Of onions and third world woes

Only in the Philippines.

So the past months has been a woe in the cost of onions. Onions, for God’s sake.

This country never ceases to amaze the rest of the world. A third world nation with an agricultural land that occupies 13.42 million hectares (as of 2020) has hogged the media headlines over the skyrocketing prices of – yes, ONIONS!

Photo from The Manila Times (CTTO)

The cost of onions in the country is 700-800% its actual market value. It’s more expensive than a kilo of pork or chicken, and is the most expensive vegetable in the BAHAY KUBO song. At 750-800 pesos ($12.50) per kg of onion.

How did it get to this point?

I mean, seriously, we just go ahead and blame everything in skyrocketing costs to the Ukraine and Russian war or the extreme weather disasters and supply chain snags occurring, but the buck stops with the Department of Agriculture.

Some lawmakers have raised the issue of an “onion cartel” that hoards and controls and manipulates the onion prices from the farm gate to the market by big traders. In a country that is as poor as the Philippines, having a cartel that controls which prices of basic goods and commodities from the angle to supply and demand should be punishable by life imprisonment. But we know who these big players are, don’t we? After all, we’ve gone through shortages in rice, sugar, garlic and other basic commodities in the past. It’s just that the shortage of onions is the icing on the cake.

Besides, it’s not like an overnight problem. The dwindling supply of onions was noted as early as August 2022. The solution of importation of onions should have been made at the point of recognition. This is called risk mitigation. Because no one did anything as early as then, some groups have profited big time in this onion depletion fiasco.

The president has now allowed the importation of onions to mitigate this problem. But it is harvest season for onions, according to farmers. Which means that in the coming weeks, there would be an oversupply. And that would bring the cost of onions down – to the detriment of the farmers.

Such a shame that in an agricultural developing nation like the Philippines, our main woes today are around the cost of onions.

Go figure!

Why the New York Times is counting it wrong

I am a subscriber to the New York Times, And one of the go to sections of mine is the COVID-19 update – both in the US and globally.

So yes, the world isn’t counting the real numbers anymore. Not even in the United States of America. And this is by no means a sin. Testing strategies have changed. Other countries do not even report the true number of COVID-19 cases. Even the World Health Organization acknowledges this huge gap. With how COVID-19 has run the world in the past three years, everyone and yes, everyone is just sick and tired of seeing the numbers.

But when the numbers being announced are wrong because someone was just basing information on someone else, then that’s called fake news. The people in the New York Times probably wouldn’t give a sh*t to a blogpost from the Philippines about this. But it matters. It matters because you would expect a respectable newspaper to get the information right.

The data on COVID numbers for the New York Times is based on the data provided by Johns Hopkins. They have a disclaimer on that.

At their online site, it’s clear that the newspaper just obtains data from the Center of Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The very same center the generates the information in https://ourworldindata.org. The link is provided here: https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus#explore-the-global-situation.

Those responsible for the data at Johns Hopkins are:

The information gathered by Johns Hopkins are from the internet. Bluntly speaking, they are only dependent on the information that is published in the website of, say, the Department of Health. And when the DoH has a ‘glitch’ in publishing the right numbers, then what is churned out of Johns Hopkins and of course, the New York Times are wrong data.

To date, the Philippines has not had a surge as published by Johns Hopkins and then culled and quoted by the New York Times.

So where is the error coming from?

Well, to start off with, the automated system (I suppose it is automated) in Johns Hopkins most likely looks at the total and deducts yesterday’s total cases with the one today. On January 3, the Department of Health announced a jump in the number of total cases in spite of the 174 additional new cases alone.

Based on the above infographic, the number of new added cases of 174 did not match the total cases, which had jumped from 4,065,173 to 4,200,225 or an addition of 135,052 cases overnight (from January 2 to 3).

Even on the premise that it could have been a pouring of backlog reports to achieve that number, (notice that the number of recovered had also jumped from 3.98 M cases to 4.12 M cases with a gradual decline in active cases), it would be mathematically improbable that there would be that many backlogs. Why?

