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.

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.

Introducing the International Blogger Friends Directory

I’m essentially a newbie to this whole WordPress blogging rigmarole, and I figured this would be a good way to branch out of my little corner of the Internet. Like a foal toddling on its legs and learning how to walk, I stumbled upon Gurezu‘s International Blogger Friends Directory and thought… why the hell not!

The International Blogger Friends Directory works like this: you aim to have (at least) one blogger friend from each country around the world, and the purpose is to do blog collaborations and even postcard exchanges if possible.

It’s a mighty challenge in and of itself, to be sure, given how there’s over a hundred countries in the world at least – I’m not doing a Google search to check! Also, as I’m blogging from China, my understanding of its postal system is theoretical at best… the likelihood of me wandering into a post office with my limited Chinese (你好 and 谢谢, if anyone is wondering), is on the low side of probability.

Nevertheless, I would love to curate an International Blogger Friends Directory and so… here I am! I invite you, my dear readers, to join me in this incredible quest.

LiberaTarts: International Blogger Friends Directory (IBFD)

I’ll add more rows as people decide to join, otherwise here is my directory so far:

#CountryFriend’s NameBlog LinkSocial Media
1PhilippinesMary GracegurezuIG: @gurezu
2PhilippinesPrecious JasminjasminpreciousIG: @preciousxxwalker
3Cayman IslandsChoianywherewithchoi?
(this is a work in progress!)

Here are some ideas to help demonstrate what the IBFD entails:

  • follow each other’s blogs
  • follow each other’s social media
  • blog collaborations
    • book / tv show / movie reviews → recommend something to me and I’ll recommend something back, and we’ll both type up a review post about That Thing
    • be a guest blogger for any chosen topic → guest blogging is a fun way to advertise your blog on a different platform, and it also sounds fun!
  • be penpals
    • send each other postcards or letters, depending on what you’re comfortable with

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, leave a comment below! Let’s have some fun~

Roaring 20s: Things To Do When You’re A Twentysomething

I understand that we’re in the middle of February, but… HAPPY 2020, my dear readers! It’s not only a new year but a new decade, too. Definitely worth a little party popper if you’re lucky enough to have some to hand.

Living in China, I am fortunate enough to celebrate the new year twice: once on the 1st of January, and a second time during the Chinese Spring Festival twenty-five days later on the 25th of January. The party atmosphere has long-since died down, however, not because I’m perpetually late in documenting it but because of the novel coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan province.

I wouldn’t want to spend too much time on that, though, so let’s move on!

I don’t want to get into specifics, nevertheless I think it’s worth noting that I am smack-dab in the middle of my twenties. And to play into that whole ‘searching for a purpose’ stereotype, I am – quite frankly, searching for a purpose. Aside from maintaining my general wellbeing, going to work, and socialising (online, mostly) with my friends and family, I don’t really have any plans in life.

What to do? What to do?

LiberaTarts Reads a LifeHack: Things to Do in Your Twenties

Like with most things, I turned to Google for help and searched “things to do when you’re in your mid-twenties”. It’s a clunky search term, but Google does what Google does best and it spat out several interesting pages. Leaving behind the generic advice to avoid drama and invest into a 401K (whatever that is, I’m not American), I found this lovely list on LifeHack that I must, must, must dip into.

25 Things You Must Do In Your Twenties

  1. Do something scary.
  2. Learn to cook.
  3. Travel alone.
  4. Ride a plane.
  5. Party all night.
  6. Take a risk.
  7. Enlighten yourself.
  8. Play a sport.
  9. Change the script.
  10. Reunite with an old friend.
  11. Drop the “I’m busy” farce.
  12. Pay off your debt.
  13. Get to know your family.
  14. Re-read the classics.
  15. Go overseas.
  16. Volunteer for a cause.
  17. Cut the clutter.
  18. Fall in love.
  19. Write a letter.
  20. See your favorite band live.
  21. Sleep under the stars.
  22. Perform for a crowd.
  23. Take a road trip with your best friend or partner.
  24. Start a garden.
  25. Find your passion.

(Source: Daniel Wallen)

Okay, number twenty-five is very wishy-washy and already I am scoffing at the idea. But I will stick to this list (at least for the next few months, haha!) and let’s see how I get on. Given the tone of the list, I can tell it comes from a very traditional American experience – assuming you can drive or know someone who can do so for a road trip, or not having had the chance to leave the country you where you were born, etc. As the daughter of an OFW, I literally moved continents at the young age of six and have not stopped since.

