Rate My Setup! The Pandemic Edition

Welcome to the Pandemic Edition of Rate My Setup! Today, let me take you on a tour of my home office! (Insert air quotes here)

This is where the work magic happens!

As you can see, my “home office” is conveniently located a stone’s throw away from where I have my meals. No need for a FitBit — I hardly step away from my “desk”. What fun!

a. An old monitor from the office that I managed to snag before the circuit breaker period started. Perfect timing, as monitor prices suddenly shot up the weeks after and supply was scarce (It’s now back to normal I think)

b. Work laptop with obligatory post-it over the built-in camera. Zuckerberg does it, so why not poknat?

c. A gamer headset with soft over-ear cups, because my lola ears cannot stand all the marathon Teams / Zoom calls happening since we all started working from home. And I figure if anyone knows about ear comfort, it’s gamers. I need crisp sound to drop annoying corporate jargon such as: “Let’s take this offline” or “I have a hard stop at 3” or “I’ll circle back to you on this”. Adults adulting, folks!

I’ve hit BINGO too many times to count (Source)

d. Octopus connections, since I work opposite the Hub. One of my fervent wishes these days is for our salaries to climb as high as our electric bill the past months

e. I have owned some variation of the Chonky Accountant’s Calculator since university days. Keep your TI BA II Professionals and fancy scientific calculators — all I need is a calculator with big keys (all the better for those fat fingers, my dear), an even bigger “+” function, and a button with double zeroes

f. A nearly finished jumbo bottle of Eye-Mo eyedrops

g. You may also have noticed that both my monitor and laptop are resting on their own respective stack of books. As I’m too cheap to spring for a proper laptop stand, I’ve repurposed some of my thickest books to serve this purpose for me and the Hub #diy #blessed

h. Bluetooth speaker so I can listen to my Spotify playlists on full blast (on those rare times I’m not on above-mentioned Teams / Zoom calls)

i. My Pandemic Essentials: bottle of Green Cross 70% Ethyl Alcohol for regular wipedowns of everything you see in the photo, a smaller bottle of antiseptic germicide to grab and go, and gum for chewing away ever-escalating work-from-home stress

j. My kid’s drawing tucked under the keyboard. Why do I simultaneously feel I see too much and too little of him these days?! Also, more octopus connections.

Hope you enjoyed the tour of my home office! In the next episode of Rate My Setup: top 10 best electric back massagers — perfect for dining chairs!

Think critically dear readers,

P.S. Written tongue in cheek. This post is dedicated to all of you out there working from home at your dining tables, sitting in non-ergonomic “work chairs”, possibly with children screaming at the background. WE GOT THIS. 💻

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #6: Moscow, Russia

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

Moscow’s train stations had an old-book smell, which I loved. I think it was because of the wooden escalators. Until our trip, I had never seen wooden escalators before. In London they were banned because of a big fire at King’s Cross in 1987. In Moscow, they are still very much in use.

Moscow was one of the more difficult cities we’ve had to navigate in by far. There were no English translations in the Metro. The Hub and I tried memorising the station names to navigate our way around but belatedly realized most of them ended in “-skaya” so we got lost anyway. To add to our confusion, the Cyrillic alphabet kept fooling our brains into thinking we understood the signs — but the letters in the Roman alphabet all mean and sound very different here.

C in Cyrillic is pronounced “es”

I clearly recall that the interior of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in the Red Square was just as beautiful as its unusual onion-shaped domes. Inside there were colourful frescoes, tall ceilings painted with somber-looking icons, and a male choir singing Orthodox chants.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral
The cathedral interior
The Kremlin

The Kremlin State Armoury is a must, must, must see. Of the many museums we’ve visited, I think it’s by far the most impressive and the richest. The collection was vast and clearly valuable — ancient medieval plates, golden Bibles set with rubies and precious stones, Tsarist-era gowns, dainty French clocks, intricate wooden carriages (with their original wheels!), ingeniously crafted Fabergé eggs. It spanned several ages and even countries (were the pieces donated? were they “borrowed” from other museums?). The Orlov Diamond in the Diamond Fund (where you had to pay a separate entrance fee) was sparkly and crazy huge, it almost hurt my eyes to look. On the bright side, I could stare at it for as long as I wanted.

No photos are allowed inside the armoury, so this photo of the exterior courtyard is all I have.

Included in the Kremlin ticket price — a visit to the medieval Dormition Cathedral
The impressive interior of the Moscow GUM (State Department Store) facing the Red Square

*

I wasn’t leaving Moscow without my own matryoshka dolls (also called nesting or Babushka dolls), so after a failed search at Arbat Street we trekked up to Izmaylovo Market. Izmaylovo is a flea market of sorts and a Russian souvenir paradise: you could find the kitschiest (NBA nesting dolls, anyone?) to the most detailed of matryoshka dolls (with up to 15 little ones nested inside). Even better, you’re allowed to haggle.

