Lockdown-not-lockdown, week seven

24 April, Friday

Of course, they're extending the enhanced community quarantine.

I'm not saying this in an annoyed tone. (Is it not evident in written form? Yeah, I thought so.) I get it. Things haven't exactly settled down. While the number of cases here haven't seen the catastrophic jumps we've been afraid of, it's clear, somewhat, that we haven't really reached the peak of it. That, and a lot of people telegraphed this possibility for the past week. Of course, even that was subject to idle debate. Do we gradually reopen the economy, or do we enforce draconian measures just to keep people inside?

But as we enter the seventh week of this whole thing, those were details most of us didn't feel like discussing. We've gotten used to it, I guess. We've gotten used to needing a slip of paper just to get out of the house. We've gotten used to hoping that we don't have to present that slip of paper. We've gotten used to waiting outside the supermarket entrance for an hour just to get things done quickly. We've gotten used to wearing face masks. We've gotten used to doing a little bit more of everything online, although "work-life balance" is really a bullshit concept when you can't disconnect from it all. We've gotten used to just thinking of ourselves, partly because the circumstances leave us with no choice, and partly because we don't really see other people anymore, so in our heads, they're just concepts at best, and a nuisance at worst.

It feels uneasy, really. It's the kind of uneasy that you forget, but once you do come around to it, it quietly occupies everything. Where do we go after this? Or, what comes after this? Maybe there'll be a bit more clarity once this quarantine thing is lifted. Gradually, it will. By this time next week some parts of the country will transition towards a "general community quarantine", meaning things start moving towards how they used to be. Partially. Malls will be open, but you can't stay around and have fun, and in any case, they'll hike the air conditioning to a warm 26 degrees and turn off free wifi so you don't linger around. (Never mind that mall wifi has always been terrible, and you have better luck with your mobile data.) On the flipside, some areas outside Luzon will be put under enhanced quarantine, which meant I can finally tell Nat with authority what will happen to Cebu, because we've been living through it for the past month and a half.

A month and a half without a haircut.

Well, two months, since I usually get my haircut at the beginning of the month. Good heavens, is this the new normal? I've had to resort to shampooing my hair daily so it doesn't feel sticky, when for the past few years I've done it every other day, because my colleagues of a certain age said it'll help stave off hair loss for a little bit. (It's a conversation we had in Hong Kong, a place I don't think I'll be back in for years because of all this.) But, honestly, I don't want an afro. I don't think I can manage. I don't even brush my hair a lot.

25 April, Saturday

I go the grocery at eight in the morning, a full hour before it opens, just so I can be at the front of the queue. (Not a problem boredom-wise, since I have podcasts to keep me company.) I was feeling a little peckish, so I indulged myself again and got myself siopao. I was planning to eat it as I walked to the grocery, but ended up eating it at the queue.

Or at least attempted to. The guy ahead of me turned to me and said... something.

"Come again?" I said. I had earphones plugged in.

"You're eating food. You're not wearing a mask. I'd like you to leave the line." He said this in this I-know-better-than-you-and-I'll-let-everyone-know-just-that tone, just loud enough for everybody else to hear.

I, well, I left the queue. I was exasperated. I'm pretty sure I muttered "I have a mask!" under my breath, because I did have a mask. But then, I realized that he was kind of in the right on this one. And I felt sad, because I didn't expect eating in public to be behavior that would be frowned upon by people. Well, all right, some people do, but only because they hate the sound one makes when masticating, or they don't want to see people looking somewhat slobbery, which I likely was, considering I was eating siopao.

I finished my food, and went back to my spot in the line. Thankfully, no one took my spot. I don't think the others were as judgmental of me as this guy who, I now figure, needed to show off his supremacy to others by using me as an example. He even refused to sit when everybody else did on the chairs provided, as if he was watching over me, this asshole who "did not" have a mask. Well, I wasn't angry, but sad, because if eating outside your home is something we'll have to let go just to make it look like we're fighting this damn virus, then what else are we willing to let go of?

