Day 1 Of A New Normal – Returning to Work Post-MCO in Malaysia

If you wanted to sweat the deets, then we’re technically still under a movement control order until May 12. But I’m calling it Post-MCO because all businesses (except close contact ones like spas and hair salons) have already been allowed to reopen on May 4.

At my workplace, we’re currently doing rotational shifts where we go into the office twice a week on different days. I’ve gotten used to working from home, so it feels a little weird to be driving to work again after so long. Granted, the traffic was pretty smooth, so I guess not all businesses are running yet. Schools definitely aren’t.

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At the lift, signs of the new normal are already in place. The building management also posted guards at the lobby, where they took temperatures, jotted down names and check-in times, and prepped hand sanitisers. Almost everyone I see is wearing a face mask.

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I worked on an article for a bit, then got too distracted because my colleagues were busy cleaning out their desks (we’re moving to a new office soon). So I decided to clean out my own desk. I’ve been putting it off because there’s just too much shit to be sorted, but I finally managed to get it all done. Hooray!

I also found this note from when my company organised a DiSC training to determine our working styles and discuss how best to work with each other. The DiSC test is often used by employers to assess workers and potential employees. Mine is a high C (conscientiousness). People who fall into C types are analytical, systematic, detailed, independent and make decisions based on objective reasoning. We are also afraid of being wrong, which is why I like to have as much detail as possible before embarking on a project. I find it difficult to work with I types (these are the ones that are usually lively and have that ‘lets do it and figure things out later!’ attitude), as well as D types (domineering and forceful). Whatever the case, most workplaces have different types of people – the reason why I’ve lasted so long here is that most of my colleagues are C and S (supportive) types. I had an ex-colleague who was a D, and we did not get along one iota.

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For lunch, I drove to a cafe nearby called Bookmark Coffee PJ. Ever since I came here with my editor, I’ve been a big fan of their smoked duck pandan rice, which is superb and comes in generous portions – and I’ve really missed it after nearly two months in quarantine.

Since the MCO is still technically in place, most eateries that are open cater to delivery and takeaway only. I waited for about 20 minutes for my orders (got the smoked duck pesto for my boss).

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Back at the office. Ah, how much I’ve missed this! Imagine juicy pieces of smoked duck with no trace of gaminess whatsoever. The meat is tender and succulent, while the skin and its layer of fattiness underneath just melts in your mouth. The fragrant pandan rice boasts a light blue tinge from natural blue pea flowers, and it is topped with a fried egg for good measure, garnished with vegetables and thin slices of cucumber. Bellissimo! 

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For a spicy kick, have your meal with some homemade sambal and orange glaze sauce. The sauce is slightly sweet and tart, which goes really well with the duck meat.

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One of my colleagues asked for help taking some photos for product placement on his Instagram (he’s an influencer), so we ended up messing around the lobby at our workplace. It was deserted, so we were definitely observing social distancing lol.


The rest of the day was uneventful. Traffic was a bit busier going home, but travel time was still shorter than usual.

I’m foreseeing things to get much busier next week, what with Hari Raya coming up, but hopefully people will still remember to adhere to social distancing and avoid public gatherings. Until we get a vaccine, we’re not out of the woods.

How is your country dealing with COVID 19? Are measures being relaxed, or are they extending the quarantine? 

 

 

Covid-19 : The Battle for Malaysia

Hey, guys! This is going to be a long post.

We’re coming to the end of the first quarter of 2020. To say that it has been a shitty year so far (for humanity as a whole) is an understatement, with thousands dying around the world, healthcare services overwhelmed, businesses shuttering and people getting laid off (I talked to a friend in Seattle a couple of days ago who told me he had just been let go from his job as a chef). It is extremely sad to read about how families in Italy have had to bury their loved ones without the chance to even say goodbye.

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On the bright side, the earth seems to be healing quite nicely without all the pollution and damage humans inflict on the environment. Although, NatGeo has debunked several viral posts about animals returning to empty cities (like swans swimming in the canals of Venice, as well as elephants in Thailand getting drunk on corn wine) – I understand that sometimes it’s nice to have a ‘feel good’ story to uplift one’s spirits, but spreading false news makes it more difficult to sift through the real ones, and can actually do more harm than good.

