It is now 2021!

A wet new year

2020 is finally over.

The past year has been nothing short of insane. COVID-19 has been topping the news headlines for most of the year around the world. The worst part of it is of course, the lives that have been taken away from us. Humanity had been helpless against it when it first came into existence, but as proof of our resilience we have been able to fight back. It had been a slow but steady climb but I believe that humanity had a chance to come back from a great blow. And you have to look at it from this perspective in order to see the brighter side of the year that was.

It had taught some of us that there are other ways of working and studying. While there are jobs that cannot be done from the comfort of home, those that can have made a difference for some people. And because everyone has their own opinion on this, we are still divided on which is the better option and who are the people who really benefit from it. Personally, online learning didn’t work for us and work from home had not been an option in my line of work. And everyone’s circumstances may lean on one side or the other.

Alright. We all know what 2020 had brought about to our lives. There are things that we probably won’t understand until much later about what happened and why it happened. But 2020 is now past tense. We need to stop looking back at what went wrong and instead focus on what we can do to make things right. There are no pointing fingers since we are all still in the dark. So let us look forward instead to what 2021 holds for us.

School starts as normal in sunny Singapore on the first week on January. Work is still work and with the Phase 3 opening of Singapore’s Circuit Breaker, we are expecting to see more and more people in the workplace. That means more people on buses and trains. It won’t be comfortable, that much is certain. And that is both physically and socially. We still don’t know how much contagion is still out there and everyone is still a target for the virus. We can only keep on being diligent and continue practicing safe distancing wherever we are. And wherever it is practical to do so. Like I said, there is no use pointing fingers so if there are inconsiderate people around, let us put it upon ourselves to be the responsible ones. We still don’t know how the Phase 3 opening will affect the current population so it is still best to move forward with caution.

The past year has already been bleak and grey. Let us make this coming year brighter. Although the circumstances may differ somewhat, let us make the most of what have to have a good day every day in 2021.

Kindness

Matthew by the sea

Kindness according to Merriam-Webster means 1) an act of kind assistance; 2) the capacity for feeling for another’s unhappiness or misfortune; 3) sympathetic concern for the well-being of others.

It can be taught and it can be practiced. But more importantly, I believe that if it is an inherent trait of someone, it will manifest itself naturally. And when it does, I hope that it spreads to others around that person. But what makes me think this way about kindness and is it such a big deal?

The recent pandemic that is COVID-19 has shaken everybody. Our lives and livelihood have been affected on a scale unlike any other. And with all the measures that have been put in place by different agencies and different governments, our normal life is not normal anymore. We all had to cope and adapt to the new world in a matter of days. And even now, change is happening all around us. I have seen people do what they can to help others and I applaud them. I myself have been trying to do what I can to be more generous to those who have been less fortunate than me. However, balancing between being helpful and helping yourself becomes an exercise in constraint and it really gets you thinking. We have been coping with the situation and have just about accepted the “new normal” as some people call it. Of course, it could be better. We still pray that things do get better. And soon.

Matthew

These kinds of situations bring out both the best and the worst in people. And this is where being kind deep inside matters. Even before the pandemic, we see people being rude and inconsiderate of others. Sometimes we cringe at them and other times we condemn them and their actions. Their actions feel multiplied in these hardened times. And this is because our lives have been in high gear for quite some time, and suddenly it now slows to a crawl. Suddenly, people who were inherently kind finally return to their kindness. Because now they can breathe. Because now they have time to think and feel. I know this because sometimes I feel the rush of life and I forget my roots. My mother has taught me kindness by being a great example. My wife and I tried to impart that on Matthew ever since he was a baby because it is something that won’t go away if it has been with you your whole life. And thankfully, it has stuck with him.