26 April, Sunday

A few days back I got an email from Monocle, the one magazine I have a subscription to. "We have decided to temporarily pause your account until further notice," it said, because it cannot deliver anything to the Philippines due to, well, I'm not sure, really. The postal service remains open (albeit also on limited capacity) and airports and seaports continue to receive cargo, and the government has long ceased to make a distinction between "essential" and "non-essential" to cut a bit of red tape from these confusing times. Unless my magazines don't count as such.

This essentially means there's no chance of me getting the two issues I have already missed, and perhaps the next two or three. They'll be extending my subscription to make up for those missing issues, they said - and besides, as a subscriber I can access the articles from all of the issues I'll miss on their website. I've been holding off on that, to be honest, because I still prefer reading from the printed page. Then again, I am left with no choice, and a lot of time to kill.

On the queue to the supermarket yesterday I decided to get started on the April issue. I only finished one article. I realized something was missing. No, some things were missing. The photos are in a gallery rather than all over the spread. The navigation seemed a bit off because it was more orderly than I was used to. The abbreviations, for some reason, were not capitalized - Monocle's sloppiness-as-grit in its worst display. But more importantly, swiping my phone's screen upwards is really no match for the thwacking sound of a page being turned and the whiff of the ink from a freshly-opened copy.

Yes, I know I sound like a print fetishist, and perhaps a part of me am, considering how I work on a magazine as part of the day job - a magazine that I have also paused so we can cover the "what's next?" phase of this crisis better. Perhaps it's also because Monocle, for all its faults, is an evangelist of the power of print, and therefore the things it does just feel more at home on paper. But then, everybody else says print is dead, that online is no longer just the future but the present. The magazine section in bookstores here basically no longer exist, and it's surprisingly hard to find newspapers. "Who reads newspapers these days?" you might ask. Also, since we all need to do social distancing or whatever, why go out of your way to read something on paper when you can just access it on your phone in isolation?

But then, there's still something comforting about print. Personally, it forces me to devote time to it, to ponder what was written (or printed, more accurately) down. Sure, it doesn't account for the number of unread books I have... but then, how come many of you are yearnings for books, even in a time when you have access to all the Korean drama you think you need? But then, these thoughts are not consistent with the need to earn as much money as possible, and so, online you must all go, even if you're destroying civilization as we know it in the process.

27 April, Monday

You can be forgiven for forgetting that it's summer here. I mean, nobody is going to the beaches. Nobody is showing off the fact that they're going to the beaches. Sure, it hasn't stopped the more supposedly beautiful people on my timeline to show off their beach bodies, but they're all archive photographs, and more importantly, no one is judging my lack of a beach body. And in any case, what we all have are quarantine bodies: slobbier because of a lack of physical activity (generally, because there are exceptions, including me, if you're counting my falling shorts) and more unkempt because of a lack of grooming options.

Then again, it never really felt like summer. I guess it's because we have much bigger problems on our plate. When you're thinking of whether you'll have food in your pantries, you don't really care about how hot it is outside. Or maybe, if you're more better off and are confident about your essentials, you're probably worried about how the government is handling all this. In any case, you're distracted enough to even think about the temperature.

This weekend, however, was a reminder that, yes, it's also summer. The news outlets began talking about how hot it is in other parts of the country. They're stories you'd usually see in March, but it's the end of April. Better late than never? And then there's today: in between a bank run and a whole day in front of this laptop, I took four showers. Four showers. I have never done that. And yet, I am absolutely certain that when I wake up tomorrow I will feel extra sticky.

28 April, Tuesday

I was in another Zoom webinar this morning, watching experts talk about the digital divide and how the COVID-19 pandemic just exacerbated it.

It's a somewhat funny thought, that said. Everyone keeps on talking about how we should embrace all these technologies fully, and quickly. But then when we do try to do it, we realize there's a lot of passive opposition - why fix what ain't broke? Take mobile wallets. I use it a lot, especially these past few weeks, since the bank downstairs has also closed and I can't pay my credit card bill. But, yes, there are some bills I would still rather pay with physical money, falling in line at a bank and transacting with a hopefully cheery teller. Take my insurance. If I pay elsewhere, it'll take a while to post. Sure, they have extended the deadline, but I still like the feeling of knowing the money I saved up is going somewhere, physically. I don't know. Must be a psychological thing.

