Skincare is Winning Care

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.

LiberaTarts and the Multi-Step Skincare Routine

During the winter of my final year at university, I made the executive decision to not work on my dissertation and instead I did research on Korea’s fabled 10-step skincare routine. I was plently late to the game, I confess, but that’s just a recurring theme in my life so I rolled with it. I searched for the appropriate products for my skin type – that is, oilier than a mom and pop fry-up – and tried to avoid places like The Body Shop or Lush because I wanted authentic Korean skincare products, damn it.

I still failed and fell back on The Body Shop because they are pretty reliable, but whatever. It’s chill.

I’m distinctly self-aware that I’m ethnically Asian and that living in the UK meant finding products targeted towards my specific body concerns would be difficult and / or expensive. That one time I got my hair professionally dyed in Kent, I had to painstakingly search for an Asian-owned hair salon because I wanted my black as black Asian hair to be taken care of.

Anyway – I’m here to talk about skincare, not hair care. I’ve given up on the latter, seeing as how I’ve chopped it all off to deal with the summer temperatures here in Sichuan province.

Look, guys, no hair! Or close enough...
Winter 2020

Step One: Double Cleanse

My current product of choice for cleansers are from the Korean company Innisfree. They’re the closest I can find here in Chengdu that sold products within my budget – I’m a working professional with no dependants, but a girl has gotta eat and I never have enough time to cook at home these daysl

I use the oil cleanser every time I go through my routine, then alternate between the two foam cleansers or use one over the other depending on my current skin concerns: if I’m breaking out more than usual, then I use the blue Bija Trouble Foam Cleanser, otherwise I stick with the old one type in the morning then other in the evening.

Step Two: Toner and Treatment

I follow James Welsh, a popular skincare vlogger / influencer, and he stands by the fact that using a toner is part of the moisturising stage and not part of the cleansing stage. If you’re seeing bits of dirt on your little puff pad after applying toner, then apparently you’ve done the cleansing stage wrong.

I’m sorry, Mr James Welsh. There’s only so much cleansing I would let my face endure before I call it quits on the whole ‘a toner moisturises, not cleanse’ mantra. Let me live my life, and apparently living my life means using a toner as a part-cleanse and part-moisturising step. Life becomes so much easier when you stop caring what other people think about you, but I digress…

My initial research into toners for acne-prone oily types led me to Benton’s Aloe BHA Skin Toner, but relocating countries meant sourcing this trusty toner became such a challenge that I opted for physically going to a store and buying from Innisfree’s range instead. The sales assitant, armed with a translating app and a kind smile, took one look at my face (at an appropriate socially-distanced… distance) and recommended the Intensive Hydrating Toner with Green Tea Seed.

Quite a mouthful, but it does the job well. No complaints, here.

As for further treatments such as essences and serums, I swore by Dear Klair’s Vitamin C Drops and this anti-pollution emulsion from The Body Shop’s Drops of Youth and Tea Tree ranges. But again, moving countries meant I couldn’t buy these products online anymore. My plan, before the pandemic happened, was to return home to the UK and happily stock up after my first work contract ended, but that plan clearly blew up in flames so let’s move on.

Now, I’ve graduated to Laneige products because I’m a professional working woman who totally knew what the brand was before spontaneously buying what felt like half the store in skincare and makeup products.

If I feel like using a packet mask, I tend to do them before I apply any emulsions or even skip that step altogether. I do tend to skip this stage though, as it’s a bit of a faff and if I take a break between my routine (even for just ten minutes), it would take the length of a TV show episode or a YouTube video to get me back on track.

Step Three: Protect

The next step, once I’ve layered up all possible treatment combinations depending on problem type, is to moisturise and apply sunscreen. I’m not the most dilligent with the sunscreen stage, but the wholly imagined James Welsh who lives in my head starts judging me whenever I catch a glimpse of the very, very rare blue skies here in Chengdu. And it’s basically summer now, so I might as well get into the habit, right?

I apply the moisturiser right after the emulsion step, but let me tell you ladies and gents and those in between: Laneige’s Radian-C Cream was not a planned purchase and yet… I have absolutely no regrets. It’s the best damn moisturising cream I’ve ever used in my life. It took some time to get used to the slightly overpowering citrus scent, but that’s easy enough to get desensitised to because, y’know, the sense of smell is one of the first to normalise.

It’s a lovely scent, anyway, so it’s not exactly a hardship for me to use this cream every day. And use it every day, I did!