Tomorrow (April 1) marks stage 2 of the Restricted Movement Order here in Malaysia, which will run until April 14. The order was initially set to end on March 31, but we all know an extension was inevitable, as two weeks wouldn’t have done much anyway.

Malaysians in general are quite a laid back bunch. I don’t know if it’s a pro or con (perhaps a con in this climate where decisive and swift action should be taken). So for the first week or so, the government kept urging the public to stay at home, and for participants of the tabligh (the prayer session which was attended by thousands at the end of February – which is linked to most of the cases in Malaysia) to come forward voluntarily for testing. Of course, after pleading for two weeks, they’ve finally decided that the time for talk is now over, and have started arresting people who flout the order. Compliance is at 95%, but there is still 5% (which means a whopping 1.5 million) of the population that is not complying. I was out for a grocery run earlier (I’ve only gone out twice so far, both times for perishable goods because those can’t be kept long) and although many shops are closed, I still see quite a lot of traffic on the road.

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For those who follow Malaysian politics, you might be aware of the political shenanigans that went down just before the COVID-19 blew up here. Literal GoT. Long story short, there was a power struggle between different political parties, switched alliances –  and the party that was voted democratically by the people lost their majority due to ‘frogs’ leaping to form other parties.

All eyes are on current Prime Minister Muhiyiddin, to see what this leader whom we did not elect will do in times of crisis. While I’m not an economic expert, nor do I understand the intricacies of how an economy works, I don’t begrudge that there have been policies in place to help households, which are, all things considered, quite generous. (Where they’re going to get that money I don’t know, since they’re always talking about how empty our coffers are. Borrowing? More debt?)

The Malaysian population is divided into three sections based on income – Bottom 40 (B40), Middle 40 (M40) and Top 20 (T20). The most vulnerable group in times of crisis is, of course, the B40. I’ve detailed in a previous post how difficult it is to survive on RM2,000 if you’re staying in KL where the cost of living is high (the official national poverty line is RM980), and with some places offering barely the minimum wage (I once saw an ad hiring waiters in Puchong for just over RM1k wtf), those who fall into this category are now most vulnerable. With businesses shuttered, they are not able to work. What more those who survive on a daily wage (hawkers, etc.)

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The government’s move to help this group out is to offer financial aid in the form of cash hand outs, to help them tide over this period.

  • Singles earning RM2,000 and below – RM800 cash aid. (RM500 in April, RM300 in May). Includes single senior citizens.
  • Families with joint income below RM4,000 – RM1,600 cash aid. (RM1,000 in April, RM600 in May).

We have a large middle-class population, and SMEs are a huge part of the economy. N once said he was surprised to find the number of bustling mid-tier businesses in Malaysia, which is apparently not as common in the Philippines, where he is from. The M40 is the larger driver of the economy, so there are also initiatives to help them out:

  • Singles earning between RM2,000 and RM4,000 – RM500 cash aid (RM250 in April, Rm250 in May)
  • Families with joint income between RM4,000 – RM8,000 – RM 1,000 cash aid (RM500 in April, RM500 in May)
  • Deferment of loans from banks for six months, although interest rates still apply

To help SMEs and businesses, as well as try to prevent lay-offs, the government is also providing a subsidised wage of RM600 for three months for employees earning less than RM4,000 and employers who have experienced a 50% decrease in income since January 2020. However, this is provided they do not dismiss the employees or force them to take unpaid leave for three months. They are also not allowed to deduct an employee’s existing pay.

All in all, the government has announced a whopping RM250 billion economic stimulus package – some of which will be channeled into the aforementioned handouts, others in other sectors. I can’t fault it because it is quite a generous plan, but how it will be in the long run, nobody knows.

