Lockdown-not-lockdown, week four

3 April, Friday

It wasn't designed as one, but for some reason the new Animal Crossing acts like an MMORPG. Sure, it does not need the Internet for you to play it, but it unfolds in real time, and there are events and special things that happen depending on what date you're in, at least unless you've been time-travelling, in which case I frown on you for life, or until I forget about it, whichever comes first.

It's April, which means it's almost Bunny Day, a cute-ified version of Easter with the focus on Easter eggs (chocolate, not candy) and an annoying bunny (which is heavily implied to be another villager in a costume) that speaks in rhyme. For the past couple of days - and until the 12th, actual Easter Sunday, because of course - we'll find more eggs in our island, whether buried in the ground, growing on trees, flying in the air, or swimming in the sea. I know. It's weird. But then again, this is a video game, and we live with a peppy bear and an octopus that has fleas, for some reason, so suspension of disbelief is beyond required.

But then, Bunny Day meant playing the game has become annoying. Typically we survived by foraging the land. We craft furniture with the wood, stone and iron we get from the trees and rocks around us, which we use to beautify our homes and our island. We sell the fish and insects we catch for bells, which we use to pay off our debts to that Tom Nook guy, and maybe beautify the island more. (This is Tom's idea, but how come we're paying to develop the island? Can't we just pay monthly dues or something?) The rarer or more difficult the catch, the higher the price, so we've learned to be annoyed when all we get are the typical fish. But since April rolled along, all we're getting are eggs. Stupid, fucking eggs. Every present from the sky is an egg. Every fish we catch is an egg. Every rock we strike yields an egg. Okay, there are still the insects, but they don't really cost as much. All we have are eggs, and recipes that frankly look garish, and the uncertainty over whether you have to craft every single one of those Bunny Day items to win a "special" prize from that so-called bunny. All the while, our revenue stream has dried up and, personally, the game's gotten really boring.

At least you can still game the system to spawn tarantulas on the mystery islands you pillage, er, visit. I don't have the patience for that, but Shalla has, which explains why she's now a millionaire. Or is it bellionaire?

4 April, Saturday

Despite the fact that I spent four years in high school, my most vivid memories were of my first three and a half months - those months when I entered to a new school, tried my best to adjust, and found myself being bullied by what seemed to be the entire student population.

I have three distinct memories in particular. The first was of my fourth day in high school. I had made one friend. His name is Juniel. That day, he told me he can no longer be friends with me because he himself was being bullied. The next day, he was making fun of me.

The second was when I found myself in an unfamiliar part of the building, and with a need to pee. I knew where the toilets were, but on the fourth floor, for some reason, the labels that said "male" and "female" weren't attached, so I asked a student - I think he was a junior - which door leads to the boys' room. He chuckled and pointed me to the girls' room.

The third was on the day after the 9/11 attacks. Someone left a thumb tack on my seat just before class started. I went on a full-on rage. There was this guy named Andrei - I've written about him on these parts, on the very early years of the blog, but I can't seem to find the very entry - who bullied me from day one and never stopped. I went to him, and yelling, pushed him off his seat

That was the same day I slapped a girl without provocation, the one thing that got my kicked out of that school. My first offense. Her parents demanded that I be removed.

I've always thought those first three months shaped my life in a way no other event has. It certainly taught me that I am too weird, that nobody cares about whatever I do, that everybody and everything is against me. I know, I know, you'll say that I've been proven wrong over and over again. You'll say that I should move on from it - you're 31, for heaven's sake! But then, even you don't move on from something in your past. You just think you have, because you've actually repressed it. If it's my trauma, it's invalid. If it's yours, we should coddle it. Right.

I have two more distinct memories, all in the days leading up to my removal from the school. The first was right after that rage against Andrei. Our class adviser - who was in the religion department - took me to the prayer room and prayed over me. It was the only intervention the school did.

The second was when my family found out that I had been removed. I finally told my parents I was being bullied. "Bakit hindi mo agad sinabi sa amin?" they asked me, in tears. But what difference would that have done?

