Lockdown-not-lockdown, week six

17 April, Friday

Shalla's also been working from home these past few weeks. Arguably, she's been doing more work than me, considering that my workload has shifted away from the events that we were supposed to mount but have since been cancelled, to just watching over all that's happening, well, these past few weeks.

Conveniently for both of us, she works the night shift, so she has this desk I'm typing on right now at night, and I have this during the day. Well, technically, this is her desk, so it's her books placed on it. Well, some of my books, too. And all of my Korean albums, because they are packaged like books.

In the old days - man, do we really have to put it that way now? - I wake her up at around five in the afternoon, maybe half past, and she'd have to eat breakfast, take a shower, and prepare herself before she leaves for the bus stop at roughly seven, so she can make it to her office in time for the shift start at eight. Now, she doesn't have to go to work, so I wake her up at half past seven. When that's successful, she'll just go straight to the laptop, log in, and start working, meeting colleagues virtually, that sort of thing. She'll eat somewhere down the line. By then I'd be asleep.

Their meetings so far have been audio-only, but today, for some reason, her bosses insisted they have video on. Proof of life? Proof of work? I guess if you set your mind to it, you can have someone else do your work in these times, granted they're also trapped in the house with you. In any case, she ended up having to wear a work-appropriate top and put make-up on, something she hasn't done in six weeks. She isn't used to it. I'm not used to it. But she had to, just so she'd look presentable in front of her colleagues, who are also likely to have busted out work-appropriate outfits for the first time in weeks.

Personally, I think the worst part about it is you'll have to wash that top at some point. But at least you don't have to wear pants, unless you accidentally stand up.

18 April, Saturday

Are things going back to normal?

The 7-Eleven downstairs has opened again. Sure, it's not open 24 hours a day, but rather, for just 13, and you will have to fall in line outside if there are enough people inside the store. At times they'll have someone check your temperature. And, for some reason, the lights are all turned off. It just makes things feel gloomier.

The Watson's downstairs has also opened again, although for some reasons all the windows are closed, and in some cases they're closed when they said they'll be open. At least the Mercury Drug that's ten minutes away by foot is open again. So far I haven't had the need to go to a drugstore, but I am absolutely sure Shalla will need her allergy medicine soon.

Okay, things aren't going back to normal. It's more of, this thing has gone on for so long we've adjusted and accepted that this is how things will be for now, and for the foreseeable future. (For the long run? We'll have to see about that.) EDSA remains mostly devoid of vehicles. I have not heard a bus honking its horn in weeks - I hear them even if I'm in the flat, which is not directly beside EDSA, because of how it just reverberates around the buildings. What I have heard a lot of are sirens, more so at night when Shalla is working. And then you realize there is a hospital right across your condominium complex.

Also, there are still long queues outside the supermarket. They still don't have every item available, although what that is shifts per week, it seems. There'll be no bread one day, and no pancake mix on another. Also, the restaurant chains have begun selling raw versions of what they'd normally sell cooked in their branches. I picked up a pack of Chickenjoy breasts. Yes, I can now make fried chicken the way Jollibee does it. I don't know how they season it, and probably will never know because it's all pre-seasoned. The instructions simply ask me to thaw the thing, dip it in beaten egg, dredge it in flour, fry it, and enjoy it. Chickenjoy it.

I was on a video call with my parents and I showed them what I cooked. It looked close enough to Chickenjoy, save for some differences in handling. More importantly, it smelled like Chickenjoy. But, to my and Shalla's horror, it turns out it's still raw inside. I quietly curse my induction cooker, my frying pan, and the fact that I am too scared to deep-fry stuff like they actually do at the restaurant.

19 April, Sunday

My guess is at least three flats on this floor are being rented by Chinese nationals, the same people whose entry to the Philippines to work for offshore gambling operations have rankled many feathers. I can tell their presence even if I don't leave this desk. You'll hear doors slamming, especially at around two in the afternoon, when they head off to work, and leave their trash just outside the designated trash room, never mind that everybody knows it's closed at this time. (Okay, I have to get off the desk for that one.)

I feel like I've told you this story already. Is this what it feels like to be stuck at home for almost six weeks?

Anyway, that's somewhat tampered down now that we're all in lockdown-not-lockdown, although the government did seem hesitant at first to force POGO employees to work at home, never mind that, from what I know of what they do, they can work at home. (What I know comes from the electronic billboard at the elevator lobby, which almost always plays a Chinese-language ad extolling some gambling, er gaming, app.) But true enough, as the weeks went on I saw them less. That, or I haven't gotten out much, or we're all just wearing masks now. I know that reads terribly, but then, these are warped times we're living in.