Interestingly, Izmaylovo Market also seemed to have been an amusement park in its former life. If you look up when you enter the market, you’ll notice a rusty kiddie-size roller coaster track leading nowhere. There are also stranded pirate boats in odd locations. Does anyone know how it ended up as a market?

*

We used the Metro to go everywhere. Almost everyone in the city did too, I think. It actually felt quite nice being part of the rush hour crowd, shoving and bumping along with everyone else.

I think Moscow’s Metro train stations are things of beauty and worth a trip by themselves. Each had its own unique character and style. So towards the end of our trip that’s exactly what we did — we station-hopped with no particular destination in mind.

Partisanskaya Station, the stop for Izmaylovo Market, had Soviet statues.

Partisanskaya Station

Ploshchad Revolyutsii Station had even more bronze statues of Soviet citizens under each of the station arches. Presumably they’re holding the ceilings up?

Ploshchad Revolyutsii Station

Mayakovskaya Station was decorated in an art deco style.

Mayakovskaya Station

Kiyevskaya Station had interesting Russian-themed mosaics between the arches.

Kiyevskaya Station

Novoslobodskaya Station had back-lit, stained-glass panels.

Novoslobodskaya Station

Komsomolskaya Station, with its Baroque-style chandeliers, was especially unique for me. It had a lot of Communist-themed hidden Mickeys. We spotted a bust of Vladimir Lenin and a ceiling mosaic of him rallying the troops (I think!).

Komsomolskaya Station
I see you, Lenin

Ironically, we ended up missing our train to the airport and having to race through the airport Home Alone-style to catch our flight. We barely made it.

Think critically dear readers,

I Got Swabbed: Covid-19 Testing in Singapore

Big news first: my result turned out to be negative. Yay.

That said, I wanted to share with you my experience of getting tested for Covid-19 here in Singapore to help assure you that the process is quick, relatively painless, and fuss-free. If you have any of the most common symptoms of Covid-19, please visit your nearest clinic to ensure you get timely and appropriate care. You’re also doing your part to keep everyone else in your community safe. 😊

JUST A SORE THROAT…?

The other day, I felt a scratchiness at the back of my throat and some pain swallowing. Any other day — heck, any other year besides 2020 — I would’ve brushed it off and taken a lozenge. But I was feeling extremely paranoid and thought to go to a clinic to have it checked out.

Google “common covid symptoms” here in Singapore and the first result that comes up is the Ministry of Health (MOH) Covid-19 self-assessment website, where you can check out your symptoms and decide next steps after answering a few basic questions (data is anonymised). The most common Covid-19 symptoms are fever, dry cough, and tiredness.

I was not presenting any fever and felt no other symptoms apart from my scratchy throat. While sore throat is indeed a symptom of Covid-19, it’s a less common one, along with aches & pains, diarrhoea, headache, or loss of taste or smell.

After going through the MOH self-check, it recommended that I go to a Public Health Preparedness Clinic (PHPC) or polyclinic that offered SASH (Swab and Send Home) tests for Covid-19, along with a link to a website where I can check all the nearby clinics that offered SASH tests.

WHAT IS THE SWAB AND SEND HOME (SASH) INITIATIVE?

According to The Straits Times, previously, all swab tests for Covid-19 were done at hospitals. With the SASH initiative, swab tests were extended to polyclinics and some general practitioner clinics. This helps to strengthen active case-finding in the community, as well as reduce crowds at hospitals. Patients who meet certain criteria are swabbed and then sent home to wait for their test results. Results can take up to three working days, though I received mine much faster.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE CLINIC?

I found a nearby clinic offering SASH tests and called ahead to say I had a sore throat. No appointment was needed, but I was told to bring my employment pass.

Upon arrival at the clinic, I was asked to fill in a health declaration online by scanning a QR code posted at the entrance. It’s the standard SafeEntry declaration where you’re asked if you’ve had contact with confirmed cases recently, have travelled in the past 14 days, etc. The clinic had seating outside so I did not need to sit with other outpatients in the clinic lobby.

After they had prepped the room, a doctor wearing full PPE called me over and asked again about my symptoms. She checked my temperature using an in-ear thermometer and listened to my heartbeat with her stethoscope.

Afterwards, she recommended that I do a swab test. Because I was not a highly suspect case I could refuse, but for public health reasons and also for my own peace of mind I decided to go ahead with it.

If I did the swab test, I would be given a mandatory 3-day medical certificate and was not allowed by law to leave my home until I got a negative result or served out the three days, whichever came sooner. If I decided not to do the swab test, I would be given a mandatory 5-day medical certificate.

I’ll add here that the consequences of flouting your medical certificate — for example, by stepping out to get a quick takeaway lunch before the three days are over — are taken very seriously here in Singapore. You could be fined S$10,000 (around Php 360,000 or over US$7,000), imprisoned for up to 6 months, both, or even deported and barred from re-entering Singapore forever. Totally not worth that takeaway bubble tea.