Also, some of these things on the list are not very SMART worthy. What is SMART, you may ask? It’s an acronym to help answer competency-based questions during interviews: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Based. It’s also an acronym that I use to create lessons plans – yay for ESL teaching! Anyway, goals listed above like “learn to cook” and “cut the clutter” are all quite vague, but I suppose figuring out how to be specific would be part of the process.

OF COURSE I’m in no way obligated to complete this list. I do have some autonomy, after all, despite needing lists and other forms of productivity tools to somehow move my life along. Come join my quest into checking off this entire list… or not. Up to you!

Beginner’s (Cheeky) Guide to Nando’s Dining

Have you ever gotten a “cheeky Nando’s”? Would it come as a surprise if I say that I get said “cheeky Nando’s” at least once a month – twice, even, during the summer when I had free time to spare.

Cheeky Nando’s is a meme-tastic phrase that gained popularity in late 2014, describing a visit to a Portuguese peri-peri style chicken place called Nando’s that you shouldn’t really have but somehow you’ve managed to convince yourself “why the hell not, YOLO!”

treat yo self GIF from parks and recreation
my daily mantra

I find myself dining at a local Nando’s recently when I had a startling realization. My brother and I were sitting at our table, having ordered our food with ease and were at the point waiting for our food to be served, when a family of three was seated beside us. The server gave them their menus and they spent at least fifteen minutes poring over the options before the conversation started in earnest between them.

Now, I can’t say I have an ear for foreign languages – I barely have an ear for the English language, given the amount of variation in accents found in the UK alone – but I recognize the off French word or two. And so like Sherlock Holmes, I deduced that the family were tourists and therefore would not have been overly familiar with how Nando’s worked. Yes, it is a sit-down type of restaurant where you can enjoy a hearty meal with friends and family… however, it was run like a fast food chain, albeit a fast food chain with relatively healthy standards.

Confused? Let me explain.

How To Order Food in Nando’s in Five Easy Steps

Step One

Enter through the door and wait to be seated. There is usually a seated waiting area by the front doors – if it’s not manned by the restaurant’s front of house staff, wait patiently and someone will come over.

Step Two

Once seated, the server will tell you your table number as they hand over the menus. Then, you are free to peruse to your heart’s content, since Nando’s has plenty of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options to choose from.

NANDO’S NEWBIES, BEWARE OF THIS STEP.

The French family from above made the mistake of waiting for the server to come back and take their order. The server does not come back to the table to take your order. I repeat, the server does not come back to take your order. What you need to do is detailed in Step Three.

Step Three

Armed with your order, a volunteer from your group – the designated mom friend, or in the case of the French family, the Actual Mom™ – should go to the area of the restaurant where all the tills are located. They typically are situated behind a bar and laid out in a neat row, like this:

step three: pay at the till

Now, during the ordering process, you have to state your table number before you list off your food choices. Do not forget your table number because if you do, you’ll have to do that walk of shame back to your table to check.

Also, choose a level of spiciness if you’re ordering the per-peri chicken. You’re always asked what level of spiciness is preferred by the chicken-devourer.

If you’re ordering a drink as well, don’t be disappointed if you’re given a glass instead of the actual drink – they’re meant to be filled by the customer over at the refill station. (It’s very American, I know.)

Step Three is when you pay for what you’ve ordered.

Step Four

This is the fun part.

DO NOT GO BACK TO YOUR TABLE.

Cast your eyes around the restaurant until you find the little island containing all the sauces. This is also the drink refill station. Grab as many varieties of sauces and dips as you can carry. At this stage in the process, you are more than welcome to signal your group – either through facial gestures or hand signals, maybe even semaphore – and ask what their preferences are or for help if you wish it.

grab one of each, who cares!

Don’t forget to grab enough cutlery for the table. Or just grab a set for yourself if you’re feeling petty, and let the rest of your group grab their own, You’ve already gotten the sauces from the island, let the others earn the right to have a cheeky Nando’s.

Step Five

Is everyone settled back at the table?

Cutlery retrieved? Sauces lined up in the centre like precious treasure?

Now is time for you to begin an earnest conversation with your friends / family / date / what have you. There isn’t much of a wait for food in Nando’s unless it’s the lunch rush. When you get into a groove and somehow manage to arrive at an uncomfortable topic of conversation that really shouldn’t be happening in public, another server will come by carrying your delicious peri-peri chicken.

