Lockdown-not-lockdown, week eight

1 May, Friday

I'm no social media expert. By that, I mean I'm not the guy you should be turning to for insights into how to game the environments where people spend a lot of their times so I can sell them shit they don't need. Sure, my work involves running social media accounts, and I have some sense of what my audience are more like to see and when, but don't turn to me for the really game-y stuff. I don't have ultra-specific audiences for the few Facebook ads I have run, although I can say with some confidence that at least one of the pages I watch has likely bought some followers, because nothing else can explain how it can have 2,000 new likes in two weeks.

Today, though, I found myself on the phone with a colleague, several times, explaining one of the vagaries of Facebook: its tendency to auto-translate posts if it thinks you can't understand the language, and how you can create two captions, in different languages, for the same post. This, because the copy for the campaign, targeting Filipinos for the most part, is written in Filipino, and yet the social network thinks the intended audience does not understand Filipino. Even it thinks I don't. Granted, my settings are set to English, so there's that.

This colleague doesn't run the social media page, however; she's just relaying my advice to those who do run the page. Yet, they insist that they cannot do what I told them because that'd mean their stats will go back to zero (not true, as far as I know) and they'll end up having to redo the post (well, of course not). And to think that's their full time job. I always thought they're supposed to know these things more than I do, and that's assuming I do know things. I don't see myself studying digital marketing, after all. It just feels too game-y, and I don't really want that.

I don't know how they managed to prevent Facebook from not translating the hashtag. Maybe they just accepted that it will happen. Maybe they finally understood what I was trying to say. In any case, the phone calls ended and I reminded myself that today is supposed to be a holiday, and I'm not supposed to be working. But, you know, new normal.

2 May, Saturday

A few days back I asked my younger brother - well, I only have one brother, so I don't really need to specify - about what kind of hair wax he uses.

His answer: "I now use pomade."

Yes, it's been that long since I was away from home.

Also, yes, I finally gave in and got myself hair wax. More importantly, I bought my first hair product. Consider that I'm 31 and I have been grooming myself for two-thirds of my life, in a continually futile bid to look presentable. When I was in elementary school, hair gel was a thing, and my peers would go to lengths to have their hair look slick. I flirted with it, but was ultimately uncomfortable, because I sweat a lot and that means my forehead gets sticker than it should be.

I have really curly hair. It's not that evident now, but if you see photos of me as a five-year-old, you'd see a big head of hair that loops. Also, my parents have described my hair as like a carpet. It is a challenge to make it look good. For most of my high school and college life my solution to that is to have my head shaved almost clean - "semi-kalbo, kwatro" was my instruction to my barber - which meant my hair was much, much easier to manage, which is a boon because I am really lazy when it comes to brushing my hair, unlike my brother, who's always spent what seems like thirty minutes fixing himself up. But I also looked more gaunt than I should be. That, or I really was thinner in college.

It's a surprise that Shalla said yes to dating me with that hair, because, as it turns out, she really didn't like it. (I guess I did win her over with my personality.) Only a few years into our relationship - and an unfortunate bald spot - did I change my hair style, not having it shaved close, rather trimming it into something, I don't know, more carpet-y. This was around the time I had a preferred barber (I think that's another essay, if I haven't written it before) who, as it turns out, I'd travel impractically far for. The last time I stayed this long in the flat, I took a bus to Alabang to get that haircut, and with it, the once-a-month application of wax on my hair, but only if I still have to go somewhere afterwards.

Now, of course, I've not had a haircut for two months, and with my hair starting to be increasingly unkempt, I decided hair wax would, at least, make it more manageable. I must have spent ten minutes just staring at the supermarket shelf pondering if I want something matte, or hard, or whatever adjective they use to differentiate themselves from the others. As I write this, I have hair wax on. It feels... fine, but it feels weird, because I really am just not used to it. But then, I think I'm afraid of having Shalla cut my hair, even if she knows what looks best for me. I also think she's afraid of doing it.

