Work has been stressful in recent weeks, what with various work projects and training sessions and the mighty company head honcho deciding to visit from his throne in Shanghai (or Beijing?) all the way to my lil ol’ school. All the managers have been anxious, and the energy seemed to trickle down to us lower folks and so, given how dramatic I am, I decided to run away to the countryside once everything was over.
Despite being an up and coming city with tall skyscrapers and an exhaustive subway system, there’s a wonderful bit of countryside just half an hour away by train outside of Chengdu’s city centre limits.
Qingchengshan is a mountain located in Dujiangyan city and it is very, very beautiful. I would compare it to Emeishan since I’ve been to that city, too, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to climb that particular mountain. That story is reserved for another time where I’m less angry.
Anyway! This would be my second visit to Qingchengshan, since I spent some annual leave days relaxing around some hot springs and climbing the front of the mountain last February. This time, I’ve decided to tackle Qingchenghoushan, the back mountain. It’s said to be more natural and less tourist-y, and is aimed more towards hikers and nature-lovers alike.
LiberaTarts Hikes 青城后山 and Tries Not to Slip and Fall
I once (against my will) had to make a very public presentation about my journey from university graduate to my current job role as an ESL teacher. I was knee-deep in the Shonda Rhimes cinematic universe at the time – or the SRCU, if you will – so I cheekily titled my presentation: “How To Get Away With… Teaching.”
I like teaching ESL to children because they are fun to have in class and they absorb knowledge like a proverbial sponge. What I don’t like, on the other hand, is giving presentations to other teachers and higher-ups, where they get to judge me outside of my known skill-set of teaching but on things like…
public speaking skills
how to deliver a presentation in public
speeches with an audiovisual aid
… do you see a pattern?
I don’t like public speaking.
More specifically, I don’t like being put on the spot and be expected to perform wellcoherently in front of those who are essentially strangers. When it comes to teaching a class, it follows a very simple order where teachers scaffold vocabulary, sentence structures, grammar, and so on. Each lesson builds up from the previous one, and each year group content builds up from the previous year group’s content.
Easy stuff. Pretty simple.
Talking about something arbitrary like “my teaching journey” is a little less so. Who would even like to hear how I became an ESL teacher? By this, I mean listen to my story with the intention of following my footsteps: graduate university, faff around in the marketing sector, decide to run away to rural Spain, somehow find out you’re decent with teaching and apply for a job in China… it’s not quite a straightforward Point A to Point B road trip.
I apologise for that dreadful play on words. It doesn’t even make a lick of sense?
There’s more to care – self or otherwise – beyond the skin. It just so happens that I’ve dedicated quite a bit of my time looking into skincare, given how terribly acne-prone I was when I was younger. And let’s be honest, I’m still a little acne-prone though at least that’s calmed down some as I traverse through my twenties.
Whoever said acne was A Teenage Thing is a lying liar who lies seven times a week. I developed spots / pimples / whiteheads in middle school, a whole chunky year before I was even thirteen. Acne didn’t miraculously stop being a problem the day I left nineteen, either, so sucks to be me I suppose.
Nevertheless, it’s only been in the last six months or so that my skin has shown visible improvement regarding dark spots, old acne scars, and general pimple occurences. My only conclusion (aside from my body chemistry finally calming down, the traitor turned prodigal son) is that I found the right combination of lotions and potions to keep my face happy and loved.
If you’re here expecting a ramble about romantic love, then you’re in the wrong blog babes.
It’s a Sunday and my work is having a non-production day, which means all six of my classes are cancelled for the day! Unfortunately, it still means I have to show up at the office but my line manager is pretty loosey-goosey with office hours as long as you do you work and – let me humble brag – I am efficient as fuck when it comes to lesson planning, classroom prep, et cetera.
So I spent the morning having a relaxing breakfast, took some time with my skincare routine instead of rushing through it like normal, and I even had a few minutes to reflect over some things as I watch the city skyline get brighter.
I’m no stranger to online communication, such is the life of someone who has friends and family spanning the entire globe. From Facebook-inclined family members to Weixin-reliant colleagues, just name a random SNS and I’ve most likely used it.
That is, except for TikTok. You can drag me kicking and screaming and I’d still refuse to use TikTok.
Regardless, here is a pros and cons breakdown of the various SNS I use and how popular they are in my social circle. Not to say that my social circle is extensive by any means; I can name only five or so friends I chat with on the regular and exchange meaningfully meaningless memes with and, to no one’s surprise, they all use different SNS.