After using this cream for a solid six weeks, I noticed that not only were my dark spots beginning to lighten if not disappear under the naked (if slightly myopic eye), but the development of pimples – both whiteheads and those under-skin blind pimples alike – have slowed down to a lovely, easy to forget I even had acne to deal with level.

Vitamin C is a personal hero of mine, not just for my face but also for the general immune system boost. I take these soluble tablets every day because as a teacher to young kids, I’m exposed to plenty of bacteria and viruses and I don’t fancy coming down with a cold every two weeks. It doesn’t stop it altogether since there’s only so much multivitamins could do when you’ve got a subpar diet (whoops!), but man does it help plenty.

My Skincare Routine: An Outline

  1. Oil cleanse
  2. Foam cleanse
  3. Clay mask – used sparingly
  4. Toner
  5. Serums
  6. Packet mask – used occasionally
  7. Emulsion
  8. Moisturiser
  9. Sunscreen

To conclude: I spend way too much on Korean skincare products but really, they work wonders so it’s not like they’re not worth the purchase. They last a long while, too, so it’s quite cost-effective all around. Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried these products and / or you want to try them out!

The Work-Life Balance and Love Languages

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.

LiberaTarts Ruminates: Life, Love, and Other Ls

I have this weekly Skype chat with a friend from university, and while I was waiting for her to be available (timezones, amirite?!) I noticed an email from the guy who recruited me for my current job. He’s an independent third party who has nothing to do with my current company, essentially just a bloke who introduces graduates to potential employers in China – and I suppose, reaps the monetary bonuses and other benefits from that, but I digress.

He wanted to know how I was coping with life in China, how difficult was it to get an apartment and settle into a foreign city, and what my work hours were like. It was obviously for the benefit of potential new recruits – once the borders open up again, of course – and I was more than happy to help out. I remember being a new recruit myself and being, not quite worried, but a little apprehensive about uprooting my entire life. I was the type to get two paid VPN subscriptions and pack one whole suitcase with UK snacks because I didn’t want to change my social media / snacking lifestyle.

On Life

The email got me thinking about my current work-life balance, as it goes a little like this:

  • officially, I work three days Wednesday to Friday from 1:30pm until 9pm
  • I also work on weekends from 9am until 6pm with back-to-back classes
  • I then have overtime on Mondays because my company is understaffed and need international teachers very badly – hence my apprehension regarding the borders still being closed in China

And because I love, love language learning and am not disciplined enough to self-study, I have Chinese class two days a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Depending on my mood, the errands I have to do, and sometimes the weather becase YOLO, I try to pop over to my expensive gym and swim a few laps. (Yes, my dear readers, I’ve joined a gym. Two gyms, actually.) I haven’t been swimming lately, however, since work has been tiring and this gym is a whole bus journey away from my apartment.

swimming pool

Every Saturday after work, I go to another gym with a coworker that’s much closer to our workplace and do this workout class together. This is my second, much cheaper gym since I only pay for this one class and the place isn’t fancy enough for a pool. I’m more consistent with this once since it’s literally right across the road from work, but even so the distance and city traffic mean I don’t get home for the day until dark. My Saturdays start at 8:30am and end at 8:30pm – a whole 12 hours for commuting, working, gym-ing, and being on my feet.

Despite all this, I am aware that I am in charge of my own schedule. I am only as busy and not busy as I choose to be. Going to the gym isn’t necessary. Chinese lessons aren’t a requirement though they do help in surviving daily interactions over here.

Let’s not forget the weekly Skype sessions I have dotted around my calendar. Has anyone else tried coordinating three different time zones for two different occasions every damn week? My family chat has to take into account my brother in the UK, my mother in the Middle East, and myself in China. My Discord book club includes myself, several friends in the UK, and a friend I met through family who is based in Texas. Talk about an online lifestyle! I’m living it every bloody day.

I’m only as busy and not busy as I choose to be.

– wise words that I made up while writing that email to my old recruiter

I’m struggling to juggle all of these things I’ve told myself I would do after the Lunar New Year; I’m tired all the time and I am disgruntled to admit that my monthly Starbucks budget has increased to less manageable levels. I think I need to re-evaluate my priorities and see if I can lessen the Skype chats in my life or do something mature and like, sleep at a decent hour. Time zones are really troublesome to deal with, which leads me to the second L that I’ve been thinking about…

On Love

If you’re an Internet homebody like me then perhaps you’d be familiar with those personality quizzes that tell you what kind of letter combination you are or what your love language is. My main love language is quality time without the distractions of mobile phones or social media, which sounds totally contradictory since I appear to live and breathe Instagram.