Bonus Step

The bonus and cheeky final step is this: pick up your knife and fork and eat your chicken (or your chosen vegetarian substitute). And with that, what else is there to say aside from “Bom apetite!”

I don’t actually watch The Simpsons.

Over to you guys: What’s the equivalent of Nando’s in your country? In the Philippines, I would say it’s this barbecue restaurant chain called ‘Mang Inasal’. Let me know in the comments below!

New Year, Not-So-New… Anything

I’m not saying I forgot about this blog as it’s been a constant niggle at the back of my mind whenever anything remotely interesting happened in my life. It’s just that I’m a perennial procrastinator and this could hardly be news to anyone at this point.

The last six months have been a rollercoaster ride, from family madness to random job interviews and my own personal issues manifesting somehow only during the wintertime, but let’s not think about that right now! Let’s talk about fun, enjoyable things. Like food, and travel, and useless but cool-looking gadgets.

So without further ado, let’s get started on my first blog post this year… also known as:

LiberaTarts Gets Her Groove Back

December was a fun month, full of family-fun and Christmas cheer. It was a vast improvement to 2017’s Christmas, which I admittedly spent alone because my university term dates – when coupled with the extortionate flight prices in December – decided to fight with my bank account balance.

Christmas 2018 was spent with my immediate family, and honestly? I can’t remember the last time it was just the three of us, so the few weeks leading up to the 25th were one of the nicest weeks I’ve ever experienced. The gifts I got my mother and my brother were both thoughtful and practical, and I had a blast preparing for noche buena – the food planning, grocery shopping, the works!

The most iconic highlight of the month, however (aside from the Christmas spirit, family, yadda yadda yadda), was watching this Academy Award winning movie:

gif of Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse spotify video
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

The movie’s hilarious Christmas playlist were in all the background noche buena pictures; it was the not-so-silent fourth member of our little family, and it brings me joy just thinking about the memories.

January brought misery during the first half, when my mother admitted to feeling homesick and – since she had the time, means, and opportunity to do so – I encouraged her to go home to the Philippines and visit the good ol’ grandparents. Who are her parents, but there are only so many parental figures I can introduce in this narrative without confusing myself.

Not all hope was lost, though! After months of whiling away my time, taking a break from ‘Adulting’, I managed to land a Skype interview with a company that didn’t make my soul shrivel up and die at the prospect of working for them.

Aaaand this leads very nicely to the lovely month of February, where I ended up pretty much hauling my life to a different country to teach English for a bunch of high school kids. I’ve never really given it much thought when people say the situation snowballed, but my goodness that’s what happened to me: I did the Skype interview, got told I was pretty much a shoo-in as long as I ace the (very easy, super simple) grammar exam, and then two weeks later I was packing my bags and buying a very expensive plane ticket to Spain!

(Note to everybody: buying plane tickets two weeks before you fly? DO NOT DO UNLESS THERE IS NO OTHER CHOICE. This will bankrupt not just your wallet, but also your soul.)

bullet journal travel entry
bullet journal entry: travelling to Spain

On the plus side, I managed to create something cheerful for my bullet journal. One of these days, I will create a post about bullet journaling for the non-artistic person and it will be full of hints and tips on how to cheat that bujo inspo hashtag.


Over to you guys: I know it’s March already but how did you spend your winter holidays? Tell me in the comments below! And if you’re a Spiderverse fan, by any chance, please say hi and I would love to hear your thoughts about the soundtrack.

See you next time!

Get to Know Me: Part 3 of 5

It’s been a while, but here is part 3 of the ‘Get to Know Me’ series. I’ve hit an all too serious existential crisis so I haven’t had much time to churn out as many travel-related posts as I wanted, so here’s a quick read to tide the blog over.

If you’re a new reader and wishes to catch-up on this series, just jump on the About Me tag to get started.

Now, onto the juicy bits!

High School Non-Musical, aka LiberaTarts Can’t Sing

Funniest moment throughout school?

fiction book called Holly the Christmas Fairy

The fact that no moment stands out as particularly funny pretty much indicates how much fun I had during my years in mandatory education. There was that one time I dressed up as a Christmas Fairy during a World Book Day event – “dress up as your favourite book character, it’d be fun!” they said. Whilst I looked amazing in a puffed up Santa-inspired dress and a random set of fairy wings, the other kids in my class were flabbergasted that I dared to dress Christmas-y during early spring.