HOW DID THE SWAB TEST FEEL?

The doctor told me the swab test would be quick but to expect some discomfort. She said there were rare cases where patients got a nosebleed (!), but this was usually for people with more sensitive noses.

I was understandably a little apprehensive after reading horror stories, but the swab took less than 30 seconds to complete. I was told to blow my nose, tilt my head back, and stay still while the doctor inserted a thin flexible stick into each nostril.

It felt slightly uncomfortable, like the feeling right before a big sneeze. Nothing alarming though.

HOW MUCH DID THE TEST COST?

The invoice did not break down the cost of the swab and the medicine I was given for my sore throat, but it did indicate the cost was subsidised under Singapore’s Flu Subsidy Scheme. For the swab test, medicine and throat lozenges, I paid a total of S$32 (around Php 1,140 or US$23). MOH, on its website, states Covid-19 testing is free (excluding the clinic consultation fee and/or medicine).

Free testing or a subsidy makes sense — you want to encourage people with symptoms to step forward and get tested on their own accord so you can prevent undetected infection in the community.

If the swab is too expensive, what incentive is there for people who have less financial resources to get tested?

Which is why it was crazy to me to read that in the Philippines, a swab test could cost up to Php 4,000 – Php 12,000+. At least there are a few LGUs, including Manila under its Mayor Isko Moreno, who are offering testing for free.

WHAT HAPPENS WHILE I WAIT FOR RESULTS?

I walked home — you’re not allowed to take public transport — and self-quarantined in a room separate from my family. You’re also encouraged to use a toilet separate from the rest of your family.

It’s safest for you and for everyone in your household to assume you’re positive unless told otherwise.

I was told it would take three working days for the results to come out. I would get a call from the clinic or an SMS from the MOH.

It was a nerve-wracking wait — my mind kept turning to worst-case scenarios. Later that evening, the Hub called me over Facebook Messenger so I could still be “in” the room while he read bedtime stories to our kid, a family nighttime ritual. “Come over here!” my kid said. He knew I was in the other bedroom. I don’t think he understood why Mommy wasn’t there to kiss him goodnight.

Thankfully I didn’t have to wait for too long. The very next day after my test, I got a call from the clinic to say the results came back negative. I could hug my kid again!

WHAT NOW?

Dear readers, to be frank, my anxiety hit the roof while I waited for my results.

I knew that my family and I had taken all the precautions — washed and sanitised our hands on the regular, worn face masks 100% of the time while outside, taken showers after stepping outside, taken our Vitamin C, practised safe distancing — but this virus is a crafty one.

I think that the virus often gets framed in a way that suggests that if you do catch it, you failed at following precautions or something. Make no mistake — Covid-19 is highly contagious. If you think you’ve caught it, focus on next steps like how to get tested ASAP and how to get immediate care for yourself & the rest of your family.

As we reopen gradually all over the world, let’s not let our guard down. Let’s not get complacent.

We’ll get through this together.

Think critically dear readers — and STAY SAFE!

All images (except for my personal screenshots) on this post are from the UN Covid-19 Response page on Unsplash

I Want to Eat Sleep! (On Mandarin Chinese Tones)

I think most beginner Mandarin learners would recognise Transition’s ‘Duìbùqǐ’ song. It’s probably the most-played tune on the first day of any Mandarin class:

Why is the song so popular with first-time learners? Maybe because it perfectly highlights one of the trickiest things you grapple with when you start out learning Mandarin: the four pronunciation tones (with the bonus of a light, catchy tune!).

Image credit: Ninchanese

You can read more about the four tones here. Suffice it to say that in Pinyin — which is the Romanisation of Chinese characters based on their pronunciation — the tones are usually indicated by marks at the top of the letter (for example, mā, má, mǎ, mà are four different words).

The interaction at the start of the ‘Duìbùqǐ’ video has a young English guy approaching a snack stall to order boiled dumplings (shuǐjiǎo 水饺). Instead of doing that though, he inadvertently mixes up the tones and pronounces it as shuìjiào (睡觉). He ends up saying “I want (to eat) sleep.” Both words are composed of “shuijiao”, but the tones are pronounced differently.

“Oh, are you tired?” the dumpling man retorts.

Eventually the message gets across, and a sweet apology song ensues: “Sorry, my Chinese is not so good!” (Duìbùqǐ, wǒ de zhōngwén bù hǎo! 对不起,我的中文不好!)

In my opinion, while pronunciation tones are indeed very important, we also shouldn’t dwell on them too much to the point where we’re afraid to speak at all. I find that generally native speakers can still understand me even if I get a few of my tones off, as long as there’s enough context. (The ‘Duìbùqǐ’ song just exaggerates the situation for comedic effect, but in reality, I think the English guy might have gotten his dumplings eventually.)

