Coronavirus Journal: Day 34 – Disconnecting from the news, cheap lunches, and deerlingo

A watercolor painting of lovely toilet paper

So, I’ve reached the point now where I’m not checking the case and death figures as often because the numbers have gotten so high that it’s really hard to think about that in terms of trying to make it real. You know what I mean? You can picture a few hundred people, but when you start talking about tens of thousands sick and thousands of deaths, it gets a little abstract.

The result is that the pandemic is starting to feel a little more unreal to me. I mean, I know it’s real because I can see out my window that there really isn’t much going on. I see the lines and shortages at the grocery stores. I see the notifications from live streams on YouTube with news updates from Cuomo and De Blasio. But it just feels like we’ve hit the new normal. This isn’t weird anymore. This is just how it is.

Cuomo was saying in a news conference that the numbers of new hospitalizations are plateauing and that we have probably “flattened the curve”, but that deaths are going to continue in high numbers every day because these are people that were infected largely before social distancing measures were put in place.

I feel that people should have accurate information, but I also think that making people think things are getting better is going to make stupid people go out and do reckless things, sending the situation spiraling back out of control. Hopefully that doesn’t happen this weekend.

The last time I posted, I mentioned something about wanting to go out. I did, but not to ride my bike. The mayor canceled his open streets project so there’s really nowhere around here to go to ride my bike that feels safe, even with the reduced traffic. It’s still the Bronx. So, oh well. I really need to stop screwing around and figure out an indoor workout routine. I’m starting to really feel the wobbliness in my legs while doing routine things around our apartment and that’s not going to work.

DOE free meals in New York City

What we did do, though, was go check out the city’s DOE free food effort. When this all kicked off, the city was handing out free breakfasts and lunches to school kids, I guess to help make up for the loss of that resource for parents. School food is cheaper to pay for than groceries. So, makes sense. But I’m thinking that not enough people were showing up and they were throwing food away, so they opened up the free food to people of all ages.

I wasn’t expecting a gourmet meal, but I was thinking something along the lines of salisbury steak, instant potatoes, fresh broccoli, maybe greasy burgers, or fried chicken. You know. Food. What we got was an approximation of food that really helped me understand why so many kids have nutrition problems in the US.

We went over to PS 306 on Tuesday around 1:00 PM. We walked in and there was no one there. First red flag. We started to walk beyond the lobby and two employees waved us off and pointed us at some insulated bags sitting on folding tables in the corner of the lobby. Second red flag. Instead of prepared food, the insulated bags were filled with clear plastic grab bags of prepackaged items.

Turns out that some were for lunch and some were for breakfast.

The breakfast bag included:

  • a cheap muffin that was overly moist, squashed, and had no taste
  • frozen strawberries and sugar in a cup (basically a big cup of poor quality strawberry jam)
  • a knock-off of Yoohoo! chocolate drinks

The lunch bag included:

  • a ham and cheese sandwich
  • another of the nasty strawberry things that I guess you’re supposed to eat straight since there was nothing to spread it on
  • a small cup of green beans that were clearly from a can
  • another of the chocolate drinks
  • a package of off brand chocolate fudge chip cookies

First off, the only thing that was edible was the sandwich. Second, you should be seeing a pretty clear theme there: sugar, sugar, and some more sugar. And it all tasted bad. These meals have almost no nutritional value. I don’t understand how they can be served in a school.

If I really found myself in a position where I absolutely needed to get free food, I would rather use any other resource. This stuff would probably make a person sick in the long run. No wonder no one was showing up. The only thing it’s fit for is wasting taxpayer money, justifying some people’s jobs, and filling waste bins.

God help the people that actually need to eat this every day.

Just yuck. No. Plain rice and canned tuna with salt would be a better option.

Not hoarding, just higher demand

Speaking of groceries, I finally put something together earlier this week when I was at the grocery store and noticed that shelves are still empty. It’s not really that people are hoarding now; it’s just that they’re home. People aren’t at work so they’re not buying lunch at a restaurant. They’re not going out to eat so they’re cooking at home. There’s a much higher demand for groceries and the supply chain is still trying to catch up with that increase, so there are shortages of some items.