Matthew is sometimes hard to calm down when his anxiety kicks in. His mood would sometimes swing from being happy to angry. He would forget his chores, he would fail to listen and he would be lazy. But despite all of this, he is kind. He always has been and we believe that he always will be. Even if he doesn’t always show it to us, we know that he practices it with others. Our neighbor once recognized him as one who would always keep the lift doors open for her. His teachers had always mentioned when he would be helpful in school without being asked. And sometimes even when he is not in the mood, he would still try and make mum happy. Even if he is holed up in his room he would be ready to help if we sounded like we were in distress. There are these little things that people won’t notice about him, but we see it all the time because we know how we raised him. Like his inherent kindness, we hope that people would slow down and remember that they had it in them and they just need to let it out again.

Chapter 15

Matthew blows fifteen candles

2020 has been, different.

The start of the year had us dealing with a global pandemic that affected everyone’s lives. Some were affected more than others. Some people died. Some people went crazy after a while. Those of us who are still going about our lives have been blessed. Some would say we have been lucky. Its hard to tell. The first three quarters of 2020 had been rough. But here we are, still trudging along in what people have started to call, the new normal. Pardon me if I disagree, but this is not normal. We left normal several months ago.

I have not been writing for a good while. I don’t really have a particular reason except maybe to say that I have not been writing. I have been working. I have been playing. I have still been playing my role as a husband and father. We are living our lives to the best of our current ability. It just so happens that I really haven’t written anything good.

Which makes me bring this chapter to a close.

Matthew has changed. Judy has changed. I have changed. The world has changed. My perception of life being a dad has also changed. The course I have plotted in my mind is not going in the direction that I had imagined in my head. It has been taking detours in the last three years and I don’t think it will find its way back to the original course. So I’m taking a leap of faith to adjust my bearings. For a good while, I don’t think I have a solid enough plan to call it a plan. But like everyone else who has fought in this trying time, I need to adapt and find a way to move forward toward a goal. How I’m going to get there is a different matter.

Matthew celebrates his 15th birthday.

Like a good book, let us now open up a new chapter and discover the world.

A Father’s Day

The mother is the heart of the home and the father is the foundation. I’ve heard this a few times both in English and in my native Tagalog tongue. But to me, these were the olden days when my parents were just starting out. Things have changed over the last few years. Maybe the underlying foundation is still the same, but the times we are in have ushered in changes to what a typical family is.

Dad

My typical day as a father can be summarized as something like in the next few paragraphs.

Saturday.

20191103_174359-959

I woke up a bit later than a workday and lounge about the living room. Matthew wakes up soon after and that’s my signal to get up. So I get up and head towards the kitchen. You’d think that it was easy thinking of what to cook for breakfast, but it really isn’t. When you have been making breakfast every morning, you realize that you no longer have anything to cook. So it was decided that breakfast was going to be eggs and Spam. You can’t go wrong with Spam. Being a Saturday, that means it’s vacuum day for Matchu Pitchu. For some reason, that has become Matthew’s pet name. Not to be confused with Machu Picchu of course. If it’s vacuum day, then that means I’m not off the hook either. I pick up the broom and sweep the floor. After a good sweeping, it’s mopping time. It was time to put some miles on my new Deerma mop. One thing to be said is that I actually like cleaning. I like the smell of clean floors and making things shiny again. That is to say, after realizing that the bathroom was dirty, I had to clean it too. Cleaning does get tiring and as such, I napped after lunch. In the afternoon, I took the clothes out to hang and dry. And then we had dinner. That was as eventful as my Saturday’s get.

Disclaimer: Not our toilet

Sunday.

20190921_134529-398

Since it is still a weekend, I woke up a bit later than a workday and lounged about in the living room. Matthew wakes up and nudges me which was my cue to make breakfast. Luckily, we had ordered Tocino, which Matthew likes to call sweetmeat. It is basically marinated meat that goes really well with fried rice. So I chopped up some garlic and seasoned the garlic fried rice to suit my local taste buds. After breakfast, we had some time to relax so I was on the sofa gaming on our Xbox. By lunchtime, the missus was busy preparing our Father’s Day meal. So I was called in to dress the mussels that we were having for lunch, Garlic, tomatoes, and cheese. By the time we finished, I was plump. The baked mussels were served with clam pasta on the side so it was heavier than our normal meals would have been. I cleaned up the kitchen after lunch and then we took some time to take a nap. As the day ended, I was up ironing Matchu Pitchu’s school uniform. And then we went to sleep.