There’s a fine line between sounding stilted (like a TV variety show host) and making yourself understood.

It’s hilarious how he uses the hand technique to remember tones

I still often get self-conscious about my tones. But I think the more important thing is to get out there and start using the language. That will help you recognise your mistakes and tame your unruly tones faster.

*

By now you might be thinking to yourself, “Tones are too much trouble.” Let me assure you they’re not. In fact, I believe Filipinos are a pro at tones already. Let me demonstrate.

Imagine you’re waiting for the elevator. Ding! The elevator doors open and you see a fellow Filipino inside.

“Bababa ba?” you ask.

“Bababa,” she replies. *

If you understood that monosyllabic conversation, you’re good to go with Mandarin tones! 😉

Think critically dear readers,

* Translation for non-Filipinos: “Going down?” “Going down.”

Featured image by shiyang xu on Unsplash

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #5: Marrakesh, Morocco

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

If I dig deep enough in the recesses of my memory, I find the Moroccan souks.

We wandered down its narrow, sun-dappled lanes where we promptly got lost. There were the tanneries – streets covered with animal hides drying to make leather, heavy with the smell of cow.

Vivid colours from baskets of saffron and turmeric, the heady scent of lavender and verbena, bottles of argan oil and sticks of cinnamon. A strange, sticky mound that looked like the sundot kulangot one finds in Baguio. Chameleons in cages, blending with the rust. Fanous lamps made of coloured glass and rusty metal; small silver lamps shaped like Aladdin’s; miniature camels carved of sweet-scented cedar wood.

*

We stayed at a local riad, within walking distance from the famous Jemaa El-Fna square, a UNESCO cultural site. The walk is a bit tricky, but once we got the route down pat it was easy to navigate. Inside our riad it was quiet and peaceful, in contrast to the nightly carnival outside.

Riad Altair, where we stayed.

They served great breakfast. We had soft cinnamon bread and yoghurt with fresh fruit and honey. The little spreads included fig, which was seedy like kiwi, but sweet. I remember the pot-holder with hot breakfast tea shaped like a man wearing a djellaba, the national dress.

Oh, the tea. It was everywhere — mint tea that both cooled our throats and left a warm feeling in our bellies. It was made simply, from mint leaves steeped in hot water (no tea bags here!) and served with generous amounts of sugar cubes.

We waited with our hot tea until evening came, then made our way to Jemaa El-Fna. The map on our guidebook’s back cover had plenty of white squiggles which were meant to represent streets – except there weren’t any street signs so the map wasn’t particularly helpful. The Koutoubia Mosque stood tall and was visible from afar, so it was a more useful compass.

Koutoubia Mosque.

I remember the hustle and bustle of Jemaa El-Fna, which at night magically transforms to an open-air food market. For our first dinner in Marrakesh, we opted to try our luck there. Don’t be intimidated by the very forward food hustlers. We took our time considering what each stall had to offer and politely shook our heads each time a plastic laminated menu was shoved in our faces. Funnily enough we were greeted with endless ‘Konnichiwas’ and ‘Nǐ hǎos.’ Maybe to them all Asians looked alike.

There was a lot of food on offer: grilled meats, snails in spicy broth, hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with cumin. We picked stalls that were packed with patrons. Our first meal was at Chez Ali. The grilled lamb and couscous were unremarkable but the staff were very friendly.

I love ox tongue, so naturally we just had to try the stalls that served sheep face and tongue boiled in a delicious brown sauce (in what looked like Oscar the Grouch’s can). Delicious, but not for everyone.

Ox brain? Kelangan mo nun

*

It was back to the souks for us the following day. Cross the street at your own risk. Go slow and you might see live peacocks on a bicycle. I didn’t want to think about where it was headed.

I remember Le Musée de Marrakech suffused with a warm, gold light. There were plenty of artists, all women, sketching the paintings.

We eventually found the Medersa Ben Youssef after several false trails into the souk streets. The colour of the glazed tiles and the intricate carvings on the walls were an enigmatic, yet calming sight. We took our time wandering the small rooms, which used to be student cells back when the Medersa was an Islamic theological college.

Medersa Ben Youssef.

*

That evening, we were drawn back to Jemaa El-Fna. While some may think the square too touristy, I found there was much to observe.

Apart from the food stalls there was the entertainment and the market, which had modern touches but also parts which to me felt and looked like it came from a different, much older time.

Ever wondered what a Coke in Morocco looks like?

We saw young acrobats performing in the street–cheerdancers making pyramids with no safe, soft rubber mats to fall on.

But there were also more unconventional sights: tooth-pullers with small piles of teeth hawking their trade; charmers with sleepy-looking snakes under large cloth hats; murmurs of rapid French and Arabic; pink clay rooftops all dotted with satellite dishes; tired horses pulling caleches for the tourists; stray cats having sex in the corners; the faint sounds of prayer punctuating the times in between snacks.

