I’m Filipino, and I love going to the mall. There, I said it. It’s true. Many people don’t know that many Filipinos actually love going to the mall. It’s part of our culture. In fact, if a person were to visit the Philippines, they’d see that there is a huge mall culture taking place. Why do Filipinos love the mall? Obviously, there’s the shopping. But also it’s place for people to congregate, to escape the heat and enjoy the AC, to eat, to window shop, to do just about anything! I didn’t get it at first, but once you visit a mall in the Philippines, you will see what the hype is all about.
Most malls in the Philippines are levels high! There are so many stores, levels, restaurants, even movie theaters, that is would take days, if not weeks to get through the entire thing. There’s so much to see and do, that you would never run out of options.
Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate thrift stores, boutiques and mom and pop stores, but if I were to spend copious amount of time somewhere, besides the library, I’d go to the mall. I love going to different stores and enjoying the customer service where everyone greets you with “M’am/ Sir” and if you are looking for something in particular, they would never leave your side. You can’t find that level of customer service anywhere else. It’s like having your own personal shopper with out the hassle of them trying to sell you something you don’t need.
I admit. I actually have’t been to mall in months, possibly a year. Since the pandemic, I’ve grown accustomed to online shopping and have rarely needed to step foot into a store. And since moving to Las Vegas, the closest mall is near the strip, and I try to avoid going to the strip unless it’s absolutely necessary. Yet, I realized that going to mall is something I enjoyed doing with my family. I remember the days when we would go to our local mall, and my mom would buy a fresh baguette inside the cafe and my brother would head to the game store to get a video game. My sister would shop for clothes at contempo casuals, and my dad would sit at the lounge chairs and read a newspaper. Sometimes we’d eat crunchy tacos at Taco Bell and we’d stroll the mall together as a family. Now that I’ve moved and my entire family lives so far away from each other, it seems almost impossible to meet at the mall like old times. But the mall brings so much nostalgia to me that going to another place to go shopping wouldn’t be as enjoyable.
Although, it’s been while since I’ve gone to the mall, I think it will be on my to do list for this month. Perhaps the stores I once patronized are no longer there, I can create new memories and tell my family all about it. Maybe it will inspire them, too.
My COVID experience started on September 2, 2021, when I made a comment to my co-worker that I might not come to work tomorrow because my throat felt a little sore. It was very minor- just a scratchy sensation. I had been testing students one-on-one the last two weeks, so I assumed it was the overuse of my voice, or my body adjusting to going back to work, wearing my mask for long hours. The next day, more symptoms developed: congestion, body aches, tiredness, which felt normal because I associated them with my recurring sinus infection. On Sunday I spoke to the Kaiser advice nurse, on Monday I spoke to the doctor who expedited a COVID test. On Tuesday morning I took my test, and that night I received my results. It was positive. By then, when I lost my sense of smell and taste, I already had an inclining that I had COVID. The test confirmed it. Turns out, I probably had COVID sometime at the end of August, then symptoms developed 3-5 days later, and I didn’t test ‘till three days after that. It’s easy to see how the virus spreads so quickly.
You hear how unpredictable COVID is, how it affects people differently, how there is no definite way to predict how your body will respond. I know many people who survived COVID, but I also knew a few people who didn’t. I wondered where I would fall on the spectrum. I wondered if my asthma, my weight, my thyroid would affect my experience. When I developed a form of pink eye on the 5th day, I cautioned if my symptoms would unexpectedly turn severe like other cases I read about.
I don’t know how I contracted COVID. There’s a myriad of sources- my husband went to the dentist, I work at two schools where the students are not old enough to get the vaccine, my brother-in law visited one day. I wear a mask, I’m vaccinated and I’m as safe as I can be in public settings. But with COVID, especially with Delta we know it spreads faster and it’s more infectious than the outset of the pandemic. I believe my breakthrough COVID case was bound to happen; it was just a matter of time. It is also worrisome that at my schools, it seems as if there is a positive COVID case everyday; students are in the hallways sitting next to a garbage can, vomiting. The outdoor isolation tent seems to have students daily, waiting for a parent to pick him/her up. When I see students playing, hear them laughing, or witness them smiling with their eyes, it’s easy to forget that we’re in a pandemic, and it seems like kids at school is the right decision, but when COVID cases rise and as I see adults and students get sick and the after effects of COVID unknown, I’ve decided that school is probably not the safest place for people to be, especially those unvaccinated. I’m lucky that when I return to my job, my interaction with people will be limited, and I’m taking it one day at a time.