The biggest problem is perhaps reaching out to everyone – obviously some groups will fall through the cracks. Rather than relying on the government, some private corporations and companies have stepped in to fill the gaps. Lazada Malaysia, for example, has stepped in to do deliveries for fresh vegetables from Cameron Highlands (our main source of veggies), because the RMO meant problems with logistics and tonnes of veggies were just left to rot. There are also 3-D printing companies stepping up to create PPE equipment for front liners at hospitals, as well as various NGOs coming together to distribute food to the vulnerable such as the poor in PPR flats and the homeless. If you are not able to volunteer outside, here’s a list of verified NGOs that you can contribute to here. 

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Image from NST.

I must also commend our Director General of Health, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah. Datuk Dr Noor Hisham has proven to be a swift, decisive and effective leader who thinks ahead. He has been the face of the fight against COVID 19 since it started, and his calm and efficient manner has earned him praise among the public. He has already put into action plans such as converting the Serdang Expo Park into a temporary hospital, in case beds at hospitals nationwide run out.

COVID cases in Malaysia are expected to peak in mid-April, but even then, the good doctor has already said that this is something that requires cooperation by all – not just the government, but the people. In the meantime, for those of us who are privileged enough to just stay at home/work from home without worrying for the next couple of weeks, please. Be patient, and help by staying at home. Where you can, support local businesses, like ordering delivery from your local hawker stall if they offer it. There are people out there who are struggling to feed themselves. It’s difficult for everyone, but as the saying goes in Malay, berat mata memandang, berat lagi bahu memikul.

Stay safe and healthy, peeps!

My Mini Library

Hey guys!

It’s Day 6 of the Restricted Movement Order in Malaysia. Officially, there are 8 more days to go –  but looking at the upward trend of cases, an extension might be imminent. 😦 I know I am luckier than most in that I have enough savings to tide me over should the RMO be prolonged, but there are many out there such as the homeless and the destitute who are in danger of falling through the cracks as governments scramble to control the spread of the virus. Aside from doing our part as good citizens, we should also help donate what we can to help frontliners such as charity workers and NGOs.

As for what I’ve been doing at home: I’ve been working on my articles, both for my main job as well as my side hustles. It’s a good thing I did them way ahead of time, because looking at how things are, it’ll be a while before I can go out to conduct any sort of interview.

It can be difficult to keep yourself disciplined when you’re ‘working’ from home (my workspace is literally two steps away from my bed) but so far I’ve been adhering to my routine – wakeup at around 8.30 am to 9, breakfast, and then start working by 10. I take a short break for lunch, and then I work until 5pm and wrap up for the day. In the evenings I either help my mom out in the kitchen, or I work out for half an hour. After dinner, I surf the net, read or write for the blog.

The good thing about not having to spend time in traffic is that I have more time to do the things I want. I recently sorted out some photos in my laptop and realised I never blogged about my book cabinet. I had it installed at the end of last year because my mom, a neat freak, was losing it over how many books I had (and kept buying). I had books all over the place; on a bookshelf in my room, in the cabinet downstairs, in giant containers and boxes. She gave me an ultimatum – either I got a bigger space to keep everything, or she’d throw them away. So, cabinet it was.

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It took a couple of days to set up (problem with parts and stuff) but the result was great. It’s harder to get to the books at the top though, so we put stuff we don’t normally take out often like the photo albums and some old magazines.

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N was still here last year (he’s now in the Phils due to job commitments) so he had no choice but to help me sort out my mountain of books lol. You gotta work for your board and lodging, bruh

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It took us several hours but we finally got everything nicely in place! Even had them sorted out according to category, so there’s like a section for all the comics, Asian literature, fantasy, historical fiction and horror. How do you sort your books? I know some people like to sort their books according to colour, or alphabetical order, or genre.

 

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My favourite shelf.

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If you see books that look like they’re in a less-than-stellar condition, they’re either a) second-hand books, or b) my favourites, because I like to reread books and they somehow end up in tatters lol.

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Asian literature.

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Another shelf in my room. The books ended up in the upper cabinets.

People have asked me if I’ve actually read ALL of the books I have. And no, I haven’t. My reading habits have gone down the drain ever since I started working, but I’ve been trying to get back into it these last couple of months, and I can proudly say I’ve finished at least one book a month in the last 3 months. Now, only several dozen to go…

 

 

 

Things To Do When You’re Stuck At Home : An Introvert’s Guide

Hello good people!

