3/27/2020
Lockdown-not-lockdown, week two

20 March, Friday

I listen to foreign radio stations partly to live voraciously through it. I know that my passport isn't powerful and I will never, in my lifetime, travel outside of this timezone and the two beside it, but at least when I listen to, in this case, the French-speaking Swiss, it feels like I've been whisked away to a different place.

But these times are different. Everybody's got the coronavirus on their mind, and inevitably it means you'll hear it in the hourly news bulletins, albeit pronounced differently. For the past couple of days, even, the Swiss took things one step further: their government had advised their citizens to stay at home, and the radio stations have begun to play the same audio clip before their news bulletins.

Recommandation du Conseil fédéral: restez à la maison, en particulier si vous êtes malade ou si vous avez 65 ans ou plus.

The recommendation of the Federal Council: stay at home, especially if you are sick or are 65 years of age or older.

So much for living vocariously. But then again, today is Friday. It's Animal Crossing release day - and Shalla has the Switch.

Now this is definitely a getaway. A deserted island getaway... package, offered to you by an enterprising tanuki with seemingly unlimited funds. You check in and are tasked to, well, live your life to the fullest, and perhaps help build the island into a true community. And pay your debts. Housing does not come cheap, even if the payment options are "extremely lax", in their words. But, as I watched Shalla load the game at a minute past twelve, successfully get an island with peaches as its native fruit (on the first try) and figure out the controls to a game she last played roughly a decade ago, it dawned on me that, even if I probably will never get that physical version I pre-ordered, this is the escape we need right now.


21 March, Saturday

Clearly everybody's been waiting for this game. All of Shalla's friends - well, online friends, the people she's met on Discord and have added on her Switch - are also playing the game. To my surprise - although I really shouldn't have been - some of my friends from times past are, too. I still have to browse social media for all those news updates, but in between I see someone I haven't spoken to in ages post about whatever fish they have caught.

Animal Crossing can be best described as a life simulation game, but not really like the Sims, where you essentially pull the strings on people you create in your image and likeness. As far as I know, you can't do anything sinister on this game. The most I've experienced so far is be stung by wasps and walk around the island - which Shalla named Peach Leaf because, well, it's on-brand, yes? - with a swollen left eye.

Perhaps more importantly, the game's clock is the same as your system's clock, which means you ideally can't really fast forward within the game. (I imagine you can cheat this by changing the time on your console, but then, why would you?) So, especially if you're like us playing this game upon launch, there really is nothing much to do. You catch fish or butterflies, or you dig up fossils, or you forage for resources to turn into furniture for your tent. Or you sell them for bells, which you can then use to pay for your debts to that damn enterprising tanuki. But then, nothing more, at least until you've sat through the game for weeks, perhaps, or months, by which time the seasons have changed, and so do the kind of fish you catch, and perhaps you'll have a museum, a shop, and Isabelle at your beck and call.

Well, I know this because I watched the Nintendo Direct on the game a few weeks before it was released. I mean, I am excited for this game, too.

But now that I'm playing, well, perhaps it'll take me a while to really get in the groove. Again, it's normal. But Shalla's invited some friends along, and even if I finally set up my own Nintendo ID, I don't think anyone would want to visit me, because, well, who am I to them anyway?

I really do loathe myself sometimes.


22 March, Sunday

The 7-Eleven downstairs has closed. The windows are papered up, and there's a somewhat hastily printed notice on the door: "closed for 14 days to until further notice".

That means two things. One, if I have a craving for something sweet, I will have to go to the Watson's downstairs, and I'll have to cross your fingers that it's got my preferred chocolates and that it's not closed. (It's a pharmacy, so it should stay open, right?)

Two, if I have a craving for siopao, tough luck.

Well, three things. I'll have to stock up on snack items when I return to the grocery later this week, or something. If I can return to the grocery.