I am reminded of all that when the only person from my class that I have kept in touch with invited me to one of those "online rambulan" groups on Facebook, specifically catering to the batch we were all part of - me, for two months; her, for two years, before she moved out of the country. I wish I could say that I declined out of fear that if I do join the group, everybody there will make fun of me the way they have almost two decades ago. In reality, I declined because I was only there for three months, and so I have nothing to contribute.

5 April, Sunday

In the early days of this lockdown-not-lockdown there were a lot of posts on social media about how "the earth is healing" since we were all asked to stay home. It's about how Manila Bay has turned blue when it was once a murky green (something later debunked by science-inclined people, who say it's actually algae coming from disinfectant run-off in our sewers). It's about how you can finally see far-flung mountains from your house, because the pollution has dissipated. It's about how duck eggs destined to be balut have instead hatched.

Well, I guess we try our best to find the silver lining in everything, even in a situation as anxiety-inducing as a pandemic. At least, you might say, something good has come out of it, even if what you're really saying is you and your ilk are the cause of all this destruction, and that your death is necessary for this reversal to continue. Morbid, but hey, that's not positive, so stop that.

That said, we have seen new mountains from the big window at the flat. I haven't paid that much attention, to be honest. Shalla was the one who saw the mountains on the other end of the Laguna de Bay, and a much taller mountain on the horizon, which could be Mount Banahaw, a good 74 kilometers away from where we are. And sure, there may be fewer cars out for the past few weeks, but I've been walking out and about all that time, running errands. The air doesn't feel fresher.

I did have my own "maybe the earth is indeed healing" moment when I saw, just outside the entrance to our building, a family of cats. Well, just two older cats - not sure if it's dad and mom - and a kitten. It's not much, but then, I always see individual cats, either alive or long dead. Still, on the rest of my walk to the grocery, the air did not feel fresher. Or perhaps it's because it's April. It's summer. It's hotter out there. And with the glass buildings and concrete pavements surrounding me, it's way hotter.

This time I somewhat succeeded in buying less from the grocery. I stuck to the shopping list, and everything fit in one shopping bag instead of two. But that was a really heavy bag, so the walk back to the flat was just harder. And it didn't help that, for some reason, my shorts - which I last wore at the beginning of the quarantine period - decided to slowly slip down my waist. Have I lost weight because of this lockdown? I thought I'd eat more because there's nothing left to do, and also, privilege acknowledged and all that. But still, I am losing weight. Yes. I am healing.

6 April, Monday

The older people in my life are getting bored. My parents, my uncles and aunts, they've begun sending out these copied-and-pasted messages on our chat groups. They all start the same way. "Share this with everyone you love." "From a friend's friend's friend who works as a nurse." You get the idea. What follows is almost always either some unproven natural supposed remedy for the COVID-19 outbreak - ginger is the key! - or a hokey prayer for healing.

And even my work chat groups are filled with that, too. Well, not as much, but at least one colleague seems to have had enough and began spelling out his frustrations with the government more openly. And then the next thing I'd see is "from a doctor who works in..."

I guess it could be worse. At least we're dealing with boredom, and that can be channeled into well-meaning copy-paste jobs that ultimately just muddle the discussion. We could be dealing with rage. Last Friday night, in one of his televised therapy sessions, the president ordered the police to shoot dead anyone who violates the quarantine order. That seems to have triggered everyone: the anti-Duterte people began demanding for scalps (meaning, looking for people on social media to humiliate and unfriend), and the pro-Duterte people, who have been curiously quiet all this time, crawled out of the woodwork and began defending their own, I mean, their president's honor. I was supposed to write about all that, but the thing with these weeks is, you do lose track even if you try not to. I lost that essay, and now it's old and irrelevant.

7 April, Tuesday

True enough, the enhanced community quarantine has been extended. It was supposed to end a week from now, but instead it'll run until the end of the month.