I hope you’re all keeping safe in this difficult time. Currently working from home because the Malaysian government has initiated a restricted movement order due to the COVID-19 situation – which means businesses (other than essential services) are told to close.

While it has been difficult to get things done for work (interviews and events have been cancelled, so I’m scrambling for content), there are actually several upsides.

  • No more 3-hour commute to and from work.
  • I’m quite extreme on the introvert scale and can go days without speaking to people physically, so this is a great time to recharge.
  • Spending less money. Not being able to go out means no unnecessary shopping or eating out at restos.

Before the office closed, I talked to a colleague – an extrovert – and he was lamenting on how he’d survive being stuck in the house for two weeks. “I can’t even go to my hairdresser or the gym,” he said forlornly. I was actually a little amused because extroverts are always on our case about how introverts don’t like to go out and socialise – and now they know what it’s like to be stuck in a situation that makes them uncomfortable lol.

In any case, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are actually plenty of things that you can do at home. Some might even find it a good time to do stuff they’ve been putting off for a long time, like clean the house, or play Monopoly with the kids (in your down time, of course – I’m not saying forget about work and go loaf around, lmao).

“VISIT” A MUSEUM / ART GALLERY 

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This one’s for the history nerds (like me). Many museums in tourist hotspots are closed, including in Malaysia. The British Museum (one of my favourite places – I could live there) announced its indefinite closure yesterday, and in Italy, a hub for European culture and history, museums have been closed since March 8.  While you might not be able to go physically, there are many museums offering detailed virtual tours of their premises and catalogues of their collections. On my list rn are LA’s J.Paul Getty Museum, The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, The British Museum, and The Lourve. 

Google’s Arts and Culture platform is a veritable resource for virtual tours and extensive catalogues.

READ 

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I have a bad habit of buying way more books than I have time to read – so now is the perfect time to catch up on some reading. I just finished the audiobook for Sphere by Michael Crichton and started on Lotus by Lijia Zhang, which looks pretty promising.

SPRING CLEANING 

A lot of us tend to accumulate a tonne of garbage that we don’t need, so it’s time to Marie Kondo all your sht.

COOK 

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Getting healthy, well balanced meals to boost our immune system is even more important in this critical time. For the non-cooks, this might be a good time to try out some recipes and hone your cooking skills! (My mom has been baking sponge cakes and what not, so we’re never hungry).

EXERCISE 

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I’ve never liked going to the gym (or working out for that matter, lol), but I guess it’s a good time now to, again, help boost the immune system and better prepare against infection. And a healthy body is a healthy mind, right? As unbelievable as it sounds, I do get regular light exercise about three times a week (although experts say it should be moderate) for about 20 – 30 minutes each time. I enjoy walking, so that’s what I normally do – walk on the spot. Some resources: Leslie Sansone, Lucy Wyndham-Read and HASFit. 

BINGE WATCH STUFF ON THE INTERNET 

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Not necessarily a productive activity, but it passes the time and depending on the kind of content you’re watching, you might even learn something. I have a short attention span (thanks, gadgets) so I’ve never been able to sit down and go through a series on Netflix, but I do enjoy watching travel,  culture and history shows. Some cool channels to check out: Absolute History, VICE, Life Where I’m From, PBS Eons, VSauce.

GAME

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My laptop isn’t new so I haven’t been able to play newer games. I’ve been replaying some Nintendo DS RPGs on the emulator (Fire Emblem – Shadow Dragon), and am contemplating if I should finally buy Borderlands 3 (Borderlands 2 was one of my favourite shooter games of all time) – although I’m not sure if my laptop has the capacity to run it smoothly. Another new release that’s coming up this weekend is Doom Eternal, but I guess I’ll just watch the gameplay on gaming channels.

OTHER HOBBIES 

A good time to engage in any creative pursuit – drawing, digital art, making music, writing… for me, it’s good to dust off the writing cap.  I know I usually write about food and travel, but since that isn’t possible right now, I’ve been looking at other topics instead, like this post.