The support from friends and family, the daily calls, check ins or even the delivery of organic Gatorade from a dear friend were sources of comfort for me. I was also surprised with the care I received from Kaiser. They sent me a care package complete with high grade cleaning solution, sanitizer, alcohol wipes, body wash, shampoo, condition, face masks, gloves, eating utensils, plates, cups, even a thermometer. Although I had most of the items at home, it was reassuring to know that in all aspects of my life, including my health care, everything was easy so I could just focus on my health and healing. Even when I was contacted by Contra Costa County they offered to do the trace contact on my behalf and asked if I needed help financially and with food preparation. I wondered about all the people who were affected at the onset of the pandemic, when a lot was unknown, when the system and after care weren’t as robust, how lonely and frustrating and expensive it might have been, especially the immediate hours after testing positive. It’s an odd time. Many thoughts run through your head and the imagination runs wild. The care I received from my circle, including the County and Kaiser made things feel less helpless, less overwhelmed, less like I was a statistic. This was the care I received for my case; I only hope others receive the same care, especially those with more severe cases.
There’s a mental condition called Survivor’s Guilt , where a person who survived a life threatening situation, while others did not feels guilty for surviving. Many people have experienced this in traumas we’re familiar with such as 9/11, Pulse nightclub, a car accident, Cancer, and most recently COVID. While my COVID case was relatively mild compared to others, I do wonder about those who weren’t so lucky, particularly family members who died because of COVID. Some didn’t live long enough for the vaccine to become available to them, so by chance and by time, I was fortunate to have a chance simply because of a timeline. It could also be because I haven’t eaten meat in over a year, or that I received both vaccines of the Moderna, it could also be because my family prayed for me and my mother in law added our names to a congregation of nuns who prayed for us. Who knows why I was lucky and relatively unscathed. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge those who had a different experience, those who needed a pacemaker after COVID, those whose sense of taste never returned after COVID, those who will have life long lung issues after COVID.
And it wasn’t just me who tested positive. My husband, my brother-in-law and two other people , including a friend’s children, tested positive. It was clear that our 6 degrees of separation had been compromised. Could I have been the COVID culprit? Probably. Most likely. The conditions at my school make it the obvious answer. And I carry a lot of guilt for that possibility. It is wild when I think about it. How a simple action turned into something possibly life threatening. We found humor in the situation though. We jokingly thought about having a quarantine routine or eating an entire onion or durian. And I affectionately referred to us as the COVID Crew. My mother in law, in jest, said something to the effect of: “I can’t believe all my children have COVID all at the same time”. But it all turned serious when my niece all of a sudden had a fever of 103 and then my sister developed flu-like symptoms, the possibility of spreading the virus to them became even more severe. My niece is only three. She’s lived most in her life in the pandemic, and it didn’t seem fair that she was a bystander of poor actions. They ended up testing negative; which was a huge relief, but the guilt ensued. I was sorry and sad. I’m grateful that my family has been kind, understanding and has found humor in a grave situation. I love them very much.
As of today, day 10 of my quarantine, the only symptoms I feel are fatigue, loss of smell and taste and a slight congestion. My days are strange. I haven’t been outside since September 2, and I have urges to take long naps throughout the day. I miss my hikes; I miss my family; I miss my tastebuds. I don’t find pleasure in the things I’ve taken for granted like eating, drinking, or smelling my favorite perfume, a home cooked meal or the wonderful outdoors. I think about the possible long term effects I might endure like COVID brain fog or a persistent disorienting metallic taste in my mouth. I think about the last flavorful thing I ate: a nori roll wrap with sunflower seed pate, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, avocado. I think about the email I got from work urging me to take advantage of mental health services they are offering for free.
I go back to work tomorrow (Tuesday, September 14), and it will be 13 days since I set foot on campus. I’m looking forward to putting this behind me, but I do worry that COVID might make its way back, like others I read about who had COVID twice, like the CDC study in Kentucky. The most I can do is take the same precautions I took before: sanitize, wear a mask, physical distance, wash my hands, get tested regularly. But even with all of that in place, the chances are still there, albeit significantly less, but still there. What I’ve learned from this situation is that being infected with COVID means different things for everyone. Cases vary in degrees and people respond differently- socially, emotionally, mentally, physically. I think about the positives: the support of family and friends. The surprising outreach from work, Contra Costa County and Kaiser Permanente. It seems once you test positive,all hands and feet are on deck and on the ground and an army of people are there to help with the process. I’m thankful for the vaccine; I am assuming it prevented my symptoms from escalating and me being admitted to the hospital. I’m grateful to all of you who have also chosen to get vaccinated as well; it may have saved your life and others. If you are still considering not getting the vaccine, which is now approved by the FDA, I hope my experience encourages you to reconsider or at the very least to have a conversation with those around you, especially those who you love. Being positive affects your entire community. Even if you live alone, if you step foot outside your door, you’re impacting life all around you and there’s a strong possibility that your actions might impact the health of another person. I honor each person’s individual choice and what is best for you and your family. But after experiencing this and contending with all the possible outcomes that could have been, it would be irresponsible of me to not share this story, my story. A possible life may depend on it. And that’s a chance I’m not willing to take. Stay safe and thank you for reading.
