I can count with my fingers the number of times Shalla left the house since the quarantines began. One time, when I asked her to help me bring up an unusually heavy grocery bag. Two times, when she had to get deliveries downstairs. One time, when, in a complex sequence of events, we had to both go down 24 floors through the stairs to get donuts and coffee, because I had to go to the laundry and the electricity was erratic.
For most of the past three months I was the one with the quarantine pass, so it was up to me to run the errands: grocery runs, bank runs, cravings-in-the-middle-of-the-afternoon runs. This was still the case when Manila loosened its restrictions, partly because of force of habit, and partly because it's really unclear if two people who know each other can go to the same place together. The government really has a communication problem when it comes to making us stay at home - apart from "it's your fault if you get sick, really" - so it was really up to all of us to figure it out. In many cases, it meant only one person can go out. But I still saw couples go to the grocery together at the height of the restrictions. I guess they felt different rules applied to them.
Shalla joked that she's become an agoraphobe. Again, I get it. The impression you can get is that the virus is waiting outside, and it will pounce on you as soon as it gets the chance. It's been three months and I, a guy who's been outside pretty much every week, hasn't had any symptoms. Thankfully. But then I end up think I might be one of those asymptomatic folk who unknowingly spread the virus, and considering it's only Shalla and I in this flat, well...
But, yes, restrictions are being loosened, and there's been a fair amount of stressing that, yes, you can go back to the malls now, and yes, soon, you can eat your favorite samgyupsal now, although there will be a lot of shields and you can't be as big a group as you usually are. I went to the mall last week to get a haircut, and indeed, the mall is open, although most shops are closed. There aren't that many people, although it might be down to the fact that I went to the Shang, which still has this really upscale image in people. (I have to walk to the mall, and that's the closest.)
A couple of days ago, Shalla said she wanted to go to the mall. I was still a bit apprehensive, because I don't really know if people can go to places together. But then I remembered seeing an elderly couple at the Shang when I got a haircut, and if technically seniors cannot travel except when it's necessary, I guess we can, too. We absolutely can.
There really isn't much to go to. Unlike in the past when you can hang out and just chill, this time you have to absolutely plan where you want to go. This isn't really a date but an escape. No meandering. Not all stores are open, and the mall will close at six, or seven, I wasn't really sure. We had some ideas. Shalla wanted to browse at the bookstore. I wanted to check the hardware store. (Yes, I've become that guy.) We could have made a trip to iStudio, but for some reason, it was closed. It was open just three days before. Maybe they're sanitizing the place, but doing it on a weekend was weird. But then, what is normal these days?
We agreed, sort of, to also keep a distance from each other. That meant I walked a meter behind her to the mall, and didn't browse with her at the art supplies section. (Damn it, there are no more magazines at the bookstore, and all I seem to find are either religious books or young adult novels.) But then it became clear that we can be a little closer, in part because nobody was really sure what to do. "Only 25 customers are allowed in the store at any given time," this sign said, although I'm definite there were slightly more people inside. I did see two sisters confidently stride into the store, only to be turned away, because they were going to enter through the exit.
She got some new markers and I failed to find the thing I was looking for at the hardware store. So what else is there to do? Muji is open, so we went there to browse a bit. We ended up buying two shirts each. It's perhaps the first thing we bought for the past three months that wasn't solely for survival.
All right, I'm exaggerating. We spent the last three months playing Animal Crossing, for heaven's sakes. And yes, there were some online purchases, and yes, it's somewhat sad that we're deriving our happiness from our purchases, but still, there's such a difference in picking something out from a shelf and choosing to buy it, even if it means doing so with a face mask that's more suffocating than protective (not really, but you get the drift) and you have to plonk your debit card in a tray so nobody touches anything (which is impossible, but you get the drift).
We both felt pretty good. Shalla got to go out for once, and I got to go out for something other than the groceries, never mind that I actually enjoy it. The high meant we found ourselves buying cake at Mary Grace, because Toby's Estate doesn't have their carrot cake in stock. We did get their drinks to go. It seemed like a good idea at the time until we had to walk back to the flat and realized that, one, it's hard to drink through a straw with a mask on unless you want to risk people ostracizing you for removing it to take a sip, and two, the cake might melt. It is cooler than usual, but this is Manila. Everything burns.