What is Normal?

Normalcy is defined from a collective consciousness of a society.  Personal, individual routine contributes to the definition of “normal”, but ultimately, what is not shunned (not technically accepted), gets to move up to a category of “normal”.

For example, what’s normal for PersonA with a dog is to walk the dog every morning after coffee and then breakfast.  While, for PersonB with a cat, the cat eats first before coffee and breakfast.  That’s personal individual routine.  That’s generally accepted by the society because it’s your personal business.

In public, there are different normals.  It is normal for a person to say “excuse me” when passing in between, when sneezing, when coughing.  It is a shunned behavior to cough without covering your mouth.  While it might be normal for the person to do so in his/her own confines, it is not accepted in public.  

There are also oddities that occur, like staring at someone in public; and these are generally not accepted in certain cultures.  Now, we are adding the complexity of understanding normalcy in the context of culture.  In Western countries, it would be easily observed that it’s rude to stare.  In the Filipino culture, because a lot of people are doing it in public, it has been “promoted” or moved up to a category of “normal”.  Personally, however, I don’t want to do this because it is only proper to observe good manners and right conduct (within my confines, and) in public.

Furthermore, to illustrate the normal in terms of culture, a foreigner who may be riding a jeepney for the first time, might not know what to do with a fare handed to him without instructions; whereas, for a Filipino, it would just be normal to pass the fare to the jeepney driver.

Normalcy is also influenced by years of doing something over and over again.  When it is new, it doesn’t feel normal.  Before the age of trains, it was only buses.  Before there was online shopping, everyone goes to the market.  It takes time for people to adapt; and for some it may take even longer.

How did the “old” normal feel for you?

“Normal” isn’t quite that normal for me.  Back when everyone was still saying “I prefer to X this myself”, or that “working remotely doesn’t provide tenure at work”, I was already doing quite the opposite.  I searched for ways not to leave my house.

I work in the IT industry because it feels quite liberating to know that I am creating something wonderful that will help ease out the usual duties of a person.  Maybe, to some extent, double the reach of a person’s productivity in a day by providing tools that automate what they need to do, and make things work faster for them.  To be able to craft things that solve problem is my high.  

When the birth of smartphones happened late in the 90s, I was ecstatic.  Things would become easier and things can be done faster.  It is like a dream come true.  In the last decade, we’ve seen apps do great things for us, and mobile banking was one of them.  I enjoy the notion of “you don’t have to leave your house to get things done”.  It was a cause of celebration for the introvert that I am.

Of course, there’s the occasional need for me to touch things, and see things just to enjoy them.  Hence, I would usually go out once a week to satisfy my visual and tactile cravings.  The need to "experience” outside.  However, for me to actually describe it to another being, would sound so boring.  In a nutshell, this exploration for me would typically be:

1) just packing up a bag that has everything I need to “isolate” myself from the real world (read: my headset, and my laptop), my planner, my own set of mess kit. I always carry my own cup, utensils, etc.

2) traveling to my intended destination. this is usually where I can also double up leaving the house for an errand like getting my hair done, or go to a waxing salon.

3) sit at Starbucks (yes, Starbucks, because even though they aren’t 100% environment friendly, they have non dairy—still a deal breaker for me because I’m lactose intolerant) and work until my heart is satisfied

4) go home when I start missing my cat

After this, my heart is reset.  Exploration over.  I was out.  I was human, I was normal for a day.  

Oh, and shopping..

I am quite the nerd, as listing things is one of the greatest most satisfying activities for me.  Writing (and reading) has always been close to my heart.  I write anything and everything that I think is important.

Listing staples and where to get them is what I do best (I think).  I know exactly how to get the things I need, and at best bargain.  I make sure that I have recorded qty and time of ordering for certain staples.  I get multiple quantities every time I come across it (maybe during a different grocery run or a department store visit).  Hence, I never usually run out of the household staples.  Example? I buy at least 2 toothpastes every time I’m at the grocery.  Same with soap, same with deodorants.  If I’m surely not going to be at ease without certain things, I buy them in multiples.  At this time of writing, I will last up to the end of the month without buying another deodorant! Crazy huh? 🙈

For some retail therapy, I follow certain rules.  I don’t buy things that would take up a separate space than what is allotted for that kind of item.  Buying of multiple things that serve the same purpose is also a no-no for me.  I’ll wait until the current one expires before replacing it; or if I have a strong desire to replace it, give it away or sell it first.