I'm not bothered, to be honest. The number of cases are still slowly rising, and while we seem to have gotten some sort of grip over things, everybody's been warning that if you end the lockdown soon, we'll soon realize we really haven't flattened the curve. Over the weekend experts and politicians alike have come out to call for an extension, just to be sure we really have fixed this. The narrative was being set up. But then, you can't remove the niggling feeling that, with certain people in charge, things will get just a bit worse - or, more of, it's already bad, and they're just trying to manage things further so they can get out with their reputations intact. But that's too much idle thinking for me.

I mean, for me, I guess it's fine. I still have access to the grocery, which manages to be well-stocked despite the circumstances. The drugstore is another thing, but I think the Watson's downstairs has been opening sporadically, although its windows remain shuttered. (And again, yes, privilege acknowledged and all that.) What I'm really concerned about is my hair. This will mean I'll go two months without a haircut. It's getting hot, and my head is getting itchy. This is one thing I am not prepared for.

8 April, Wednesday

I went to the bank again, but this time, I went out after lunch. I probably should be regretting it because it's really hot outside, but a wind's been blowing, and that's made wearing this face mask more tolerable. I mean, face masks make my face sweatier than they should be. But then, I sweat more than most.

As it's the middle of the day, the bank staff seem to be more animated. Perhaps it's also because tomorrow's a holiday, so they get the day off. Finally. I mean, I've been working at home for most of the past four years so all that seems irrelevant to me, but to them, who have to go to work to keep things going because they're supposed to, despite all that's happening - tomorrow is a respite.

But for now, they have to work behind this big makeshift plastic screen separating me and my droplets from them. I am wearing a mask, and they are, too. Well, the teller assisting me also seems to have had enough of her mask, and took it off. "Hindi ako makahinga," she told what seemed to be a higher-up. They both laughed it off.

"Papasok ka ng Monday, 'di ba?" the higher-up asked.

"Dapat, sir," she answered. "Payroll, eh."

Oh, right, payday's a week from now. These bank employees have to return to work to keep things going because they're supposed to keep going, because everyone expects everything else to keep going despite all this. In gratitude, I chuckled along with them. I soon realize this is really awkward.

9 April, Thursday

Animal Crossing is open-ended, but for what Shalla calls the "tutorial phase" we are working towards one goal: have K.K. Slider perform on Peach Leaf.

Okay, so he's a dog, and in the game's universe he's essentially the only musician in town. Like, ever song you hear on the radio is from him. Must be nice, having an entire scene revolve around yourself. (Not exactly true: my favorite Animal Crossing song is from the Kapp'n, a character whose status on the new game is yet to be determined.) But that also means you have to constantly reinvent yourself, so he's released songs in pretty much every genre.

Anyway, in New Horizons, the "goal", so to speak, is to grow the buzz around your island - have enough residents, make it look really beautiful - to the point that K.K. would perform there. I thought it'd take a while, because there's this "island evaluation" thing, and a five-star rating is what you're going for, it seems. We've only reached three stars, but I guess that's buzzy enough for the one musician that matters to come to our island and... perform the game's theme song... as the credits roll.

That aside, the game is open-ended. Life will go on. You will still sell insects and fish for bells, and you will still pay off your debt and buy furniture with those bells. (The egg problem has largely been resolved by a patch in the game Nintendo released a few days back.) But since we've reached the apex of success in the game, we now have the capability to terraform the island. And not just Shalla, who is resident representative; even I, a second-class villager, can build roads. Yes! As a long-time player of SimCity, this is something up my alley. I spent a night just building the roads, and also making this one spot with a bench and two vending machines. I feel good. I finally have something else to do.

Well that, and figuring out what Shalla really wants for her island. She's demolished a pond and turned it into what she envisions as a "highlands café", and she's resisting the urge to time-travel so she can get things done faster, because you usually would wait a day to, say, move a house, or build a bridge. Or, at least, I hope she's resisting. But then, what can I do about it?

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