*

If I concentrate hard enough, I can almost smell the clay pot of tender, steaming Moroccan tagine. Soft slow-cooked lamb, tarty olives, fragrant spices, chopped apricots.

The aroma of Marrakesh lingers in my mind.

Think critically dear readers,

Good Bones

Today was one of those days.

I often look to this poem from Maggie Smith (no relation to Dame Maggie Smith of Downton Abbey / Harry Potter fame) when the news and everything else gets too overwhelming.

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

“Good Bones”, Maggie Smith

I’d like to believe the poem is a hopeful one. There are ‘good bones’ here, we can work with this.

But man oh man, some days are tougher than others.

Think critically dear readers,

Featured image by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Toolkit Laban sa Katangahan (A Bullsh*t Detection Kit)

This is an English translation of an earlier post.

Imagine, for a moment, turning on the TV. You see a news segment announcing that “Isaw (a popular Filipino street food) boosts IQ by 100%, ‘scientists’ say”.

Isaw, the new brain food? Image credit: Flickr

“How can it be?” you think to yourself. You’ve eaten a bajillion isaw sticks in your university days and it didn’t help you pass Math 17! Plus, why is the word ‘scientists’ in quotation marks? Is this news really true?

Chances are, maybe you’ll look up “isaw high IQ” on Google. Maybe you’ll ask a friend on Viber if he’s heard of it. Maybe you’ll check if other news stations or newspapers have carried the article, to see if they’ve said the same thing.

Now, imagine – what happens if there are no other sources of news out there?

What I’ve just described is a rather poor metaphor for what I felt upon hearing the Philippine congress’ decision to reject the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network on Friday.

The biggest loss, in my view, is the information void left by shutting down the network. More than 90% of Filipinos get their news from TV and ABS-CBN had the widest reach throughout the country. Who do those Filipinos, especially in rural areas, turn to for updates (especially critical now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic) now that one of the biggest sources is gone? Facebook groups? Kapitbahay? (Neighbours?)

Sadly, during this whole controversy I have observed from interactions with friends and some relatives on social media and elsewhere that, too often, opinions are taken wholesale from one source (or worse, an unsubstantiated Facebook post by some random stranger masquerading opinions as truth), without regard for fact-checking the arguments presented.

It’s the Wild West of disinformation out there, especially on the internet. And now the country’s media landscape has lost a key player that – while imperfect – at least had a track record spanning decades and recognition from local and international organisations for its reporting.

“Civilized society is a working system of ideas. It lives and changes by the consumption of ideas. Therefore, it must make sure that as many as possible of the ideas which its members have are available for its examination.”

Commission on Freedom of the Press, “A Free and Responsible Press”

(Emphasis mine)

Now, I don’t intend to go through the arguments of why our lawmakers closed that network. That’s not the purpose of this post.

But in the face of what’s happening in the country today, I would like to present a Toolkit for Healthy Skepticism to Guard Against Bullsh*t in the News (a.k.a. Toolkit Laban sa Katangahan), based broadly on Carl Sagan’s baloney detection kit, resources from Singapore’s National Library Board & the News Literacy Project, and the scientific method.

Remember the scientific method? We all slogged through it in high school. The key point is this: when presented with new ideas, we should not accept it immediately. We should treat it with skepticism. We ask questions, gather information, and make our own assessment based on the information we’ve gathered.

Going back to the isaw headline – if you decided to search for the story on Google, ask a friend, or check out other sources – congratulations! That was the first step!

But what questions should we ask? I would recommend starting with the NLB’s S.U.R.E. framework:

1) Source – Where did the content originate from? How credible is the publisher?

A quick scan of Facebook pages, news websites and groups, where a lot of Filipinos get our daily source of news, easily yields biased sources of reporting. Some are fairly easy to spot, but others aren’t.

Red flags include no “About” section, no byline (an author’s name) attached to the piece, news articles that have no date, and a “Contact us” section that does not match the domain (e.g. a Gmail or Yahoo e-mail address).

A fake page intended to fool readers into thinking it’s The Guardian, a legitimate news site. Source: spot.ph

2) Understand – Search for clarity in what you’re reading. Does the article make sense? Does it trigger strong emotions? Do offers sound too good to be true?

“Agot niresbakan ang kampo ni Jinkee!” Does the headline make you upset? Angry at Agot? Fight through that knee-jerk reaction and pause for a minute. A lot of headlines use sensational language to bait you into clicking the link or sharing it to your friends. Take the time to read through the article and understand if it makes sense. Sometimes, the stories don’t even have anything to do with the headline!

Source: Abante

3) Research – Go beyond the initial source. Has it been published elsewhere before? Check the publish date. When was the photo taken? Real information can often be taken out of context.

Early on in March, a family friend shared a series of photos to me purportedly coming from Unicef with tips on how to fight the coronavirus. It had a Unicef logo, but immediate red flags included the clumsiness of the advice (it suggested staying away from ice cream and cold food, which did not sound science-based) and format of transmission (private chat). It took me less than 2 seconds to Google and find out directly from the Unicef official website that it was fake.