Anyway, the following year I made the executive decision to dress up as Velma from Scooby Doo. That was a fun year, considering.

How many countries have you visited?

Last I checked? 20 countries as of this November. Check out my world travel map – the highlighted areas are the countries I’ve spent at least 48 hours in.

Places I really very much want to revisit are Spain, Japan, and the USA. I’m a traveller at heart, and it’s my greatest wish to see Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Great Wall of China in… well, China.

What was your favourite/worst subject in High School?

FAVOURITE SUBJECT: Mathematics

WORST SUBJECT: Music

It was a mix of social anxiety and the fear of speaking in public that clued me to the fact that I cannot – and will ever not – perform well in Music class. I also can’t sing my way out of a paper bag, despite my entire Filipino family enjoying a good karaoke singalong every time there’s an excuse to throw a party.

What is your favourite drink? Animal? Perfume?

DRINK: People close to me (but not close enough to know my true niche interests) have learned to get me Starbucks gift cards as gifts. I like a good triple-shot hazelnut soy latte to get my day started, and a really indulgent matcha soy latte with whipped cream for those days I need a little pick-me-up.

ANIMAL: My favourite animals are snakes, hedgehogs, and turtles, but there’s nothing like a little kitten climbing onto your lap and napping it’s cute head off for a solid hour or so. The closest I have ever gotten to that happening was when I met a street cat in Budapest that one time.

the cuddliest street cat ever?!

PERFUME: I don’t like scents that are too strong, so I rarely use perfume outside of fancy events like an extra-social party or my own graduation (to name the most recent times). I barely even tolerate scented deodorant.

What would you (or have you) name your children?

Children? What children?

It was a running joke during college that I will name any daughter of mine Sherlock, just to mess with people. I am so glad I grew out of that – and by that, I mean the BBC show and not my penchant for naming things/people/anything strangely.

Case in point: I promised a friend just today that if I ever get a pet, I’m naming them Theodosia after the Hamilton song. I am also to name any hamsters I theoretically get Alexhamster Hammylton after the titular character.

#waitforit

What sports do you play?

I used to enjoy table tennis back when P.E. lessons were mandatory. I completely sucked at volleyball, and actual human-sized tennis was fun back when I was a child and my family were crazy enough to go to public tennis courts and play a set or two against other Filipino expats. 

Who are some of your favourite YouTubers?

I don’t have any? Sorry to disappoint!

How many relationships have you had?

If you don’t have a decent relationship with your family and all the friends you’ve met (and have chosen to keep – some just didn’t make the cut!), then you’re failing at life, my friend.

Favourite memory from childhood?

The one time my entire family and I went on vacation to Palawan in the Philippines. We were island hopping for the day and it was right after lunch, which we spent under a nipa hut on the white sandy beach, and I was taking a fortifying walk where the water kissed the land. Someone had taken a picture of me, digging my bare foot into the sand, my mother’s large beach hat covering my face.

It wasn’t a great shot of me by any means, but what that random stranger managed to capture in the background was one of the most accurate depiction of my family dynamics. Very quintessential. (Spoiler alert: we’re all complete dorks.)

Basically, my younger brother and my mother were walking down the beach as well – we all ate a lot of food, okay! – and for some reason, my brother had grabbed and ran away with the wrap/pashmina/sarong my mother was using to protect herself from the sun. My mother gave chase. Just imaging a chubby little kid who was a head shorter than my below-average height of a mother, zig-zagging across this pristine, white sandy beach in the Philippines, while I calmly took in the views of the ocean before me. That’s one of my fondest memories.

How would you describe your fashion sense?

I would describe my fashion sense like a child with a credit card who was let loose in a mall. I like overtly feminine clothes, but also masculine silhouettes (though I don’t have many pictures of that); I like tight a-line skirts and midi dresses and oversized jumpers and whatever I can find at the men’s section in any given charity shop. Depends on the day, really. 


Over to you guys: Comment below if you’re a cat person! I’m a very recent fan myself, so I try to make up the years I’ve spent disliking them by being so happy whenever I encounter one. Also, where in the world would you like to (re)visit? I’m curious to find out!

Part 4 of 5 will happen once I get a handle on my existential crisis.

That Summer Intern Life

The fourth Friday of August signalled the end of my internship at a not-so-local agency, which pretty much meant that just as the temperature is beginning to cool down, my summer plans are about to heat up.