Well, we did it. A group of 40 year old gals, who have been friends for over two decades, made a voyage to Sin City (Las Vegas) for four days during the pandemic.We know this was a risky trip; the Delta variant has spread across the country and has become rampant in metropolitan places like Las Vegas. In fact, a week before the trip, we talked reconsidered going– analyzing the pros and cons of going on vacation during this time. In the end, we decided to move forward with our original plans, partly due to a financial investment we probably would never see again but also because it had been well over 1.5 years since we has seen each other, or even travelled together, and there was something about making a maiden voyage to the dessert that seemed alluring to our mental health. Days later we all packed our bags, boarded our separate flights and finally met at the time share. One after the other, with each arrival, we hugged, taking inventory of each other’s body, hair, face, realizing how much time had passed among us.
The trip was not your average one. We didn’t go to any clubs or pool parties. We didn’t attend any after hours or buffets. We tried to steer away from the usual party scene and stuck to our loose itinerary of lazy mornings, quick trips to get coffee, excursions in the water, and girl talk in the living room accompanied with Tito’s Vodka, fresh fruit and vegan oatmeal raisin cookies. With the exception of the kayaking trip, everything we did could have been easily been done at the comfort of our homes. We really didn’t need to be in Vegas to do any of the simple activities we participated it. But it was the idea of being together that you couldn’t put a price on.
I don’t know when we’ll be together again. Who knows if it’ll be next week, next month, next year? Maybe we’ll meet again in Las Vegas or maybe we’ll head to the ocean. What ever the destination, I’ll be thankful for the company. Even if it’s sitting in the living room of a fancy hotel and doing absolutely nothing but talking.
December birthdays are sometimes over shadowed, especially if the birthday is close to Christmas. My mom’s birthday in December 7th, weeks before Christmas, but over the years we have kept the tradition of going to the snow for her birthday to make her day feel more special. This year because of COVID, we weren’t able to take our annual trip, but we still made the most of the occasion. Hopefully these are tips that can help you with your December birthday.
Make food or order food that is special for the celebrant
My mom loves fried chicken, so we ordered a bucket of chicken wings, legs and thighs from a local restaurant. You don’t need to have an expensive dinner to show your appreciation for someone. Knowing what they like, whether it’s a particular dessert, drink or appetizer from a restaurant, and having it as a part of the meal can make any person feel special, even it’s something as simple as a chicken wing. My mom loved it!
2. Meaningful gift
Also, a meaningful gift, often not very expensive, can go a long way. For my mom, my sister had the idea of creating a cook book filled with my mom’s recipes. We printed out a cover of what the cookbook would look like and arranged for us to cook with my mom every month to add a recipe to the cookbook. If your celebrant loves to garden maybe give them planting seeds or a framed picture of them in their garden. Or if the birthday person loves music, why not give them virtual music lessons or a dance lessons. If the person loves to read, make them a bookmark or make them a no-sew fleece blanket to wrap themselves up with when they’re reading.
It may be difficult to get together for the holidays during a pandemic, so a zoom party might be your only option. Keeping traditions going, even virtually, maintains some normalcy and semblance during this time. I’d encourage you to try to incorporate your traditions in the virtual celebration. If you normally eat a cake, try having a cake delivered. If you open gifts, try mailing them or dropping them off. We normally have a cake, so I went out to a special bakery to get a very decadent cake for our dessert. Also, this could also be a time to create new traditions. One that I would like to try is for everyone can share one great memory with the birthday person this year.
This evening I visited a mall for the first time in over a year. My purpose for the visit was to return some gifts I bought online- my preferred method of shopping these days, but I needed to make the returns in person due to sizing. The trip to the mall was actually very somber. On my way there, a former student notified me that she is moving to Las Vegas this weekend with her partner. She’s nearing 30 and moving to LV will allow her and her partner live comfortably. Right now she’s living with her mom and doesn’t want to further depend on her. Although I haven’t seen the student in over 8 years, her news of moving saddened me. We have kept in touch over the years and I even stopped by her prom and high school graduation. We celebrated her 18h birthday together and I visited her when she used to work at a club. One time she called me in desperate need of a ride, so picked her up in Vallejo to take her back to Pittsburg. Recently she invited me to her certification graduation, but I had to decline due to COVID. And I can’t forget about the time, years ago, we went to San Francisco and ate at the Cheesecake Factory. Then we went to Coach where I bought her a small purse as a graduation gift. She also visited me when I lived in Pittsburg then in Hercules. As I said, I haven’t seen her in over 8 years, but there was something comforting knowing she lived in Pittsburg- about 20 miles from where I currently live. Not knowing how to take the news, I told her that I would do a drive -by visit for her going away party on Saturday. I plan to stop by and visit from the safety of my car. I also offered to give her some of my stored furniture – like my dining table, chairs, bar stools and bar cart. It pains me to know that she is moving, but rather than dwell on it, at least I can help her.