And I think I know this is why I put so much effort into organising Skype chats or Discord meet-ups with friends and family. Much like my favourite author Jane Austen, I am intensely loyal to those I love and care for: my family is a given, my best friends from school are a shoo-in, and the friends I made at uni are like the bonds of brotherhood you get from undergoing hell together. Some things are just hard to break.

There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.

Jane Austen

But aye, here’s the rub: I am so, so exhausted. My dear readers, I am tired.

It’s always me reaching out to people proposing a catch-up, and whenever that pushes through it ends me up doing the timezone calculations and dealing with Person X’s schedule as well as my own. For once I would like someone to message me and say, “Hey, it’s been a while. Let’s chat at XYZ o’clock your time.” It implies they know my schedule (because goodness knows I don’t keep that a secret since I even blog about it), that they’ve considered the time difference (despite its breadth, China runs on Beijing Standard Time), and that they were thinking of me and actually had the balls to do something about it.

I love my friends; I really, truly do. I also love my family beyond filial obligations: my mother is Life Goals and my role model, and my brother is my fellow introvert buddy and I am more comfortable spending time doing absolutely nothing with him that anyone else in my life. But I suppose, it would be nice to have all my efforts acknowledged and to be someone’s priority for once. I am exhausted and I would appreciate not having to exert the mental gymnastics that comes with keeping in touch with people across the globe.

So that’s my current take on love. A little depressing, in retrospect, but c’est la vie and all that rot.

I’m trying to be An Adult about this by not cutting everyone off and becoming MIA, though it is quite tempting sometimes. I’m also trying to see things from other people’s perspectives – just because my love language is quality time does not mean it’s the same for everyone else in my life. Still, the exhaustion is still there, lurking like that dreadful Duolingo owl.

On Other Ls

There isn’t really another L, I just wanted to do the whole Triple List thing so round out my sub-header. There’s something about listing things in threes that sound so lovely and I’m sure there’s a literary term for it but alas, I’m not a literature graduate so like Jon Snow, I know nothing.


Let’s pass the mic: I’m on my twenties so the concept of a work-life balance is new to me and yet it is dear to my heart. But what about you, my lovely readers? Any bits of advice you care to share? Or to commiserate with! I’m all ears.

(Don’t) Shoot the Messenger

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

I can feel y’all judging me for that title

I’ve made some ridiculous titles in my time, but nothing beats this one I bet! But let’s quickly move on from mid-20th century magical adventures to the more relevant mid-pandemic technological mainstays in our everyday lives. Do people still use Snapchat? I still do, but only because I Snapchatted my way through Japan back in 2017 and I keep putting off exporting those video files to my OneDrive account – is there even a way to do that en masse?

If anyone knows how – let me know and I’ll forever be in your favour!

Anyway, let’s start with an oldie but a goodie: Facebook.

Facebook Messenger

Facebook’s popularity rose and waned during my formative years, peaking around the time I was in high school in the Philippines before shuffling off into obscurity as I transitioned from Sixth Form to university. Maybe my perception of its rise and fall has something to do with geography: moving home from Small Town, Philippines to One-Hour-Away-From-the-Capital-City, England changed my social circle drastically.

Nevertheless, the only people that I regularly interact with on Facebook are my family: my grandparents in the Philippines and my aunt in the US. And I can say this is the absolute truth until I moved to China and was, therefore, unable to use my UK SIM card on the regular – but thank goodness for VPNs otherwise I wouldn’t be able to use anything Facebook-related at all!

Anyway, turns out that a lot more of my friends use Facebook Messenger that I thought: my best friend from college, some people from my old course at uni… my friend from high school who reaches out to me sometimes because, and I assume this with the kindest of intentions, that she is considers me the frontline news source about COVID-19 given that I live in China. (That doesn’t make sense to me; does it make sense to you? Where’s the logic?)

Instagram Direct Messenger

I have about three different Instagram accounts and only use one religiously. I have a friend that I met in Texas – we met one summer and had a strange, family-induced friendship after which I returned to the UK for uni and somehow (???) we stayed in touch through Instagram? I feel like we would be the best of friends if the world threw us together grographically, since we both seem to enjoy the same kind of media, have simmilar political views, and even the same taste in celebrity crushes.

