Notes from the Lockdowns: Phase 4 of Coronavirus Roadmap

Pemberton, Western Australia
Pemberton, Western Australia

I went to the gym for the first time yesterday after many months of relying on home exercises and running outdoors. When it rains sideways during the cold months, access to a gym is somehow a blessing, and it’s great to observe that people are careful about maintaining enough space amongst themselves and are cleaning equipment after each use.

Phase 4 of the state’s Coronavirus roadmap started on 27 June. At this phase, residents and businesses in Western Australia enjoy fewer restrictions on movements and social gatherings during the pandemic :

  • all existing gathering limits and the 100/300 rule removed
  • gathering limits only determined by WA’s reduced 2 square metre rule
  • the 2 square metre rule will only include staff at venues that hold more than 500 patrons
  • removal of seated service requirements at food businesses and licensed premises
  • no requirement to maintain patron register at food businesses and licensed premises
  • alcohol can be served as part of unseated service arrangements
  • all events permitted except for large scale, multi-stage music festivals
  • unseated performances permitted at venues such as concert halls, live music venues, bars, pubs and nightclubs
  • gyms operating unstaffed, but regular cleaning must be maintained
  • the casino gaming floor reopening under agreed temporary restrictions.

When restrictions were further eased by the state government, we were already on a much awaited holiday down in Pemberton, some 5 hours’ drive south of Perth. On a side note, this is one place I wish I could bring loved ones and friends to. Nothing beats a WA road trip!

We had initially planned a two-week vacation in Malaysia for March, but when it became obvious that the infections weren’t slowing, we had the inkling that we might have to cancel our travel plans. Then, when the Federal government advised Australian citizens and permanent residents to forego international travel, as well as for those abroad to make their way back to the country as soon as possible, we knew that we had to cancel all bookings. More than that, we knew that closing off borders and a full lockdown were just around the corner.

We recovered hotel fees, but Singapore Airlines only gave us travel vouchers that we could use within 24 months, assuming the pandemic was gone by next year.

Since March, people in WA have been living in a country within a country, a state closed off within an island country itself. However, it is difficult to find fault in the strategy adopted by both Federal (i.e. national) and State governments in combatting the spread of Covid-19, particularly in a state that has among the highest proportion of vulnerable populations anywhere; it is home to a culture that is at least 60,000 years old after all and one whose genes is known to be regressive. Geography has always worked in Australia’s favour in times of global crisis.

The strategy also worked: on lockdown for more than 8 weeks, West Australians managed to keep the infections at bay and avoided the fiascos that plagued the eastern states, such as the Ruby Princess snafu and the resurgence of Covid infections in Melbourne. We may have appeared to be overly cautious for keeping non-residents away, but we would not have been enjoying more freedoms and further economic activities if we hadn’t made those decisions. It wasn’t easy for everyone, but it was necessary.

So far during Phase 4, we have been able to travel, shop, ride public transport that now runs on regular schedules, go to cafes and restaurants, welcome guests to our homes, and for many, return to offices. What also made the difference apart from strict implementation of social distancing and closing off borders is the mindset that people have around the pandemic: one would hardly find anyone who thought that Covid-19 wasn’t real, that it was unnecessary to socially distance or observe sanitary practices. In this country of 26 million and a state of less than 3 million, triple-digit infections means shutting down entire suburbs and cities and prompting testing and contact tracing blitz.

I am expecting to be back at the office by the last week of August in time for a quality management audit which I have been working on for the past 12 months. However, even then, I do not expect to spend all of my working hours in a confined space with 30 or so other people, as much as I miss my old routine.

Sayonara, Manila!

Nearly 12 months of communicating mostly online, patiently waiting for school holidays to come around, and traveling thousands of miles to be together for just a few days, and this is what it comes down to.

purple luggage
“All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…” All the possessions that I’m allowed to take packed tightly in a couple of suitcases.