SNS and LiberaTarts: What I Use and With Whom I Use Them
2020 has been a genuine clusterfuck of a year, so let’s take the passage of another year and claim this as a chance for a fresh-ish start.
I never did quit blogging, I just stayed away from it due to several reasons. An increased workload was one of them, having transitioned to online work during the height of COVID-19 (and therefore experiencing screen fatigue) and then transitioning back to offline teaching with reduced staff members has left me a little slightly burnt out.
The second reason was that, quite frankly, I had nothing to talk about. I wanted to fill this blog with my trips abroad and the wonderful new experiences I’m seeking out and yet… 2020 crushed all those dreams into fine dust. I’ve only very recently started reading books again – and by this, I do mean listening to audiobook because, as I’ve said, screen fatigue is real and I value my eyes.
The third reason, and the very reason why I did most of the things I did in 2020, was because I wanted to build closer relationships with my family and friends. I’ve set up weekly Skype sessions with my immediate family, monthly catch-ups with friends from Sixth Form, college, and university, and a virtual book club consisting of friends from the UK and the US – all of whom have not met each other but have me as a mutual friend as well as a love for fantasy fiction.
But now that things are slowly and steadily gaining traction again, I’ve made the executive decision to log back into WordPress. I’ve found joy in my life once more and I want to share this… not quite happiness, but contentment… beyond my immediate social circle. And to be honest, I’ve missed the friends I’ve made here online. I hope you’re all doing well!
Summer of 2018, I had an internship at a small digital marketing agency and it drained the life out of me. I wanted a break from the mind-numbingly repetitive nine-to-five schedule, so I booked a weekend getaway to see the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.
I’ve always wanted to go to one of these things. The bright colours? The clear skies? The physics magic?? What’s not to love?!
The obvious answer is capitalism. It was a tiny bit annoying that most of the balloons were advertising a business venture or other – I wanted to get away from marketing, not to immerse myself in it again!
Also, Bristol in early August is cold. Having lived in the UK for as long as I have, I should have known to bring something warmer than my raincoat.
I had a fun and glorious time, regardless! Bristol was full of history, culture, and delicious local-style food.
Notes: Today’s #PhotographFriday was taken using a Canon EOS Kiss X7 camera on the 11th of August, 2018 at Ashton Court Estate in Bristol, England.
Being stuck at home, unable to go outside and go about your day-to-day life, might be a challenge for some people. There’s this joke floating around on the Internet, saying “Introverts, check up on your extrovert friends during this time of crisis! They don’t know what they’re doing.”
It’s high-end trash of a joke.
Not to be That Person because I did find this joke funny at first, but seeing it being bandied around on various social media platforms made me realise how patronising it is. “They don’t know what they’re doing”?? Presumptious, much. Also, let’s be honest, as a self-proclaimed introvert even I don’t know what I’m doing.
Where I live, the local government imposed a community-wide quarantine where residents are discouraged to leave their apartments but if so, they could only leave and re-enter through the front gates once a day.
Sounds drastic, right?
Perhaps. But my personal experience with self-quarantine is this:
Late January, everyone in China goes on mandatory break for Spring Festival and I, in turn, sequester myself in my apartment to become a socially adverse hermit. All the restaurants close, the malls are empty, and there isn’t much to do except go to the public parks.
Then I hear word that people are asked to stay at home to prevent the spread of this new coronavirus, but this doesn’t change anything for me because my plan was already to stay at home and continue being at home.
Work resumes and we are asked to deliver lessons using an online video conferencing platform.
And that’s the current state of my life. The strict quarantine conditions may have lifted two weeks ago, but I am still working from home and I’m still limiting my time spent outside of my community because, frankly, there’s nothing I can do outside that I can’t just also do at home. So my day-to-day schedule remains similar to that during self-quarantine.
Wanna know how I survived with my sanity intact? Read on, my dears.
LiberaTarts: A Day in the Life, Quarantine Edition
Who cares if we can’t see any sunshine? I want you more than any blue sky.
Morishima Hodaka, Weathering With You (2019)
Given how I don’t read movie reviews and therefore do not know what a layout of one should look like, this entire post about Weathering With You will be akin more to a commentary rather than any kind of opinion piece. I have no other anime movies to compare it to, either, except perhaps the 2016 movie Your Name, which I don’t quite count because the two movies are by the same writer / director.
