Lockdown-not-lockdown, week nine

8 May, Friday

It's occurred to me that I have not listened to any local radio in the past couple of months. Considering that we're living in extraordinary times and I'm still a bit of a radio geek, it's striking - to me, at least, because you don't really care about what I care about, do you? - that I haven't listened to what's on our own airwaves. And to think I've written at length about how the French-speaking Swiss did it.

Sure, it's also because I don't have a radio, too. I have a Bluetooth speaker and an old iPad that streams to it.

The 7-Eleven downstairs has the radio on. It feels a little more important considering it's only open for twelve hours a day now (it used to be open for thirteen) and they're still keeping some of the lights off, meaning it feels a little more gloomy and doomsday-ey with the plastic sheet separating shoppers from the staff. That, and they used to have some Spotify playlist on. Back in the old days, the staff would change playlists, meaning whatever basic, dinkily-produced local hip-hop was playing would be replaced by the Eraserheads.

Today, though, they had Love Radio on. I'm not surprised they're on air as normal. I remember when Nicole Hyala was recovering from giving birth to her first child, they actually had set up a home studio for her, so when the show returned it sounded as if both she and Chris Tsuper were in the studio. That experience must've come in handy in these times. Raqi Terra was reading out a listener letter, something about "having a midnight snack", which, I'm pretty sure, is a euphemism for oral sex, because there were listener responses about how to not be caught in the morning because there'd be something stuck in between their teeth. So, the sort of stuff the so-called educated ones would frown on. But the staff of this dimly-lit, mid-apocalyptic 7-Eleven were laughing heartily. If anything, they needed that.

9 May, Saturday

The grocery is closed today. Have been closed for a few days now, apparently. Store disinfection. Was this a routine cleaning or were there some suspected cases of COVID-19 from the staff? No idea.

So, I had to drop my plans to buy ingredients for tinola - another recipe I'm attempting for the first time - in favor of just getting whatever else I need to get, or what I can get. The Mercury Drug is open, and it has some grocery items, so I try that, but somehow it doesn't have my preferred soap, nor does it have the patis I need. (I know what we're getting isn't pure patis, as that take some good old brewing and will smell really funky, but seeing "patis flavor" on a bottle inspires no confidence in this so-called cook.) I ended up walking back to the condominium empty-handed - at least until I decided to swing by the community market. Yes, that one with the bad meat.

Well, I wasn't buying meat. (I did buy chicken breasts, but I bet I'm using that pretty quickly. Maybe I can use the karaage mix I've held on to for months.) Maybe I could get the sayote I need for the dish. No dahon ng sili, sadly - does that really translate to "chili leaves"? But then, there were a couple of things I was surprised to see sold there.

It being a Saturday, there were guys selling breads and pastries - and leche flan. I'm sure it's not the really egg-y sort, but Shalla likes it, so I didn't hesitate to get some. A few tables away, someone was selling boxes of Krispy Kreme - reselling, more of, but donuts! Shalla has been craving for those. I definitely didn't hesitate. I may have bought more sweets than veggies, but, well, why not?

(I also learned that a couple of Starbucks branches have opened near me, because while I was waiting in the queue, a resident gave a volunteer a hot drink and a sandwich. But me, walking in this hot weather, for a Starbucks? No, thank you. Also, I didn't know where to put this paragraph in.)

She was giddy when I got back to the flat. She hadn't had breakfast, so the donuts came in really handy. And then I get a text message from a colleague - turns out the grocery is supposed to open today. So, I walk back. Under a hotter sun. What else do I have to lose?

10 May, Sunday

This is very likely my first Mother's Day away from mother. Sure, the past few years I've been working on the commercially-induced holiday, but I'd be home on the night and the family would squeeze something in. This year, though, I'm stuck here, and all we have is a video call with most of my relatives on my mother's side, scattered across twelve time zones - an aunt two time zones away, a cousin nine time zones away, another aunt twelve time zones away, and of course, my mother and grandmother right here. Or there.

It was a weird video call. We mostly played with the backgrounds and barely got a word in because the little cousins kept interrupting and they insisted on using loudspeakers rather than earphones, so everything echoed. And then it became a house tour, of my cousin showing off her flat and her new husband's quarantine hair do. And then it became a cooking demonstration, of my mother making almondigas. Next thing we know, it's been two hours, and I have to drop the call to make lunch. Swedish meatballs, with a siding of failure sauce. I failed to cook down the roux.

And then I'd learn that my father tried to buy pizza for the folks back home, only to see long lines. Everywhere. Of course, we'd want to have a sense of normality in these times. For the mothers! And yes, you can say buying out on this day to ensure the mothers don't have to cook is a nice thought. But maybe a homemade meal is still better. If someone else does it, the better. But I don't know. What else is old?