But then, there's business to be made. I'm sure I have told this story of a Chinese national who entered the building with a pushcart filled with beer, just as the liquor ban kicked in. Or maybe I haven't. But I always wondered where he got all those boxes of all those cans of beer. Then, in the last few days, I began seeing these vendors of prepared meals, much like you would when you're at the office. They're always outside the lobby at five in the afternoon, and they're almost always swarmed by the Chinese, complete with attempts to communicate with broken English on both sides. Makes sense, though. I mean, judging from the trash they leave out at the corridor, they don't really get to cook. It always seems their diet consists of a lot of instant noodles and other preserved stuff they can get from wherever that nearby Chinese supermarket is. And before you complain, the security staff at the lobby get to buy those meals, too.

Today, I saw another vehicle outside the lobby. It had a sign on the dashboard that said "food delivery" and, below it, the name of a company that screams POGO to me, because it had the words "sky" and "dragon". Okay, that sounds racist, but I have been stealing glimpses at their IDs all these months, and I notice the companies they work for tend to have somewhat stereotypically Chinese names, for some reason. But that aside, oh, here's a company going great lengths to feed their employees, because otherwise they wouldn't be able to shop at the supermarkets here, either due to the language barrier or due to some sense of superiority.

20 April, Monday

My mother always remarked that Shalla and I love sweets, and true enough, we do. Whenever we're out on a date - or, more likely in recent months, an errand run - we'd go out of our way to have coffee and dessert. I have written here a bunch of times about how the coffee and, particularly, the carrot cake from Toby's Estate got us through several so-called business meetings when she began making stickers.

Clearly I'm missing that now, but to be honest, I have never thought much of it. Before all this went down I was trying to reduce sweets. I've been having palpitations lately, and the doctor advised cutting down on caffeine and sweets, which is both difficult, because of reasons I have stated in the previous paragraph, and easy, because I'm not really a coffee person anyway. My only concession to myself is one glass of Milo every morning - that's my coffee - and water the rest of the way. And then all this happened.

I'm pretty sure I'm having less sweets here in the flat. My morning Milo habit has dissipated, and it wasn't replaced by anything else. (Perhaps that's why my pants have been falling.) But being stuck here means you'll try to get that hit in one way or another, which means getting out of my way (meaning, going downstairs) to buy, say, a bottle of soda to last us a couple of days, or picking up chocolate bars (for me) and gummy worms (for her) and dried mangoes (for both of us) at the grocery.

For the past few days, though, Shalla's been hankering for cake. That's pretty difficult, considering most small bakeshops are closed, and how Red Ribbon (which is able to deliver) only has a few options. I think she found one, but we haven't proceeded further than knowing she has other options. Maybe one of these days, or maybe never at all, considering how scarier things suddenly are.

For me, if all this tides over, I'll get myself a donut from Tim Hortons. And, yes, their iced coffee.

21 April, Tuesday

I've been idle. The term "quarantine as propaganda" just occurred to me, and I managed to spin it out a bit into a coherent series of thoughts, which I'll attempt to replicate here.

Now, I haven't really been paying that much attention to government pronouncements, because by this point there really isn't much to say, unless you're a stat wonk tracking the number of COVID-19 cases in the country, or you're patiently waiting for a shot at the cash handout being given out to vulnerable segments of the population. (I think I haven't sent a lot of emails to our members this week, because on the supply chain front, things have settled down a bit.) But then I can still see the narratives flying about. This quarantine is needed to save the country, and all we have to do is to be disciplined.

Propaganda? Well, it makes sense, doesn't it? This government was elected on the promise that it will bring order where there once was chaos. There's chaos out there because of this outbreak, so they have brought order, by declaring a lockdown in this country. (Of course, they'd never call it a lockdown.) And now, they've stemmed the spread of the virus, and they've reduced air pollution, and they've instantly reduced traffic in Metro Manila, and everything is still working fine, so hooray to this government! And to those who insist on being political about all this, what the fuck have you done for the country? Just follow the rules and you'll be fine.

Sometimes it feels like this government just wants to continue the quarantine period so it can continue to send the message that it's being decisive about things. And then you check yourself. That's a ridiculous premise, you say. But then, over the weekend, the country's socioeconomic planning chief quit, ostensibly because of disagreements with other members of government - he was calling for a resumption of some economic activity, particularly infrastructure development, fearing that a further stall would bring irreversible damage. When he left, the talk quickly shifted to yet another extension of this quarantine period, and how the police and military should enforce this even more strictly. "Martial law-like lockdown" was a term being thrown about by the president, no less.

Along EDSA, the sound of honking buses have been replaced by beggars desperate to survive. They yell at you, shaking their paper cups filled with coins, asking for some change.

This is what happens when your love language is tough love.

22 April, Wednesday

It took me a while to get on Zoom. I've used it before, sure, but I haven't really relied on it despite working at home for the past four years, because we found merit in going to the office for a meeting. (That also includes free lunch.) Now, of course, you can't go have meetings, unless you're in government, in which case, they have to meet, otherwise they won't know what they're doing. (That is a criticism of any government, not just this one.) So, we've had to resort to Viber chat groups, and then, when the number of meetings steadily increased, I've had to properly get myself a Zoom account.