There are websites like Snopes who’ve been out there doing the hard fact-checking work for us since the 1990s. All it takes is a few more clicks to double-check before we share.

As for information being taken out of context, a recent example is this one of Prince William flipping someone off. Or is he?

It’s all about point of view. Source: Reddit

Photos can be cropped or altered to serve certain agendas. Before we rage at Prince William, let’s first dig around and see if the images we see are credible.

4) Evaluate – Look at the story from various angles. Was it meant to be a joke (for example, satirical news websites such as The Onion or Adobo Chronicles)? Check your own biases and emotions. Are they affecting your judgement? Think before you share!

Source: Scoopwhoop

Maybe at this point, you’ve gone through the S.U.R.E. toolkit. But what if you realise the conclusion points against something you believe in?

As Carl Sagan once said, “The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether that premise is true.” Let’s not get overly attached to an idea just because it’s ours.

Being S.U.R.E. is not easy. Believe me, I know! Skeptical thinking doesn’t sell. It takes some extra work.

But I believe in all of us. As one of my favourite childhood shows suggests, Buksan ang pag-iisip, Tayo’y likas na scientist! (Open your mind, we are natural scientists!)

Source: NLB Singapore

Now more than ever — think critically dear readers,

Toolkit Laban sa Katangahan (A Bullsh*t Detection Kit)

There is an English translation of this post here.

Isang araw, binuksan mo ang TV at nagulat sa nakitang balita. “Isaw, nakaka-doble ng IQ, ayon sa mga dalubhasa!”

Isaw, the new brain food? Image credit: Flickr

Inisip mo siguro, “Weh, ‘di nga?” Sa dinami-dami ba naman ng isaw na kinain mo noong college, wala ka namang napala at kwatro ka pa rin sa Math 17. Tsaka, sino ‘tong mga “dalubhasa” na ‘to? Isaw experts ba kamo?

Siguro, Ginoogle mo yung “isaw high IQ”. Baka naman minessage mo yung kaibigan mo sa Viber para magtanong kung nabalitaan din ba n’ya ‘to. Pwede rin na nilipat mo yung channel para i-check kung nabalita rin s’ya sa ibang istasyon sa TV o kaya sa dyaryo.

Ngayon, isipin natin — paano kung wala nang ibang mapagkukunan ng balita?

Medyo pangit yung comparison. Pero ito ang naramdaman ko noong narinig ko ang balitang tinanggihan ng kongreso ang pagbigay ng panibagong prangkisa sa ABS-CBN, ang pinakamalaking broadcast network sa Pilipinas, noong nakaraang Biyernes.

ABS-CBN ang may pinakamalawak na network sa buong bansa, lalo na sa mga malalayong probinsya. Sa aking pananaw, ang kawalan ng pagkukunan ng balita para sa mahigit 90% na mga Pilipino na umaasa sa TV para rito ang pinakamasaklap na bunga ng pangyayari. Nasa gitna tayo ng pandemya. Saan kukuha ng impormasyon ang ating mga kababayan? Sa Facebook (eh paano kung wala naman silang pambayad ng internet)? Sa kapitbahay?

Ang nakakalungkot pa, base sa mga pino-post ng ilang mga kaibigan at kamag-anak sa Facebook at sa pakikipag-chat sa kanila, marami pa rin ang kumukuha ng opinyon mula sa social media, na walang ginagawang “fact-checking” o pagsusuri kung totoo ba o hindi ang mga nababasa nila.

Medyo magulo ang internet, nakaka-trigger talaga. At ngayon, nawalan pa ng isang mapagkukunan ng balita na — gayong hindi perpekto — ay meron namang ilang dekadang karanasan at kinikilala sa loob at labas ng bansa.

“Civilized society is a working system of ideas. It lives and changes by the consumption of ideas. Therefore, it must make sure that as many as possible of the ideas which its members have are available for its examination.”

Commission on Freedom of the Press, “A Free and Responsible Press”

(Emphasis mine)

Hindi ko naman balak talakayin kung bakit hindi sila dapat ipasara ng kongresista.

Pero sa gitna ng nangyayari ngayon sa ating bansa, nais kong i-presenta ang isang Toolkit Laban sa Katangahan (a.k.a. Toolkit for Healthy Skepticism to Guard Against Bullsh*t in the News), batay sa sinulat ni Carl Sagan, ang National Library Board ng Singapore at ang News Literacy Project, pati na rin ang scientific method.

Naalala n’yo pa ba ang scientific method? High school pa tayo nung inaral natin ito, baka nakalimutan na natin. Ang mahalaga: kapag binigyan tayo ng mga bagong ideya, hindi natin dapat tanggapin ito agad. Dapat may pag-aalinlangan. Tayo’y magtanong, mag-imbestiga, at mag-isip ng sarili nating konklusyon mula sa nakalap nating impormasyon.