The pros and cons with using Instagram DMs, however, is that they are DMs. I don’t use Instagram to chat with people! I use it to post cute pictures of myself or the food that I’m guiltily spending a lot of money on, or even a wonderful piece of scenery that I happen to come across.

Regardless, Instagram is a wonderful place to send second-hand memes without actually sharing my Tumblr account.

WhatsApp Messenger

WhatsApp was big in Spain, and I can say this because I lived in the Barcelona province for about five or six months. No one bothered to get me a Spanish SIM card, and they all (correctly) assumed that my UK data plan worked in mainland Europe. This was way, way before any Brexit deals have come into fruition, so I suppose it really wouldn’t have mattered either way.

I keep in touch with One™ Close If Not Really A Best Friend on WhatsApp, sneakily lurk at an OAP* language exchange group, and that’s pretty much it. My immediate family had a group chat for whenever we were all in the UK together, but that’s migrated over to Skype now that I’ve moved to China.

Skype

Keeping in contact with my immediate family – my mother and my younger brother – is a priority that I am not willing to compromise on. While my close friends dillied and dallied about creating Skype accounts to keep in touch with me in China (I’ve long since given up on this, and just paid for a secure and reliable VPN service), my family were more than willing to cooperate with me. And I love them for it.

Maybe it’s because they’re used to keeping in tough with people abroad (grandparents, aunts, etc.), but the ease in which they agreed to accommodate me was truly heartwarming.

The beauty of Skype, however, is that I can call UK numbers from my account and it would not cost a thing. I’m not sure if I subscribed to some kind of international plan 15 months ago, but it’s been so long and nothing has ben credited from any linked accounts. Just last night, I called my ‘local’ library in the UK and had them reset my password so that I can borrow ebook and audiobooks from their collection. Skype is beautiful, y’all.

Discord

I’m not a gamer and wouldn’t even pretend to be one even if I was dared to try. My brother introduced this way of communication as a means to watch some TV shows together – this was way before we figured out Skype had share screen capabilities. Anyway, I took Discord like any bored twentysomething stuck in quarantine: I created channels for watch parties and, yes, my very own International Book Club.

I might even be tempted to use Discord for what it was originally created, which is to stream games and talk to other gamers. During this past Spring Festival, I managed to clock 80+ hours within the week I had off work playing this game called Rimworld. It’s hardly a new game, but it’s not quite old either. Nevertheless, I look forward to exploring what Discord has to offer me, despite needing a VPN for me to access it.

WeChat, a.k.a. Wēixìn 微信

It’s a disservice to create a post about communication apps that I use on the regular and not mention that app I used the most. I use this app more often than I do my regular text app and, aside from Chrome, it’s my top-used app. I use it for work: to communicate with co-workers, people from Head Office in charge of my visa and residence permits, and with random people I meet and end up making friends here in China.

You can also use WeChat to pay for things – so goodbye contactless payments or whatever fancy NFC payments your personal device offers! WeChat (or Alipay, depending on your loyalty) is the head honcho over here. I brought Chinese currency – actual, physical cash – with me to tide me over my first few weeks living in this country, and still now, even more than fifteen months later, I still have some cash left over because everything – and I do mean everything – is paid over WeChat.

I pay my rent through WeChat (direct payment to my landlord), I use the mini-programs to top-up my electricity, and I order food and pay for it online using WeChat. IT’s so damn convenient I don’t think I can go back to using cards and cash like people are used to outside of China. And I’ve lived the cash-society life in Japan and, to some extent, the Philippines. I don’t like handling cash – it’s too messy.

WeChat is supreme, I think, but as a communications app? I’m afraid foreigners are at an disadvantage because we are unable to create a second account. This means our personal and work lives are so closely linked that they’re actually one and the same. I have to turn on my phone’s Do Not Disturb just so the extreme night owls at work wouldn’t message me during my time off. Yes, I’m still awake but I’m not at work anymore! Stop bothering me about something we can talk about tomorrow when we see each other at the office.


Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Skype, Discord, and WeChat. Six apps I use to communicate with my family, friends, and coworkers around the world. God help me.

Over to you, my dear readers: What’s your go-to message app? Do you have separate apps for different purposes (like me) or do you just use the one or two? Do you think I’m neurotic for juggling all of these? Let me know in the comments below.

2021: Let’s Try This Again

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!