3 May, Sunday

A Facebook friend (in the loosest definition of the term; this person really is a colleague) has been pretty frustrated during the past few weeks. You see, this person works in events, and with social distancing guidelines meaning any form of public gathering is not allowed, suddenly, there's no work to be had, meaning, no money to be had, and a lot of uncertainty about what happens next.

I kinda get that. I mean, I also work in the events space, and suddenly we've had to rethink our calendar and consider the possibility that we won't have any physical events until, perhaps, next year. (Considering the government seems to want us all to stay home until a vaccine is found, well, we might as well brace for that.) I'm still able to hold on to my job for now, because there are other things to do, but I can't help but dwell on the idea that I might be furloughed or, worse, fired because I'm deemed as surplus to requirements. There is a lot of uncertainty about, and that cuts across income classes.

This person is frustrated by, above all, the social amelioration program the government has hastily implemented in response to the economy basically hitting pause. A lot of people are, really, because it involves actual cash, and when that's involved, people somehow feel entitled to have their say and, perhaps, make a bid for a slice of the pie. This person's arguments is pretty much the same as the others I've seen these past few weeks: Why are they entitled to a cash handout? Why not us?

These things are, of course, tricky. As I said a few weeks back, we don't really have a culture of helping each other out, our constant romanticizing of "bayanihan" be damned. If we had the framework laid down long ago to deal with these really sudden shocks, people wouldn't have to complain. But instead, the government scrambled to provide some sort of stimulus, made rough guidelines on who's eligible, and left it to local governments to determine who is eligible and who isn't. Of course, that means a bit of bending to make sure certain people get some extra cash at the expense of others. So, for the past few weeks, you have, depending on how angry people around you are, either memes or outright vitriol on your feeds. You joke about why the guy who's never worked in his life gets money, and why you who are out of a job because you're being blocked at a checkpoint despite proper identification doesn't. I worked my ass off and I get nothing. He does nothing and gets everything?

So, this colleague, this person has been posting for the past few weeks about how the system is unfair because not everybody who's struggling during these times is getting help. Just today, this person joked about what the "new normal" means: smelling what the neighbors are cooking, and realizing it's no longer tuyo, but lumpiang Shanghai. And yes, you can say this person is just acting all entitled, but then, this person's just as unemployed as, perhaps, the people at the receiving end of those posts. In some measures, people like my colleague (you can see I am trying so hard to conceal genders) are not eligible for government support. And yet, in other measures, my colleague - and many others I know of - need all the help they  can get. You can't really call this a weird way to do income redistribution, because the people that get left behind aren't really supposed to be.

And before you say I shouldn't be writing about this because I'm never going to be eligible and I should check my privilege: yesterday the Mandaluyong city government suddenly made its presence felt, and began distributing relief goods to the residents of the condominium building I am in. I felt weird receiving this package, and at the same time, I felt this should've been done a long time ago, and not on the eighth week of the lockdown. And then I see the package and I realize that it's really carbohydrate-heavy: five kilos of rice, four instant noodle packs, two cans of sardines, and twelve sachets of seasoning powder. Like, I'm supposed to survive on rice and seasoning powder. But then, I get to go to the grocery weekly. (In fact, I got five kilos of rice just after I bought two kilos.) What about the others?

4 May, Monday

For some reason, I've been thinking about death more lately.

I don't think it's because of the pandemic, not necessarily. I've always had this phases of existential dread, of pondering what happens when I pass, of realizing that nothing happens when I pass. (That's not to mention the times I've wanted to bring the end forward.) It's just that, for the past couple of months, whenever I go to sleep, my mind snaps quickly to those thoughts. I'm closing my eyes again. I won't be aware of anything. If this is for good, I won't be aware that it is.

Perhaps it's because this flat is 24 floors off the ground, and I sleep against the wall, right by the window. I, almost always, imagine that there would be an earthquake in the middle of the night, and the building we're in collapses, and my sleeping self gets thrown out of said wall and to my inevitable exit below. It's not even that poetic. I didn't make a choice.