Two reasons: (1) the Philippines averages 10-11,000 individual PCR tests daily. (2) positive rate is at 5.7%. Which means that even if we did 25000 tests a day (remember, we do not record antigen tests in this country), the most number of positive cases would likely be around 1400 (or even lower).

So why was the January 3, 2023 infographic wrong? Human error. Someone put the wrong data in and did not bother to look or discern the numbers.

As of yesterday, January 7, our numbers are back to reality – 4,067,170 total cases and 3.99M recovered.

Something which the New York Times or Johns Hopkins did not bother to correct. If they were using an automated tool, then that would have generated a negative number and we all know that the 7-day average of cases cannot be NEGATIVE. It’s either you have cases or you don’t.

But that’s what happens when data isn’t really analyzed. Garbage in is garbage out.

And that’s why I’ve stopped counting.

The glitch – a traumatic inconvenience

Oxford defines a glitch as “a sudden, usually temporary malfunction or irregularity of equipment“. Which means that when we refer to a glitch, it points to the equipment as the problem.

It is short-lived and the system is at fault.

But systems have their limitations. Which means that when we refer to a glitch occurring, it cannot be just the equipment that’s the problem. Equipments require human intervention. To turn them on. To shut them. For maintenance. Or even to upgrade. To lay the blame on equipment failure alone is lack of accountability and responsibility by whoever is tasked to make sure that these are in tiptop shape and well maintained. It’s also why audits are important. These provide quality checks and balances in the workplace, making sure that “glitches” do not occur. Back-up systems or risk management plans are written and should be documented and followed to the letter.

What do you do when system A is down? What’s the fail safe plan or exit plan?

Even when there is a fire or an explosion, there is always an escape plan.

The recent “glitch” in the air traffic systems in the Philippines on January 01, 2023 was a nightmare to all travelers. For all the airports in the entire archipelago to shut down, there has to be a reason beyond just blaming the equipment.

While authorities attributed the air travel mayhem to equipment failure, and the call to shut down operations as a safety concern, a lot of questions need clear answers – beyond whitewashing this incident. The call to an investigation into this unfortunate inconvenience is needed. The public has the right to know why and how this happened and who is responsible for it. After all, the inconvenience did not only take away the time of passengers who had to wait for hours or even days before they could get a flight to or from the airports. The economic ramifications of this on a personal and national level is too huge to just shrug off as something that was a ‘glitch’.

This cannot happen again. It’s bad enough that the Philippines is reeling from an economic crisis due to the lockdowns at the time of Duterte. Revenge travel should not have to be this traumatic. It’s really not more fun getting caught in the worst airport in the world because of a glitch.

A year of hope in the year of the water rabbit

The Chinese calendar revolves around five elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

The year of the Tiger exits early this year as we welcome the Year of the Water Rabbit.

Among the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit is the most tender and gentle. It is also the luckiest of the 12 animals and symbolizes energy, elegance and beauty.

Chinese philosophy dictates that everything exists as inseparable and contradictory opposites. Female-male. Dark-light. Old-young. Strong-weak. Passive-aggressive. Bad-good. The pairs of equal opposites attract and complement each other. In the Yin Yang model, each side has at its core an element of the other (represented by small dots). There is a balance in each pole in order to achieve harmony.

The year 2022, while the year of the water Tiger was a yang. The year of the water rabbit is a yin. Meaning passivity of the universe. A year of relaxation, fluidity, quietness and contemplation.

The rabbit is an agile animal. Moves quickly and is the most clever. While the rabbit exudes overall energy in what it does, it is gentle, calm and moves with confidence and ease.

The year of the water Rabbit should soothe the ups and downs and swings of the year of the Tiger.

Because of the steady movement of the rabbit, there should be amore steady goal regardless of negativity or problems in the coming lunar year.

As the rabbit is associated with peace, prosperity and longevity. optimism is the key as the year of the water Rabbit is a year of hope.

There is no better time to see the pandemic come to closure than the year of the water Rabbit.

恭喜发财 (congratulations and be prosperous) and 新年快乐 (happy new year)!

I’ve stopped counting

When I created this blog, it was designed to write about the random thoughts on everyday life that would bring us joy.