Bumalik tayo sa kwento tungkol sa isaw — kung naisipan natin mag-search sa Google, magtanong sa kaibigan, o tumingin ng ibang pahayag — mahusay!

Ano ba ang dapat nating itanong sa ganitong mga pagkakataon? Kung napapa-“shit” ka sa mga nangyayari sa ating bansa — you’re on the right track besh!

S.H.I.T. talaga ang ating tandaan pagdating sa balita o impormasyon mula sa social media: Suriin, Hanapin, Intindihin, Tanungin

1) Suriin – Saan galing yung balita? Sino ang nagsulat at nag-publish?

Maraming Pilipino ang gumagamit ng Facebook or social media para makakuha ng balita, ngunit laganap ang biased pages, groups, at pekeng news websites. Yung iba, madaling mahalata pero yung iba, hindi.

May mga ilang palatandaan na pwedeng alalahanin tulad ng kawalan ng “About” section, walang pangalan ng may akda, walang petsa, o kaya naman ay Gmail or Yahoo e-mail lamang ang ginamit para sa “Contact Us” section imbes na ibang opisyal na domain.

Nagkukunwari na sila raw ang The Guardian, isang lehitimong news website. S.H.I.T.! Source: spot.ph

2) Hanapin – Bukod sa tao o Facebook page na nagbatid sa atin ng balita, hanapin kung mayroon pa bang ibang nagpahayag ng balitang ito. Kailan ito ipinahayag? Kailan kinuha ang litrato sa artikulo? Maaaring totoo ang impormasyon, pero wala sa orihinal na konteksto.

Noong bago pa lang ang balita ng Covid-19, shinare sa akin ng tita ko ang isang message na may malaking “Unicef” logo, tips daw laban sa virus. Nagduda ako agad dahil parang hindi propesyonal yung dating ng payo (huwag daw kumain ng ice cream at malalamig na pagkain — huh?! parang chika lang ang peg). Tsaka bakit tine-text ng Unicef yung mga tao, hindi ba mas official kung ianunsyo nila ito sa pahayagan? 2 segundo lang ng pag-Google, nalaman ko agad mula sa Unicef official website na peke ang tips na ito.

Madaling mag-fact check gamit ang websites tulad ng Snopes, atbp. Kailangan lang natin ng konting effort para mag-double check kung totoo ba ang finoforward natin, bago natin i-click ang “Share.”

Isang halimbawa naman ng litratong wala sa konteksto ay yung meme ni Prince William na sumikat kamakailan lang. Ha?! May minumura ba s’ya?

Nag-iiba ang istorya, depende sa anggulo. Source: Reddit

Ngayon madali lang putulin o i-Photoshop ang mga litrato depende sa motibo ng nagsusulat ng balita. Bago tayo magalit kay Prince William, hanapin muna natin sa internet kung kapani-paniwala ang litratong nakikita natin.

3) Intindihin – Dapat malinaw at may kahulugan ang binabasa natin. Sadya ba nitong tini-trigger ang emosyon natin sa pamamagitan ng salita o litratong ginamit sa artikulo? Masyado bang maganda ang balita para maging totoo?

“Agot niresbakan ang kampo ni Jinkee!” Nainis ka ba noong nabasa mo ang headline na ito? Nagalit ka ba kay Agot? Labanan natin ang unang reaksyon natin sa mga ganitong artikulo at tumigil ng sandali. Maraming pahayagan na sadyang gumagamit ng nakagigilalas o nakakagulat na mga salita upang hikayatin tayo na i-click ang link nila o i-share ito sa Facebook page natin.

Huwag tumigil sa headline — basahin ng buo ang balita at intindihin kung may kahulugan ang nasusulat dito. Minsan, walang kinalaman ang kwento sa headline na nagpagalit sa ‘yo!

Source: Abante

4) Tanungin – Tingnan ang balita mula sa iba’t ibang panig. Tanungin ang iyong sarili: joke-time lang ba ito? (Halimbawa, may mga news websites tulad ng The Onion sa Amerika o Adobo Chronicles sa Pilipinas na gumagamit ng “satire” na pang-uuyam ang pangunahing layunin.) Tanungin ang sarili kung merong biases o emosyon na nakakaapekto sa pagtingin mo sa balitang binabasa. Magtanong-tanong at magisip-isip bago mag-share!

Source: Scoopwhoop

Eh paano kung ginamitan mo na ng S.H.I.T. toolkit ang balita ngunit pagpasiya mo sa dulo ay taliwas sa iyong orihinal na paniniwala?

Sabi nga ni Carl Sagan, “The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether that premise is true.” Ibig sabihin, kailangan nating maging maunawain sa iba’t ibang pananaw. Hindi porque atin ang isang paniniwala, tayo ang parating tama.