As my regular readers might know by now, I have a basic knowledge of Japanese because it was part of my university degree – a minor, to use the American collegiate term. I also lived in Japan the year Your Name was released in theatres, so that particular movie has a very dear place in my heart.
Finding out that Makoto Shinkai has written a ‘sequel’ to one of my beloved movies was a delight, but it was overshadowed by my move to China for work. The stress of moving countries, starting a new job, and being overtly social to combat the onset of homesickness took a toll and I missed the cinematic release of Weathering With You. There’s nothing quite like experiencing a new movie for the first time on the big screen, and one of my regrets in life is missing out on the cinema showings of both Your Name and Weathering With You.
Which is why I’m so glad that the latter movie was chosen as my post collaboration with Gurezu. I now had the excuse to buckle down, find a copy of the movie, and enjoy another of Makoto Shinkai’s masterpieces. If you want to hear my thoughts about 天気の子 / Weathering With You, grab your preferred hot beverage, settle down on a comfortable chair, and continue reading!
LiberaTarts Watches 天気の子 and Tries Not to Cry Immediately Afterwards
Note: the first half of this post was written in February 2020 before the global spread of the virus.
I so hate for the second part to this seriesto be about the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, and yet here we are. This is me, writing about it. Because I currently live and work… in China.
Specifically, I live in this Tier 2 City called Chengdu in the Sichuan Province. Chengdu, fortunately enough, has a 33% recovery rate and even so, there are only 125 confirmed cases within the city limits. When you consider that at least 16.33 million people live here on the regular, then the statistics relating to nCoV don’t seem too daunting.
It’s still a terrifying prospect, but it’s not as bad as social media makes it out to be. Or maybe my Facebook friends are just racist idiots jumping on the xenophobic bandwagon persecuting anyone who looks Chinese. Is it my job to chastise them for their carelessness and ignorance? They’re all young adults – they should know better by now. Also, I’m their Facebook friend, not their mother.
ANYWAY, I wanted to talk about how living in the midst of this pandemic has affected my day-to-day life because, aside from the city limiting interpersonal contact and closing down non-essential businesses that affect my work hours and Starbucks intake, my life hasn’t changed all that much.
Let me explain.
(Not So) Breaking News: LiberaTarts Is A Hermit
When presented with the chance to either travel to literally anywhere in China or even abroad to a neighboring Asian country for the Chinese Spring Festival last January, my introverted self chose to stay in Chengdu.
My coworkers boasted that they’d be flying to This Country and That Country for the nine-or-so consecutive days that we had off from the office, which is all fun and good for them buuuuut… having just moved to China late last year and having finally felt like I’ve settled down in my new apartment, my new hometown, and my new workload after three or four months of sheer craziness, I felt like a staycation was my best bet if I wanted to recharge my social batteries.
Literally everything in China, it felt like, was put on hold because of Spring Festival:
everyone at my compnay had mandatory paid leave
Chinese language classes were put on hold, and
stores were running under limited opening hours
And so I stocked up on cupboard essentials, bought enough bottled water to last one person about two weeks, and holed myself up in my apartment to wait out the Spring Festival stillness that invaded the usually bustling city seemingly overnight.
I spent my time reading and re-reading the books I didn’t have the spare time for in the past.
I also caught up on those pesky movies I said I was going to watch months and months ago.
And I dug up old playlists from my high school / Sixth Form days and had lots of cringe-filled jam sessions.
The perks of living alone, y’all.
So I really was minding my own business, recharging my social batteries and catching up with popular culture, when suddenly someone from Head Office called using my phone number and not WeChat. The fact that they didn’t use WeChat – the most relied on app in China, where you can talk to friends and also pay your bills – should have been my first clue on how serious things are about to get.
LiberaTarts Goes on a Government Sanctioned Self-Quarantine
Note: this is the second half of the post, written in April 2020.
The person on the line, all gung-ho and ready to reassure, called because of a rumour text chain saying people aren’t allowed to leave their apartments for 14 days as a means to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
She explained how she has been trying to contact the local police station in my district to confirm this information, but since most of everyone has gone home for Spring Festival, no one has gotten back to her yet with actionable information.
Bless her soul, I could hear in her voice that she was panicking – she really did want to offer reassurance about the virus, how she can help ensure I have enough food to last two weeks in isolation, and how I shouldn’t panic about this new virus because I’m young, healthy, and precautions are being put into place.