11 May, Monday

We finally had KFC delivered. Finally. It's been a craving of ours for weeks now - and for me, I don't have to cook. But every time we try, nobody seems to be available to get our order, despite the fact that there's an open branch nearby and, if I really wanted to, I could just walk to it. (It's far, like a kilometer away. I know I walk a lot these days, but you know.)

I must've tipped the Grab driver a lot more that I usually would. They're the supply chain frontliners you see most of, and yet I assume since they technically have work right now they're not entitled to any protections or social nets. Do they have any even back in the old days? We haven't had that contractor or full-time employee debate like other countries. I guess whatever makes us comfortable, we take for granted.

We only bought a bucket. Our thinking was, six pieces of chicken would last us a couple of days. But maybe I was wrong. I only had one piece of chicken (granted, it was a big one) and it's not like we can eat three pieces tomorrow. Nope. We can't. Tomorrow, I'm trying that supposedly viral recipe involving leftover KFC and a rice cooker. It looks really easy, and it beats having to eat the same thing tomorrow, even if we're really eating the same thing tomorrow.

12 May, Tuesday

This isn't over. As expected.

What I didn't expect was yet another term we'll be seeing everywhere. From next week we will be under "modified enhanced community quarantine", which means the same restrictions, but more businesses will be allowed to reopen, and some forms of public transportation will be revived, although considering how the government will take advantage of these times to force a further rationalization of bus routes rather than invest in the infrastructure to make it sensible for commuters, well, consider us restricted from moving anyway.

All this is funny, considering how, in the past couple of days, people have been acting like the quarantine will indeed end, how come Saturday things will feel a bit more normal again. Of course, in reality, we are supposed to transition to a "general community quarantine", and when things are better, perhaps move away altogether, but with what the government calls "minimum public health standards", which I assume means "wear a face mask or get arrested". And, of course, there are a lot of cases here in Metro Manila, not surprising considering how we're the center of everything. Only two other places are still under the same-but-different lockdown-not-lockdown for the same reasons: Laguna and Cebu City.

I chuckle a bit, considering the only two other people I talk to constantly over the past two months are from Laguna and Cebu City.

That said, I feel a bit impatient now. I guess it's because there's still no assurance the government is serious in fighting the pandemic. Well, sure, yes they are, but you really can't help but think that they're not going that extra mile, that they're happy keeping us cooped up so they can cover up for their mistakes, and perhaps their side hustles. The president today spent a 45-minute taped address supposedly about what will happen after Friday, once again, ranting about the communists and how they should be killed. It doesn't inspire confidence, seeing the person at the very top not give you the information you really need - but then again, all this is a branding exercise to him. I mean, he did say "I assure you".

I also have been feeling cranky these past few days. Well, I'll call it "low". Others will call it "cranky". I'll admit I have been a bit more belligerent lately, getting furious at the smallest things. Last night the Internet cut out. I woke up really sweaty in the middle of the night and could not fall asleep. I'm not bored, exactly, but then I cannot play Animal Crossing the whole day, because my attention span is such. I don't think I've been observing my surroundings enough so I have something to write here. These past few days have really felt like I'm in limbo.

Cavite, on the other hand, is transitioning to a less stringent quarantine, so the rest of my family can now get out and about a bit - but not really, since they're just ten minutes away from the border to Metro Manila, where things are still like this. But you can tell how much more relieved they are than I am. Maybe I should've stayed home.

13 May, Wednesday

Playing a game with a pretty strong social component like Animal Crossing - and by "social component" I mean "playing with other people from around the world", even if it is not technically an MMORPG - means having to abide by some rules. I, of course, don't play the online side - it requires a subscription which I'm not willing to get. But I've seen Shalla do this way too often to be able to boil it down to three golden rules.

One, always leave an island that isn't yours through the airport. Having a wonky Internet connection is one thing - that's sucky, because your progress as well as your host's won't be saved when you get disconnected, but it's something you really cannot avoid, especially if you're on PLDT. But it's worse if you "leave quietly" - meaning, instead of "flying out" back to your base, you just quit the game while visiting another island - because that's something you definitely have control of. At the press of a button, you fuck up your host's progress, and if said host is doing a giveaway, or allowing people to sell turnips at a high price, or allowing people to get celestial recipes from Celeste, they will now have to get a new Dodo code (that's how you visit strangers' islands) and give it away to everyone else.

Two, do not get anything from your host's island. At the very least, ask permission. If you're nice enough they'll allow you to visit the shops and buy stuff that probably wouldn't be in stock (for the day) in yours. But then, Nook's Cranny - the main store, the place where you can buy and sell stuff, the place that singlehandedly enables Animal Crossing's circular economy - is a weird beast, because every day it sells items of limited supplies, ergo, just one of them. You do not buy at all. Leave that to your hosts.