LiberaTarts is Back… Late and with Starbucks

I hate to be That Basic Bitch™ but with no other coffee shops in this city providing non-dairy milk options other than this cursed coffee franchise, I’ve turned myself into a Starbucks-only gal. Not that this would be a surprise to all my friends, since they all seem to think that I think Starbucks is the be-all-end-all, but I like having options. And I like not giving money to tax-avoiding megacorporations or whatever.

Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened to me these last few months.

I moved apartment!

moving boxes in my studio apartment
Or 我搬家了, as they say in Chinese.

I downgraded from my one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and a little study area to a studio apartment that boasts no kitchen at all. But LT, you may ask, you like cooking – why on earth did you do this?! The reason is this: I like cooking, but I don’t like cleaning. I got myself a hotplate and kept my trusty toaster oven and I’ve been living my best life ever since.

I got promoted!

The story on how I got promoted has a lot of self-effacing dialogue such as, “Oh no, I’m not ready for this” and “I like my current job role; I’m not looking for anything more” while my immediate supperiors were like, “LT, you’re good enough for this. I’m strong-arming you to apply for this [job vacancy].”

And somehow, through some hoops and a brief probationary period later… I’m now middle-management, y’all. The pay-rise is negligible and the workload is much, much more so my burntout little tuchus is working harder than ever before, which is why I’m looking forward to this year’s Spring Festival holidays… not that I want to jinx it or anything, because last year’s Spring Festival led straight into COVID-19 quarantine.

I’ve hosted a Christmas dinner!

Let’s be honest, my dear readers, I am a child at heart. I try my best at this Adulting Malarkey; and while some of my middle and high school classmates are busy getting married, buying houses, and having babies… I’m somehow shifting my life from country to country, a little too fast to make any lasting social ties.

Which is why hosting a Christmas dinner for my coworkers is such a huge deal for me. It’s such an Adult-y thing to do, cooking a roast dinner and having colleagues and their significant others over for chit-chat and wine. I don’t like chit-chat and I detest wine, but by golly was I a good host. I even pre-heated the serving plates before I handed them out and told the guests to dig in!

2020 Christmas dinner preparations
I’m too lazy minimalist for a proper Christmas tree.

BONUS: I’ve started travelling again.

resting on a park bench at Xiling Snow Mountain

It doesn’t snow this heavily in Chengdu – or at all, really. The one time it did snow two weeks ago was but a small flurry and the little flakes didn’t even rest on the ground. So when someone suggested we could visit a nearby snowy mountain, I was all gung-ho and eager to go. I unpacked my winter coat, my heavy-duty winter scarf, and prepared myself to spend a good chunk of the day trip building a snowman. But more on that on a later post!

Over to you, my readers: How has 2020 treated you? Share in the comments below or even tag me in a post of your own. I’d like to hear from you!

Be a part of my International Blogger Friends Directory and let’s collaborate! The world is your oyster.

Hot Air Balloons 熱気球

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.

Be a part of my International Blogger Friends Directory and let’s collaborate! The world is your oyster.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

My Daily Quarantine Schedule

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

I’m the type of person who spirals into unhealthy habits when left alone for too long, i.e. with no outside force such as school or work to control my daily schedule. I also enjoy having complete control over my free time – which is why I like solo-travel and holidays so much – but that is with the understanding that, on the other hand, I have time that isn’t so free.

When something like the physical act of going to work was taken out of the equation, you can bet that I started to revert to my teenage habits of staying up late, sleeping in, not eating regularly, and doing work at the last minute.

That sucks, right?

Transitioning from a staycation holiday mindset to work-from-home mentality was a challenge I didn’t know I had to face, and it took some serious self-reflection for me to end up where I ended up. And that, as it turns out, is someone who willingly gives themselves a daily schedule.

Morning

My alarm wakes me up at 7am. I have another one at 7:15 and at 7:25.

accurate representation of my mornings

I snooze all alarms and properly become coherent at around 7:30am, where I spend about half an hour catching up on social media: replying to messages, watching my friends’ Instagram stories, keeping up that Duolingo streak, and so on.

8am, I sit up and do some reading. Sometimes, I switch to an audiobook and make my bed, turn on the air purifier in the living room, and maybe bake some bread, too. (It’s quick and easy since I usually prep the dough the night before.)

me, every time I have a fresh loaf of bread to eat

9am, I make a cup of coffee and queue up an episode or two of my TV-show-of-the-moment as I eat breakfast and avoid emails. (No, I don’t care about *insert company here* and how they’re ensuring their customers are safe during the pandemic.)

