2021: A Year in Review

The biggest question in our heads right now remains clear – how does this all end? After a complete year of living in a pandemic, one can’t help but wonder about the future. We’ve come to terms with the new normal yet we can’t help but think whether or not we still have a shot at living life the way we used to. It does get to your head. 

We still operate on pandemic time and things are weird. Variants emerging in one country upend life at home in a matter of weeks. We’ve never been this biologically connected.

As a continuation of the saga that started in 2020, the second year felt like the next installment of a cursed trilogy. 

Another Pandemic Year

In the first year, we got our feet wet with pandemic things, and the second year gave us an opportunity to master them. We accepted the fact that the virus is sticking around, and rolling with it made perfect sense. We’re no longer strangers to remote work and schooling, and our investments in home-based productivity infrastructure have paid off. It was business as usual for the most part. 

We started the year with vaccine envy, subjecting us to a little bit of collective anxiety over getting the shot that would end this pandemic. Vaccines eventually made their way to our neck of the woods with me getting my first jab in May. By that time, the Philippines had already amassed a pretty decent amount of vaccines, most of which were donated under the COVAX program. I ended up getting Astra Zeneca, giving me side effects that lasted for a few days. I was just so happy to get it at that point. Soon, everyone in our household (with the exception of our kids) got the shot. 

I was so happy to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What could possibly go wrong (spoiler alert from 2022: a lot)

Work 

I’ve traditionally avoided talking about work in these annual recaps. I still prefer to keep a lot of things between me and employer, with or without an NDA. I’m not here to share details, but rather give a general retrospective of my career journey in the past few years. And it’s been quite a ride. 

I’ve been officially working more than 20 years now. Based on a retirement age of 60, this would give me another 20 years’ worth. I’ve officially crossed the halfway mark. 

I got my start as a wannabe dotcommer with a technical degree in a school more known for its humanities program. The market crashed in the 2000s yet I powered through, eventually getting a job in a big company. I’ve experienced almost everything in the tech industry – sales, marketing, design, project management and in the past seven years, at an official capacity as a “product guy”. I’ve worked for both early stage companies and ones with over 15,000 employees. At this point, I already have a good idea of my strengths, and areas I’d like to avoid. I’m proud of my corporate battle scars. 

My working years in New York City opened up a lot of learning opportunities. For the first time in my life, I was able to participate in a completely different market, warts and all. It was tough, but it gave me the experience I wouldn’t have gotten if I had stayed put in Manila. 

It was put to good use when we moved back. I started out doing some consulting work for ecommerce and proptech companies, working as their first product guy. It allowed me to learn more about the scene, giving me a sense of what I wanted from work in the long term. I eventually joined Cignal, the biggest pay TV operator, as their head of innovation. From there, I tried to build a digital media business from scratch. That was a lot of fun. 

Fintech. I was really surprised at how mainstream it was even before the pandemic. When I left for States in 2010, Philippine tech grew pretty fast, thanks to the market’s acceptance of e-commerce (still fresh from the group buying boom of the late 00s). While we were away, payment companies took off, attracting investment from Asian players. Merchants were already accepting payments via QR codes even before the pandemic. Meanwhile, we had Venmo and Paypal in the states (which, in retrospect weren’t really that bad – Asian peer-to-peer payment platforms were just better). There was so much vibrancy and innovation in this sector I knew I had to be part of it. 

So that’s what I did. I’m currently applying years of product experience in the Philippines’ fintech industry with PalawanPay, the newest electronic wallet in town. Since joining the company mid-year, I’ve already learned so much.

As a consequence of my deep dive into fintech, I also dusted off my Metamask account after almost four years of dormancy (thankfully, it has nothing) and played around with the Ethereum I bought way back in 2017. Suffice to say it led me into a completely strange and curious world. By October, I was already staking, yield farming, joining DAOs and buying NFTs. I’m having fun again. I think I’ll do more of this in 2022. 