Source: I Was There

Hindi madali i-S.H.I.T. lahat ng balita. Hindi madali maging skeptic. May extra effort na kailangan. Pero may tiwala ako sa ating lahat. Sabi nga ng isa sa aking paboritong palabas noon, Buksan ang pag-iisip, Tayo’y likas na scientist!

Source: NLB Singapore

Lalo na sa panahon ngayon, maging mapanuri po tayo!

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #4: Yangon & Bagan, Myanmar

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

I think visiting a country for the first time feels a bit like plunging into a pool — there’s a mild feeling of disorientation initially, but you slowly adjust. Then you start to see the similarities.

To me, Yangon looked like Quiapo, and its old creaky buses looked like those Love Buses popular in Manila during the ’80s.

The Burmese looked just like us. The Hub got mistaken for a local at least twice. Women and men both used thanaka, a white pasty cream spread on their cheeks and forehead (in some cases, all over their face). Our cab driver said it’s a traditional cream made from tree bark and acts as a coolant / sunscreen. Useful in the sticky heat.

A young boy sporting thanaka patches on his cheeks

We visited the Sule Pagoda and the much larger Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The latter was crowded with tourists and locals alike. We took off our shoes and the feeling of cold marble under our bare feet was nice since it was so hot that afternoon. Around the pagoda were labels with the days of the week. These corresponded to certain planetary saints and birthdays. We also saw the locals conduct a coordinated sweep of the marble floor with long walis tambo — a long line of women with thanaka-covered faces.

*

We took a cab to the bus terminal for JJ Express. They run an overnight bus that would take us from Yangon to Bagan in the Mandalay region, where the ancient pagodas were. There were several stops along the way. We had a late dinner at Feel Myanmar Express, a local fast food. I recall we had fried eggs, fried rice, and something that looked (and tasted) like beef tapa.

We arrived in Bagan around 6am and made our way to our hotel in Old Bagan. The Hub started to sing “We’ve only just Ba-gaaan…” (to the tune of The Carpenters’ ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’) and it cracked me up.

It took us two days to tour the temples in Bagan. We hired a car from our hotel the first day, and took our time visiting each temple, marking it off the map as we went. The heat was amazing — but our hired car came with cool towels scented with lemongrass (the driver seemed to top this up mysteriously every few temples or so) and cold bottles of water. We made good progress, and the Bagan pagodas were more interesting to explore than the newer ones in Yangon.

We watched the sunset from the Shwesandaw Pagoda. It was gorgeous — but the crowds, the jostling, and the nonstop camera clicking dampened the mood somewhat for me.

Behind every great sunset photo, a crowd

Bagan has over 3,500 temples, stupas, and monuments scattered around the landscape, built between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Sadly though, I read that several of the structures were restored a little too hastily by the military regime, and some academics viewed this as having damaged the integrity of the old architecture. While this initially impeded Bagan’s designation as a UNESCO heritage site, in July 2019 Bagan was finally officially named by UNESCO as such, 24 years after the military government first nominated it in 1995.

In line with this, from last year onwards Bagan has stopped tourists from scaling the temples. A good move, I think.

*

The second day we had a buffet lunch at Golden Myanmar. It was a wide array of food at a carinderia-style establishment. Excellent value at 4,000 kyat (Php 150 or US$3) per person, with dishes that looked and tasted like Filipino dishes: binagoongang baboy (pork in shrimp paste), adobo (but an oilier version), pinatisan (meat in fish sauce). Familiar yet unfamiliar.

*

The third day was especially exciting, as we had booked a ballooning trip with Oriental Ballooning (they use green balloons). They compete with the established Balloons Over Bagan (which uses red balloons) — but as we later saw for ourselves BoB left the ballooning grounds later than we did and landed earlier than we did. I also noticed BoB had bigger baskets that held more people, which (to my non-ballooning expert mind) probably meant heavier balloons and lower flying altitude.

We woke up 5am and were fetched from the hotel. The deflated balloons lay spread on an empty field of dusty red clay. Oriental Ballooning served a light breakfast of unlimited coffee/tea, croissants and small banana muffins. It was a chilly morning. We were given a safety briefing then they started pumping the balloons with air.

Our balloonist-in-charge, Mike, hailed from the UK and had only been in Bagan for three weeks. He had been flying balloons since 1982 as a hobby. He told us most of the balloonists only stayed 2-4 months, some for half a year, then went back home. He was still getting to know Bagan’s temples himself.

Ours was the first balloon to go up. We also went the highest. We watched the sun rise higher over the landscape and color all the temples in soft red, then orange hues. There was a light mist and in the early morning light, the view seemed surreal.

We waved to people down below, and they waved back. One kid actually hurried out to greet us — she was so excited she hadn’t tied her wraparound skirt up properly and almost tripped.

We had champagne and papaya slices afterwards.

A beautiful start in beautiful Bagan, and hardly past nine in the morning.

Think critically dear readers,