Our Pandemic Experience, Year One

It was about a year ago that the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Wuhan, China. The virus has been and is still affecting the world massively, and in this post I’m going to recount how it has affected my family and me.

On February 2020, I found and bought the single remaining bottle of hand sanitizer spray, in a supermarket in a neighboring city. My own city did not seem to have them in stock anywhere, it felt at that time. We were on a vacation to celebrate our second child’s birthday. There has been no official announcements, but everyone seemed to instinctually know that something terrible was about to unfold.

Also on February I was scheduled to talk at a conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The conference was cancelled. At that time the decision to cancel was rather controversial. After a few more weeks, it would then prove to be the exact right thing to do. Anyhow, we also had to cancel our personal trip that would have happened afterward. There were no refunds, because at that time our destination had not been declared to be in emergency.

Back at home, at the beginning, an inflatable pool was our main tool to entertain children, especially since schools were closed. As it turns out, inflating the pool was easy. It was draining the water once everyone was done that’s tiring. The excess water also wasn’t great to the grass on the backyard.

I told my wife on my birthday in March that that was the worst birthday I’ve ever had. Anxiety level was high, everything was unpredictable, and our government did not seem to treat the situation with the right level of urgency. Masks and sanitizers were hard to find, local information even more so. We had to fend for ourselves by doing what we thought was best: not leaving the house, getting a lot of vitamins, and pretending to be cheerful to our kids as if nothing had happened.

I had a few scheduled work travels that had to be cancelled. Team meetings were replaced by multiple-day Zoom calls. They didn’t feel great, like having instant noodle for lunch instead of a proper meal. It felt great as an idea, but left me with regrets.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons for Nintendo Switch deserves its own paragraph here because it definitely has been the video game of the pandemic. It soothed not just our family, but seemingly the whole world. Even just the opening song was enough to give us a warm, fuzzy feeling. Our daughter played hours and hours of it. Her reading skill spiked up from reading conversations in the game. She memorized a lot of songs from it. One of the songs she turned into her nightly lullaby. She was not the best decorator, so our island in the game was an ocean of trash, but at least she’s happy.

Other games that get a lot of play time: Goat Simulator, Lego World.

Oh, Eid was cancelled. If there is a single holiday that’s uncancellable in Indonesia, it’s Eid. Yet it was, indeed, cancelled. Instead of visiting families, we had Zoom calls in the early morning.

We found that my wife was pregnant some time at the end of last year. I was so anxious I wasn’t able to sleep or eat for a whole day, something that never happened to me before.

Pregnancy during pandemic required many changes from what we’ve known from previous experiences. We had to avoid our usual hospital for doing regular check-ups, because the hospital was used to treat COVID-19 patients. We found another doctor who was good, had a practice at her own house, and the place had proper health measures in place. Masks required, outdoors waiting area, good airflow.

A few days ago I heard the news that the doctor and her husband got the virus, despite all that. I suppose it’s inevitable if you’re a doctor and meeting a lot of different people every single day. When we were there sometimes we’d see patients who were clearly coughing but still brought themselves there.

When it was time for my wife to give birth, we had to pick a different hospital also. It was a place that’s not familiar to us. We were asked to arrive the night before the operation, and the hospital was eerily quiet. Visitors were generally not allowed, but still it felt very unusual to be in an almost empty place. That night it felt like we were the only persons in there.

At the beginning of the year, I had thought that by the pregnancy’s due date on August, the virus situation would have already died down. I was so, so wrong.

Anyway we picked a room and stayed. Right away the level of service did not seem to reach the previous hospital that helped us with our two previous children. But overall it was comfortable.

The operation went smoothly, and we stayed for a few days after. It was the three of us there for those few days, with pretty much no visitors, which is something completely unusual if you’re a family with newborn in Java. The culture here dictates that pretty much everyone goes to visit a new baby at the hospital. The stark quietness gave us a great opportunity to relax and recover. During lulls I was able to play quite a bit of video games, watch Netflix, and rediscover the joy of Starbucks’s cafe latte. We also particularly enjoyed the hot tea that the hospital provided. It was the perfect amount of sweetness and warmth to help counter our stress.