At least now that's somewhat picked up, with people using either GCash or PayMaya. We're still far away from being Hong Kong, though, where almost everything revolves around the Octopus card. But at least agencies and companies here are trying. And that's just one front. Suddenly, with people forced to stay at home, we have to consider whether we can teach our kids online, or whether we can file our tax returns online - and, all in all, knowing the whole process is not going to shit. Necessity is the mother of all invention, I guess.

But I digress. A respected banker was talking on the webinar when his cat popped up in the background. He (or she, I don't really know) leapt up the table behind him, and meowed loud enough to be heard across the country. And he stayed there until the end of the event. In the old days, this would stress out the event organizer. These days, well, it's something funny. And the event organizer probably is out of a job, so he's still stressed.

29 April, Wednesday

A few weeks ago, several people in several chat groups posted a thoughtful reminder. "Don't forget to start your car every once in a while," they'd say.

It'd be useful if I had a car, but logistics state that throughout this lockdown-not-lockdown, I don't. Come to think of it, I haven't driven a vehicle in almost two months. I have nothing to start, and everything to walk. Useful if I'm just walking to the grocery, but not if I walk to the nearest open branch of my not-exactly-preferred bank. That means walking from my flat on the fringes of one end of Ortigas, to what is pretty much the other end of Ortigas. That's a thirty-minute walk.

The window beside the desk I'm pretending to work on - I'm kidding, of course, of course - overlooks a parking lot. That's always filled with vehicles, except for the past couple of months, since it's been closed to most motorists (that much I can tell from walking past it on my way to the grocery) and, well, nobody is allowed to go to work anyway. But there's this one car that's been parked in the same spot for the past seven weeks. I wonder who owns that car, and if he is able to start it every once in a while. Or are its batteries woefully stuck up now?

30 April, Thursday

I've been thinking about how other parts of the world are calling their efforts to keep people at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malaysia calls theirs a "movement controlled order".

Singapore calls theirs a "circuit breaker", which sounds something off a sci-fi thriller, but also suggests that what they're doing is a last resort of sorts.

France still calls on its citizens to restez à la maison, to stay at home. The less stubborn (depending on which side you're on) American states have what they call "stay-at-home orders".

Here, the government tried to really avoid using the term "lockdown". I get it. It sounds scary and hopeless. So they went for variations on "community quarantine", which was perhaps confusing, especially in the early days. But then the media just called it for what it is - a lockdown - and using that term in their coverage. Perhaps that desensitized us. Now, we're just calling it "ECQ" (and now, "GCQ"). We've been at this for seven weeks flat, and it feels like nothing out of the ordinary. They're just letters now. 

I'm a words guy, sort of, so I've wondered, for the past seven weeks, if we could've done this better if we called this thing differently, if we didn't go for an initially confusing and subtly militaristic term like "community quarantine". Now, of course, you'll say I'm just overthinking thing, but then, one, we haven't got better things to do, and two, perhaps this is a way to explain the continuing confusion over who is allowed to do what when the country essentially shuts down, and also how we just like to blame others - preferably those of a much lower income level than us - for fucking up our chances of being able to drink Starbucks again. ("I have a damn craving, and you, you don't know discipline!") In times like these communication really does wonders in making people understand what is expected of them. I guess that's why "stay at home" cuts through quickly. "Circuit breaker" tells you that they've got your back and yet the situation is more dire than they predicted. "Movement controlled order" may sound bureaucratic, but at least it tells you that you can't move around. "Community quarantine", on the other hand, tells you that you're doomed, and if you want to save yourself, you have to fight others. Kill or be killed.

But then you can argue this Ang Probinsyano-watching country understands such dreadful terms. We speak in action movies, which often trades in almost dire situations. And then you have the president, who fashions himself like a folk hero and has an extraordinary reverence for law enforcement, so much so that his first pronouncements on this quarantine is about how the police and military will ensure everybody stays home. Not that I'm blaming him entirely. If this happened with the last president, even if you still ended up using "enhanced community quarantine", he'd look like he's seeing this as a video game which he must win.

I tried not to include politics in an observation about word use, but then, as you'd say, everything is political these days. Me, I just want to rest. And have a haircut.

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