Now, I only say ‘not-so-local’ because this agency I worked for was only a few towns away, specifically a 30-minute drive if I own a car if ever learned how to drive – but that’s a whole can of worms altogether. I relied 100% on public transportation (thanks to the UK for having a comprehensive public transportation system that extends beyond the capital city!), made my own packed lunches, and got the chance to dress like the Sixth Former I could have been if only I had the budget, confidence, and wherewithal to pull off business casual outfits.

I completely regret not documenting my #OOTD these past three months.

What’s it like to be an intern?

Let’s start with the basics…

  1. Why did I choose to do an internship?
  2. How did I get the internship?
  3. What were my days like?

First up – I chose to do an internship for the same reasons most undergraduates (or fresh out of the lecture hall graduate, like myself) choose to do an internship. I wanted to gain experience outside of teaching or community outreach, which I somehow managed to accumulate billions of experience in already. In another life, perhaps I could have been a teacher. But guys, just watch me try to fight that destiny in this particular lifetime: I scored myself an internship in an agency, got myself two pairs of cute brogues to mark the occasion, and drank my Starbucks to-go every morning like a modern-day working woman.

Question number two my university has this scheme that promotes extra-curricular activities to its current students, where they assign points to each type of activity. Attending a careers fair, for example, would be worth 5 points. Part-time work held for longer than 3 months would be 30 points, and completing a course outside of your core curriculum would be worth 60 points. As these points add up, you can exchange them for work experience and internship interviews, and I was fortunate enough to jump through all the hoops and come out with a summer internship.

Most undergraduate students, I’m assuming, would choose to do a summer internship between their first and last year of study. NOT ME, THOUGH. I chose to cash in my points at the end of my final year, which put a little bit of a downer on my fresh-out-of-uni celebrations because I felt like I jumped from my graduation ceremony straight into the world of full-time employment with no summer break in between. I felt robbed, and also very stupidly spoiled because who has problems like these?

Thirdly – my days started off early. Wake up at 5:45 and out of the house by 6:55, dressed and belly happy from a freshly made breakfast. Towards the later weeks, however, I know I slept in a bit more and grabbed a breakfast at Starbucks rather than making one at home, which angered my wallet by a lot. Still, what’s done is done.

I take the 7:04 bus from where I live to where I work; for the first four weeks, this bus route doubled as the morning school run. It was as hellish as it sounds. Imagine children from three different grammar schools (plus myself!) all piled up like sardines inside a double-decker bus… you could imagine the conversations I overheard. I just want to quote Abba and say, thank you for the music, otherwise, I wouldn’t know how I would have survived.

a .gif of Spongenbob wearing headphones and snapping his fingers
Spongebob is listening to Abba, I swear

I arrive at the town where I work at exactly 8:10 if there weren’t any delays. I then grab my morning Starbucks, scan my gold member app, and then proceed to walk to the office at around 8:35. My normal walking speed gets me to the office front door about 8:55, but if I am in a rush or angry-therefore-I-power-walked, I would arrive five or ten minutes earlier.

This might all sound neurotic to most people, but keeping to a schedule pretty much saved my soul this summer. What I realised about myself, during this entire internship experience, is that I really value having complete control of my time. As an intern, you don’t really have control over what you do between clocking in at work and clocking out – at least not at the agency I worked for.

I had to spend the majority of my days – my weeks, even – with total strangers who very clearly did not share the same life experiences as myself, and therefore did not have the same values. They tagged it as a generational thing: “you’re such a millennial” was a phrase bandied about lightheartedly in the office. But it was so much more than the years between me and my colleagues…

  • I value smart work over hard work
  • Naps are not just for young children: inemuri is a lifestyle I live by
  • NOT ALL ASIAN CULTURES ARE THE SAME
  • Being gay is not a punchline to some joke and it should never be used as one

So these past three months have been a hardship, to say the least. I came into the internship hoping to gain work experience applicable to most graduate jobs I plan to apply for, and I came out battered and worn with a significant amount of money spent on food deliveries to the office… oops!

I still gained valuable work experience and a lot more doors are open to me now compared to if I never took that internship offer; nevertheless, I know that I have become less idealistic for my work-future, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some might say I needed this crash course in real life.

Adulting™ is hard, y’all.


Over to you guys: Do you have any internship adventures to lament over? Are you currently a student planning to take one? Am I being too whiny over the whole ‘millennial’ label that people my age can’t seem to shake?

I am going to Belfast next week to celebrate completing my summer internship, so keep an eye out for my first travel journal blog post!