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?