Lockdown-not-lockdown, week twelve

29 May, Friday

I'll admit that I forgot about Wuhan - the Chinese city where COVID-19 was discovered first - until I read in several places that the lockdown here in Manila is now the longest of the pandemic.

Wuhan's lockdown, or at least the first one, went for 76 days. I remember the headlines when it was finally lifted. "Liberation" was a common word I saw in the headlines. I also remember thinking the lockdown here wouldn't last that long, because unlike there, we've had some time to prepare, never mind how the government didn't really do much preparing.

I'm writing this on... let me see... the 77th night of our quarantine period.

The maths are tricky, I'll admit. I counted from 13 March, the first day of the community quarantine, the day I moved to the flat to weather things through. You might count from 17 March, the first day of the enhanced community quarantine, when the government essentially decided we can't be trusted with following the rules and decided to pretty much close everything to keep us at home. If you're counting from there, our lockdown isn't the longest, or at least not yet. We still have three days to go before we move back to a "general community quarantine", and by Monday we'd only have tied with Wuhan. But then, math is not my strongest suit. As they say, this is why I took a liberal arts degree.

That said, with a lockdown (and yes, I'm dropping the literary device and calling it as, well, that) this long, you would expect people to feel relieved that the worst is over. Not here. Or maybe it's the echo chamber I unknowingly find myself in. Most people I know aren't happy that we're moving to GCQ. The number of cases are still going up, and the Department of Health revising the way it reports the number of COVID-19 cases just tonight (to, perhaps, be transparent about its backlog) is just going to make things worse. The consensus seems to be that we're being set up to die, whether it be by the virus, or by the inability to work because most public transportation will remain closed.

Or maybe it's unfair to suggest other people think differently. I honestly don't think anyone will be screaming "liberation!" come Monday. The people you'd accuse of cheering at the president's every word, from what I can see, are actually calling for the upcoming school year to be cancelled, until a vaccine is found. All right, the president actually said that early this week, but they're not saying "the president knows best!" on this one.

It really is a weird situation. We're moving to GCQ solely because the economy has taken such a bad hit that they can't afford to keep almost half of it closed. (It says something about how everything still remains centered on Manila.) But, between the lack of resources and the confusing guidelines on what one can and cannot do, not to mention certain officials' insistence on being in front of the line, I don't think anybody is confident that the government has done enough to stem the pandemic. It's always felt like it's up to us to figure things out - the government's message that our discipline will save the day adds to that - and, come Monday, it will feel very much like that.

The echo chamber I'm in has certainly felt dissatisfied over the last eleven weeks. Between the response to the pandemic, the question of where the emergency budget for this really went, the ABS-CBN shutdown, and the whole China thing - and perhaps a bunch of other things, if the government taking advantage of the lockdown to steamroll changes that will adversely affect a lot of people under the guise of "the new normal" takes hold - there's a lot of pent-up anger that's waiting to be released. In the old days it would feel like it's just a matter of time before things pop but, well, here we are.

I wonder if people here are watching the renewed protests in Hong Kong over China essentially putting the kibosh on "one country, two systems", as well as the riots in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd - both, despite the pandemic - and thinking, "the situation here is so bad, we must protest no matter what it takes!" But then, there's that anti-terrorism bill people are getting angry about again. Also, ultimately, nobody wants to die.

30 May, Saturday

The problem with living in a flat that's in the middle of being furnished is you'll never really know when you need to buy something until you do.

This quarantine, of course, is making things more complicated. Sure, you can buy most things online now, but I'm still the sort of guy who wants to be able to inspect things physically before committing. Maybe it's the snooty guy in me, as Shalla puts it - and yes, that's an Animal Crossing reference right there. I think.

Today, I realized I needed a cheese grater. I want to make mac and cheese, but the blue box is surprisingly not available at the nearby Marketplace. I could buy pre-shredded cheddar, but it's pretty expensive (they only have packs of half a kilo) and, more importantly, a lot of people - or at least those I read - advise against buying pre-shredded cheese, because it's mixed with stuff that would prevent it from clumping together, meaning your sauce will end up being a bit sludgy after a while. Also, the cheese section just begs my imagination to soar, so why restrict myself to cheddar?

Yes, the malls are open - or at least more stores are - and, if I set my mind to it, I can drop by and get myself a grater, perhaps a box grater, and one that won't rust after a week. We bought one at my goading a few years back, and that exactly happened, so we're still using that, uh, "basic" grater that's apparently been at our household before I was born. I don't want that to happen if I do end up buying a box grater. But going to the mall apart from your groceries is still cumbersome - although I will have to soon, if I want to get a haircut - and the supermarket, despite having a kitchenware section, surprisingly doesn't have any.

