Before drafting this story, a friend told me that 6 March 2020 was the last time we shared moments together when we were filming a short documentary about religion.
I honestly cannot remember the last hours I had before this “new normal” started.
From my friend’s message, I was able to recall some events that took place before this tragedy, this pandemic struck us. Here, I recount how I tried to survive during the crisis.
As far as I can remember, I felt a lot of emotions when I heard the announcement of the suspension of classes. Firstly, I was delighted because I would have the chance to rest after editing a documentary project, the last requirement for the semester.
The days leading up to the beginning of lockdown had been exhausting because we had to visit different churches around Metro Manila to interview some priests and other church people who could give us insights on Catholicism. It had also been stressful because I lost my ATM card (that had nothing on it).
Secondly, I sensed fear; I was not ready for a pandemic. I was not even thinking that a pandemic might hit us this time.
I was also scared because one day we were forcing our way into the busy district of Quiapo. The next days were followed by chaos, panic and people covering their faces with masks.
Prior to the pandemic, I promised myself to keep a journal to document my sad or happy moments. From January to March, I can say that I succeeded in writing down my day-to-day happenings. But when a lockdown was ordered, writing a journal became a “job,” not a passion.
My journal reminds me that nothing interesting happened during the stay-home period. Some of the activities I was able to document were about the films that I watched at the beginning of the lockdown, the books I read when we lost our internet connection for the first two weeks, and some random musings about life. The bullet journaling that I wanted to accomplish eventually stopped.
I am gay. My friends know this.
Everyone knows it, but my father! Since I had a lot of time to waste during the start of the lockdown (and before I found a job), I binge-watched my new favorite queer show — RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR). It is a reality show where drag queens compete for the title of “America’s Next Drag Race Superstar” and $100,000 prize money. At first, I had no plans to watch the show because I had no idea about drag queens.
But after watching the first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 4, I never stopped. I continued to watch the show, and as of this writing, I have finished watching 11 seasons out of 17.
This show changed my life drastically because it opened another portal I have not been to. RPDR taught me about queer culture, fashion, talent, and art. As much as I hate to say that there was something good about the lockdown, I would consider discovering RPDR was the best. Right now, I am back to watching again my favorite episode — Season 9 where Sasha Velour gets crowned after her rose petals performance in the lip-sync contest versus Shea Coulee. This inspired me to become a drag queen. What do you think about Chloe as my drag name? Does it sound fierce or feminine?
Aside from RPDR, I also watched a lot of documentaries about forensic science: Forensic Files. It is a 20-minute show where they explain about a crime (usually, murder) and how forensic science help catch the perpetrators.
I think I have watched more than 100 episodes now because it is short but interesting. I am not into science such as chemical bonding, law of attraction, and the like but this show caught my attention.
Of course, people had nothing to do during the peak of the lockdown when all establishments had suspended operations or closed, and the health protocols became much stricter.
I did everything to keep myself from getting bored. I hate to admit it, but I tried “swiping right” some good men on a dating app. Have you heard of “quaranfling”? It is a combination of quarantine and fling? Yes, all of you have heard that. Some of you might have had it. You are correct. I did not have a “quaranfling.”
I did not flirt with anyone during these eight months of lockdown and isolation. Imagine not meeting a man while being at home? That is the only sad story I can reveal, and I have a lot more activities during this period.
During the lockdown, I disconnected myself from social media a little bit. Because during this time, I found an online job: Teaching English as a second language to Japanese learners.
Since I started working, I did not have much time to connect with friends; I was working 12 hours (at maximum) on some days. I chose to work for such long hours to be productive during this period.
Before the lockdown, I planned to start working at the end of the second semester in Metro Manila. But I opted to do remote work instead. I thought it would be dangerous working in the city this time.
I enjoyed my work; it was fun interacting with various kinds of people (even virtually). I get the chance to hear stories about Japanese culture and their daily lives. I help Japanese (and foreigners living in Japan) learn basic English for different purposes: School, work, or for fun.
This job opened a lot of doors for me. Now, I could afford to buy the things I want. However, at work, there was one unfortunate incident. A client (non-Japanese) shouted “fuck off” at me during the lesson. I reported the incident but nothing happened. As the saying goes, customers are always right.
I am contented with my work. But I feel a little sad because what I really want to do is art. I want to create art every day. But during the lockdown, I started to doubt whether I could have a future in the arts. Do I have the talent? Do I have what it takes to be a successful artist? I know art is not about money but as someone coming from a middle-class family, if I want to pursue my passion, I should be able to earn money, I could survive and support my family’s financial needs. But wherever my heart takes me, I will make it work; as always.
My lockdown experience is not the best; it should not feel that way. I keep reminding myself that it is normal to have bad days because being on lockdown is not supposed to be a celebration of life. It is not a time for soul searching or whatever privileged activities you wish to do. People are dying. Lockdown should be a time to remember all the healthcare workers who are working and fighting hard to keep us all safe.
Note: This essay was written as part of the Visual Journalism class (First Semester, 2020-2021), conducted by Rey Ventura via Zoom, of the Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
“Almost everyone is doing things via Zoom for the first time. There are a lot of challenges. But to an imaginative and diligent student, obstacles are learning experiences,” Ventura said. “The short films, photographs, and stories and many discoveries born during the long period of lockdown are testaments to the creativity and enduring spirit of the students.”