20200620_185315-963

The old pictures of what a husband is from western movies are not what should be portrayed. It is quite different from what I have seen as I grew up being a boy, then a man, then a husband, and ultimately, a father. But at the end of the day, we are human. And we live our lives the only way we know how. As humans.

The Story Thus Far (COVID-19 and us)

Singapore entered a “circuit breaker” period that was scheduled to end on May 4. The circuit breaker was meant to take people out of the streets in order to control the community spread of the Coronavirus that has been dubbed COVID-19. Non-essential businesses and services were closed and workers were encouraged to work from home if possible. People were asked to stay home and go out only for necessities such as buying groceries and getting food. Dine-in is no longer allowed so people are left with take-away or delivery. Safe distancing measures are enforced everywhere. People are asked to wear masks when out and about. Exercising is allowed, but with distancing as well. However, even with all the enforcement in place, there are still people willing to risk their health and others for whatever reason. And because of this, the rules continue to be tweaked. The situation used to be under control, but along the way, something went wrong and it has now gone bad. And now we are looking at an additional four weeks of circuit breaker period.

20200403_201401

The COVID-19 pandemic has caught all of us by surprise. It has been a series of uncertainty, changes, fear, and to be honest, a hint of paranoia. A lot of the things that we were able to do freely have now been severely limited or otherwise banned. It is being advertised as temporary measures, but as the days go by, you start to wonder how long is it going to be temporary. We are surviving in this current state. And we do our part in keeping in line with the measures that the local government together with the WHO has implemented in a bid to flatten the curve and curb the virus. It could be better, but we are where we are now and we can only hope that the situation gets better soon. Real soon.

20200403_203454

How are we holding up?

Well, I am now a mixed bag, to say the least. I work from home whenever possible. However, I am also tagged as an essential worker. Which is to say that if the company I work for deems it, I will be going to the workplace to fulfil my duties. We go out to buy our essentials a few days a week in order to keep our stocks fresh. This includes fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry and meat. Thankfully, we have been doing okay so far.

Matthew has also been doing home-based learning. It’s fine for the most part, I guess. He’s obviously enjoying the extra freedom that he is getting from home-based learning. I know that it is going to be difficult adapting back to a normal school and re-learning everything that he didn’t pay much attention to this time around. But it is still better than not having learned at all. For this, I commend the school system. It’s not the perfect system, but it’s working right now so I don’t really have any reason to complain.

We have also kept in touch as much as we can with family. Thank goodness that there are ways to communicate reliably over the long distances that we keep nowadays. And we are even more blessed that our immediate family members are all safe and are in good health. Let’s all do our part. We already know that it won’t be the same again even after all this is over. Let us pray for the best and be prepared to adapt to what’s coming next.

20200414_193402

Matthew and his lightsaber

Back in 2019, there was an advertisement for a Combat Saber Experience at Bugis Plus. It was a short 30-minute session where you are given a lightsaber and shown how to use it. We took the experience and had our first combat saber duel. Well, sparring was more like it. That’s when we started to learn more about The Saber Authority, the ones responsible for giving us our combat saber experience. Aloysius was more than accommodating and our experience had been very enlightening. So enlightening in fact, that we signed up on the spot for another activity involving combat sabers. We also signed up for Sabermach’s saber building workshop. There was a glitch though as the slots have been filled. Then we met Jay. Again, another person that made our saber experience a great one. Jay managed to squeeze in at least one more slot for us and Matthew managed to get himself a lightsaber to build.

20200217_205228-733

So we started that day getting some pointers on how to duel with a saber. It is basically sword fighting with lightsabers. We were given simple instructions to follow and for the next few minutes, we were actually feeling pretty good. We were slashing left and right and moving with graceful footwork. At least I thought it was graceful. The last few minutes were spent putting those lessons to work with a friendly spar with one of the seniors. It was a good workout for me and I’m just glad that Matthew had a good time too. Good enough that what happened next had set us up for a few more months of future sword fighting. The Saber Authority had given us the nudge we needed to get us some exercise and some fun.