While I was in line in the mall, I over heard the person in front of me say that this was his first visit to the mall in over a year. He said that it felt strange, wearing jeans as opposed to sweats, seeing people in person rather than on a screen and that he didn’t realize that baseball hats were two dollars more expensive. The sales person blamed it on COVID. “Business has been slow,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and bit his lower lip. “I understand” was the other man’s response as he adjusted his face mask. I stood there, feeling more forlorn as I thought about the news of my former student moving, possibly because of COVID and now these strangers in front of me were confessing how COVID had altered their lives- one afraid to be in public, the other afraid of losing his business.
It’s December 3rd. Usually a visit to the mall seems more joyous; you hear Christmas music, take pictures with Santa, have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate as you peruse sales for gift giving. But none of that occurred today. In fact, I think I may have experienced something better. The trip to the mall was a gentle reminder that people are making brave choices all around us- moving during a pandemic , stepping foot in public for the first time , making hard but necessary business decisions, or even me -accepting that a very special person in my life is moving away. It may not feel like the typical Christmas but there are certainly moments of joy and celebration if we look and listen hard enough.
I was facilitating a training on zoom today, and when the last teacher we were waiting on joined the call, although we could only see her face virtually, it was very clear that she was under distress. The other teacher asked her if she was ok and without hesitation, she immediately began crying. I didn’t know the teacher very well, unlike the other two teachers, so I just listened as they carefully broached her. It was then that the teacher revealed that she just found out that both of her parents tested positive for COVID. What was worse about the situation was that the father had contracted it at work, where eight people also became effected.
The teacher went into details that included why the father was still working, that they lived in a small town in a different state and before the positive results, months ago, had already decided that they weren’t traveling to the Bay Area for the holidays– it was too risky.
Some time during the conversation it dawned on me how each of us on the call had been affected by COVID. While we weren’t tested positive, our lives, though vastly different were suffering in some ways.
As you know, for me, COVID and the pandemic, affected me two months into sheltering in place. My husband was furloughed and eventually let go and because we were down to one income, we made the decision to move to the east bay. If I have to return to work, my previous 2 mile commute will now change to a 45 mile commute. On a good day, I’ll be lucky if the travel to and from work will be under two hours. There is the other possibility of me getting a different job, something closer to home. While this may be an exciting opportunity, it really saddens me because working in South San Francisco has been my dream job.
Then there’s teacher #2 who has to manage working and providing child care for her two boys. She and her husband both have very demanding jobs and between the two of them, they have to schedule meetings, find quiet spaces in the house, arrange time to share the working computer all while feeding, disciplining, watching, and playing with their sons. She confessed to me at the end of the school year in distance learning that she felt she was failing. She shared tears on that call too. I managed to tell her that we know she’s doing the best she can do. Still, there was something in her voice that let me know that she felt like she needed to more, even though I reassured her that we are all adjusting, and that what she was doing at work and at home was more than what anyone could expect during this very complicated time.
The other teacher brought up how not seeing her students has greatly affected her. She also confessed that for some people, sheltering in place in isolation is too much for a single person. Going months without talking to another individual, in person, including her students made her feel more alone.
There we were, on the zoom call, through our computer screens, four women, talking about the different ways COVID had affected our lives. In that moment, I had never felt more connected with a group of people I barely even knew.
When I reflect on this year, I can’t help but ponder how much COVID has greatly impacted my life. Like many households, my husband and I are down to one income- mine. He was furloughed and eventually let go in June- three months into the entire country going into shelter in place. We could have stayed in our condo in South San Francisco, but we knew that the smart decision that would finance our goals of owning a house would be to move to a more affordable place. Hence why we moved to Concord California- a suburban city in the east bay.
This decision didn’t come easy.
One favorable aspect about living in South San Francisco was that I was 3/4 of a mile from my job. It took me less than five minutes from me leaving my front door to arriving at my office door. I never imagined living and working in the same city, but I had finally achieved a goal I never thought could be a reality. I left home with ease, not having to worry about being late or eating my breakfast on the go. Sometimes, I even had time to exercise and meditate before work. I could also come home and unwind and not arrive in a grumpy mood because of traffic or be pooped out because of a long commute.
I also worked on being part of the community. I joined a facebook group of the residents of South San Francisco, I registered my husband and I for a Catholic church, I made an attempt to introduce and exchange pleasantries with my neighbors. We even volunteered for a Filipino Organization- PBRC. Over the summer, I coordinated a visit to the historical society just to learn more about the city’s past and unique history. I definitely made more of an effort to be a more involved resident.
Lastly, I miss being around my people. South San Francisco is a city with a high population of Filipinos and with Daly City as a neighboring city, Filipinos are abundant. Everywhere I went, I heard words and phrases of Tagalog– a lost language I don’t often hear daily since living with my parents. Filipino restaurants are plentiful. I had a go to restaurant for pancit, lumpia, cassava cake, and even had a favorite plant based Filipino restaurant. I’d go to Serramonte Mall and I’d see so many people who reminded me of my own family- buying chicharone and lottery tickets at the stand up store or manongs huddled and congregated at the center of the mall wearing Navy and Air force hats that often reminded me of my grandfather.