Overall, our kids have been doing relatively fine, thankfully. Our youngest are growing healthily. For our first two it’s been a lot more games and videos than I’m comfortable with, but those are also important moments of rest for us parents. It’s a tricky thing to balance.

Online school has been particularly difficult for our first child. Even at the beginning it was obvious to us that the kindergarten we picked for her wasn’t particularly tech-savvy, but we thought it won’t be a big problem since our main goal was for her to gain new friends and socialize at the school. Who would have thought that school would suddenly move to Zoom? The hardest part for us has been to figure out what’s essential for her to learn during these lost school months, and what’s okay to let go. I don’t think we have it completely right. We’re trying.

And finally here we are, a year later. Like the constant hum of air conditioners, the presence of the virus and the uncertainty it brings keep on playing in the back of my head. It remains a factor to consider on top of all the things happening in our live. I see that things are getting worse in many parts of the world, especially those entering winter season. In my part of the world people have relaxed by a lot, even though testing is still low and there’s a lot of unknowns.

At the beginning I tried to keep myself updated with news, hoping that one day a glimmer of hope will appear. It was very tiring emotionally, and eventually I had to tune them out. Recently there were news about two vaccines, of Pfizer and of Moderna, that have over 90% success rate. These are actual, backed-by-science, glimmer of hope. Especially since there are also other promising vaccines in development with a timeline to share their findings in the near future.

A year from now, there’s a good chance things will be back to relative normalcy. Before that, with vaccinations, things will get easier and easier. Hopefully this writing will be it, and there will be no “Year Two” post. Hopefully, soon it will be a comfortable and relieving descent after this whole year of exhausting, foggy climb.

What Goes In…

As I grow older, the more I find that a lot of my life’s balance and sanity depend on how I consume:

It’s how I consume oxygen.

It’s how I consume food.

It’s how I consume time.

It’s how I consume other people’s thoughts and updates.

It’s how I consume my own thoughts.

It’s how I consume news.

It’s how I consume what I need and what I want.

What goes in, reshapes me.

Fixing Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Anterior pelvic tilt is a condition where one’s pelvic bones are tilting to the back. This commonly happens because of prolonged sitting and general inactivity, especially when done in improper posture.

I think I have it on some degree. I’ve been mostly sitting down working with computers for more than a decade and a half. I’ve been trying to mix it up with standing up while working the past few years, but it doesn’t seem like that’s enough to fix things.

The most noticeable effect, that I think is related to this condition, is that nowadays my lower back feel uncomfortable pretty quick if I sit down either on a chair or on the floor without a backrest.

Example of anterior pelvic tilt (right) compared to normal pelvic positioning
Example of anterior pelvic tilt (right) compared to normal pelvic positioning. Source

I did some research on this and found several articles with information and recommended exercises. The best I could find so far is this one from Built with Science. I like it because it goes through the details of what is causing it, what it affects, and finally it proposes some exercises that I feel make sense. It can be boiled down to weakened muscles on certain areas due to prolonged sitting. The exercises are aimed to improve those muscles which can end up improving the tilt as well.

The list of anterior pelvic tilt exercises recommended by bultwithscience.com
The list of exercises recommended by article. It’s pretty concise.

The exercises take only about 10 minutes a day, and they’re easy to remember too. I’ve done it for a few days and now I notice when my hip’s doing the tilt. It helps me recognize muscles I didn’t know I have around the hip area, and with this newfound awareness I can use those muscles to fix the tilt. It still feels odd when I’m on the right posture, and my body still wants to revert to the tilting posture where it is still more comfortable with. However, with consistent exercise and more awareness, I hope things will feel better.

If you feel you’ve been sitting down for a long time every day for work or other reasons, I’d recommend checking out that article as well.

