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

Hot Air Balloons 熱気球 #PhotographFriday

This is a series of photography projects posted on any given Friday, told with a brief description of how the photographs came about. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/liberatarts/message
  1. Hot Air Balloons 熱気球
  2. Autumn 秋
  3. Flowers 花

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!

Flowers 花

Hot Air Balloons 熱気球 #PhotographFriday

This is a series of photography projects posted on any given Friday, told with a brief description of how the photographs came about. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/liberatarts/message
  1. Hot Air Balloons 熱気球
  2. Autumn 秋
  3. Flowers 花

I visited a local park during the Chinese Spring Festival holidays.

It wasn’t until the end of my ambling exploration that I stumbled upon a bed of poppies.

DSLR in hand, I took the opportunity to practice with the manual focus settings.


Notes: Today’s #PhotographFriday was taken using a Canon EOS Kiss X7 camera on the 23rd of January, 2020 at Wangjianglou Park (望江楼公园) in Chengdu, Sichuan.

3-2-1 Countdown: Classroom “Cheats” I’d Stake My Life On

The 3-2-1 Countdown series is a collection of posts, reflecting on the dual influences of my Philippine heritage and my British citizenship. It’s not meant to be too serious as politicking is not my strong suit, but instrospection sure is!

I was born and raised in the Philippines, moved to the UK and became a British citizen, before moving back and forth between the two countries like a yo-yo.

Source: Habits of a British-Filipino

Kindergarten, middle school, high school, Sixth Form… you name it, I’ve most likely have tried it. Such is the result of having to move around a lot growing up. It’s not necessarily a bad thing (I crave variety in life because I get bored easy), nor is it a good thing. But let’s focus on the good!

Here are some classroom ‘cheats’ that I feel are national secrets. “How so?” you may ask, and I’ll tell you! It’s because whenever I performed these tricks at school, my friends and classmates would look at me and be like, “Dude, what are you doing.”

mentally, my mind is booking it out of that situation

My response, usually, was to clam up and just get on with my work. I was a studious child. Some would even say nerd or swot like it was a bad thing.

Anyway, here are some tips and tricks I picked up as I moved between various educational institutions. Full disclaimer, though: I’m not claiming that these tricks originated from these countries, just that I was currently living in these places and it seemed to be general knowledge when I learned them.

Makes sense? Okay, let’s go!

3 Tricks I Learned in the Philippines

How many days there are in a given month

Clench both your hands into fists, as if you’re about to throw punches or making the ASL sign for the letters ‘a’ or ‘s’. Notice the valleys and peaks of your knuckles and wonder, “What on earth is the author talking about?”

Let me explain.

I’ll never forget how many days there are in any given month.

Say that January is 1, February is 2 and so on, the numbers in blue are the months with 31 days and the numbers in red are the months with 30 days – except for February, of course, which has 28 (or 29 if a leap year). Check your knuckles yourself and see that I’m right!

It’s not as simple as saying to yourself that each month alternating between 30 and 31 days – which would have been totally easier, I’m sure – but them pesky Roman emperors Julius and Augustus ruined the pattern* and was like, “Let’s commemorate our greatness by adding ourselves to the calendar!” and thus, the months of July and August (months 7 and 8, respectively, coded in blue) became a part of our lives.

Quick multiplication for numbers six up to nine

Did you hate memorising your times tables as a kid? Yeah, me too.

My relationship with math is like a love/hate relationship. I love how it’s the same (pretty much) in whichever country you learn it in; I hate how difficult it gets once you reach a certain level. I may have peaked during algebra class, way back when I was still in mandatory education, and kind of fell hardwhen we started learning statistice.

Regardless, this little hand trick regarding the six to nine (technically ten, but who needs tricks learning how to count in ten?!) times tables earned me a few curious looks when I transferred to a UK school. I still stuck by it like my fingertips are glued together!

Each finger corresponds to a number, e.g. pinky finger = 6, middle finger = 8. Say you’re working out 7×8, like in the picture above. Put your fingers together and these fingers will create a boundary: the fingers below including the boundary line indicate the number of tens in the product you’re searching for, i.e. for this instance, it’s five fingers which equal to five tens… 50. Next, you need to multiply the fingers above the boundary line together.

“Wait, more multiplication?! Say it ain’t so!” you may say.

Don’t make this weird, I’m just trying to make maths easier. Or more difficult. It depends on the person.

Okay, so the next step is this: there are three fingers on the left hand and two fingers on the right. This means that you have to multiply 3 by 2, which is 6. Add this to the 50 from before, and you get 56. What’s 7×8=? The answer is 56.

Knowing if a number is a multiple of nine

The nine times table was the easiest table to learn after the 1s, 10s, and 2s. Why? Because the product (the answer) always, when the digits are added together, make up the number nine.

1 x 9 = 9

2 x 9 = 18 [1+8=9]

3 x 9 = 27 [2+7=9]

…and so on. Easy enough to remember when checking answers!

2 Tips I Picked Up in the UK

Working out the nine times table

Jumping from those maths tricks above, there’s one that I learned in the UK that was shown to me as a kid but I never really decided to bother with because at that point, I had memorised the necessary numbers and would frantically check the digits in the products to see if they added up to nine. Regardless, I still get a chuckle from this trick whenever the kids I tutored for my part-time job back at university were working on their maths homework.

This trick is pretty self-explanatory. Working out 9×7=? Count, from the left, to your seventh finger and hold it down. The number of fingers to the left is the tens, the fingers on the right are the units. The answer is 63.

(6 + 3 = 9, just FYI.)

L is for my left hand side

I wouldn’t want to presume that learning one’s Left from one’s Right is simple – the left is the left and the right is the right, right? – but apparently some people, especially young kids, find it difficult to differentiate. I suppose things like the changeability of direction depending on perspective is too much for the young’uns to spare too much brain power over. And so things like “L is for my left hand side” came into fruition, I guess!

L is for my left hand side, okay?!

1 Thing I Learned From Somewhere Else

A is for America. E is for England.

on how to spell the colour ‘grey’/’gray’

English is my strongest language. I can make basic, everyday conversation in Tagalog, can seemingly understand the dialect spoken in my hometown like it’s in my soul but only if I’m in that town, and I have a passable understanding of Japanese because I studied it at university. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to spell the colour grey until I gave up and Googled it way later in my life that I should have.

I’m talking late teens, here.

As tough and seemingly lawless the English language can be, there’s no wonder that there are many so-called rules and mnemonics that help with spelling that are taught to kids in elementary school. Most of them have been debunked – cough*I-before-E-except-after-C*cough – but I stick by the quote above like fly on flypaper. It hasn’t steered me wrong, yet.


Over to you guys: Do you have any classroom tips or tricks that you swore by – or still swear by, even now into adulthood? Assuming your a grown-up. Students are welcome to comment, too! (This is why you can never assume things on the Internet!)

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: Let’s Get This Bread

I self-identify as a millennial. I, therefore, speak in memes from time to time.

And by ‘time to time’, I do mean most of the time. But as with life and how it soldiers on, I’m aware enough to realise that my meme knowledge is aging, and no longer can I see a new Internet fad and automatically understand what it means. I’m not too sad about it, seeing as I have other prirorities now other that being ‘cool with the kids’, but it’s still a little upsetting when my thoughts occasionally stray towards it.

Anyway! Yesterday, I re-posted a list consisting of 25 Things a twentysomething should do before, well, they hit thirty. I’m in my mid-twenties and am in no rush to reach my third decade of living, nor am I dragging my feet for the good ol’ days. I actually love my life right now. The only problem, however, is that I have no clear goals to speak of (aside from, you know, eventually getting promoted at work or something like that). And so, The List was born!

  1. Do something scary.
  2. Learn to cook.
  3. Travel alone.
  4. Ride a plane.
  5. Party all night.

…and so on. I won’t list them all out again; you can read them here if you wish to take a look.

Aside from being a millennial, I’m also a Sagittarius so yeah I can’t stay in one place for too long. Which is why! I can cross off some things from that mighty list above.

LiberaTarts Likes to Travel

It’s Day 1 of this not-quite-a-challenge and already I am itching to tick off a few points from that list. Continue below if you want to read about it.

#3 Travel Alone

Solo-travel was something I embraced during my year abroad in Japan. Around late spring to late summer of 2017, you could find me dragging my little cabin-sized wheeled suitcase from ドン・キホーテ (a discount chain store) around the Kansai, Chugoku, and Kyushu regions.

I learnt so much about myself as a person, travelling alone. I’ve learnt that I much preferred having one hundred percent control over the itinerary, and that asking strangers to take pictures of you isn’t that frightening at all! Always go for the family tourists or the ones who look like retirees.

#4 Ride A Plane

Clearly I’ve no patience (or the stomach) for long-distance sea travel. I flew on a plane to get to the countries I’ve been to!

gif of the view from a plane
travelling over Belfast

#9 Change The Script

Take an extended vacation to a new town (or country!) where you don’t know anybody.

Source

I can’t say it was entirely my idea, but moving to England at the age of six with my family kind of counts as “changing the script”… right? I sure as hell didn’t know anyone; making friends as a shy, brown-skinned introvert was difficult enough without all the drama that was happening in my family. Suffice to say, stability was not A Thing during my childhood and early teens.

#15 Go Overseas

I’ve semi-permanently moved to China. I live, work, and spend all of my free time in Chengdu, where I’m based. Despite the chance to travel during the Spring Festival / Lunar New Year holidays, I decided to stay in Sichuan so that I can fully immerse myself in this new chapter of my life. So, have I been overseas? As a British-Filipino, the answer is an absolute hells yeah.


Over to you: What can you check off from the list? Tell me in the comments below!

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!

Where the Pandas Are: Travelling to China for Work

This might come as a surprise to some people, but I’m an ESL teacher. It says so right there in my ‘Meet the Author’ widget on the sidebar, but I wouldn’t want to presume anything – not when it comes to the transient nature of The Internet (yes, capital letters and all).

I first caught the teaching bug when I did some Actual Classroom Work at a high school in rural Spain. Turns out I’m a natural and I’m really good at the teaching that I do, so once school ended and summer started up again, I thought to myself ‘why not’ and applied to teach in China.

The entire process leading up to my boarding a flight at Heathrow was an adventure and a half (and I’ll definitely type up a post about it soon enough), but today I’ll focus on my journey from Kent to Chengdu. It was certainly different from my previous intercontinental experiences travelling back and forth between the UK and the Philippines. But where to begin?

Let’s start with the disaster of leaving my hometown in Kent and see where that leads us.

LiberaTarts Goes to China

Leaving Kent

To quote John Denver whose song ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ somehow became the background music of my childhood years, all my bags were packed and I was ready to go. And it would have felt like Mother Nature was sending me off in good spirit, what with a rainbow showing up and all that, if not for the fact that the reason I was able to see the rainbow in the first place was because I forgot my wallet back home and didn’t realise until I was already at the train station.

a rainbow in a small town in Kent

So anyway, my plans to leave for China didn’t go off to an auspicious start. I ran back and forth between the train station and home, sweating up a storm despite my intentions of being chill and relaxed AF as I buckle myself in for a 10 hour flight east. I was wearing joggers and an oversized hoodie and everything! If I learned anything from the multiple long-haul flights in the past, it’s to forgo skinny jeans and embrace the athleisure style.

Arriving in London

Despite the rushing back and forth, I was able to make it to London with plenty of time to spare. I checked two of my large suitcases into a Left Luggage facility and spent one last dinner (in a long, long while) with my brother, who was kind and gracious and filial enough to accompany me to the airport.

We went to Nando’s, as it’s our usual haunt, and afterwards we reluctantly dragged our feet towards the underground. We picked up my two suitcases from the lockers, and somehow managed to navigate through London-in-rush-hour with two frankly overweight suitcases and a small carry-on. The lifts were also out of service at the St Pancras / King’s Cross station, usually known for having step-free access, so we had to ask a very helpful station attendant to help transfer my suitcases from the train station level down to the underground level. (It was a nightmare, but lowkey fun.)

taken from the ‘Travel for London’ website

This can all have been avoided, of course, if I checked the TfL website beforehand for any issues. Silly me!