Or maybe it's because of just how uncertain all this has been. I've been away from home for two months, and sometimes I think if I have seen the last of my parents. We don't always talk, but then, they're busy too, dealing with total lockdowns and work-from-home arrangements. Perhaps it's because when a loved one dies at this particular time, you will be denied the chance to mourn. A former colleague passed away of a heart attack a few weeks back, and his body was swiftly cremated; in announcing the death, his widow took a chunk off the remembrances to clarify that he did not die of COVID-19 and that the surviving family, as far as they know, is all clear. If I do die now, either because of an earthquake or what I feel is an imminent heart attack I can't have checked for many reasons, nothing will happen when I pass. Life has to move on.

But then, I've always thought nobody else will care when I die. I never really knew why I worry about these things, save for my inability to let go, even if I said I would. So I continue.

5 May, Tuesday

There's a community market that caters to the residents of this condominium building several days a week. It started around two weeks into the quarantine period, and while I don't shop there a lot, I still find it handy, because the grocery I go to tends to sell vegetables in sizes too big for two people, and also because it's easier to buy fruits without having to walk almost half a kilometer carrying a lot of things.

But then, of course, the consistency of the products you buy from smaller retailers will vary. It's something you learn to accept. Shalla had a hankering for sweet potatoes, and the ones we bought downstairs were considerably smaller than the ones we bought from the grocery a week later. But it's good to have access to melons, corn, carrots and bell peppers when needed.

The meat is where it gets tricky. On the first week of the market I got some ground pork and some pork belly, which I was hoping to park for something I think of cooking down the line. This week, I tried the mince, and it smelled almost rancid, so my plans for an Asian-esque stir-fry got rejigged a bit. (Perhaps for the better, because chickens seem more receptive to ginger.) Today, I tried the pork belly, and before it could fully defrost, I know it doesn't smell so good, either. It sucks, because I'm wasting food and I'm wasting money. But then, my lesson: always shop at groceries when it comes to these things, at least until I get the hang of going to the market, which wouldn't be for a few years anyway because we're supposed to stay at home until the government convinces us they didn't make mistakes all along.

6 May, Wednesday

I'm, finally, starting to get annoyed at how little counter space there is in the kitchen here at the flat. If any - technically there's only the sink and the little slivers of space beside it.

It's not an ideal situation, but then, we still haven't saved up for a gas range. (And that's if we get to buy one, knowing how things are increasingly bleak in its uncertainty these days.) It's not a problem if I'm only frying, say, pork chops, like I am tonight: it's just the induction cooker on one side, and the marinated meat on the other. You get paranoid about the hot plate falling off the counter for some reason, but we've settled that nicely for the most part.

But it's when I'm cooking French toast when things get tricky, because I need a shallow bowl for the egg mixture, where I'll soak the bread; a plate for resting the just-soaked bread before it goes to the pan; and a plate for the toast I've just finished up. (All right, the first two is accomplished by a plastic container that was once home to North Park's chow mein.) Add to that the butter that has to be by my side throughout the cooking process, and my mobile phone which acts as a timer - making French toast is like clockwork; you soak your bread for twenty to thirty seconds on each side, depending on whether you have Gardenia or Sari Roti; you fry the things for ninety seconds on each side; you must not fail - and you really have a lot of things to juggle in so little space.

But really, my frustration is with washing up. The sink is small, and there's not much place to dry our plates and utensils. Everything is precarious. In the past few months before the lockdown-not-lockdown, we lost three glasses. Early this morning we lost a bowl. And we stupidly only bought two bowls and two plates. And it doesn't look like we'll be able to buy new bowls and plates soon. I told you. Between this, the beginnings of a clampdown on freedom of speech and the continuing ineptitude over how to really flatten this fucking curve, things are looking increasingly bleak.

7 May, Thursday

When I began these entries I, like most of you, was expecting the enhanced community quarantine to last just four weeks. Of course, that was incredibly naïve of me. A virus does not stick to borders and schedules, and it most definitely does not lower its difficulty level to countries that aren't ready to handle it.