The title called Relative Joy for You was culled because Joy in itself is relative.

What may be good for the goose may not necessarily be exhilarating for the gander. And that’s pretty much what life is about. Relative Joy.

In December 2020, when the World Health Organization finally officially acknowledged the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak in China (after much skepticism on the purported ‘rumors’ in the Chinese press), this blog initially provided some information on the beginnings of what would be a pandemic. In a few months, the world was mired in one global economic and health catastrophe.

Through those difficult beginnings, many friends and colleagues had untimely passed away. Too many. Too young. Too soon.

In the beginning, we learned that mobility would be challenging and masking became a rule rather than exception. Only one nation in the world embraced the concept of a ‘face shield’. In the real world, we all know that ventilation was the most important deterrent of the virus. Those face shields and plastic barriers in the Philippines remained remnants of ignorance of government advisers on the physics of viral spread by an airborne route. In a country once led by an incompetent leader, we all know how the story ended and how much corruption played a role in why those ‘face shields’ insistently remained not mandatory requirements when moving around.

Over the past years several variants of concerns emerged. And several treatment options as well as vaccines as well. Vaccines decreased severity of illness while treatments saved lives.

To say that this pandemic is over is an understatement and of course, a complacent attitude.

Three years have passed and the world has begun to ‘live’ with the virus. Borders have opened and only China was the last to embrace that a ‘zero COVID-19’ policy will never work. Omicron remains the major circulating variant with many sub lineages every now and then.

Today, many countries have changed the way they test and when they test. Policies differ from nation to nation. Testing has not become mandatory and neither has contact tracing anymore. The virus co-exists and will remain to co-exist with us as the true number of daily cases is now a blur. Even those who pass away from COVID-related illness is now becoming a challenge with countries not truly reporting COVID-19 as the direct cause of death in many patients.

With sites like the World Health Organization, OurWorldInData and Worldometers having different numbers coming out of their reports, none of the data is accurate and official.

As 2022 came to a close, the news of COVID-19 surges in China had become an issue among governments globally (either political in nature of a true scientific concern where new variants could potentially emerge). The demand for transparency of cases and deaths emanating from China became the debate of whether border control should be reinstated among citizens traveling from China. After all, reciprocity demands reciprocity. China requires a negative PCR for foreigners to travel to the mainland – vaccinated or not.

A medical worker in a protective suit collects a swab sample from a resident at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Beijing, China April 28, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

As the year came to an end, one thing was certain. People were tired of COVID-19. Lockdowns had hurt the economy, both locally and globally. And it was time to move on.

In 2023, it is time to stop counting the COVID-19 cases in the world…

Staycation at the New World Hotel: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly (Part 2)

The last day of our staycation was expectedly hectic for the hotel staff. Breakfast was erratic and the servers were busily confused. With the crowd pouring in yesterday for the New Year celebration, the chaos was expected. However, I am sure that the marketing people expected this. But degrading the Residence Club to an area that has no privacy feel is really not worth the hype or the extra charge for the supposedly whistles and bells to the more expensive floors.

The good

Dinner at Jasmine was good. Not very good but good. But that’s it. On a better day, I would most likely come back but this wouldn’t be my go-to Chinese restaurant. There are better.

The bad

For a hectic harassed day (or night) at the food outlets in this hotel, the least they can do with mediocre food is to compensate with better service. Yes. That’s the first rule of thumb. A good service always shines above an ordinary meal or below par accommodation.

Breakfast today was a joke. You had to literally wait for a refill. Which didn’t come until I stood up to inform the concierge desk to stop making people come in and take care of the food and the service first.

When something as basic as bacon can’t get refilled, this is classically bad service. And the coffee took quite awhile. I had to stand in line before a lady approached me to ask me what I wanted. I said – coffee. No one assisted me at the door unlike the first day. Chaos overtook service.

Coming from lockdowns in 2021, 2022 supposedly had prepared them for better customer experience. There was Christmas Day to practice anyway.