That being said, we haven’t run out of anything. Or at least anything that we can’t either do without anyway or replace by going to the grocery store. We’re going out less often though, so we’re using this as an opportunity to actually eat the food in our cabinet and rediscover old favorites, like our Bialetti and Cafe Bustelo espresso:

Bialetti Moka Color coffee pot and two Le Creuset espresso mugs with freshly brewed coffee.
Some bright points for me this week are:
  • After finishing “Unorthodox” and getting into “Shtisel”, I’ve rediscovered my interest in Hebrew. Plus they’re both great shows.
  • I found an app called Coursera with free college-level content
  • Found a new (to me) app called Lingodeer to help me learn foreign languages
  • Had some time to play Overwatch and Legend of Zelda: BotW.
  • Finished an awesome book by Adam Makos called Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives In World War II
I don’t even remember what map this was, but I love the small details they added to make things a little more immersive and fun in Overwatch.
A screenshot from Lingodeer. I like that you can turn off “romaji” in the settings. I obviously hadn’t done that when I took this screenshot, but turning off romaji forces me to read the Japanese scripts.

One of my goals this year is to actually make significant progress in learning at least Japanese and hopefully Spanish and/or Tagalog as well. I’m a little disappointed that Tagalog isn’t offered as a “premium” language in language learning apps. The course in Memrise is a community course and the kid doing the audio for the words sounds like he’s not really happy about it. I feel like it was probably some project or a thing his parent made him do.

Note: Featured image is a watercolor painting of lovely toilet paper.

A little more corona madness

C-Town Storefront on Avenue C

I was downtown in the East Village this afternoon. I was a little excited to see what was happening down there. I also had to get a power cable we need for a work monitor and I wanted to drop some stuff off at my Mom’s place.

I keep going outside with this expectation that the city is going to look completely deserted, like it did in downtown Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy. It was creepy as hell at night back then because there was no power downtown. We had to use flashlights to get around and one night, it looked like my wife and I were the only two people on 14th Street for two blocks in either direction.

Today, though, you wouldn’t think anything out of the ordinary was going on. It just looked like a typical afternoon. Maybe a Sunday afternoon instead of a Tuesday afternoon, though. And there was noticeably less traffic on the road for a weekday. But there were plenty of people out and about and only a few of them were wearing masks.

I wore an N95 mask while outside today. It was kind of nice because people gave me a lot of extra space on the train bench, platforms, buses and on the street, just in case I was sick I guess. I might keep wearing an N95 mask for a while after this thing dies down!

It’s hard to reconcile what I’m seeing on the street with what I’m hearing in the news about Italy. Who knows how bad this will all get here, though? I read that cases of corona virus more than doubled to over 1200 between last night and this morning. I doubt things have even come close to peaking in terms of the virus running its course.

I went with my Mom over to C-Town on Avenue C. I think she asked me to come with her just in case the crowds were more than she could handle on her own. It wasn’t too bad when we got there but it’s like the crowd followed us.

The near-empty bread shelves at C-Town

The shelves were just about wiped out of pasta, fresh cut meat, bread, tortillas, canned soup, and some varieties of cooking and olive oils.

The tortillas were wiped out at C-Town

I still can’t understand what the hell people are thinking down there. I didn’t bother to check to see if they had liquid hand soap or toilet paper. We don’t need any.

Toilet paper and paper towels at Key Foods in the Bronx
Hand soap at Key Foods in the Bronx

In the Bronx, by contrast, the stores are still relatively well stocked. The shelves at my two local groceries were empty of bottled water and some hand soaps, but there is plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, and more importantly fresh fruits and vegetables.

Plenty of tortillas available at Key Foods in the Bronx too

I’m a little curious to know how this is all going to play out. I mean, Trump is saying this corona virus situation is going to continue through July or August. New York City is limiting gatherings to 50 or less and pretty much all venues are closed. Restaurants are limited to take out and delivery. Gyms are closed.