10am, I pick away at the mandatory online training work has set up for all of its teaching staff. Mostly, I just mess around on the Internet while said TV-show-of-the-moment plays in the background; the Motivis user interface is ridiculously buggy and it irritates the life out of me.

Once a week, I schedule an online Chinese language class usually at 10am until 11:30.

12 noon, I choose from a variety of my meal prep dishes and eat lunch. Thank goodness I bit the bullet and bought a microwave before COVID-19 precautions slowed down the Chinese postal services.

Afternoon

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

My typical work hours, pre-quarantine, are 1:30pm until 9pm. So once the clock reaches 1:30, I begin to message my coworkers and coordinate lesson plans for whatever lesson is scheduled that afternoon and in the next few days.

China runs on WeChat communication, I swear

Around 2pm, online lessons start in earnest and I settle myself at my work nook, a.k.a. this little corner tatami floor space that I planned to turn into a reading and study area, but had to commandeer and change into my work zone.

Lessons start to finish around 4 to 5pm, and so I do one of these three things:

  1. take an energising nap because communicating with fidgety children using Zoom is highly frustrating
  2. continue watching my TV show and run on the treadmill a while because, to quote Caroline Bingley, “It’s refreshing, is it not after sitting so long in one attitude?”
  3. chat with my friends in the UK who are beginning to start their day in earnest – time zones can both be a blessing and a curse!

Evening

6pm, I again choose from my meal prep dishes and eat dinner. I continue to watch my TV-show-of-the-moment, but on special days (Wednesdays and Sundays, typically), I Skype with my friends or my family.

7pm, I return to work and resume online teaching. Once, during a particularly free evening, I tried to continue with online training but that went nowhere and I gave up pretty quickly.

Contact hours end at 9pm and usually I keep WeChat open to answer any questions my colleagues might have for me, but more often than not I go back to my TV-show-of-the-moment and play that in the background while my friends and I exchange memes. (There’s nothing more affectionate, I think, than a mutual meme-exchange.)

9pm onwards, I go to Discord or Skype to see who’s online and I end up talking until late evening with whoever wants to talk.

The National Theatre, providing entertainment and culture for the self-isolated

11pm, I get ready for bed and read until my eyelids get super heavy. Sleep happens at some point after 1am because I’m a night-owl like that. And then my daily schedule re-starts.


Over to you: What do you think of my self-imposed daily schedule? My friends, on occasion, have called my tendency to over-plan as ‘neurotic’, but I like to think of it as being prepared. Please share how quarantine and self-isolation have changed your day-to-day life… or not! I’d like to hear about it, regardless.

Be a part of my International Blogger Friends Directory and let’s collaborate! The world is your oyster.

Weathering With You 天気の子 (2019)

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

On the Characters

Morishima Hodaka – a teenager who runs away from his little sleepy island town to the hustle and bustle that is Tokyo city

Amano Hina – the titular ‘Child of the Weather’, a.k.a. Sunshine Girl, who has the ability to stop the rain for a specific area and for a limited amount of time

Suga Keisuke – a freelance writer who sees a lot of himself in Hodaka, so he ends up hiring and housing him and becomes a quasi-mentor

Suga Natsumi – a college student who is also Keisuke’s niece; her constant job search during the second half of the movie is especially endearing

Amano Nagisa – Hina’s younger brother who becomes Hodaka’s relationship guru, a.k.a ‘senpai’ even though he’s like ten, which makes him my favourite character by far

BONUS: Miyamizu Matsuha – a salesperson in a mall, but keen-eyed fans would recognise her as one of the main characters from Your Name

BONUS: Tachibana Taki – the grandson of a woman who wanted sunshine for the anniversary of her husband’s death; again, fans would recognise him as the second main character from Your Name

DOUBLE BONUS: Tokyo City – the city played such a huge part in the movie, and not just because the entire story was set there; it would be a disservice to not include Japan’s capital city as a standalone character

On the Cinematography

What I adore about Japanese animated media – at least, from what I’ve observed as I’ve only seen about five – is that its writers and artists have a deep appreciation of their country. You can tell by the way they translate real places onto the big screen. You can totally watch a Japanese animated movie or an anime and actually (in a way) experience the real Japan.

Am I making sense?

Here’s an example: one of the few animes I religiously follow is Yuri!!! on Ice and there is one episode where they go to a skating rink in the Chugoku region for a qualifier competition. The rink they visit? The animators copied the very real building into the show and my life is crazy enough that I had a chance to visit the rink! (This was before I even got into the show, which is quite a ridiculous set of coincidences, if you ask me.)