Running 

Running will always be my first love and it’ll always be first priority (over cycling, more on this later). I went through a major migration of my old fitness data from Nike+ and Garmin to Strava and wow, I have logged runs going all the way back to 2008 (a.k.a. the great running boom of the late 00s). After three marathons, a lot of half marathons, shoes, singlets, and more than 15,000 kilometers later, running remains to be my longest commitment to date. I only hope my body can continue to support this for decades to come (I actually don’t see any major reasons why not). It’s still a lot of fun for me. 

My overall mileage was an improvement from 2020 for obvious reasons. I logged a total of 1,381 kilometers compared to 1,123 kilometers in the previous year. While a 22% jump in mileage isn’t really that much, it was an activity that coexisted equally with cycling. Had I not taken up cycling, I would’ve probably exceed my 2019 mileage. 

I exercise more than ever. I used to run 4-5 times a week. In 2021, a week of exercise only had one day for rest. I guess you could chalk it up to yet another lockdown thing? I mean, I don’t even have to walk to the gym to use the treadmill. I can just unfold mine and have at it. 

I set a pretty modest running quota of 23 kilometers a week, something I can do in three runs: usually a combination of two 10Ks and a 5K. I run mostly indoors on the treadmill, allowing me to multitask. I’ve taken calls, watched way too many movies on Netflix, caught up on podcasts and finished audiobooks while on the mill. It also helps that I get to do all of this at home, so I don’t have to worry about masks! I run shirtless for the most part and turn on air-conditioning. It’s very comfortable. 

I do have opportunities to run outdoors though and I take every chance I could get at my in-laws’ place. When we went to Boracay earlier in the year, I did a couple of runs by the beach. Outdoor runs will always trump the treadmill kind. There are exceptions though, and an airborne virus is enough to make me fear infection in a slightly denser environment like Makati or BGC. I’m playing it safe and keeping to the burbs. 

I do miss training. I miss planning for marathons. While the rest of the world managed to push through with their running events, I’m still not 100% convinced of its safety. Hopefully things play out differently in 2022 (it didn’t), so we can finally enjoy huge running events again. I could sure add a new medal just for the heck of it. I’m getting old. 

A hundred kilometers a month has been a reasonable goal for me. I used to operate on hundred mile quotas (so that’s 160 kilometers), but I like this. Things are more balanced. I can’t believe I’ve actually made room for cycling AND running. I guess this is the new normal for me. 

Cycling 

2021 marked my second year of “neo-cycling” – a term I use to describe the relative seriousness of the activity compared to previous attempts. Cycling officially became a “thing” of mine, allowing me to set goals and give myself a sense of progression. It managed to coexist (and not necessarily overtake) with running and I know what I want from it. 

It is, in a way, different and the same as running. I’ve managed to set mileage goals (at weekly, monthly and yearly levels) and worked with a simple ratio to approximate the effort – measured in terms of running distance. To illustrate: a 30K ride is the equivalent of a 6K, a 50K is a 10K and so on and so forth. This gives me a 1 running to 5 cycling kilometer ratio. Other sites would argue that it’s 1:4 or 1:3 even. My 1:5 ratio actually works well for me. It also seems to match the number of calories burned and perceived effort. 

What’s the point of all this anyway? It’s actually based on this arbitrary (stupid) goal that I should complete eight exercise units a week. Say I manage to run 25KM and bike for 120KM (which was typical in 2021) – this gives me nine units, one unit over, to give myself a feeling of overachievement. Following this program has made me relentlessly consistent, with streaks going for as long as 20 weeks. Overall, I logged a total of 6,048 cycling kilometers for the year. Now that I have a full year’s worth of mileage data, I have a benchmark. 

I started the year by investing in a smart trainer setup and a Zwift subscription. I ended up getting a Magene T300 trainer and found it good enough for my needs. I loved it so much I actually spent more time on the trainer than outdoors, with 3,562 kilometers logged in Watopia and other maps. This represents 59% of my total mileage for the year. 