And there you have it! I hope you’ve gotten some good ideas to keep yourself entertained and busy in this challenging climate. Our mental health is just as important as the physical, so I hope everyone stays safe and healthy always.

 

Humanity Is Ill-Equipped For A Pandemic

Hey good people!

I hope you’ve all been doing well, and keeping safe in this uncertain climate. Serious topic today, and the only one everyone seems to be talking about these days – the coronavirus aka COVID-19. Malaysia currently has the highest number of COVID cases in Southeast Asia (at the time of this writing, 238) – and I think it’ll get worse in the coming months.

Now a disclaimer before I get into the post: I am not a health expert, nor a policymaker of any kind. These are just my thoughts and observations, and are meant for discussion.

Coming back to the topic at hand…

As someone who likes zombie films and books, I’ve read a lot of literature on global pandemics, my favourite being World War Z by Max Brooks (it’s nothing like the film, in case you’re wondering. You can read my review here). The book is told through a series of interviews with a United Nations Postwar Commission agent, and narrates the post-events of the viral zombie outbreak and how it changed the face of the world. Eerily, the book mirrors reality: Patient Zero in the book originates from China – and despite government coverup (as in the case of Wuhan), it spreads through other means (in the book, it’s through human trafficking, refugees and the black market organ trade) – and by the time governments try to rally to curb the spread, it is already too late (sounds familiar?)

World War Z may be ‘fiction’, but it is surprisingly grounded in reality. The scenarios of which are laid out are exactly like what governments and communities are doing right now. And just like the characters, organisations and governments in the book, we are ill-equipped to handle the pandemic.

They say history is important because it is key to understanding our present. If so, then mankind has failed to learn an effective way of dealing with viruses on a global scale.

The Spanish flu of 1918 was widely regarded as one of the worst pandemics in human history. It came at a bad time, when war and poverty ravaged many parts of the world. Increased land, sea and air travel also resulted in the spread of the virus across the globe, something which would have been much harder in days before modern travel was possible. The result was a mortality between 17 to 50 million (some say as high as 100 million), as well as a devastated economy.

We are nearly 100 years from the days of the Spanish flu, with advancements in tech and medicine that many people in the early 20th century would have thought impossible. And yet, humanity and its constructs are still as vulnerable as it was before.

If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has only highlighted the flaws in our system. The world we live in today is a very interconnected one – businesses rely on manufacturers in other countries to supply them with materials, people travel for business and leisure, etc. Because of this, economies are especially vulnerable in such climates, because disruptions in the supply chain results in delays, shortages and panic. A very good (micro) example: the toilet paper scare in Singapore, Penang and Japan.

The immediate effect of the coronavirus might be fear of infection, but its consequences are far-reaching. It’s like a giant domino effect – topple one domino, and the rest collapse as well. Economic instability aside, the nature of our world today in which communication is instantaneous has also given rise to misinformation and conspiracy theories (looking at all of you Whatsapp aunties and uncles who love sharing unverified info). And just like in World War Z, the duality of human nature comes to light in situations of survival – shining examples of bravery, compassion and kindness (doctors who put their life on the line in service), and horrific examples of callousness, ignorance, cruelty and selfishness.

And when all this is over, we will once again bury our heads in the sand, blissfully ignoring the fact that the next pandemic, epidemic or whatever mic you might call it might be deadlier, and we will no more be prepared for it than we were before. Unless. We. Learn. From. This. It’s amazing how we have all these plans in case of war, invasion and terrorism, but have no effective action plans in case of a pandemic.

That being said, I don’t have answers as to what governments should do. This isn’t a sci-fi novel where the protagonist has an idea and gets plucked out of a suburban neighbourhood and involved in some ultra-secret government project to save mankind lol. But common sense (which is unusually uncommon these days) should prevail. Avoid big gatherings. Avoid travel unless absolutely necessary. Work from home if you can. Sanitise and wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. And for God’s sake, stop buying up all the damned toilet paper. why tf do y’all need that much toilet paper? I don’t get how it correlates. 

Stay safe, peeps.