Anyway, Weathering With You is set in Tokyo and boy does it show love for that city. The bustling streets, Shibuya crossing, the unnatractive yet beautiful criss-cross of Tokyo’s train tracks… watching this movie made me feel like I was living in Tokyo.

On the Narrative

I wouldn’t want to give away too many plot points, as I’m one of those people who absolutely hate being spoiled for shows / movies / books that I actually care about. But the gist of Weathering With You‘s narrative is this: boy meets a girl with supernatural powers, they form a business that somehow manage to capitalise from that power, and nature demands payment in the form of ritual sacrifice.

I’m not saying this movie wasn’t fun and lighthearted, just that it features some heavy emotional and spiritual themes that make you question the world around you and how you’re living in it. The way Tokyo ended up by the end of the movie? *chef’s kiss* I love how humanity rallied and stuck together and managed to build a life despite everything that has happened.

Here are some side plots worth noting, in no particular order:

The gun

Hodaka finding that hidden (and very, very illegal) gun and everyone’s reaction to it, to him having it, and the incredulity in the adults’ responses when they realise a teenager – a child, in their eyes – had access to something to dangerous. Maybe I’m just desensitised to casual gun violence because of American media, but it was very refreshing to witness the gun scenes in Weathering With You.

Nagisa’s playboy antics

A child’s endless charm and his group of close-knit female friends (possible a posse? I’m not quite sure) somehow contributing to the major climax in the narrative. I don’t like it when younger siblings or children in shows / movies are sidelined when the Big Plot Points Are Happening – it diminishes their autonomy and I think that’s very disrespectiful. Kudos to Weathering With You for giving Nagisa some of the best scenes in the entire movie!

Natsumi’s post-college job search

I felt instant kinship for Hodaka when it was revealed that he ran away from home – I, too, wanted out of my small hometown as a teenager – but nothing prepared me for the punch in the gut breathlessness when I realised carefree Natsumi was out there looking for a job after finishing college. The fact that she remains unemployed for the majority of the movie is an accurate portrayal of current state of affairs and… well… I’m not sure if I love it or hate it.

(I secretly love it.)

In Comparison to 君の名は / Your Name (2016)

I find it secretly thrilling when creators add characters from a different project into another one for a brief cameo. It’s like a little Easter egg for the fans that a layperson might not realise is there, or – if they do realise – might not even really care about. It’s like seeing a good friend in a grocery store: you did not expect to see them in your weekly food shop, but aren’t you glad you did so that you can catch up?

The fact that Miyamizu Matsuha and Tachibana Taki are in Weathering With You kinda makes it a sequel, so I feel bad for comparing the two movies. Regardless, with the amount of nostalgia I associate with Your Name and the memories I have to watching and re-watching that movie, I don’t think Weathering With You can ever compare.

From a purely aesthetic perspective… I like night-time space comets over the blinding beauty of a clear blue sky.

From a narrative perspective? I like techno-magical communication that manages to transcend through time (wibbly wobbly timey wimey!) over supernatural powers and carefully kept secrets.

Also, I find that the ending for Weathering With You, while plenty hopeful, was still very sobering when compared to Your Name‘s train station chase and the subsequent「君の。。。名前は?」and then the ‘camera’ pans up and the end credit music plays. You got the breathtaking reunion, the eye-catching visuals, and the wonderful music – it’s a beautiful, beautiful trifecta.

Final Thoughts

I tried not to make my adoration of Your Name cloud my judgement or affect my experience while watching Weathering With You. It’s a fantastic film in its own right, with captivating scenes, endearing characters, and a clear message about nature, humanity, family values… you name it, you can find some aspect of it in Weathering With You‘s story.

The movie’s soundtrack is also very good, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I searched up the OST on Spotify as soon as I had the werewithal to fumble around on my phone. The movie left me speechless from how awesome it was! Can you blame me for taking some time afterwards to process everything that happened?

If you haven’t seen the movie already – or if you have and wanted to re-watch – please do so and let me know what you think! Do you agree with anything I’ve said about it in this post? Do you disagree, and how so? I’m all ears!

RANDOM NOTE – I still subscribe to HMV Japan’s online newsletter even though I don’t live there anymore. Purely for Japanese reading practice, of course, and not because I always yearn to return to Japan for a long holiday… Anyway, Weathering With You‘s Blu-ray and DVD goes on sale next month on May 27th. MARK YOUR CALENDARS, PEOPLE!