The Root of Unhappiness

The root of my unhappiness seems to be unfulfillment of my wants.

The unfulfillment is sometimes something that I can’t control. There are external factors that can cause it.

The wants, however, definitely come from within me. They are something I can control. The less I want things, the less I face unhappiness.

This gets confusing because it feels to me that what brings happiness is fulfillment of my wants. So if I reduce my wants to avoid unhappiness, I have fewer source of happiness as well.

So perhaps the clue is to decouple wants and happiness. I read in a book once that it is efforts toward mastery that brings true happiness. Maybe that is the key. Maybe I should spend more time there, instead of giving too much time to wants.

Lastly, perhaps another true source of happiness is being grateful for what I already have. If I can do this, I feel it can naturally reduce wants as well.

So, going forward, this is what I want to focus on:
– Reducing my wants, by
– Getting happiness from mastering things, and
– Getting happiness from being grateful.

Apple Store Cotai Central Macau Grand Opening Video Tour

A few days ago, on July 29th, 2018, we happened to be around the city of Macau. By chance, a new Apple Store was to be opened right next door to our hotel.

The doors were opened by 6 PM, and it was quite surprising to see the long queue and the huge crowds at the entrance. I had visited a different Apple Store about 30 minutes of walk from this one the previous day, and the difference in vibe and noise were glaring.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long before the queue shortened, and we eagerly joined. Here’s my video of the event:

The store features a 1 mm thick marble layer on the outside of the second floor, as well as bamboo plants outside and outside.

In all honesty the event feels kind of awkward to me, with all the cheering and excitement even during the queue before entering. It feels a bit funny to see people getting excited about all the products here in such a crowded place, while there’s a better option just 30 minutes away. Still, it is a one-of-a-kind event and I’m happy to be able to experience it.

The video was taken with an iPhone 8 with the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 gimbal.

After Thirteen Years

If you eat halal and have been to the charming Jeju island in South Korea, you must’ve known about Bagdad Cafe. That small Indian restaurant, located right at the heart of Jeju city, is pretty much the only place that provides halal-licensed food on the entire island.

I had some pictures posted on Instagram about the times I was there with co-workers from Automattic, and yesterday I got some likes on them from Bagdad Cafe’s Instagram account. I didn’t know that they have a presence in Instagram, so I went and checked their pictures. And that’s when I found this fascinating announcement:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BYlVe72gCZ2/?taken-by=jeju_bagdadcafe

(Update: the Instagram post seems to have been archived or deleted, but I still have the written version below)

The notification says:

Thank you for all the love and support you give us. And we deeply regret to inform you that we will be closing Today (Sep. 4th, 2017) for the first time in 14-year history of BAGDAD only to come back with better service and food as an answer to your love. We sincerely apologize once again, and thank you very much for your unchanging supports.

-BAGDAD

How amazing it is that they took their first ever break after being open non-stop for thirteen years. I can’t imagine working on something continuously, every single day, throughout the seasons, for 4,748 days.

It’s quite heartwarming how they said they will come back better “as an answer to your love“. That made me feel bad that they had to apologize so much about it. It seems to me that if you’ve been available for 13 full years, you deserve all the break you want. Take all the time in the world! You’ve more than earned it already.

If I close my eyes and imagine what it’s like to be there, I’d describe it as a well-worn but clean, quiet, rustic place. I remember the small but surprisingly heavy front door that can be tricky to open (do I push, or pull?). I remember the mismatching tables they have, and the colorful ceramic tiles on them that’s cracked on the edges. I remember that they use regular stand fans instead of the more common ceiling AC for the tables at the end of the room. I remember the pictures of various international frisbee competition teams (of all sports) on the wall. I remember the ceramic elephant statue. I remember the dimly lit room, perfect for a conversation over dinner with the rest of my team.

In other words, it’s exactly how it would look like if it has been used for thirteen full years with a lot of love and care. I hope they enjoyed their break.