A tad shamefaced, I didn’t tell her how I’ve been in a self-imposed bubble because of Spring Festival and how my only source of news regarding current events was checking the work group chat every few days or so and watching everyone gossip.
I wasn’t panicked about nCov.
I didn’t even know it was that serious until she called me.
And like a lynchpin, that phone call broke through Hermits United Membership Fun Zone and suddenly:
my aunt from all the way in the US started messaging me asking how I’m doing
my brother, whom I’ve lost contact with amidst the craziness of work and his busy college schedule, called on Skype because he saw China on the news
my mother, relatively busy herself as a healthcare professional in the Middle East, began micro-managing my life by telling me
not to go out (I despair at having to explain I really, really had no plans to do so regardless of the virus situation)
to stock up on food (my pantry was as prepared as any hermit’s), and
to wash my hands all the time (I work with young kids so using a hand sanitiser is basically programmed into my soul)
I love my family dearly and it warms my heart that despite being scattered around the globe, they still worry about me just as I worry about them. I’m not the best with maintaining communication and I rely too much on glib responses when people ask how I am – hence the million hermit jokes peppered in this post. Nevertheless, I hate to think it took a deadly viral outbreak for me to come to this conclusion.
As it turns out, the person from Head Office was wrong: I didn’t have to stay in my apartment for 14 days for self-quarantine. People were allowed to leave their front doors, and they were even allowed to walk around the little community park area (the way apartments and condos are organised here in China was a new experience for me). Turns out, however, each community (a set of apartment buildings surrounded by a giant gate) has put some rules into effect:
No visits from non-residents of the community.
Residents needs to register for a green access card, which lets you leave and re-enter through the front gates once per day.
The security guards at the gates will check your temperature and green access card before you’re allowed re-entry.
No deliveries – all purchases have to be dropped off at the front gates.
The first three rules were fairly easy for me to follow – I’m a hermit, remember? I hardly have any close friends here in Chengdu that I absolutely have to meet with them every week or whatever. Work, once Spring Festival ended, moved to an online platform and I basically became a Zoom expert overnight.
The fourth rule, however, was a tough cookie to crack! The number of times a delivery person called me, lost as to which gate they should drop off my weekly groceries, was an adventure in and of itself. The conversation usually goes like this:
Delivery person, on the phone: 喂你好！ (Continues to speak in Chinese, presumably to explain how they are on their way and ask where is the main gate.)
Me, with minimal Chinese comprehension and also very weak speaking skills: 你好， hello。我不知道中文。Do you speak English? Is this *insert delivery service here*?
Delivery person, clearly taken a back: 对， *delivery service* 是 （Continues in Chinese.)
The conversation eventually dies off in awkward laughter and they usually hang up and somehow show up at the right gate.
In Regards to the Rest of the World…
Now that the situation in China is petering out – more and more people are driving around and roaming the streets, non-essential stores are open again, but schools and some offices are still closed – I find out that the novel coronavirus, now named by the World Health Organisation as COVID-19, has begun to spread internationally.
The first thing I did upon hearing this news and digesting its gravity is to message the elderly members of my family in the Philippines. They are fine, although they’re more Facebook-savvy than I am at this point – what a surprise!
The second thing is to regularly message my younger brother in the UK – oh how the tables have turned, I have become my mother. I tell him to regularly wash his hands, to wear a mask whenever he goes out on food shops, and to call me if he ever needs anything and our mother couldn’t help out. (Time zones do not work in our favour, sometimes.)
As I check on the COVID-19 stats every few days – there’s only so much I could take before real, debilitating panic sets in and I feel powerless as a foreigner in China – I worry about my family in the Philippines, where politics and blame are being tossed around like a hot potato rather than people taking viral precautions seriously.
I worry about my brother and friends in the UK, where the NHS is severely understaffed and no one seems to be self-isolating because of the nice Spring weather. And for the love of all things good, can the local government please forgive any parking fees incurred by these hardworking healthcare professionals??
Don’t get me started on the situation in the US. I have little cousins who live there and the few American friends I have are also in the healthcare industry. The fact that “the most powerful country in the world” has managed to surpass China, a country with 1.39 billion people, on infection and death rates… I dread to think what will happen – what is happening – to those most vulnerable in society.
Over to you, my dear readers: How are you coping with COVID-19? I hope you and your family and friends are doing as well as they can! Got any fun stories to share, to lighten up the mood a little?