23 March, Monday

Indeed, the Watson's downstairs is open, as it has been for the past week, and as it should be. It is, also, the only place I've been to so far that takes the whole "social distancing" thing seriously. Only six customers are allowed in at any given time, and there are markings on the floor leading to the counter. That does have the unintended consequence of having all customers stay on one side of the shop, though, but then, at least they're queueing.

There are no markings outside, though, where the seventh customer and so on have to wait. Understandable, because the sidewalk isn't theirs. That said, it's nice to see that even those waiting for their turn subconsciously observe the one-meter gap we all should have between each other. Sure, this goes against every instinct to call Filipinos undisciplined - exacerbated by just how bad our facilities are, generally - but then, there's also our instinct to protect ourselves, and in these times the coronavirus is, uh, scary as fuck, so there is that.

Well, there is this guy who decided to stand so close behind me. Surely he's seen everyone is keeping distance? But no, I guess he has decided to live life like a rock star. The queue moves and he moves ever closer to me.

Now, I'm used to cramped spaces myself, but now that we have to keep a good distance from each other, I am perhaps beginning to appreciate that personal space thing a little bit more. If not for physical health purposes, at least for mental health purposes. If people aren't so close to you, nobody would be judging you. Now I am squirming because he might be breathing down my neck, and I am also assuming he's probably out to rob me, in broad daylight. Like, sir, I'm only here for vertigo medicine, which I didn't think I'd need now. That, and sweets.

So this is what one of my college classmates felt when I knew less and hugged more.

So this is why I don't have friends.

The door at the pharmacy had a hastily-printed sign of its own. "Card transactions only," it said. The banks were closed and they're having difficulty with getting enough cash for change. That's when the guy behind me left. I assume he did not have a card. My privilege checked and all that.


24 March, Tuesday

It's become clear that, on Peach Leaf Island, I am just a second-class villager.

Well, that sounds harsh, considering the circumstances. You see, there can only be one island (err, save file, roughly) per device, meaning both my player and Shalla's live on the same space. Makes sense, because we're a couple.

But, since Shalla's the first player, and since she "established" the island's parameters, she gets to be "resident representative", which I assume means she gets to do a bit more, at least quest-wise. It was she who was told about the plans to build a museum, and it was she who was told about the plans to expand the store. So she gets those extra quests, where she has to donate, say, six unique creatures to Blathers the bug-averse owl, or thirty iron nuggets to Timmy and Tommy. As for me, well, I end up doing little more than trying to catch fish and collecting all those Nook Miles so I can, I dunno, buy more furniture for the house, or more outfits for me.

Also, I don't really play that game as much. I am in front of the laptop during the day, and only really have a two-hour window to play this (and Stardew Valley too), so I don't get to spend a lot of time getting the stuff I can sell to have the money to pay off the renovation fees and to generally have a comfortable, or at least social media-worthy, life on this no-longer-deserted island.

While that happens, I see Shalla gets to do more fun things, and the other (randomly-selected) villages seem to treat her more nicely than I do. Or maybe it's because we got Charlise, the bear who, while apparently caring, seems to be always annoyed when you talk to her. And she has more DIY recipes, and her house is decorated better, and yes, sure, she does spend a bit more time on the game, but I am feeling a bit more sensitive these days, and I couldn't help but be annoyed at the game, because I think I'm being treated as a second-class villager and that I don't deserve to have nice things. Why can't I do the same things she does? All I can do is contribute iron nuggets for that Nook's Cranny expansion in the most roundabout manner, and only she gets the credit. Stupid game.

My head. It's doing me in.

That said, Animal Crossing, as with most things a lot of people are taking part in at the same time, exudes this weird FOMO vibe. Not that we're competing. Shalla and I have both decided we will play in our own pace, and not do the speedplaying shit others have apparently done. (So that's where I am in that debate.) We both wanted to take things naturally - and besides, it's clear Nintendo did this slow unfurling by design, so you don't spend fifteen hours in one sitting finishing almost everything, like I sort of did with Stardew Valley. (I didn't finish everything in fifteen hours, noooo.) But, between the realization that nobody will accept my invitation, and that I don't get to do the fun stuff because some programmer decided I shouldn't, well, that flares up both my FOMO and my inferiority complex. Which brings me back to when I was bullied in high school, and how that's made my life worse ever since. But nobody cares about me. Not now, when you all have to save yourselves.