On Monday, I found myself roped into a Zoom meeting. It wasn't with the people I work with, but rather, the people I work alongside with - the important but unseen work I'm apparently helping doing to make sure we get out of this creeping dystopia somewhat functional. Thankfully I did not have to wear proper work attire: a black shirt will do. Also, this desk is right by a window, and turns out my face is pretty well-lit at this time of day.

And then I got hungry, and I realized we as a society haven't really decided on etiquette in online meetings. I know you've probably decided on when to mute your microphone and how to make sure nobody walks naked behind you, but then, do you eat in the middle of the meeting? I was just eating some cashew nuts, but still, do you eat in the middle of the meeting? Then I saw one of my colleagues - a respected academic and public government expert - drink coffee during the call. I guess it's all right.

Zoom is also where organizations like ours are mounting events. We haven't, not yet, but we're looking into it, so I attended one such webinar to understand just what might go wrong. The whole thing was to start at two in the afternoon, but I got in twenty minutes earlier, and I was treated to the panelists chatting with each other about something they probably should be chatting about in private, or at least, private enough that you'll have to work extra hard to hear them amidst the din of idle crowd chatter. At least they realized it early, but then the host had to tell them that they're live publicly.

Otherwise, the online event worked fine. You have the speakers going "can you hear me?" at the beginning of their allotted fifteen minutes, which, I guess, is normal since we do the same thing on physical events. Also, the participants also kept asking about whether they'll get copies of the presentations, but with a different complaint this time: "the slides are blurry". Right. We have terrible Internet in the Philippines, and that's after Netflix yielded to the government's demands that they reduce their bandwidth here to let more important stuff through. Like Zoom meetings, I guess.

23 April, Thursday

I'm surprised I haven't written about our island on Animal Crossing yet this week, so here's an attempt to speed things through.

One, we've lost our first villager, Some of them will randomly move out, or express their wish to move out, and for the most part we've been clingy enough to not want to let them go. But Pippy showed up in one of Shalla's dreams in a scary context, and then she pondered the idea of leaving Peach Leaf for new adventures, so she let her go. Also a good opportunity, she surmises, to use one of her Amiibo cards to move in Rosie, a cat villager who's got the same personality as Pippy but, so far, is not devoid of personality as Pippy. Yes, we've played this game enough to notice that, despite sharing the same personality types, our villagers have distinct attitudes. Jacob is lazy but surprisingly industrious. Tutu has her head in the clouds. Marina is incredibly neurotic. And Stitches, well, he's an adorable little boy (err, cub) (err, stuffed doll?) who can't say "bracciosaur" but can say "quetzalcoatlus".

Two, one of our original villagers, Charlise, apparently realized her original catchphrase, "urgh", is annoying some people. Not us, but then, I guess this is an in-game thing. So Shalla decided to make her say "shisus", which I assume is a reference to Choi Siwon. And now, everyone is using that as a catchphrase, including Shalla's girl Friday, Marina, the octopus. We've decided she's so neurotic she just rides on bandwagons. Otherwise, she'd ask.

Three, the game just had another update, which meant we now get a positivist sloth named Leif who sells shrubs - a good thing, since it gives Shalla more fencing options - and a Swiper the Fox-like, err, fox named Redd, who'll most likely scam you with fake paintings. Also, the Nooklings - they who decided I should lose money on my turnips by constantly selling them at a price below half of what I bought them for - are expanding their store, so by Saturday, we can, perhaps, buy better appliances and furniture.

All in all, things are going somewhat well in Peach Leaf - well, well enough considering we still haven't time-travelled (I guess that paid off now) and we're taking much longer than most other people who have a lot of time with Animal Crossing lately. And there are a lot of people. I'll admit to being a bit peeved because the game has gone mainstream - not surprising, because this is a marquee franchise, but then lockdowns across the world has meant more people are using this game to escape whatever this is. Now, I'm not gatekeeping - I can't, because I'm a newcomer myself - but I'm peeved because I'm very sure when things get back to normal and the art conventions come back to life, everybody will be making Animal Crossing fan merch. When Shalla sold her pins at Komiket Cavite in the old days, we sort of had a niche. Now, not so much. But then, I'm not the artist.

And also, it's just a game. There's still a world outside. In the past couple of days, EDSA has had a lot of vehicles. Turns out there's a pile-up because the police have established a new checkpoint just a few steps away from the street corner. And there's a lot of talk about extending this lockdown-not-lockdown once again. Not that I'm against it, but, you know, is there any end to this? Is the new normal us being stuck at home, being at the mercy of whatever guidelines are thrown at us, with no concrete promise that things will get better. Quarantine as propaganda. There's that term again.

And your responses...

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