Zwifting is in a different cycling class of its own. Its efficiency comes at the cost of fun. Still, it’s a great way to maintain a certain level of fitness, affording you a pretty rewarding workout in an hour. Does it make it less valuable than cycling outdoors? Definitely not. Thanks to my Zwift rides, I’ve managed to power through my reading quota and go on rides during meetings (provided all I have to do is listen). I do feel some gains though. I’ve improved my climbing by a whole lot. This is a great solution to a modern (pandemic) problem. 

But it’s not all “work”. I’ve had opportunities to explore the social side of Zwift, going on group rides with some of my industry peers. As much as I want to go on group rides exclusively, it’s gotten harder to synchronize schedules. Gone are the days I could head out of the house at 6AM on a weekday to ride with some friends in Makati and BGC. I guess this is what constitutes cycling for me nowadays. 

I did jump at the chance to join fun outdoor group rides though. 2021 marked a year of cycling achievements- from conquering the infamous RevPal (reverse palace) climb from Sta. Rosa to Tagaytay in January, to social rides around Metro Manila with a lot of eating and laughter in between. The cycling “fever” of 2020 has died down a bit and people have settled into their own routines. It’s pretty clear that some got into cycling to hang out with friends and/or give themselves a proper, safe workout in the pandemic. I belong to the latter group. Still, it was an opportunity for both groups to mix, and it’s always a good time for everyone. 

It was also a year for (metric) milestones. I’ve had multiple attempts to complete my first 100-kilometer ride. My first attempt took place in June, which coincided with an event organized by the local cycling community. While it was fun riding with a big group, I was just too tired and worried about losing a whole day on my bike that I quit at the 80th kilometer mark. It was followed by a series of attempts, typically with a group (although my longest ride on record back then was a solo one). I finally completed one, much to my relief, right after Christmas. That’s one thing ticked off my cycling bucket list. 

Speaking of milestones, I also experienced another rite of passage- getting my first bike-related injury. It was during one of those social ride days in July. It had drizzled a bit, so the road was slippery. I was going uphill when I saw my brother in the horizon. I was clipped and decided to wave at him. That was when I lost my balance and wiped out. I landed palm-first. I felt generally okay and conscious as I stood my bike up to to walk in his direction, reassuring everyone that I was okay. 

At that point, I felt a sharp pain in my collarbone. Something was definitely wrong. I opted not to bike towards my brother.  After recovering from the initial shock, I managed to drive myself home, thankful that my bike is intact. By the time I got home, I was already in so much pain. 

I rushed myself to the ER the following day. After seeing a doctor, I was relieved to learn that I didn’t break any bones (confirmed via x-ray). But it was painful enough for me to see a bone doctor and wear a sling for a couple of weeks, with my collarbone bearing the brunt of the impact. I had to be on pain medication for days too. It sucked pretty bad. I was back on the saddle a few days later, thankful that I could still log some miles on the trainer. 

Other than that, it was a pretty great year of cycling. I even caught the N+1 bug with the acquisition of an old-ish (circa 2009) road bike made by one of the best custom framebuilders in the world. My Serotta Coeur D’ Acier, which I found on eBay, took three months to ship. The Serotta opened my eyes to a fast and light bike (despite the frame being a combination of steel and carbon fiber). The components alone made it all worth it, with Chris King hubs and headset, DT Swiss Rims and a Sram Force groupset. This bike is quite a looker too, in a sparkly green that makes it stand out (not the intention though). Given this was a custom bike, I was lucky to find a frame whose original owner had identical measurements with mine. This bike is definitely a keeper. In fact, my first century was on this bike. All the more reason to treasure this for years to come. 

My honeymoon period with cycling is over and I’ve settled into something more sustainable at this point. As with a lot of new things I picked up in the pandemic, I’ve gone through the “mania” period.  I have a pretty good idea of what I want from this sport. 