Even Jasmine was not spared from the attack of the “staycationers”. Dinner reservations was at 730pm. They actually placed us in a shabby makeshift room which hardly justified the ambience of the place.

The set menu was a “blah” so we decided to get what was worth a New Year dinner. But the service was sadly turtle paced. The prawns came ahead of the soup. The cold cuts were the last to be served. The roasted duck was just okay. The dessert was forgetful.

Because the staff needed to go home, they were in a hurry to close all orders by 930pm. Take note that it took us 1 hr to get food on the table because we ordered ala carte. The rest of the snail-paced food finally arrived by 9pm. The kitchen was literally overwhelmed.

The ugly

And while the food came at such a slow pace, they missed one dish. After the meal service, the server noticed that the dish which was never served was just lying on the service table. Now how bad was that? With all servers running back and forth, not one of them bothered to ask – who’s dish was this?

Finally, check out was a breeze at the 24th floor. But the elevators took more than 30 mins to even get a ride. And that is really a bitch with the “overnighters”.

Finally, if you can – DO NOT have your car valeted. It took us almost an hour just to have the car delivered to us. And you still needed to pay for valet with that kind of service.

The recommendation

While the hotel is just a stone’s throw from the Greenbelt mall, that’s its only strength. The rooms are outdated. The place isn’t highly recommended as many of the rooms (and we booked 3 for 6 adults) have awful beds (sleep quality is 1 of 4) and broken furnitures.

It’s a pet-friendly hotel. And seriously, the pets were more behaved than rowdy kids that rolled around the hallways and lobby. (I hate saying it but the kids needed the leash more than the pets.)

While it was understandable that it was, after all, a vacation for everyone after the more than two years lockdown of Du30, the hotel should have been more prepared.

Among many of the hotels we stayed in for our staycations, this rates at the bottom rung.

On check-in, we were welcomed by someone who asked me about where our previous vacation hotels where and she responded that she hopes after our stay this New Year, we would make New World Hotel our destination staycation hotel of choice from now on.

I recall those very words. And as we checked out of the hotel, I laughed and thought she was joking. They don’t know how bad their hotel is.

Staycation at the New World Hotel: The good, the bad, the ugly (Day 1)

It’s been awhile since we had our annual New Year staycation due to the pandemic lockdowns. This year, we decided to do what we used to do – bond as a family. Again.

Because of many issues surrounding when and where and how our stay would be, we decided that this year, we would do the New World Hotel, which is right smack in front (or the back) of Greenbelt in Makati.

The good

Check-in was relatively quick because we checked in earlier than the New Year crowd. And because we stayed at the Residence Club floor, we did not have to queue with those who chose the lower grade rooms. The club floors offered not only outstanding views but also discounted services on many things as well – from spa service to food. There was also the all day refreshments and the night cocktails on the 24th floor, as well as the exclusive breakfast (without having to queue with the crowd at the cafe restaurant on the ground floor). The guest services people were pleasant and nice and so were the servers on the club floor.

As you would expect, the crowd would fill up at around 6pm and would really devour the evening cocktails (overflowing drinks and snacks and hors d’oeuvres) as if it were dinner. That’s a complement. Meaning that the spread was plenty and the food wasn’t bad.

Spa services are open until 1AM even on holidays. And they have pretty good spa services and a so-so gym that has good cardio machines.

The bad

With my 85 year old mom in tow, New World Hotel is not an ideal place for PWDs. Crossing from the hotel to the mall is a challenge if you’re on a wheelchair. Even the frontage of the hotel will require ambulating and crossing the center island, which is only half usable for a wheelchair while the other half will need someone to carry the wheelchair over. Added to that is the fact that the entrance to Greenbelt 3 fronting the New World Hotel wasn’t well designed by whoever the Ayalas commissioned. The ramp could have simply been made in front area rather than spend so much more on construction of that side PWD access. And you will see it all over Greenbelt, a mall that is not too PWD friendly.

Then there’s the food quality in the hotel. While I don’t eat a lot, there’s a lot of room for improvement on the food. The bacon was so rubbery that if I threw it against the wall, it would have bounced back. The bento box had fish that tasted awful and some sidings which I couldn’t figure out if they were condiments or real edible food.