“Living in South San Francisco was a very special time in my life. I saw so much representation in my culture, identify and goals in life”
So when we made the decision to leave, it painstakingly difficult that I didn’t allow myself to really sit with the pain and decision because I know I would have probably changed my mind.
Yes, I miss South City, but when I consider my life in Concord now, I have no regrets. I know I’ll find joy and purpose in this new place. Like with all new chapters in life, it’s only the beginning.
The parks just opened in our city, and despite it being still sunny at 6:30 PM, the area of the park we were at was empty with the exception of 2-3 kids at different times. The slide wasn’t very steep– about 6 feet and and everyone, including my husband, sister and her boyfriend took turns going down the slide with my niece, Aiza. But I didn’t. The slide has always been my least favorite past time in the park; I prefer the swings, but at the part we were at, it didn’t have adult swings available. Besides (TMI), I’m on my dot, so the idea of sliding down a flimsy piece of plastic did not seem comforting or fun. Instead I lived vicariously through my niece.
What was interesting is that she went down the slide about 20 times in the same way- butt down and feet first. When another girl about 2-3 years older than her came close, they immediately began playing together. The girl had on a mask and she was very friendly, even when my niece wasn’t talking very much. The new friend showed Aiza how to play the pretend steering wheel; she showed her how to stick her head out the window in the pretend store and then she showed her various ways to play on the slide. First she went down the slide on her stomach, feet first then Aiza followed. Then the girl went down the slide, stomach down, head first with her arms stretched out. What surprised me was that Aiza wasn’t even scared and didn’t ask how to do this. She just watched and followed along. Then a few minutes later, the new friend made a daring move and climbed up the the slide, all by herself. Because she’s a little older, she was able to do it without struggling. We – me, my sister – watched but we didn’t expect Aiza to follow. Yet, Aiza did. But when she reached the middle of the slide, there was no way for her to get to the top. If she bent down, she wouldn’t be able to hold the sides of the slide and there was possibly of her falling backwards. My sister and I were at a safe distance and could have easily come to her aid, but something unexpected happened. Without talking, the two friends she just made instinctively got on their stomachs and stretched their arms out to give Aiza a hand. They cheered her on and said “reach for my hand” and Aiza, not able to speak in complete sentences yet, understood exactly what to do. She grabbed their hand and the two strangers pulled her up! For a group of girls who met each other for the first time and had limited talking and interacting, this was the first real reminder for me that despite what’s happening during this pandemic, I’m reminded how resilient and strong young girls are when they are together.
Part of my job requires me to administer Statewide tests to students and notify parents of the outcome. Today, I had the pleasure of notifying parents that their child met all the requirements for RFEP- which basically means that the student “routinely demonstrates fluent English proficiency in order to access grade-level content instruction delivered in English with minimal linguistic support.” Many students who speak another language rarely achieve this accomplishment, so it was particularly heart-warming to bear good news, especially in a time when many parents and children have been affected by distance learning. I know some cases where students are hanging up in the middle of zoom class because they’re confused by the lecture or assignment or families having spotty internet because they are living out of a friend’s garage, or many families relying on the school’s free lunch so that at least the children are fed daily. Many of these inequalities have occurred long before COVID, but surely the pandemic has exacerbated the disproportion of resources for many of our vulnerable families. So, although my conversion with families today didn’t necessarily provide an extra form of income, an extra meal or even a house, the news did bring temporary relief– that despite all the economical, social and academic challenges, their child is excelling and being recognized by their mastery level. I hope hearing this triumphant recognition was a much needed respite that so many families are in desperate need of hearing.
They say death comes in threes, and today I was gravely reminded of this omen. When I woke up, I scrolled on Facebook and saw that a friend’s sister had gotten her tombstone engraved. The headstone said that she was a mother, nurse, sister, daughter and friend. I didn’t know her well, but I remembered her bright smile and silky black hair. Then in the middle of the day, when I had a few minutes between meetings, I scrolled on to Facebook again and saw that a fundraiser had been organized for an 11-year old boy who recently passed away. He was diagnosed with cancer in February and fought through the doctor visits, sleepless nights and unbearable pain. When I clicked on the link, the $25,000 goal was near its target, even only having a day’s notice. I didn’t know the young boy, but at 11- years old, he could have easily been one of my future students. Then later that night, as I was winding down on the couch, I scrolled on Instagram and saw that Chrissy Teigen and John Legend had lost their baby. There were complications that forced her to go to the hospital, and after severe bleeding, their son didn’t survive. I stared at the black and white picture of her sitting on a hospital bed with the starched sheets wrapped around her tiny son in her embrace while John sobbed into Chrissy, his head pressed against her eyebrow, his lips on her arm.
The news of death in one day certainly puts things in perspective. Today, I experienced one of the most challenging professional days in my career. In short, a principal complained to my directors about his dismay about my performance and lack of support. My director called a meeting and ultimately offered her support, but I know she was disappointed in me and expressed that I needed to listen and focus to repair the situation. This weighed heavy on me all day, as this was the first time I’ve felt “reprimanded” for a job I felt strongly about. I felt shame and discouragement, letting the situation overcome my thoughts. Even when my sister, her boyfriend, niece and brother came over for dinner, I didn’t feel present– the trepidation from the day clouded my mind.