20191110_160702-175

After the combat saber experience, Matthew got to sit down and started with building his own lightsaber. Sabermach offered the Blackburn for this saber build. The build also seemed pretty simple. There were a few parts that needed to be put together and that was supposed to be it. It turned out not to be so simple. Putting the saber together was just fine, but the customisation work on the saber took a while. It was fun though. And it made enough of an impact on Matthew to get him to appreciate his own creation even more. The lightsaber he built was cool because it worked pretty darn well and because it was personal. The amount of work he put in there was enough to put a smile on his face while he was building it.

20200217_203850-729

At the end of the day though, I had to buy my own light sabre because I thought that there was no point with only one of us having a lightsaber because we won’t be able to duel. After that, we enrolled with The Saber Authority and have been having regular saber sessions on Sundays at the Sports Hub.

20200217_204000-731

Let’s talk about the Coronavirus

Coronavirus outbreak header from WHO

The Coronavirus hit the news hard at the start of 2020.

Let’s see what the World Health Organization (WHO) have on this matter.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.

The COVID-19 is the latest outbreak of the coronavirus and was first reported from Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019. Previously known as the 2019-nCoV, this novel coronavirus was identified as the causative virus in cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan.

While COVID-19 is a new strain, it still exhibits the traits of the coronavirus. This means that general precautions against the coronavirus will give you a good chance of not contracting the virus. Note that it gives you a chance, it does not make you virus-proof. It doesn’t help that there is false information that is going around through social media and word of mouth. We must exercise caution in the way that we process the information that goes our way. Yes, the new COVID-19 is scary. But what is even scarier is that we don’t know enough about it to completely remove its existence. What we have is information from the World Health Organization. Feel free to do your own research for validation’s sake but in order to help out, let us help ourselves to understand what we know and what we can do.

IMG_20200126_160535_830

Good practice includes:

Washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub as this helps eliminate the virus if it is on your hands.

When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose as this prevents the spread of viruses and germs.

When someone who is infected with respiratory diseases, like 2019-nCoV, coughs or sneezes they project small droplets containing the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the virus. So keep at least a meter away (yes, this is nearly impossible on crowded buses and trains).

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If your hands have touched surfaces contaminated with a virus, you can easily transfer the virus if you do not regularly wash your hands and then touch your face.

If you have any symptoms of fever, cough or breathing difficulty, seek medical care immediately. As many have said before, prevention is better than cure. The earlier the virus is detected on your person the better prepared the medical staff will be to handle your situation. Despite the virus outbreak, there are still normal cases of fever and coughing.

Practice good hygiene. This includes keeping yourself clean and avoiding contact with unsanitary surfaces and objects. Taking extra care when visiting live animal markets and wet markets should also be a given.

Avoid consumption of raw and uncooked animal products.

Information from the WHO is available on their website at https://www.who.int/

We can all help each other if we are more aware and considerate of others. Together, we can get through this outbreak. The fewer people getting infected, the less load there is on our medical practitioners, and hopefully the more time they will have to find a cure and a perhaps a vaccine.

We would like to give a shout out to the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare persons that have braved the outbreak in order to help those infected. We continue to pray for China and the rest of the world who have been hit hard by the COVID-19.

Spending time with the grandparents

Back in November 2019, we had my parents visit us in Singapore. Matthew’s paternal grandparents. They have just come back from visiting my sister and my brother in the US and Canada, respectively. I guess it was our turn. Being the closest to the Philippines, it would be easier to come and visit us. Because of this reason as well, they spent more time in the US and Canada as it makes more sense to do so considering the distance and costs involved. While Matthew had always been a loving and caring grandson, time and distance do make things a bit less simple. So when the grandparents decided to visit, we did our best to make the trip worthwhile.