Can businesses afford to be closed until August? Can people who work in the service industry afford to be out of a job for 5 months?

I saw on Twitter than the government is talking about dropping some cash on the masses, but the figure they’re throwing around is $1000.00. For a large portion of the country that might be ok if the situation only lasts 2 weeks. In New York City that isn’t even rent, even in the bad parts of town. It certainly isn’t going to do anything to help people who suffer from underemployment or unemployment for 5 months.

Not that I’m surprised, but with the economic situation this dire, most people are losing their minds because Trump referred to COVID-19 corona virus as the Chinese Flu. So what? No one cries that the 1918 flu is called Spanish Flu. And we all know it came from China. It doesn’t even matter what it’s called. If people want to be ignorant and abuse Chinese people, they’re going to do it regardless of what you call the virus.

People seem to like getting themselves bogged down in minor battles over ideological purity. They lose the forest for the trees. And I think Trump does this stuff just to troll people. I think he trolls people just like other trolls troll people and for the same reason. Imagine the rush you would get if you could make millions of people have fits over a word choice that isn’t even offensive because it might, maybe, possibly, cause someone to be mean to Chinese people.

I don’t even care. I’m going to ride this out and then I’m going to head to Chinatown and pig out.

BTW, here are some pro-tips for people out panic buying:

  1. You can wash your hands with bar soap
  2. You can wash your butt with water

Corona Virus Update – Bronx, New York City

I went outside today for the first time since Thursday. It was quiet. Unusually quiet. There wasn’t even much traffic on Jerome Avenue, which was strange for that time of day. It was just me, a guy in a mask and gloves in front of the liquor store, and two people begging for money by the train stairs.

I think the bubonic plague could hit New York City and that woman would still be sitting by the subway stairs asking if anyone has a quarter, though. She’s something special.

Antillana on Jerome Ave has toilet paper. It has paper towels. There are plenty of canned goods too. But there’s no bottled water, which I thought was weird because even in China, Italy, and Spain, the hardest hit areas of the world, they never cut off the water. At least, I never heard that they did. I don’t understand the obsession with buying toilet paper either. Toilet paper isn’t going to save anyone from the virus. And you can wash your butt in the shower if you run out of TP.

Antillana was pretty empty. It felt like an ordinary Sunday evening, though the customers seemed a bit edgy. They had everything I was looking for except bananas. Their bananas were there on display but they were all brown and rotten. Not sure why they left them out. I figure even people who are panic buying aren’t going to buy something that’s rotten. Probably.

Key Food up the hill was quite a bit busier than usual, but still not all that crowded. Not like how I expected it to be. I found some nice bananas there. They seemed to be low on red onions, which struck me as strange. I bought a sweet onion. Not because I was panic buying. We’re just low on onions.

I’m not sure what I expected. You’d think the world was ending based on the images of empty store shelves, fights over toilet paper, and all the closures. I got an update while I was out saying that the public schools are going to be closed through the end of April. The libraries are closed too. I had this feeling while I was on the street that at any moment, a zombie horde might show up and start chasing me. I’m not used to seeing the streets that empty.

I guess this is all about “flattening the curve”.

I saw a politician on Twitter saying that all the restaurants and bars in New York City should be ordered closed, but I don’t see that happening. Not unless the city agrees to discount every business a month’s property taxes or reimburse a month’s rent, plus lost income. And the city would have to agree to reimburse all of the employees for lost wages or something.

A lot of people in New York City and, I imagine, the rest of the country, live paycheck to paycheck. That’s probably especially true here where rent is about $1500 a month even in poor neighborhoods.

You close a business for a month and you make a bunch of people homeless or at risk of homelessness. You cause people to default on credit card payments and miss an electric payment or car payment.

Corona virus hasn’t even hit New York City that hard but it’s already emphasizing the wealth disparity that exists and how dangerous it is for the economy as a whole. You can’t hoard wealth at the top if you want to keep making money. Money has to flow through all segments of the society to keep the economy moving. That’s just how it is. Does it matter how many yachts you can buy if your actions tank the country’s economy and your money no longer has value?