Three, leave a tip, even if the host isn't obliging you to. A Nook Miles Ticket, a stack of wood, or a third of a stack of wood, or some exotic fruits (Peach Leaf's native fruit is, of course, the peach, so apples sell for more). It's a nice gesture.

Today Shalla opened the island to strangers because Nook's Cranny is selling turnips for 533 bells a piece. That is an outrageously high price, and something we never thought would happen on our island. I mean, I buy turnips from Snotface - sorry, Daisy Mae - for roughly a hundred bells and the selling price across the week would just steadily go down to around half that. (It's the game's equivalent of the stock market.) For hardened players, this is a sure-fire way to make money: buy a lot of turnips, go sniffing for islands that will take them away from you for five times as much, and go home a bellionaire. On the other hand, I only buy a hundred turnips every Sunday. I'm conservative. At least one person has made fun of me for that.

Halfway through the two-hour window, she expressed her disappointment. How come, she says, the Filipino players do not leave tips? She said it'd be appreciated, and the foreigners would always leave something. Maybe a few thousand bells, or a star fragment, or some exotic fruit. Filipinos? They just come in and leave. Perhaps, I thought, it's because this game is new to most of us - not everybody bought the DS because it's a console, and the Switch, well, some would say it isn't - and so we're getting the idea that the game is about making a beautiful island and showing it off. Sure, now you can decorate your exteriors (and terraform the shit out of your island), but to do that without caring for the villagers? It's a social simulation game. You don't get five stars without enough villagers! And you have to talk to them and give them gifts and be nice to them in general. And there's at least one Filipino player that Shalla encountered on social media who's so confused with the idea of animal villagers, who believed that because she doesn't have human neighbors, her island is not doing as well. Girl, you're really the only human villager by design.

Okay, I am also new to this game. I have no right to be a gatekeeper, much like anyone else doesn't.

Anyway, during the turnip window, this one Filipino player came in, sold her turnips, and left quietly, which means she gets to keep however many millions of bells she earned, while the seven other people in the island waiting to leave properly had to sell theirs all over again. And she didn't leave a tip. And, we were horrified to find out, she bought a split-type aircon from our Nook's Cranny, one that has limited stock, one that I was eyeing. The bastard.

Well, she's a bellionaire. She can do whatever the fuck she wants. It's like the real world. Money makes the world, and everything in it, go round. It's why we have police brass holding birthday parties in the middle of the lockdown. It's why we have adult Animal Crossing players apparently stealing stuff from a nine-year-old who just wanted to host a catalog party. (That did happen, Shalla says.) And you all say this is just a game?

14 May, Thursday

Our other ceramic bowl went crashing down today. So that's one thing.

Shalla has a plastic bowl she's had for years, and turns out it's got a crack at the bottom that's turned into a hole. Has it been poisoning us all this time? I don't know. I can tell you it's no good for soups anymore.

This reminds me that we actually have extra bowls at the ready, some my mother passed down, a gift she didn't really have any use for. I guess we can still eat cereal, at least.

Oh, and Shalla's phone took a bad fall and is now essentially bricked. I always imagined we would have our phones (which we got around the same time, just four months apart) for three years, but now with service impossible to find (even if it's technically allowed to operate) we have to find a new phone. We're going to figure it out, because surprisingly it's easy to do so.

For now, this would mean she has to use my phone to get to work - I don't know how it works, but it involves some ultra-secure log-ins. That would also likely mean that, if the cravings arrive, I will have to download the Grab app for the first time. Yes, I have never used either that or Uber by myself for the past few years. Yes, I actually prefer the taxis some of you want removed completely. Deal with it. Or should I say that to myself, because, you know, things are happening?

The world feels like it's going a little stir-crazy now that we're making yet another transition, to an extension that isn't really one, because the government realizes it has to start more of the economy if we're to really recover from this in the long term. Not everybody agrees, sure, because there is a reporting backlog and there's a collective sense (depending on which side you hew towards, I guess) that things are actually worse than what's being reported. But by Saturday, some malls will be allowed to open, although right now I don't think the big ones will. I was talking to a guy at Power Mac (about, you know, the phone) and he said if their branches will reopen, it'll likely take a week because they'll have to do a deep clean. But between the long lines at Mother's Day and the social media posts about buying stuff... well, people are getting bored.

Oh, and there's a typhoon, and we're actually under signal number two. I'm writing this at eleven in the evening, and the news just broke. I's the sort of news that should be rippling across everyone's feed, but with the coronavirus and the restrictions and those who don't give a fuck about it, well... I mean, it rained this afternoon and for the first time in two months I could not see beyond my window. But I'll tell you it didn't get any cooler here. I bet when I wake up tomorrow, I'll be really sweaty and sticky. The most unusual things will emerge as constants in these uncertain times, and we will latch on to them regardless.

And your responses...

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