I only ever buy things that are consumable or will eventually get used up and leave nothing.  Needless to say, I’ve stopped buying clothes for quite sometime now.  Bags and shoes too.

Overall, I like my way of living.  That old normal feels fine for me.  I get to visit my family when I feel like it: during events, certain Sundays, birthdays, etc.  I don’t get to see a lot of my friends because most are extroverts, and they’ve gotten used to not inviting me over; and also because some are introverts themselves.  They chat me over at IG or Facebook and that’s already interaction for me.  Case solved. Heart fulfilled.  Going back to my resting now.

The New Normal is..

..is quite a leap to change.

At first, I felt off.  Being already an introvert is a good advantage to me, but there were some things I couldn’t get from the comfort of my home—and sadly, those who had it either wouldn’t deliver or couldn’t deliver.  It was upsetting.

I realised a lot of things with this “new normal”.  First off, physical distancing has always been my game.  I avoid crowded places unless I really have to.  This is not new for me. However, there were still a lot of things I had to learn and unlearn.  Here’s my take on it:

1) If you don’t have a credit card, you’re doomed.  Unfortunately, it hurts to even know one of my sisters don’t have her own.  And, with most of the stores re-opening only for online payments, she is with very limited options right now.  However, as a lot of people still sell, hold on to your money.  Don’t buy out of boredom or retail therapy.  It is important to save your money at this time of pandemic.

2) If your bank is not in your city, you’ll be extremely uncomfortable right now.  This is my case.  My bank of account is at Ortigas, while I live in Mandaluyong.  The nearest ATM that takes my card is in Makati City.  However, I was a little bit smart and took a chunk of cash before all of this pandemic even broke loose.  So, I’m still good until end of May.

3) If you have a certain dietary restriction, you will also feel extremely uncomfortable right now.  I am lactose, wheat, soy, nut, celery intolerant.  I usually get my protein powder from pumpkin which isn’t available in the Philippines and most of the common grocery stocks aren’t healthy for me.  This is extremely difficult.  I tell you, I don’t like mentioning stores, but without Healthy Options, I’ll be dead right now.  And they deliver already, so hurray to that!

4) If you did not invest in home entertainment (could be books, puzzles, board games, paintings, coloring books, etc), not only for watching, you’ll be doomed with boredom.  

5) Before all this, you should have made your house a home.  Without the right comfortable furnitures, and everyday needs, you’re in for a nightmare.

6) Biking is really, really a must now.  I don’t know where I’ll be now if I didn’t learn how to ride a bike a few months back.

7) If you don’t have decent internet at home, you’re doomed.  Everything is moving online now and even the physical stores that turned their backs to online shopping is quickly embracing it.  It’s not just about entertainment now.

How I adapt to this “new” normal

I’ve been working from home since 2013, so a lot of my other routines didn’t have to change.  But there were some that needed some upgrades.  Here are some of the changes I had to make in order to survive:

1) Learn to DIY.  I googled a lot of things I needed to see if there were some that made it a certain way.  DIY for the things that you can’t get (because only essentials were being shipped), but still need.

I used a big activewear foam to cover my shins because I usually get shin bruises while biking

2) Learn to find where to get the staples you need, and list it down.  They may have to come from different sources, and that’s ok.

3) Creating accounts on where you will get your items.  I hate having to do this unless absolutely necessary.  In fact, I no longer use Twitter and Facebook as my social media platform.  I keep things to a minimum.  But when you need it, get it.

4) Learn to settle.  If it won’t kill you, it’s probably fine.  I am intolerant to almonds and yet that was the only non dairy milk I can get.  I drink less of it, so that I don’t get too much allergic reaction.  Some couriers are also expensive.  I had to settle for such an expensive booking fee for some of the items I couldn’t find anywhere.

5) Learn to reach out.  It’s not just you who needs to be online.  It’s also the merchants.  There’s a higher probability they will reply to you since their market has also moved to the digital world.  If they don't reply, remove from your list, and move on to the next–they probably don't mean business.

6) Unplugging is still essential.  I find myself craving the holidays more than I did before.  I work for a US company and we follow the US holidays, but the recent labor day, I had to swap it for the US labor day later this year.  I get too exhausted from everything that I need to keep up with with the changes happening.