Anyway, I’m going to be heading downtown tomorrow. I’m excited to see how things are in Manhattan.

January 2016 Winter Blizzard

Earlier, 6:55 PM:

So, we’re moving into a blizzard weekend. Two weeks of laundry to do, groceries to get. I thought we had until tomorrow afternoon, but now I’m checking the weather channel (online of course) and I see that we’re going to start getting snow around 11:30 PM here. Whiteout conditions, until sometime tomorrow. 24 hours of snow. 14 inches of blizzard apocalypse. Can a guy get laundry done during a blizzard? I wonder what things will be like on Sunday?

I have to prioritize food. I don’t want to rely on food deliveries that might be cancelled tomorrow. I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere either. Maybe we’ll just lay around and watch TV. That’s not so bad, as long as the heat stays on.

Now, 11:51 PM:

Going to the grocery store was like walking into madness. It looked like everyone in the neighborhood was jammed into Key Food on 172nd Street. We got there just in time to grab a jug of water. They ran out while we were in line. We figured it would be best to stock up, just in case a pipe broke and repairs couldn’t be done for a while. Mostly we just got regular food and some snacks. The lines snaked around to the back of the store and people were constantly squeezing past each other or bumping into each other. Something that we noticed was that no one was losing their temper or acting crazy, though. Everyone was pretty friendly, in fact. Camaraderie in suffering, I guess.

Anyway, we’re home now, relaxing, and ready.

A case of Stella Artois.
Stella Artois

Excuse Me. Have you seen these droids?

Stormtrooper Mask at Toys R Us
Have you seen any droids around here lately?

The missus and I have been so busy over the last few weeks that it seems like we’ve hardly had a moment to just sit down and stare relax.  I think about it sometimes.  Just going out to the park, sitting down and watching people walk by, watching the squirrels, and enjoying the sights and sounds of the city.  I think fondly about the time we spent wandering around in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  But then, I start thinking about the long list of things that just have to get done, and I put aside thoughts of having fun and relaxing for another day.  Except for last Saturday.

Last Saturday, we decided that we needed some time to just relax and have fun, so we went to Times Square, stuffed ourselves with the all-you-can-eat shrimp dinner at Red Lobster and then spent about two hours wandering around in the Toys ‘R Us store, also in Times Square.

It was a lot of fun!  Some of the toys were pretty cool, like some Hex Bug things I saw.  If I had the time and space, I wouldn’t mind setting up one of those tracks myself.  Some of the toys also sparked some good conversations, where my wife and I reminisced about the toys we had as kids and how they’ve changed.

I’ve always enjoyed games, puzzles and video games.  That was a great way to spend the afternoon.

As for the picture above of me in the Stormtrooper mask, well, I put it on and asked a store employee if he’d seen any droids in the area.  He said it was funny, but his eyes weren’t laughing.  They should have been laughing.  No, seriously though, he didn’t seem as amused by my lame joke as I was.  That’s ok, though.  The joke was more for me anyway.

The Limelight Market

The Limelight Market, New York City

The Limelight Market, New York City

The Limelight Market, located at the corner of 6th Avenue and 20th Street, is a pretty interesting place, but mostly because of the building it occupies.  As you can tell from the exterior, this building used to be a church.  When you get inside, you’ll see that the chapel has been converted into a series of small stores.

A yogurt shop, inside the Limelight Market, New York City.

This is a yogurt shop.  I didn’t try any, but there was a constant stream of people going to the counter, so it must be pretty good.  Around the corner to the right is Jezalin’s, where I got the kopi luwak arabica.

Inside the Limelight Market, New York City.

Turn around the other way and you see one of the boutiques.  I didn’t pay much attention to what was being sold in the boutiques.  It all looked a little too pricey and useless for my taste.  Through the door in the back there I think there was a pizza restaurant.

Inside the Limelight Market, New York City.