The rooms are, well, outdated and this place really needs a serious makeover. I couldn’t figure out the interior design of the room but it has a cramp feeling, with all the furnitures all over the place. To say that the interior design was bad is an understatement. Even the toilet was so packed that you would feel claustrophobic inside. In addition, the doors were so narrow that you’d better be a size 36 and below, otherwise you won’t fit into the toilet door or shower area at all.

Parking here is a different story altogether. You had to park several levels down the basements and the only way to get to the lobby was to take the stairs. No elevators! How crazy is that?

The ugly

The housekeeping service is terrible. When I left my room, I turned off the DO NOT DISTURB light. And the housekeeper in front of our room was cleaning the other room.

When I got back back 4 hours later, our room was still unmade. Seriously? I called the guest services and they sent someone up to clean the room. But since we were there already, they just changed the towels and refilled the used toiletries. So much for service.

While the housekeeper profusely apologized for the delay because they were “busy”, that is a lame excuse. I know they were busy rushing other rooms because today would be important due to the influx of guests. They needed to clean up the rooms that were being vacated first. But that’s not fair to the guests who paid for more nights and of course, expect better customer experience compared to the one nighters who pack their families (and pets) into one room.

On a scale of 0-5, I’d give this property a 2. While they had some good optics, everything else was bad. And I wouldn’t really recommended staying here. At all… there are after all, better choices out there.

In tomorrow’s blog, let’s talk about their food.

619 new cases with 23 added deaths on 12.29.2022

As the year comes to a close in the next 2 days, the Health Agency announces 619 new cases with 7.9% positive rate and 23 added deaths. NCR owned 39% or 239 of these cases.

This was led by Quezon City with 59 cases, followed by Manila 29, Pasig 23, Makati 22, Mandaluyong 14, Parañaque 13, Marikina 12, Taguig and Pasay City 10 each.

Only Rizal with 35 cases and Laguna with 33 cases, had more than 30 today. The rest of the provinces with low double digits were: Cavite 24, Batangas 19, Bulacan 16, Pampanga 12, Iloilo 12, Cebu 15, Davao del Sur 12, and Pangasinan 12.

Note that only 9547 tests were done yesterday. There is a backlog in the data being reported by the Health Agency and we should remember to make sure that when we are sick, we isolate and test. Maintain minimum public health standards. Let’s make 2023 a meaningful one.

257 new cases and 26 added deaths on 12.28.2022

The Health Agency announces 257 new cases with 7.6% positive rate and 26 added deaths. Because of the extended holidays, most likely many of the cases are not being reported in real time. Yesterday, there were more 9000 individuals tested by PCR for SARS-CoV-2.

The NCR owned 48% (123) of the cases for today, with 3 LGUs rain gin double digits – Quezon City 26, Manila 24, and Las Piñas 11.

Outside NCR, only five provinces reported double digits (and very low numbers at that). They were: Cavite 21, Rizal 15, Negros Occidental 13, Laguna 12 and Cebu 10.

CAR, Region Z, Region XII and Region IVB had ZERO COVID cases in ALL their provinces.

Reminder to the public that the daily counts are NOT reflective of the true prevalence of COVID-19 in the country because the Health Agency only counts PCR tests and that many people are not testing anymore.

The ultra-low Tuesday and the data for 12.27.2022

The Health Agency announces 289 new cases (as predicted in yesterday’s blog that we would hover around 250-300 cases because only 3860 individuals were tested on Christmas Day). Positive rate continued to decline to 7.1% and there were added 19 deaths.

NCR continued to lead with 40% of the total cases. Only four LGUs had double digits – Quezon City 30, Manila 19, Makati 14 and Pasig 13. San Juan, Navotas and Pateros all reported ZERO COVID.

In the provinces only five provinces reported double digits and all were less than 20 cases – Cavite 16, Iloilo 13, Bulacan 12, Laguna 11 and Pampanga 10. All other provinces had single digit cases or ZERO COVID.

With close to 8,000 individual tested on December 26, tomorrow will have around 500 cases.