While the last three weeks have been absolutely stressful, thanks to having to deal with red tape and braving Christmas traffic to get from one point of Metro Manila to another (hello, Pasay to Kyusi in a day!) to run after certifications and official documents, I still count myself absolutely lucky to have the chance to be with The One and to be given the opportunity to work in another country. Things fell into place just when I was about to give up and embrace life-long singledom (nothing wrong there, mind!) or accept the prospect of working in the same city until for the rest of my productive years. And so after feeling like I’ve gone a decade older pleading with all sorts of powers-that-be to give me a piece of paper, sign statements or give me a clean bill of health, I’m flying tonight to be with my love while waiting for the right papers to come along for a pending post thousands of miles away. They say that luck is when preparedness meets opportunity, and I guess this is just as true in my case in spite of many lingering doubts about my own capabilities.

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Best Holiday Ever! Things to Do in Kota Kinabalu

Who knew that Kota Kinabalu would be one of the most special places I would ever visit? The week spent in the city famously referred to by locals and travelers alike as “KK” has been one of the most enjoyable in recent memory, thanks to the charm of the place itself, its people, and the company of someone who would eventually claim a special place in my heart (perhaps, my heart itself).

Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Thanks to the peak travel season in the Philippines in the summer, especially during and right after Easter/Holy Week, everything cost nearly twice as much, particularly airfare and hotel. And so on top of wanting to avoid crowds, this only encouraged us to consider other destinations in Southeast Asia.

Thus, upon recommendations on the Web and from friends alike, we decided on KK, a convenient, tourist-friendly, and very affordable destination. Kota Kinabalu is this little nook on the northwest coast of Sabah, Malaysia, facing the South China sea. Whilst it was one of the more popular gateways to Malaysia, Borneo or the rest of Southeast Asia, KK after Easter was not teeming with too many tourist. We were informed by locals that the city did host a considerable number of visitors a few weeks prior, so I guess the timing for our holiday was just right. Continue reading

Tales of El Nido

IMG_0100I first visited El Nido three years ago upon the invitation of a friend whom I dated very briefly. I must have been living in a bubble all my life for I never knew how relationships with visitors worked. Since then, I treasured a hate/hate relationship with this destination popular amongst backpackers.

And so excited to visit a place that I only knew about from travel magazines, I booked tickets to the nearest major airport, not knowing full well about the harrowing land transfer between Puerto Princesa and this tiny town sitting on the edge of nowhere: six hours of commute on some of the roughest roads I knew. If you asked me now, I would pay anything to avoid spending a total of twelve hours that I could never get back on a backbreaking road trip.

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Travel is Life

“Travel is little beds and cramped bathrooms. It’s old television sets and slow Internet connections. Travel is extraordinary conversations with ordinary people. It’s waiters, gas station attendants, and housekeepers becoming the most interesting people in the world. It’s churches that are compelling enough to enter. It’s McDonald’s being a luxury. It’s the realization that you may have been born in the wrong country.

Travel is a smile that leads to a conversation in broken English. It’s the epiphany that pretty girls smile the same way all over the world.

Travel is… a street full of bearded backpackers looking down at maps. Travel is wishing for one more bite of whatever that just was. It’s the rediscovery of walking somewhere. It’s sharing a bottle of liquor on an overnight train with a new friend. Travel is “Maybe I don’t have to do it that way when I get back home.” 

— Nick Miller, New Girl

Last year was the only one in the past six that I didn’t leave the country. Maybe it’s time to get a new visa or use up what’s remaining of what I still have. Or maybe it’s time to dust off my old camera and drive hundreds of miles to capture the beauty that my country is known for: its rich traditions, its people, the kindness of strangers whose languages I don’t even speak.

sgplane

Travel brings out the worst and the best in us. In it, we find ourselves and realise how strong and brave and patient we can be. Along the way, we find friends and along the way, I may find what and who I have been searching for.

Travel opens our eyes to certain truths: are we there for the whole journey or are we just tagging along until the next pit-stop, the next station? Are we travelling with the right companion and going in the right direction? Travel has its perils, too: wasted time, false promises of a good adventure, lost resources, physical threats, heartbreak.

Sometimes, these pitfalls make me wonder if some travels are worth taking. Not all travels are equal, and we cannot keep on making reckless decisions with our limited time and resources. Maybe some journeys are better taken towards other directions.

Take the next or the first step; bring out the map; take with you only what is necessary. Keep it simple. Follow your inner compass. Sing if you are afraid, dance when you are happy. Meet fellow travellers; treat them kindly and respectfully.

Travel is life. Have faith. Find your courage. Travel is why I don’t have nice things. But oh, I would not want it any other way!