who have gleefully sacrificed their Balenciaga tees since that would require the cutting up of the garment. What we found more interesting are cloth slipcases sewn by certain individuals in the hair and make-up fraternity, and shared among members of the fashion media. These are essentially for use with the surgical mask, which is slipped into slipcase, itself sans elasticised ear loops, but are pleated to match and stretch open like the mask within.

Mask 4BPretty is the point: Some masks just look better than others

Expectedly, the fashion set has been building a wardrobe of masks, in particular, from three brands known to offer striking (not necessarily virus-repellent) ones: Off-White, Marine Serre, and Marcelo Burlon County of Milan (unsurprisingly, most stockists, such as Ssense, will show ‘Sold Out’ under the product photos). Masks are also made by luxury giants such as Prada, Dior, and Louis Vuitton (there’s even a video showing LV seamstresses at work in the presence of strategically-placed products), but these are destined for medical facilities not their respective flagship stores. It is not fathomable that fashion is so vital now that we would need a few masks fetching enough to go with one’s on-trend togs. Who is thinking of fashion when going out is not fashionable? 

Apparently quite a few, enough of them, in fact, to allow local company Hwa Seng Textiles, a fabric distributor that also offers bespoke tailoring service and professional instruction in tailoring, to see a business opportunity and a new product category: masks. Promising “low running cost”, HST Masks (as they are branded) are CAD-designed and sewn in their facilities here, using their own (mainly) shirting fabrics. The result are masks that invite the description “handsome”, if not for the fabric choice, at least in the decidedly 3-D form factor. Aware of their cloth masks’ potential appeal among the fashion conscious, Hwa Seng Textiles even hashtagged their products “#designermask” in their social-media marketing. At S$30 a pop, these are by no means cheap, but they do look attractive, even if wearing one makes no difference to pandemic viruses that have no appreciation of the aesthetically superior, just as they have no respect for national borders.

Cloth masks may not offer the same protection as surgical masks, but they may, according to the CDC, block large particles ejected from sneezing and coughing. COVID-19 isn’t fading or yesterday’s news. We need to blunt this very real threat. Get—or make—yourself a cloth mask.

Update (14 April 2020, 9.00pm): it was just announced that the “public must wear mask when outdoors in Singapore from now on”. Please take heed.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji