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?

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!)

3-2-1 Countdown: Habits of a British-Filipino

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. I also took a Migration and Belonging module at university, yet I still don’t understand how to categorize my situation.

Anyway, here are some habits that I personally ascribe to either identity.

3 Filipino Mannerisms I Refuse To Shake

Using the tsinelas

I can’t help it! I can’t subscribe to the idea of using shoes you wear constantly outdoors indoors. I also don’t understand the concept of walking around barefoot at home – I don’t care if the entirety of your house is carpeted and, frankly, using a fluffy slipper is weird AF when it’s not Christmastime.

Also, what do you do when you just got out of the shower? Track your wet feet along a carpet that outdoor shoes may or may not have tread across, or dare to get your fluffy slipper wet?

I say “slippers” all the time and all my non-Filipino friends get concerned.

Eating rice… all the time

It’s not a proper meal without rice.

– me to my friends, on more than one occasion

I can have rice for breakfast: egg fried rice with bacon lardons and random vegetables I feel like eating.

I can have rice for lunch: rice and oven-roasted pork with a side of green beans.

I can even have rice for dinner: rice and peppered mackerel, on its own because there’s only so much vegetable consumption I can tolerate.

Listening to OPM

Look, I like The Beatles and Adele and Andrew Lloyd Webber as much as the next person, but nothing beats the heart-wrenching soul-filled crooning belters by Regine Velasquez, Rivermaya, and Ice Seguerra (formerly known as Aiza Seguerra, just FYI).

Not gonna lie though, I might be ageing myself with the Filipino artists I’ve chosen because I have not chosen any young, popular acts from this decade.

2 British Habits I’ve Learned To Love

Drinking tea at any given opportunity

Would you believe I only started to love drinking English tea this autumn? I adore Japanese matcha, but…. black teas, green teas? Nope, not having any!

That is until I tried Earl Grey and fell in love. I have two packs of Twinings Earl Grey in the kitchen cupboard and I’m bringing them with me to China somehow. (Yes, I do understand the irony of bringing British tea to China… where tea originates from.)

Had a good day? Celebrate with tea.

A terrible day at work? Cheer yourself up with tea.

Bored at home? Make some tea.

A good queue

Bus queue. ATM queue. Netflix queue. British people like to queue and so do I.

It takes the stress out of constantly wondering “is it my turn yet?” and it provides a practical way doing things – at the very least you can easily get through a queue if you wish to cross into the other side. Not so much with a crowd of non-queuers.

1 Thing That Can Be Both

Complaining

Given the state of British politics – Brexit, anyone? – and what seems to be the inherent need to follow the norm, the act of complaining is a habit that is pervasive in both cultures. Or at the very least, it’s what I’ve noticed as I lived in both England and the Philippines: I can’t count the number of times I’ve overheard someone halfheartedly complaining about the weather or wholeheartedly expressing their frustration about a late bus. The feeling is universal, and you can fight me on this.

I complain all the time. And whether its a British thing or a Filipino thing or even just a Me Thing? Well, it’s arguable.


Chime in like Brendon Urie: Do any of these things ring true with you? Let me know in the comments!