25 March, Wednesday

We've long had a fly problem in this flat. Not that we're dirty people or anything: it's just that, when a fly manages to enter the house - say, it snuck in when the door is opened - it takes forever for it to get out. Well, for the past couple of days, there are two flies flying about - you can say they're quarantined with us - and Shalla thinks the two might reproduce.

So, today, we threw out the trash earlier than usual. And, despite how irritating it can smell in small spaces like this, out came the Baygon.

One of the two flies died, I assume, and now I'm imagining that the fly that died is a male, and the other one is a female, and she's already carrying his children, and she's going to avenge his death by spreading all these maggots in the flat, and by attacking the most vulnerable person in this room. I assume that's me, judging from how when there's just one fly stuck in the flat, it always flies to me, while I'm busy working.


26 March, Thursday

With everyone stuck at home, everyone needs something to get angry with.

This isn't to say what they're angry about is not valid. I mean, right now, it's perfectly valid, to be angry about how the people you expect to lead the efforts to limit the scope of this pandemic are acting. People will say this is not the right time to be political, but then, it's in crises like this where the political crosses over with everything else. How we fare in bad times depend on what we decide to do in good times.

I had a thesis statement at some point in my so-called writing career about the difference between politics, which is more about amassing power by maintaining your image, and governance, which is more about actually doing something for the people, to put it romantically. Perhaps because of quarantine-era idleness, I managed to expand on that statement: politics cannot be sustained without governance, and governance cannot be sustained without politics. To be able to be in a position to serve, you have to play the game. To be able to serve the people, you have to play the game.

I say this because for the past couple of weeks I have been working with these people in government to make sure the supermarkets that are supposed to be open do stay open - by making sure the deliveries get there, by making sure the employees get there. Sure, they're mostly career officials, but they're high-ranking enough to be accused of doing nothing while the people suffer. Anyway, in the past fortnight I've seen - through the constant pinging of my phone - these officials try to understand our concerns and actually find ways to solve the gridlocks that this sudden declaration has caused.

But the caveat is simple: it took us a while to get to the point where we have a loud enough voice to have the government take us seriously. That took some work - brand-building and a lot of meetings, from my perspective. Not everybody has the time, because they're busy trying to eke out a living, survive in a ruthless society, and maybe indulge in some hobbies, too. It's easy to feel hopeless because ensuring you feel hopeful takes some fucking effort. And then you see the leader of your country - the person that best reflects the values of the society you are part of, whether you admit it or not - treat a medical emergency with brute force, with emphasis on the military control aspect (and a nod to his foreign benefactors to boot) and not about the fact that people will die. No wonder.

So, yes, what they're angry about, it's perfectly valid. It's right to be angry about how the government mishandled their response when the first cases of COVID-19 emerged here. It's right to be angry about how the government is failing to reassure a definitely spooked public. It's right to be angry at how the president is still bent on airbrushing his image in public pronouncements when his actions have long said otherwise. It's right to be angry at how high-level politicians are jumping the line when it comes to being tested, and perhaps demanding home service, too. It's right to be angry when a senator who's supposed to be quarantined for two weeks decided he's the exception to the rule, and - while carrying the coronavirus, which he most definitely is - possibly infected the customers of a major supermarket and the doctors, nurses and patients of a major hospital as a result.

But then, those are the values we espouse as a society. If one thing's become clear, it's this: we do everything we do for self-preservation, whether it is to make us look good, or to ensure that we live. It's why we suddenly care about personal space. It's why we - you, more of - are deifying Vico Sotto despite frowning on those who do the very same for Rodrigo Duterte. It's the values we espouse as a society, whether we admit it or not.

And your responses...

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