Thankfully, while the cheese section can't shred your cheese, they can cube it. That kind of worked when I attempted my one-pot mac and cheese recipe. (I could do the whole bechamel thing, but, again, limited space. However, I tried to cook the bacon in the oven toaster and ended up burning one piece so badly I had to throw it away.) It turned out fine, except for it being too salty. Maybe I shouldn't have salted my pasta. I have to unlearn that. Also, next time, find a cheddar that's not white cheddar, if only for the sentimental value.

31 May, Sunday

A classmate of mine from elementary school passed away. I don't think it's because of COVID-19; I saw posts from common friends asking for blood donations. But I'll admit I didn't know him much. He was a classmate for just two years, I think, and then I moved schools and lost touch. And, yes, I didn't go to their class reunions, because being invited to join their high school reunion is awkward for someone who didn't go to high school with them.

A friend's mother passed away yesterday, too. Old age, I think. Now, said friend has lost both her parents, and as Shalla reminded me, between that and her sister working in Cebu, she now lives alone at her home. At least there are two dogs to keep her company in these weird times when you're not allowed to mourn the way you're told you're ought to.

It's been a slow day. I've been watching stuff on YouTube. Between me binging on Camera Obscura videos (and being reminded of its late keyboardist, Carey Lander, who died a few years back from cancer) and watching, again, that two-hour tribute to perhaps my favorite American (by way of Canada) journalist, Peter Jennings, after he died of cancer... yes, I still have death on my mind. Yes, I've been away from home. Yes, I've been thinking, what if either of my parents suddenly drop dead, and I'm here, and I can't go anywhere? Well, yes, we're under GCQ now, so technically I can, but, you know, these times are still weird.

Or, what if I'm the one who suddenly drops dead? Or what if I decide I'll just jump to my death? Or hang myself? People don't care anyway unless their guilt is in frame.

It's been a slow day.

1 June, Monday

There's an extra degree of chaos going about today.

It's the start of general community quarantine. Restrictions are being loosened, but not removed entirely. More offices are being allowed to operate, but public transportation won't operate fully, and buses still won't operate along EDSA, apart from those the government tapped to augment the trains. So, no blaring horns when I wake up this morning. But there is a lot of screaming about on the feeds, of how the government doesn't really care for its people because it makes people go to work without providing them the means to get there. Cue story about a senior citizen who was not allowed on the trains because she's technically not allowed to go out of the house. Cue story about a friend who wanted to let this heavily pregnant woman hitch a ride in her car, but didn't do so out of fear that she would be mobbed.

And then there are the other things going on. The game of charades that is ABS-CBN franchise renewal hearings continued. It's obvious certain people are looking to drag this out to inflict as much damage as possible, and in return, reduce the potential fallout from the inevitability that is the network not being granted a franchise. (As if they could do anything about it.) Inevitably, my college circles - including some classmates who do work for the network - are all about it. Honestly, I skip past their posts because my mind does not need changing on that matter.

The president certified as urgent an anti-terrorism bill that would, among others, allow people to be arrested without a warrant, and be held arguably indefinitely, for as long as some shadow-y group determines them to be a threat to national security. That dovetails nicely, eh? More ways to shut critics up. (And considering my thought a few days back about how there should be public protests right about now, if not for the pandemic, well.) Again, my circles have been very angry about it. And my other circles - the more, um, supportive of this administration - is quiet about it, perhaps because they know speaking up about it would mean exposing themselves to criticism, which they refuse to accept. No, that's too nefarious, too single-brushstroke. I'll say they've been busy with other things. Or rehearsing for a future when you're not allowed to speak your mind.

I'm all for that myself. I always have. But I'm also not sure about noise that goes nowhere. Lately I've been more inclined to think that people speak up for the sake of doing so. You can claim that you're talking to make people more aware, sure, but the format - all the screaming, all the attention-grabbing - I'm not really sure about. It's like you want people to see you speaking out more than you want people to hear what you're saying. Hey, look at me. I am better than you. I care about racism and I remember Kian delos Santos and I want this government to be held accountable and I want you to know I am better than you because at least I speak up!

Of course that's not all there is to blame. Algorithms are at fault. Our mistrust of decidedly objective (but not necessarily neutral) sources are at fault, too. It's incredibly reductive to point all of my fingers (so, a jazz hand?) at those who do have the urge to talk about what concerns them, to make graphics about what concerns them, to publish it for everyone to see. But, well, I don't know. Can't the way we talk about these things be more purposeful? We talk at people about what we think is right rather than talking to people about them. Too much noise, too little actual engagement, beyond likes that has become a metric of how many people agree with you. No minds are changed. In the end, your attempt at seizing a little bit of power from authority - a democratic ideal - falters when those with real, hard power assert themselves. Nothing beats guns to reinforce doctrines, no matter how disagreeable they are to you.

So, I don't know, speak up about things, still, but don't just shout them out. Craft your message and work a bit harder to make people care rather than scare them to action. So says the guy who publishes his diary in public for everybody to see.