At Heathrow Airport

Once we were through the underground barriers and free to roam Heathrow, my brother and I didn’t have to walk far before we found the Air China check-in counter. I used the self-service machines to print out my boarding pass (because I’m anti-social like that), but had to talk to an Actual Human as I dropped off my luggage. They were overweight, which wasn’t a surprise. For the life of me, I can never pack light and I’m slightly proud to say that one large suitcase was filled with British snacks.

I’ve lived the expat life before, people! I know myself enough that a few months into a new country, I’d be missing my favourite snacks like a, well, a missing limb. When I was in Japan for my year abroad, I somehow convinced my family to send me three giant 200g blocks of Galaxy chocolate and a handful of Walkers Thai Sweet Chilli crisps.

I live to this day with no regrets. Regarding snacks, at least. I paid a hefty amount for my overweight luggage, but that’s a problem for past and future me to consider. Present-me is having a blast in a hotel room that her new work has paid for.

Boarding My Flight

The plane I was due to take arrived late at the airport, which meant it was late in boarding my fellow flight passengers on; it wasn’t late for long, but it was enough for me to grumble about things needing to be on time. A funny thing that happened, though: an airline employee announced that my flight was delayed, and just as as she uttered “The flight XXXXX is…” a bunch of overeager passengers jumped to their feet and began queueing. It was like watching meerkats pop out from the ground.

has anyone seen this movie? the songs are Actual Bops

The other airline staff checking passports at the waiting area exchanged looks and were like “that was funny”, but only in a more professional manner than my retelling makes them out to be.

Flying from England to China

Now this. This was s o m e t h i n g.

10 hours of recycled air, no WiFi, and oversalted food to compensate with the high altitude.

I won’t say it was fun because I actually have a semblance of sanity left, but the seat next to me wasn’t taken and I was free to stretch out my legs as I catnapped in the air.

I made the executive decision not to sleep during the flight, because I wanted to conquer jet lag as quickly as possible given how I’ll be set to work within a week and my relationship with a regular sleeping pattern is something teenagers laugh at. Anyway, I was grateful to have thought ahead and have downloaded Series 9 of ‘Doctor Who’ on my phone using BBC iPlayer – I’ve never seen it before even though it’s 2019 it was released in 2015.

I’ve also downloaded some library ebooks on my phone (can’t figure out to sending loaned books to my Kindle), and I had plenty of non-fiction reads to tide me over on said Kindle, so it wasn’t like I was bored to tears as I flew from Europe to Asia. Still, I would loved some access to the Internet. Maybe if I flew business or first class in the future…

…one can only hope.

Landing in China

My heart was racing and, for once, it wasn’t due to the pre- or post-flight jitters. There’s something about a plane revving up or preparing to land that scares me. Anyway, I was super nervous to land in China. It’s not because I’ve never been before – I’m a traveller at heart and I like experiencing new cultures – but because I know I’ll be spending at least a year in this place and I do not speak a word of Mandarin. At least with Japan, during my year abroad, I spent the previous two years studying Japanese as part of my university degree.

Working in China was a relatively spur of of the moment decision. Aside from 你好 (ni hao, hello) and 谢谢 (xie xie, thank you), I know next to nothing. Everyone, even those who have no intention of living semi-permanently in any Chinese speaking countries, know how to say hello and thank you. It’s just basic courtesy. My fears that I will somehow insult somebody or break the rules somehow is entirely founded in something real.

I gotta learn how to speak Mandarin. I will learn even if it kills me.

Anyway, I land in China and was greeted by a large placard bearing my full name, which was held by representatives from my new company. It was both mortifying (because it was bright pink) and endearing (no one has even made an airport placard for me before!). I see myself keeping that placard for the time being. I’m a huge packrat, afterall…

Settling In

Less than 24 hours later, I wake up in my hotel room and visited the Head Office to sign my contract. I leave with a welcome bag filled with well-meaning gifts and two work uniforms. But I suppose that’s a story for another time. Keep an eye out for the second part of the ‘Where the Pandas Are’ series! The plan is to document my time here in China, from the ups and downs, the enjoyable and the downright absurd.

Feel free to join me in this adventure. Let’s have some fun!

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!