I remember some saying it takes thirteen weeks of doing something over and over for a habit to truly stick. Well, today marks the end of the eighth week of this thing we're forced to live through. By now, wearing face masks, preparing your quarantine passes, and planning every little bit of your essential-errands-only trips is ingrained in most people. I don't think I've seen couples waiting in line at the grocery the past couple of weeks. But at the same time, there's a bit of anticipation that this will all be over soon, or at least it will not be as restrictive as before. Supposedly, the enhanced community quarantine here will run for just one week more. But then again, a virus does not stick to borders and schedules, but it perhaps goes the extra mile to taunt countries that aren't ready to handle it.

So, of course, we've also gotten used to convincing ourselves that we're doing everything right, that we're doing our part to flatten the cure. We've also gotten used to convincing ourselves that there are people out there who are doing the exact opposite, who continue to be stubborn, who continue to do everything to fuck up our chances of having a normal life again. We blame the poor people who desperately find ways to make a living. We blame those who flock the markets. We blame the Chinese for just being here. That sort of thing. It can never be out fault we're in this mess. It has to be somebody else's. It's just how we are - it's how we've always been, come to think of it - and it's gotten more obvious these past few weeks.

Add to that noise is all this talk of what the "new normal" will be. Begrudgingly we admit things will not go back to the way they were, at least for the foreseeable future. It's in the transition most parts of the country are now making, towards the "general community quarantine". That means malls can open, but not the fun bits. And barber shops will be open, too. I envy them, I guess, but we'll get there soon, right?

But this is Metro Manila, ground zero of the country's battle against COVID-19. We have the most number of cases - inevitable, considering everyone has to pass through here. And frankly, there's no indication that we're gaining ground in this battle. At four in the afternoon we get an update on the number of confirmed cases in the country. We've just breached the 10,000 mark, but that doesn't rankle me since that was going to happen at some point anyway. What does rankle me is that we're not really seeing a slowdown in the number of new cases. We seem to be piling on cases at the same rate.

Of course, there are many factors surrounding that. We took a while to test people, so the more that gets underway, the more cases we will catch. I think we're only testing people who show symptoms, which means those who don't are likely, unknowingly, fucking it up for the entitled... I mean, passing the virus on to others. (There's a major hospital across the street. Take from that what you may.) And, again, a virus does not care for borders or schedules, and it certainly will do its worst if the carrier isn't strong enough to resist. In other words, there's no telling.

What I can do tell is that our government still isn't doing enough on the health front. Or maybe they are, but they're not telling us. Their daily briefings seem to be all about what the government is doing to help those most affected by the lockdown, those who can't make a living and are deemed worthy by some headless body of getting assistance. Meanwhile, I've been wondering if I'll ever be tested for the virus. I mean, I live across the street from a major hospital, and as far as I know, there has been at least one case of COVID-19 in this complex. I've been going out for weeks to do errands. I'm asthmatic, although I haven't had an attack in months, thankfully. But still. If I have the virus and I somehow die, nobody will know.

And this talk from our leaders of how we have to start dealing with the "new normal" smacks of our leaders just covering up for their incompetence, their inability to see far ahead, or to see beyond their own interests. Everything's fine, the briefings say, but it will be better if you don't fuck it up for us and our chances of holding on to power in two years' time. So, here's the new normal: anything that constitutes leisure is banned, anything that sees many people come together for a common cause is banned, anything that gives you a stronger sense of certainty is banned. And before you say we could've prepared better, no, it's not our fault. It's actually your fault for going around and infecting people unknowingly. Just stay at home, will you? Inspiring words never said out loud.

If this is new normal, should I still be writing these entries? Nobody reads them, and apart from reminding me what day it is, it's starting to get repetitive. If we're to get used to this thing - if this ceases to be extraordinary - then maybe I should think of taking a break. I mean, this won't end this time next week, I'm sure.

And your responses...

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