7) Plan your exercise.  I write down my planned exercises every week.  That way, I know I’ll get to move and have a balanced workout.  Once a week, I go to the park to jump for exercise.

8) Meditate more often.  Meditation is like a bank account for your sanity, for your mind.  A minute may be beneficial than having none at all.  Also, don’t think that sitting with your eyes closed in the only form of meditation you can do.  Anything that zones you out or puts your brain in default mode is meditation.  I sometimes paint when I don’t like to sit.  

Do you like the new normal?

Now, this is a subjective question.  I’m fine with the new normal as long as there is less stringency involved (particularly with how to settle payments, banking needs, and those dietary needs that are fatal).  Let me cross city borders! It’s a matter of life or death!

I prefer that people are more mindful of their public behavior, that they understand how their own movements affect others.  There’s more quiet than noise because cars are not the main consumers of the roads—and less pollution too.  There’s more space for bikers now, and I feel less scared to ride my bike when I have to go out.

If it were up to me, I’ll ask more banks to move their services online, and merchants to offer more modes of payments.  I have a currennt dilemma where the Property Management Office only accepts payments via Gcash and BDO, which I have neither of.  Being an adaptive person, I opened a Gcash account only to find out that my bank isn’t supported as cash in and wouldn’t even take my credit cards.  So, it’s not just individuals who need to adapt to change, also the institutions and large bodies of organizations doing business.

Government agencies are also inconsistent (and some are stupid, even).  Even with a memorandum circular that says they are mandated to accept payments without restriction on the jurisdiction of their offices,  they won’t accept my payment.  Accredited banks too turned me away (after cycling to them for 3km) just to say, they don’t process payments atm.  Needless to say, I submitted my forms, but couldn’t even pay (you should know what agency this is by now).  Also, there’s a limited amount capped for PayMaya transactions (yes, I did my homework) so I can’t pay outside of the designated accredited bank.  What’s the use of memorandum circulars if you can’t even use it to your advantage because they don’t know or that they don’t follow?

And yet again, corruption won’t go away.  Even with this pandemic, financial support from the government is hampered, obstructed by red tape, or worst, pocketed by your local government official.  Honestly, I just wished the National ID system kicked in way earlier; to date, it’s half baked, unaccepted and is just basically non existent at this point.

Sadly too, it just took a bite off my reality when I saw that the park was off limits now to anyone who wanted to get some sun or to exercise.  I try to understand that it might be more difficult to maintain the area with less personnels, but to think that they downplay the essence of the sun and exercise for our health is painful to think of.  How can we be so smart yet so dumb?

Also, I cannot find the stray animals anymore.  I’m unhappy that there’s a large number of them in the streets, but I also worry now that since I don’t see much of them, what has happened to them?  I still have some cat food left by my cat and I try to leave some for them at their usual spots, but lately, they just wouldn’t be there anymore.  I sometimes think that they went out to find food and found it, or that they have maybe died from starvation.  😔 This thought is really difficult to bear with.

With a lot of things that are unfavorable, something I really like though are the presence of rolling stores.  I’m grateful for this initiative which was quite popularized by Mayor Vico Sotto (I’m not his constituent though).  It was such a relief to see some fruits and vegetables offered close to where I live, and with friendly sellers too.  Just wishing sometimes that I could find everything I need with what these stores offer.

Cycling is now widely recognized as physical distancing means of transport.  Although this doesn’t solve everything (like getting a bulk of groceries, particularly for those with big families), the government is recognizing bikes as legitimate road consumers now.  Albeit, some stores, banks and merchants still not providing bike racks, cyclists are no longer second class citizens.

That's a lotta grocery for a 20" bike! 😝 not to mention what I had on my backpack!

If I were to wish, I wish this new peace and quiet remains, people get to go back to their work, ride bikes, eat more vegetables and exercise.  And honestly, even quite contrary to what the government says, let’s have sufficient stocks of essential goods, because let’s face it: I went to Mercury Drug store and got only two of what I needed.  Everything was out of stock.

Read: https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/30/dotr-eyes-alternative-transport-modes-post-quarantine.html

So, new normal? Yeah. Let’s kick the bad things away and keep the new learnings.  I think nature has already made us move towards what’s more mindful and beneficial not only for us humans, but also for the rest of nature.

We can keep adapting.