If, from where I was standing in the previous picture, you were to walk forward and go to the left you’d wind up in this area, which looks like it used to be the main sanctuary.  You can walk up onto the second level using stairs hidden away on the sides.  There were more display cases up there and what looked to be a coffee bar that had shut down.  I have a feeling the rent in this place is pretty high, which might be why Jezalin’s was trying to drum up more business by offering the Groupon discount on their kopi luwak.

Stained glass window in the Limelight Market, New York City.

I couldn’t get a straight on shot of the stained glass window because the area was blocked off by a register and some merchandise.  There were smaller stained glass windows in some of the stairwells, but they weren’t completely viewable.  The railing they’d built into the original structure to support the second level and the stairs blocked the windows partially.

Like I said, this isn’t the type of place I’d shop at for myself.  I’ll probably go back just to look around again, and maybe to get another cup of that coffee.  For me, the real fun was waiting outside:

The Rescue Rover, parked outside the Limelight Market.

I love when I see these vehicles, because it’s an opportunity to go inside and play with cats!

Rescued cat, looking for a new home.

Rescued cat, looking for a new home.

I wish I could take them all home…

The Antipolo, Rizal, Philippines Wet Market

Man selling rice in Antipolo

The last time I was in the wet market in Antipolo I didn’t take a lot of photos because I was worried about offending the stall owners.  Well, that and thieves.  The place was really crowded at the time.  On our last trip I realized I had my camera with me and the place was relatively quiet, so I started snapping photos.  The reactions were different from what I expected.  A lot of the girls behind the counters smiled and laughed.  Then the guys started laughing at them for getting so excited over a picture being taken.  It was fun!

Rice in the Antipolo Wet Market
Rice in the Antipolo Wet Market

We don’t normally get our rice inside the market.  We go to a stall just outside it.  I haven’t checked to see if the prices are any different, but my wife’s family all buy rice from the same guy, so it just seems natural to go there as well.  Besides, the stall owner is always smiling and seems really pleasant.

Man selling rice in Antipolo
Man selling rice in Antipolo

I can’t remember if I posted the photo or not, so I’ll post it again here!

Antipolo Wet Market

Pig feet and intestines

Pig feet anyone?  No?  How about those intestines?  Nothing goes to waste in the Philippines and every part of the animal gets put on sale.  Someone must be buying it…

Longganisa at the Antipolo Wet Market

A Filipino type of sausage called longganisa.  We bought the redder looking kind on the left and had it for breakfast.  It was a little sweet for my tastes but it was good anyway.

Fish at the Antipolo Wet Market

Fish, crab, shrimp… You can get almost every imaginable seafood here.  I think I even saw some sturgeon for sale.  I noticed that there were a lot of very large bangus (milk fish) for sale.  Some of them were as long as my arm.  My wife said that after typhoons the milkfish swim closer to the shore so it’s easier for fishermen to catch them.  The prices were low too at 40 PHP (about 0.95 USD) per kilogram.

Vegetables and cooking supplies at the Antipolo Wet Market

A row of stalls selling vegetables and random cooking items like oil, spices and sauces.

Going to the wet market is always interesting because there’s so much activity and so many people wandering around.

Old Spaghetti House at Galleria

DSC05242

Yesterday afternoon, after a day of running around trying to do job interviews and visit the GSIS office for my father-in-law, we stopped by Galleria on our way home to have dinner.  I wasn’t sure what to eat, but I was in the mood for something Italian, so my wife recommended Old Spaghetti House.  I’m glad we went.  The food there is great!  It’s not fine dining per se, but it’s well worth the money.

DSC05243

I went with the Vietnamese garlic spaghetti with shrimp.  I’m not sure if it’s actually a popular Vietnamese dish.  It tasted really good though!

DSC05244

My wife decided to have their puttanesca, which is translated literally as “whore’s spaghetti”.  There are conflicted theories about the origins of this dish, but the more colorful one is that it was a dish that prostitutes in Italy’s state run brothels made for themselves out of the odds and ends in their larders.  As a condition of working in the state run brothels, they were only allowed out one day a week, so they were often low on supplies and this light sauce made from few ingredients was the result of their attempts to get by.  More information can be found in the Wikipedia article.