Yet, as I write this and I think about the three omens that anchored my day from this morning, to the late afternoon, to the evening, I’m reminded that a “bad” day at work is nothing compared to the loss of a sister, a student or a son. Sure we all have heavy, troublesome days, we might even be chided by our superiors, but when I think about the days that others are fighting, I’d be remised if I didn’t acknowledge their strength , their struggles and their loss. Yes, there’s many things I can certainly complain about, but a loss is not one of them. If I did, I wouldn’t have anything to gain.
It’s been a very tough week for me. We’re finishing up our 6th week of distance learning, and just when I feel like I’ve got a handle on things, some thing else will come and a whole set of other challenges will ensue.
I find my work very meaningful and purposeful, and when I look back years from now and I’m asked how I helped with remote learning, I’ll be able to say that I may not have had all the solutions and answers, but I was there, helping teachers and students navigate their way through the most uncertain and challenging times of education.
I don’t know how long remote teaching will continue, nor do I know if I’ll be in education next year, but the skills I’m acquiring today will prepare me for other unexpected situations. Like the many teachers and students who I’m supporting, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and who knows if we’ll be prepared, but I know for certain that our resilience will prevail.
On Saturday, my siblings, partners and friends went to Kirby Cove to camp for one night. I haven’t camped in about four years, and never with my siblings or with this group of people so naturally, I was a little anxious about how the experience would be since this was going to be a new surrounding, a new set of people to interact with and new restrictions that would complicate the experience.
No fire: Because of the recent fires, there was a state mandate that didn’t allow open flames. This meant that we would have to camp with no campfire, which meant no wood, no s’mores, no huddling around the fire with hot chocolate. One of the reasons why so many people are fond of camping in the first place is because of this experience. No fire obviously also meant no cooking and no warmth.
Primitive bathroom: There was no place to shower and the bathroom consisted of a hole in the ground in a very murky, smelly and fly laden public restroom. There was no running water, so campers had to bring their own supply of water and hand soap.
COVID and physical distancing: California is still experiencing aspects of sheltering in place. While many businesses are opening up, with safety precautions, health officials are still encouraging people to physically distance with face coverings. How would this look while we were camping? Would it be possible to relax in the company of potentially infected people as we spent time together enjoying the outdoors?
Even though we were only camping for one night, we had to consider these implications because they would affect the way we spent the next 24 hours. In the end, we did what many seasoned campers did: make it work. We ate food the didn’t need much preparation like granola bars, crackers, sandwiches and later in the night when we saw other campers lighting fires, we did the same. We ate bowls of ramen and mac and cheese. Someone even brought bags of MREs. My brother managed to make us s’mores to go along with our wine. The weekend wasn’t the most gourmet, and we definitely got our fill of sodium, but the pleasure of eating simply and meaningfully despite the fire restriction made every bite of food more savory and sweet.
Having decent amenities in a public restroom are ideal, especially when it’s dark, cold and you’re tired. The last thing anyone wants to do is struggle with is the smell and sanitation of the “toilet”. I wish there was an upside to the primitive bathroom at Kirby Cove, but I’m finding it very difficult to write one, let alone think of one.
The physical distancing was challenging. We were outdoors, in the fresh air, so we definitely felt more relaxed. Although we didn’t hug or sit next to each other closely, the experience still felt intimate. We had the best campsite in the park, and it was very exclusive from the other areas. We had an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and we were away from the noise and heavy foot traffic. We had enough areas for people to retreat for alone time and other places for people to join in a conversation. Again, under other circumstances we probably would have played games, shared drinks, even hugged, but because of the present situation we had to do without what felt natural while camping. Still, we didn’t walk away from Kirby Cove with negative experiences; in fact, we’re already planning the next trip. Bathrooms and fires or not, we’ll be ready for whatever comes.
We know there are more experienced campers who thrive and manage off much less conditions, and while I playfully referred to us a seasoned, we obviously are not, not even close. But for a day, eating out of bags of dry food, squatting with hungry buzzing flies and sleeping out doors with the private view of the most beautiful landmarks of mother nature, we surely felt seasoned.
Lately, I don’t know if it’s because of COVID or the civil unrest happening, but I find myself in more and more difficult conversations where people express anger because they are misunderstood. I can’t remember a time when the volume of verbal strifes have increased and people are putting blame or acting defensive because of what was said or how it was said. It seems that every person that I’ve talked to has expressed a recent argument that they’ve had with a partner, child, co-worker, or friend and the bane of the disagreement happens to center around communication, or more accurately, the lack of communication.
Being able to effectively communicate is a life long skill, and sometimes it’s the difference between going to bed angry or a happy, or a life or death situation with the police, or a job offer or job rejection. So much power and fate can be determined by what someone chooses to say and how they choose to express it.