2 June, Tuesday

Maybe it's because I've been mostly cooped up at the flat for the past few months, but this further loosening of restrictions doesn't feel any different from here. You don't hear the buses, but you will hear, if you listen closely enough, the chugging of the MRT's trains. You still don't see the same number of vehicles out and about, perhaps because that number's been steadily increasing over the past few weeks anyway. The parking lot I can see from the desk I'm writing in, though, that's gotten fuller. I wonder what happened to that car that's been parked there for months.

Also, you get reminders from out there - my folks, in this case - that things are changing. My dad finally went to work for the first time yesterday. He got a new job - when he dropped me off here, in fact, he was getting that job offer - but the quarantine meant he worked from home for his first few months. My brother finally left the house to inspect the stores he handles. My mom finally got to do groceries in Alabang, which is just fifteen minutes away from us, but feels much farther lately because of the checkpoints.

Me, I still work from home, although today I had to get something from the office - the problem when you're the youngest and within walking distance. Not that I mind. It's a chance to get out again. The sidewalks certainly feel busier. I think this is the first time in months that I've had some difficulty crossing the road, because drivers are still assholes, ultimately. (I have seen one driver from the middle lane of Shaw Boulevard turn right, cutting the vehicle on the rightmost lane. I have also seen three vehicles turn left in an intersection where no left turns are allowed. All today.) But everything else is the same, relative to where we were just after the lockdowns began. Only four people can ride the elevator at one time. There are a lot of markers on the floor. You still need a face mask to enter buildings, which raises once again the question of "what if you don't?"

Nobody's been in the office for months, so I decided to stay a little longer, turn on the lights, and keep the aircon running for as long as I'm there, even if I don't really have to use it. In fact, I just stood in front of the unit, letting the breeze hit me as I talked to a colleague over the phone. Man, I miss the cold.

3 June, Wednesday

More proof that things are slowly returning to some sort of normal: the store downstairs that sells Korean skin care products is open again. Then again, they have remained open all this time, but not to customers like me. There was a sign outside that said "open only to Lalamove and Grab", suggesting it became some sort of fulfillment center.

The Binalot and Pan de Manila stores alongside it have also reopened, which at least gives me more options for breakfast or lunch, even if cooking is more practical, liberating, and, well, tiring.

But more importantly, the laundry shop is finally open. Finally. After three months of having to do my own laundry by hand, I can just let a washing machine do the work. Now, don't get me wrong. I had to learn to wash my laundry by hand at some point. But between that niggling fear of using too much soap, and having to deal with slightly wrinkly clothing (I also need to buy either a flat iron or a steamer) this can't come any sooner. Clothes fresh from the dryer will always feel good.

Of course, social distancing means they can't accommodate as many people as they used to. Four at a given time, apparently. Also, they aren't open 24 hours as day like usual. Also, they recommend you reserve a slot. So, I did. Wednesday is now laundry day. Thankfully, there's not much to wash, because Shalla hasn't been leaving the house, and I've been, uh, recycling my clothes. I know, I know, you should be washing everything twice these days because anything could have the virus on it. But between me mostly cooped up at home and not having the means to wash my clothes satisfactorily, something had to give.

There was only one other guy at the laundry when I got there - this guy who seemed to try so hard to look masculine, with backwards cap and muscle top, but was actually watching Twice music videos on his phone. (I know this observation is one I shouldn't be making in these times, but I thought it's a fun little detail. I must let you know. Sign을 보내, signal 보내.) By the time I was at the dryers, though, there were six people doing laundry. Rules, after all, are always made to be broken.

4 June, Thursday

Shalla has determined that, between my small eyes and my not having had a haircut for over three months, that I look more Japanese. Specifically, the guy at roughly eleven and a half minutes into this video she was watching yesterday.

Yes, there was this time when I was apparently mistaken for a Japanese baby, but apart from that, I never really saw myself as a guy who looks Japanese. It only really became a possibility when we went to Seoul and our tour guide mistook me for a local. Even then, I look more like a guy from the rural areas. But then, Japanese people don't all look the same.

Today I was on the elevator with two Chinese residents. It's happened before. I'm sure the first time I wrote about this COVID-19 pandemic, before it was a pandemic, was in relation to these mainlanders who live in the same building as I do. I've always wondered if they think I'm one of them - it's easier now with these masks - and feel comfortable enough with my presence to start talking in Mandarin. And, in this case, they do.

The elevator stops and two more mainlanders go in - there is supposedly this four-persons-per-elevator rule, but in this building, nobody really enforces it - and the conversation becomes louder. Is it because they think I'm one of them? But my glasses don't scream Chinese. My hair, my hair so unkempt it's become a conversation point in my two Zoom meetings this week, don't scream Chinese. And my nose - my nose is bulbous rather than flat. In this instance, I absolutely do not blend in.

They got off at different floors, so I found myself alone as I got out of the lobby. All this time, I was thinking, not about my face, but whether the last two passengers had with them grilled eggplants alongside the boxes of imported provisions they always seem to lug around. Were they grilled eggplants? Was I hungry?

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