20191116_180926-198

Since it’s not really the first time that they stayed with us here in Singapore, they aren’t really that much of a tourist. And even though that doesn’t really make them a resident, they have been here long enough and often enough to be able to manage their trip. Most days they would just go off on their own and wander about the island. At least to places that are easily accessible from a nearby MRT station. Since there aren’t any “school” holidays for me, I could only meet up after work or go out with everyone on a weekend. We still managed to do a few things right and we still managed to visit some places that were new to them.

20191120_202655-231

Jewel at Changi was one of them. It has been hyped long before it opened and it is still being hyped as a tourist destination for people travelling to Singapore. Sitting practically within the airport grounds, it is a quick stop for any traveller. There are things to see and do at Jewel for just about everybody. The tallest indoor waterfall, a.k.a. Rain Vortex is admittedly the main attraction. And we did spend some time admiring this behemoth of a water feature. Jewel is also littered with gardens, forests, canopies, mazes, and sky nets. And let’s not forget the abundance of shops, restaurants, boutiques, and food kiosks.

20191123_130005-268

We were also able to bring them to Haw Par Villa, which re-opened its doors to the public after some renovation works in early March 2019. We went there before and it was a definite experience. With the renovations done, it is even more of a treat. Matthew and I obviously saw the differences when we last visited and it really is great to see Haw Par Villa alive again. We brought Mamu and Papu through the Ten Courts of Hell. We were also treated to refreshed versions of Chinese folklore such as Journey to the West, Madame White Snake, and the Eight Immortals. It was a refreshing and enlightening trip and we’re glad that they liked it.

20191125_113705-330

The highlight of our family reunion would have to be our trip to Genting Highlands. Mamu and Papu are already more about relaxation and just making the most out of their age. We brought them to Genting Highlands to do just that. Of course, their idea of relaxation sometimes means going and spending time in a Casino. They don’t gamble, really. All they really do is eat, drink, and do some slot machines. And they are lucky at the slots most of the time. Which is why they like going to Casinos. While they do that, Mum, Matthew and me enjoy some high tea. We also enjoyed a VR session as Ghostbuster recruits (and it was a lot of fun). The next day, we squeezed in going to Chin Swee Caves Temple and the Premium Outlets. A cable car ride back to the hotel completed the day. The great thing about that day was that we were walking on clouds. The cable car ride only heightened the experience as there were times that we literally could not see outside as we were passing through the clouds. A bit more eating here and there and before you know it, it was time to go back to Singapore. It was good fun at Genting Highlands. What we miss is the cool breeze that you get at nearly all times of the day.

20191125_104052-319

We had a few more laughs, a few more chows, a few more drinks, and shared a few more stories over the days that we spent with them. It was a reminder that time is not on our side and we are only getting older. But as we do, we also experience more and appreciate more. I’m hoping that by the time I get old enough, I could look back at my life and say that I am complete. And I wish that Matthew would feel that as well from me. Right now, I feel that I still have a long way to go, but I’m getting there. And then it was time for Mamu and Papu to go home and for me to get back to living.

Reboot

We are starting off the new school year with a fresh take on things. Hopefully. As we enter secondary three this year, we experience bigger changes. For one thing, Matthew now needs to wear pants. We are also now entering streaming. This is one of the quirks of the Singapore education system. Coming from a fairly western education standard, this is something that we have not completely grasped yet. It is as much of a learning process for us as it is for Matthew at this stage, and it can get scary. Really.

When I was in school, I went through 6 years of primary and 4 years of secondary school before I was given the chance to go for tertiary schooling. With Matthew here in Singapore, he has already gone through the 6 years of primary school. And now he could face either 4 or 5 years of secondary depending on his performance (and on how the school looks at his performance). Depending on the results, he can then opt to go to polytechnic or junior college. And depending again on the results, he could opt to start working or go to university (or work while going to university). This is the simple version of my understanding. When I look at the guidelines set by the MOE, my head starts to hurt.

So we pick up where we left off last year and hoping for the best.

20191229_175116