Recently my partner and I had a quarrel because of Twitch. In short, I was upset because we both agreed that his live radio show would only be 1 hour a day. Well, lately it’s been more than an hour and this compromised our schedule for dinner, chores and most especially my mental health. I desperately need peace and quiet after work, which is also the same time his twitch show begins. Because of the fires, I can’t go outside and because we live in a one story condo- there’s no other place to escape the noise. I want to be supportive of my hubby’s outlet, but we agreed on a time limit, and he wasn’t honoring that. We talked about it and came to a compromise- 45 minutes day. In retrospect, this was a trivial fight, but I think it could have potentially led to a more serious one. With all the previous practice we’ve had with conflict resolution, I think we’re getting better with communicating our needs.
One thing about sheltering in place is that it’s forcing me and I imagine many couples and relationships to have the difficult conversations. Being at home, day after day, month after month, it’s natural that people will disagree. Being in each other’s space, with no respite sounds like a recipe for many verbal altercations. We’re all either going to come out of sheltering in place as expert communicators or a better version of our former selves. I know that I’m not an expert and I probably will never be when it comes to communicating with my partner, but I’m content with the progress we’re making and glad that rather than crying and giving each other the silent treatment, we’re talking, even when it seems like the most impossible and difficult thing to do.
Here we are “communicating” how to take pictures in front of our new place.
I can’t remember the last time I hugged someone besides my husband, and even then the hugs he and I exchange are more obligatory than they are passionate. Don’t get me wrong; I adore and love my husband, but when I was looking through old pictures of me in my early 20s, I noticed a stark difference. In almost every picture, I was hugging someone. Some were one arm over the shoulder hugs, but many of them were full embraces. I can’t remember a time, even before COVID-19, where I displayed such a genuine full body hug.
I don’t know if hugging is inappropriate for any situation over a certain age or if I was just living in a different time where one had to be conscientious of personal space, but it was clear during the early 2000s, hugging was the norm. I don’t know what happened as I entered my 30s and now 40s. Almost every picture I have of me, I’m off to the side, my hands on my hips, or waving a hello or peace sign. I rarely see any pictures of me hugging someone, not even a dog!
Now with the era of COVID, hugging is deemed unsafe. When I recently saw my mother in law, my first instinct was to hug her, give her a kiss on the cheek, but I knew better. I haven’t been tested recently , and she is susceptible to getting sick, so I had to refrain to what, at the time, felt natural. It was the first instance, in a long time, I instinctively wanted to hug someone, and then I realized how much I genuinely missed it. For years, I had the opportunity, now with today’s climate, I’m not sure if I’ll get the chance again.
Sure, the world will eventually return to a new norm, and I’m optimistic that how we greet each other in the future will mean more than what we previously knew it to be. When that day comes, I’ll be ready. My arms will reach over shoulders, backs and arms, and I’ll take my time to hold and embrace the moment. I don’t know why I refrained so much in the past, but it’s clear to me now how the single act of embracing someone with both feet planted firmly on the ground, bodies supporting each other, wrapping all your love in such a safe public display of emotion shouldn’t be taken for granted. I now know better. Hugs and all!
In about a month, my parents will make the long 13 hour flight from Manila, Philippines to San Francisco, CA. They have been in the Philippines since December. They were supposed to return in May, but due to COVID they had to extend their stay. Because of the health precautions, Philippine airlines suspended all their flights to and from San Francisco. The health risks of flying in a plane is still high, and because both my parents and seniors and are health compromised, I know that the flight home has several risks.
Even if the airline enforces masks and physical distance, these precautions don’t guarantee that it will be safe. Passengers will still be breathing recycled air, and people will need to take off their masks to eat.
It was a difficult decision for my parents, one that they didn’t make lightly. My parents asked me if it was a good idea, and as much as I wanted to say “no” , I knew it was ultimately their decision. My parents want to come home. They miss their children and their only grandchild, Aiza. They want to be close to us after living far apart, halfway across the world, for eight months, the longest we’ve been apart.
I used to have very judgmental opinions about people who traveled in the time of COVID. I wondered what was so important that people needed to fly. Yes there are folks who travel for recreational reasons, which is fine for some and unacceptable for others. In the case of my parents, who have been inside for 8 months with no sign of COVID, they simply want to come back home to see me and my siblings. How could I say no?
It was the hottest day in the summer in the City. For a city usually engulfed in fog, it was rare to see the clear sky, bright sun and experience the heat. At 2:00 PM it reached a rare 89 degrees, which is golden for South City. The temperature here is normally cool so anything above 65 degrees is considered summer. Reaching 89 is considered uncomfortable, especially since we don’t have AC. I waited till the evening to take a walk. As I reached the Hillside Road and had a clear view of my neighborhood, I noticed the pastel colors in the sky. The glorious sun was setting and as the city was tucking in for the evening, I couldn’t help but capture this unique moment. I don’t know when we’ll get a clear and warm day like this again, but special balmy days are definitely embraced.