DSC05245

After dinner, I finally got the chance to introduce my wife to funnel cake.  Funnel cakes are popular at fairs in the US, but they’re pretty rare in Asia.  I don’t recall ever seeing a place with this on the menu in Singapore.  She loved it!  You can see in the photo that they don’t add quite as much powdered sugar as they do in the US, but it came with a choice of toppings which made up for it.

Speaking of Singapore… it seems like you can’t get away from it over here.  I found this stuff on the menu:

DSC05240

DSC05241

I don’t care for the original Tom Yum soup, so I really don’t think I’d like the way it tastes as a pizza or spaghetti.

Spring Kyushu Fair

These are pictures from the Spring Kyushu Fair held in late March to early April of this year in Singapore.  This is what I meant about being agitated about not having a Japan blog, because I should have posted them then.  This is a bit dated, but I thought it was worth sharing anyway!

Singapore (Random) - 413

The fair’s banner was hanging in the center section of the Tampines Mall.  Tampines Mall is set up as round levels with an open center.

Singapore (Random) - 414 

This is the view from above, from I think the third floor.  The fair was set up in the middle of the mall and was jam packed with people every single day.

Singapore (Random) - 415

I was shocked at how expensive these arus melons from Miyazaki were.  If you look at the blue text on the sign you can see that 49 SGD was already the marked down price from their usual 60 SGD.  I think we went on the last day of the fair.  I tried to do a little research on the melon but there’s little available, through Google anyway.  What I did find says that the arus melon is considered “The King of Japanese Fruits” and is highly sought after as a gift for its fragrance, beautifully netted skin and great taste.

Singapore (Random) - 416

There was a booth selling selections of fine tea.  I kinda wish I’d bought some now that I look at the photo.

Singapore (Random) - 417

Singapore (Random) - 418

Photos of the crowds and some of the booths.

Singapore (Random) - 419

A lot of the booths were doing cooking on the spot, like this booth, where a girl was preparing takoyaki balls.

Singapore (Random) - 420

And what Japan fair would be complete without a booth selling sake?  The sake he was holding was actually really, really good and I wanted a bottle of it but he had already sold out.  He didn’t mind letting me have a few shots from the sample bottle though, which was pretty cool of him.  We wound up getting a sparkling rose sake for my wife, but got so busy with getting ready for our trip to the Philippines at the beginning of May that we we gave it away as a gift instead.

I’m looking forward to visiting another Japan-related Fair.  Hopefully there’ll be one in Manila sometime soon!

The Antipolo Wet Market

In the Philippines, most sizeable towns have a wet market, which is known locally as a palengke.  When you want to go to the market, you can tell the driver of your transportation of choice that you simply want to go to the palengke and they’ll know what you’re talking about.

The wet market in Antipolo is pretty big.  It actually has two floors, but the second floor is mostly dry goods and household items.  The real wet market is on the lower level.  It reminded me of the wet market in Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia except bigger.  We saw plenty of sea food, from shrimp to huge fish, as well as pork, chicken, and veggies.

The prices at the wet market are usually the best you can find in town.  We got a kilo of pork for what would be about 4 USD.  I guess it’s because there’s very little mark-up for land rental and employee compensation.  The sanitary conditions are a bit questionable by my American standards, but if all the people I saw in the market are any indication, no one dies eating food they bought there.  Or at least, not any more than at any other place.

If you plan on living in the Philippines for any length of time and you’re interested in getting good deals on food, you should make it a point to visit the wet markets.  I don’t know if there are any in Manila, but I assume there would be.

Here are some photos of the place so you can get a feel for what to expect if you ever visit a wet market in the Philippines:

DSC04881

DSC04882 DSC04883

DSC04884DSC04885

DSC04886 DSC04887

DSC04888 DSC04889

(Note: I’m testing a new format for uploading a lot of pictures. Hopefully the watermark doesn’t show up huge on the blown-up image after clicking the thumbnail!)