Doing grocery in the time of Covid-19

Depending on one’s level of optimism there are many reasons one can be thankful about for having to go through the newly established daily rituals everyone is forced to have because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today, my younger sister messaged me at 8 in the morning to remind me of our planned trip to the grocery. Gulping half a box of milk, washing my face, brushing my teeth, and putting on an ill-fitting surgical mask I dragged myself to a nearby SM Hypermart only to discover that the path leading to it from my condominium was closed, so my sister and I had to go to the direction of EDSA to get to the grocery. Upon arriving, I half-expected but still couldn’t help myself but be amazed by the sight of a line of people waiting for the grocery to open slithering several meters from the main entrance to the back facing Main Ave.

Meanwhile, the sun has begun its relentless ascent, unmindful of whether its prickly rays hit someone who wants to get a nice tan in the city or a woman who has just survived her first chemotherapy session for skin melanoma. Nobody appeared visibly bothered, not even the woman I suspected to be suffering from a kind of cancer.

It’s equality in the flesh, but equality is a myth. Some brought with them foldable chairs, others a plastic chair that when folded a certain way functions as an umbrella, still others have plastic carts sturdy enough to be sat on. I quietly sat on the floor with my shopping bag as the only thing that separated my buttock from the concrete floor that for all I know harbored Covid-19-laden particles.

Various iterations of face masks spat at the face of the myth of equality most of us delude ourselves into believing. There were those made from small pieces of cloth that on a regular days may be used as rags, most wear the run-of-the-mill bought-from-pharmacy variety, still others reinforced their masks by placing a roof-like structure made from clear, semi-hard transparent plastic just below their eyes for the purpose of keeping droplets that may contain the viruses from getting straight into their medical-grade face mask.

The author and his younger sister at 8:43 in the morning waiting outside SM Hypermart in Cubao.

We arrived at 8:10, two hours later we’re already inside the building that looks like a giant warehouse but not yet on the actual floor of the grocery. This I refer to as the pandemic retail purgatory whose length of one’s stay will depend on how much anxiety those on the actual grocery floor feel and the level of leisure in the way they approach shopping for basic needs. My sister, I, and those lucky enough to arrive early were seated on plastic chairs whose ghastly green color added to the cheeriness SM wants to see among its captive customers. We remained seated for another hour and a half.

People resisted this state-sanctioned, industry-supported enforced cheeriness by keeping that glum face the entire time or make the boredom the subject of the spectacle they want everyone to be an audience of, or as in the case of the woman standing behind the cash registry of Goldilocks, closed the registry with so much force that 10-peso coins are mixed up with the 25-cents. Some played their favorite music, unaware of the fact that their taste in music is not something many shared.

I never felt a proximity this close with people before. Whereas before the pandemic I could choose to maintain my distance from anyone whose presence I have this unexplained aversion for, this time, whether I like it or not I have to be with them, though maintaining a radius purportedly enough to keep the virus from spreading, hence my pithy contribution in flattening the curve. I never felt this isolated yet this close to them. We felt an almost grotesque same level of anxiety, and it’s now more than ever do I feel more human, more connected, yet more separated from everyone else, except of course my cat.

Stations of the cross at BGC

There’s something unsettling about the exercise. People move from one station to the next and do the suggested activities ranging from as simple as reflecting on a Gospel verse, inserting written ‘wails’ in crevices, to as back breaking as carrying a wooden cross (to simulate the carrying of the cross by Jesus as he’s being whipped by Roman guards and sneered at by the spectating public).

Each station is sponsored by a group of stores, an organization, or a commercial web page and all of these sponsors must have suggested to the organizers to tailor fit each according to the line of business of the sponsors.

The shadiest part of this Holy Week extravaganza at BGC is that people take every station very seriously, leaving behind their sense of the ridiculous on the pavement 50 meters away. 

It’s a commercial exercise whose sole purpose is to lure people into thinking that what they’re doing makes them close to God by taking part in His passion right before they hit Starbucks and after their dinner at nearby Cajun prawn bar, and while they take selfies to be posted on Instagram using hashtags that betray their self awareness. That the Holy Week isn’t about Jesus’s death and resurrection but about the celebration of the self.

I’m not close to getting it. BGC wants everything in. And the people willingly do their role in the performance. The business enterprise, without a sense of irony, coopts the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for thirty pieces of silver into a profit maximization bonanza and the people willingly dig in. 

I can feel gastric juice from my gut rush toward my throat.

Why have we become like this?

A friend of mine, a young woman of 26, asked me if she could leave before three today to join a protest rally on Katipunan, which if a critical mass is reached, will head to EDSA this evening. I indifferently said yes and told her to just make up for the lost hours next week. I on the other hand had to stay until 6 at the school to work on the evaluation of the French class students. I have papers to check this weekend, a class to prepare for, and cats to take care of. I also have to catch up on my workout as I haven’t gone to the gym for a week now because of work.