Tonight I poured myself a glass of red wine. It was deep, robust and bold. Kinda how I’ve been feeling all week. I trained over 100 teachers for distance learning this week and introduced four different curriculums, each one having its own nuanced resources and learning platforms. I had to learn it myself and then introduce them to teachers. Like students, teachers have their own way of learning so instructing teachers online, via zoom, was met with challenges. Some couldn’t get online, some had tech glitches, some said I talked too fast, some said I talked too slow. Over all the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers thanked me for sharing and pointing them to resources that they never knew existed. They expressed that they felt more prepared to teach. Some went out of their way and thanked me via email rather than the feedback form. Another teacher was almost in tears. Being able to help teachers has been weighing heavily on my mind; I feared that I didn’t have the knowledge and the experience to assist during distance learning. To my surprise, not only did I realize that I have the capacity to ease some tension and frustration, but teachers realized it too. Cheers!
Next Monday is the first day of school, and like many districts in California, South San Francisco is starting the school year in distance learning. While there are many ways to support teachers during this time, I thought it could be helpful to give gift recommendations that surpass the usual — kleenex, paper, hand sanitizer, pencils. Since teachers will be conducting their classrooms via Zoom or Google Meets, why not gift the teacher with tools to make the distance learning more comfortable and beautiful. Here are my three gifts ideas for teachers who are using zoom.
1) Chair cushion: teachers will be sitting down on their chairs, why not make it more comfortable by giving them a cushy chair cushion?
2) Headphones with a microphone – to keep things more private, teachers can wear headphones and with a microphone; students will also be able to hear the teacher better.
3) Lamp or ring light – it’s a known fact that lighting makes all the difference for video conferencing. Teachers needs to look their best, especially in the morning when the sun isn’t at its highest. Providing a lamp or ring light can be nice gestures to bring the spotlight back on the teacher.
I would have never imagined that in 2020 these gift suggestions would make sense. But here we are at the start of a new decade, 6 months in COVID/ sheltering in place, and approaching the first school year with distance learning. Perhaps teachers won’t be able to return to their classroom, but in our own ways, we can help make things easier at home by providing some comfort, sound and light.
Along the foamy shore, I sink my bare feet in the moist land. Clumps of grainy sand stick between my toes. I avoid the earthy broken shells and black and white feathers sprinkled throughout the path. A red plastic bucket with a yellow handle floats in the white and grey water. Seagulls flap their loose wings but dip with wings as straight as the cross in the choppy ocean. My ear is pressed against the opening of a conch shell, a thunderstorm brewing inside.
Since sheltering in place, my husband and I have used the rooms and furniture in our house to serve multiple purposes. We learned that since we are staying home more and more, we’d have to make adjustments to how we live. Now, rather than fighting the sheltering in place and sulking, which we did for a few weeks, we realized that life couldn’t stop just because we can’t go outside. One of the ways we have adjusted is utilizing our dining room table. For the first few months of sheltering in place it was no longer where we ate our meals, but it was used as our puzzle table and my sewing station. But now, for five days out of the week, my husband uses it to set up his dj equipment for his daily live stream. He hops on Twitch or Instagram and hosts a thirty minute mix to an average of 20- 40 viewers, Monday- Friday, with an occasional live stream over the weekend. Part of the table is reserved for his laptop, mic stand and speaker, which we still eat next to. At our feet, under our table, and on top of our area rug is where he stores his controller, cables and plugs that I’m careful not to kick or step on while eating our meals. My office also serves multiple purposes. I have a meditation pillow, my sewing desk and now my stand up desk that I use for work. This room was once my writing room, but now that I’ve been working from home, it’s difficult for me to separate work like from my personal life. I can’t seem to write at my desk because now it’s where I have a set up for zoom calls and my work laptop where I am constantly preparing documents for work. Now, I’m learning to enjoy writing my stories and blogs in other places in the house like on the couch, in bed and at the dining table. We have also found ways to work out at home. Behind our couch is a treadmill that I use a couple times a week. I still enjoy jogging outdoors, but when sheltering began in March and facts were still unknown about COVID, my husband and I found ways to work out in doors. I did workouts via zoom in the bedroom and a few times my husband used the living room to jump rope! Thankfully we have very patient neighbors below us, so we haven’t had a complaint. Carrying on with our hobbies and finding ways to still do them indoors hasn’t been easy. Our house is cluttered, space is limited and it feels like my husband and I are living on top of each other. And even though we clean our house regularly, no matter how much we sweep and vacuum it doesn’t take away the agglomeration and clutter of DJ equipment, jump ropes, exercise equipment, books that occupy our space. Yet there’s something very comforting and satisfying knowing that in a two bedroom condo, within 800 square feet, between two people with unique personalities, there’s a dedicated place, within steps of each other to sew, to jump rope, to play music, to meditate, to read, to write, to eat, and to sleep. We’ve definitely adapted and will continue to do so, but sometimes when I walk from room to room, it’s hard to imagine ever needing a reason to leave.