Be a part of my International Blogger Friends Directory and let’s collaborate! The world is your oyster.

Where the Pandas Are: Dealing with the nCoV Outbreak

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 series to 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.

building a personal library, one pocket-sized novel at a time

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.

exact re-enactment of how I answered that phone call

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:

  1. No visits from non-residents of the community.
  2. Residents needs to register for a green access card, which lets you leave and re-enter through the front gates once per day.
  3. The security guards at the gates will check your temperature and green access card before you’re allowed re-entry.
  4. 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?

Autumn 秋

This photo was taken during a homestay weekend I spent with a Japanese family.

They lived in the countryside and, as a get-to-know-you activity, we went on a walk and ended up in the local Shinto shrine.

It was a lovely afternoon – clear sky, crisp autumn air, friendly people. Thank you, the Harada Family, for being so kind to me.


Notes: Today’s #PhotographFriday was taken using a Canon EOS Kiss X7 camera on the 12th of November, 2016 at a Shinto shrine in Yakage, Okayama.

Dover Castle, Kent

I was minding my own business, binge-watching a bunch of crime produral dramas from like, a decade ago, when my OneDrive account reminded me of my time working in Dover, Kent two years ago. Which reminded of my trip to the local castle about two years before that. Which somehow made me homesick all of a sudden.

I miss living in the UK.

Specifically, I miss having easy access to historical sites and not having to worry about language-based miscommunication all the time. While I try not to get too hung up over yearning for “home” because I chose a semi-nomadic lifestyle and I have no regrets…

Home is where your phone automatically connects to the WiFi.

-me, butchering an Internet adage

…however, thinking about a proper cottage pie or a Sunday roast is like getting sucker punched when you’re just trying to binge-watch TV shows in peace.

According to my OneDrive account, I took some lovely pictures of Dover Castle while I was assigned some work in the city back in 2018. Dover College, a further education institution where I tutored some mature students in preparation for the Maths GCSEs, had a perfect view of Dover Castle from the third floor upwards.

black and white picture of Dover castle
the song Misty Mountains from The Hobbit suddenly begins to play

I love a good castle silhouette.

I’m a sucker for a good outline.

I also have a guilty pleasure for black and white pictures, and the picture above hits the trifecta. No wonder homesickness blindsided me like that yellow school bus from Mean Girls.

Aside from working in Dover and having that fantastic view every afternoon, I’ve also visited the Castle proper on a day trip back in 2016. Day trips are very easy to do, considering how tiny a country England was!

LiberaTarts Recalls Another Castle

Dover Castle was built in the 11th century and it, apparently, is one of the largest castles in England. I certainly believe that fact, given how long it took me to reach the castle by foot. As some of you readers might know, I can’t drive nor do I wish to learn how to in the near enough future, which meant that travelling to Dover from home involved an early morning train, a quick brunch at a local restaurant to quell any hunger pains, followed by a sweaty treck up a very steep hill to reach that damned castle.

The hour or so effort it took me to climb to the top was well worth the (metaphoric) blood, sweat, and tears. The fact that The Climb by Miley Cyrus was playing on repeat in my head helped, too. Purely for motivational purposes, of course.

The view from the castle grounds was simple breathtaking. I wish I had the wherewithal to bring my DSLR because the pictures I took using my phone simply did not do the view justice.

Anyway, the activities and self-guided tours inside the castle were very interactive. Perfect for family and school trips, if I’m being honest. There was plenty of medieval and WWII history to be learned, and it’s not wonder that Dover Castle really was a strategic stronghold for England, given its close proximity to the coast and to mainland Europe.

The author holding up a medieval shield.

It looks like a medieval knighthood was not in the cards for me. There goes that daydream.

Visitors to the castle also had access to the roof – a fun experience, for sure, but I didn’t spend too much time there given how I have a fear of heights. I took a few quick snapshots and then hightailed it outta there.

view of the inner castle from the roof of the main keep
from inside the castle walls
LiberaTarts standing in front of Dover Castle
Look at the castle’s intimidating angles. (Sorry, I’m shy!)

By the end of the day trip, I was worn out from the hike up that large hill and the subsequent trek back down to the town centre. The day was not a waste, though, as I had plenty of fun and enjoyed the blindingly bright summer sunshine.

Man, I miss summer.


Tell me: What’s your favourite season? Have you ever been to Dover Castle? Would you want to visit, if you could? Let’s talk in the comments below!