The people I see on the street, those my age, show that similar look of resignation, save for some undergraduates in their PE shirts or long tees who seem poised to change history tonight.

For all the rest, this protest on EDSA against the clandestine burying of the remains of Marcos is an annoyance, a cause of this monster traffic. The reason they’re stuck on buses on their way home to Fairview or Bacoor.

This is what has become of us. Work has made us unresponsive to events and happenings that would otherwise scandalize us had we been not rendered docile and satisfied but unthinking by work. I hate this feeling. This is what it means to be an adult; I hate that I am one.

I told myself a long time ago when I was much, much younger, that I would be part of history unfolding. That I will not stay home and let pass that rare opportunity to make a difference in this country. But look at me now. I’m scurrying to go home, cursing the traffic on EDSA just to catch some sleep.

And the saddest thing is that, passing by EDSA shrine, I saw a small crowd, hardly a critical mass enough to send the message that the people are indignant. There were several groups taking selfies while a member is holding a placard.

Everyone is tired. Everyone has gone tired. What with the unfulfilled promises of the past two People Power? The world goes on turning, with Marcos’s body finally subject to the actions of worms and vermins, after years of keeping it almost lifelike inside a tomb his family built for him.

But even rats and roaches won’t touch him. Who would want to gnaw on a dessicated body preserved in formaldehyde for almost three decades?

Life goes on.

And that is the tragedy of the Filipino, myself included, this general quiet and seeming indifference, this lack of rage at the direction this country is heading.

And my train goes to the direction of home, and I’m dying for sleep.

Watching plays

Sadly Virgin Labfest is ending today. I watched two sets for two Saturdays; that’s a total of six plays. The plays were definitely worth the almost an hour of queueing for tickets and the long commute from Quezon City all the way to CCP in Manila.

Paying 270 pesos for an escapist Hollywood flick at an SM cinema and be seated next to a really bad audience or paying three hundred for each set and be carried to three different, highly-charged slices of life in a single night is a no brainer comparison. The plays are a runaway winner.

I hope we can have something like the Virgin Labfest all year round.

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Everyday

While browsing an online travel magazine that left me torpid afterward because of the writer’s endless narration of his itinerary donned in a language too sweet and delicious I’m sure it will leave a diabetic’s sugar level shooting to the ceiling, I thought, unless he was high on drugs which made his senses super keen, he must be lying.

Travel writers are a special group of writers. They thrive in the extraordinary and the bizarre. Most of them have a special truckload of word ammunition that often leaves my mouth agape because of  its sophistication and elegance. I often see a mountain, a room with a view, and a meal as they often are–a mountain, a room with a view, and a meal, respectively. For travel writers, however, a mountain is a cascade of boulders and debris swept by the gentle blow of the easterlies, a room with a view is a room flooded in a carefully orchestrated foxtrot of sunlight and cool wind on a tranquil Saturday morning, a meal is a plateful of freshly harvested farm produce perfectly showered with a local concoction of cane vinegar and a hint of muscovado. To a travel writer, everything is a novelty, and so it has to be written in a hyperbolically romanticized way to an extent that a reader who is a local of the place he’s writing about will not recognize, take offense at, and find patronizing.

I seldom trust, if not completely distrust, travel writers. They do not understand the dreariness and the dryness of the everyday and the commonplace. They are passersby who cannot wait to leave the place and catch the next bus, train, or plane because the thought of what is out there, the other side of the mountain, the horizon, the antipode beckons with tempting invitation that the now is expressed in such succulent platitudes.  I gravitate toward the everyday because the everyday does not imagine itself other than what it is. The everyday defies any attempt at making it look rosier than what it truly is. It is only in the everyday that reflection is possible and truthful.

Why I have boycotted the past elections and will definitely boycott this one as well

Most will consider it scandalous to talk about enjoying a cup of freshly brewed coffee in the morning when everyone is supposed to be in his political animal mind these days. Elections are on Monday. And one cannot just write about the pretenses and the superficiality of the bliss of a cup of coffee without being viewed pretentious and shallow. It’s too light a topic. It’s a non-topic, for christsake! Any self-respecting, supposedly responsible citizen of this country must take part in this exercise, must be part of a nation desperately in need for change. But how shall I convince myself that all this be taken seriously? This is laughable, a comedy of basest sort. Comparing elections here in the Philippines to a circus has long gone trite. In fact, they’re expected to be circus-like, that they should be a circus.

Why have I boycotted the past elections and will definitely boycott this one as well?

Boycott is not exactly the most accurate word as there’s no hard line political reason I have not participated in this democratic exercise since I turned 18. I neither feel any compelling need to spectate in this farce nor do I think I can use my one vote to compel these politicians to do what should have been done a long time ago. Participating in this travesty will only add to the delusions of these jokers that I am complicit in their charade. I’d rather close my eyes, cover my ears and let Monday pass.