Cycling has also changed my views on transportation. I’m excited at the prospect of a future dominated by two-wheel travel. I’m planning to convert the Serotta Tri-Colorado frame (so that makes it an N+2 affair now) into a city commuter so I can just bike to work. I really hope they keep these bike lanes. Imagine a world where everyone travels around the city on bikes (I think cargo bikes are great). One can dream. It’s all up to the cyclists of Manila to show the city how good things can be on a bike. 

Eats 

2021 gave us a taste of freedom, allowing us to escape our bubbles and finally muster enough courage to take our masks off in public and enjoy a real restaurant meal. I’m just happy for some normalcy when it comes to food and boy did I miss it. 

Dining out was a healthy mix of the familiar and the new. Dining in restaurants, whenever it felt safe, was a treat. This meant choosing well too. I enjoyed the Fried Chicken Sandwich of Fowlbread (heck, even the Chicken sandwich of Jollibee rocks). Ricksha Streetside Tandoor is always good. Earlier in the year, I had a brief obsession with Chicken Inasal all fulfilled by JT’s Manukan Grille, specifically their amazing grilled gizzard (baticolon). I also discovered the joys and consistency of 24 chicken (also cheap).  Towards the end of the year, we even checked out the dim sum buffet in Red Lantern at Solaire. That was good. Another restaurant that left quite an impression was Masa, a La Union staple that recently opened a branch in BF Homes Parañaque. 

Travel gave us an opportunity to sample more restaurants. Boracay, as always, was a great place to eat. We enjoyed the Indian fare in Crimson Resort and Spa during our stay, especially the curry. we also revisited classics like Two Season’s Four Cheese Pizza and Choriburgers. Dos Mestizos also delivered. 

Cycling took me places I wouldn’t normally go to. I went on a two-wheel food tour with friends around Binondo back in November and it was basically a speed run of almost everything I wanted to eat. We had some Kuchay Pie from Quik Snack. Then we had some dumplings from Dong Bei. Delicious. 

The opening of the Skyway also gave me a chance to revisit childhood favorites from Quezon City. Before that, I had to go through so many hoops just to have to Ihaw Balot Plaza’s grilled pusit delivered to Makati (worth it though). I enjoyed Crispy Pata from Livestock and old school panciteria San Jacinto’s birthday noodles and Pata Tim. We bought so much empanaditas from Lucky 21 in Kamuning, just because we could. 

Lockdown habits remain strong. Benedicto Kitchen’s Surf and Turf combo of roast beef and baked salmon is the best treat you can order at home. It was also the year of Andok’s Lechon Baka, which I loved to bits (I’ve been stanning Andok’s since the late 2000s). Other great finds include Biltong from Bushveld Kitchen and the Thai Basil Pork Belly from Thai Plate. 2021’s food du jour was definitely cochinillo, with most households having their way on the smooth and shiny chicharron with a plate. 

2021 was also a great year for me in the kitchen, continuing the journey I began in 2020. I’ve taken a much more efficient, pragmatic path in the kitchen and I find it more sustainable (and just as fun) than the cooking I did in New York. I definitely worked smart, not hard, this time around. 

It was a breakthrough year for my Instant Pot. Not because I ended up making the same braise over and again but more of me exploring the “hackiness” of an electronic pressure cooker instead. Everything I loved making in the Instant Pot took less than an hour and simply finished in the oven toaster. This was made possible by the most unlikeliest of sources- an instant pot website run by a couple based in the states whose no-nonsense approach gave us a reason to worship the Instant Pot as the most versatile tool in the kitchen. 

Barbecued Ribs. Remove the membrane. A cup of apple cider vinegar. 20 minutes under high pressure. Take it out. Brush a generous amount of Sweet Baby Ray’s or whatever BBQ sauce is available in the grocery. Broil in the oven toaster (I have a cheap ass oven toaster that does this so well), wait until the ribs are caramelized enough. So good. 

Siu Yuk, or as what we call Lechon Macau here in Manila.  Buy a slab of pork belly from your butcher (we’re lucky to have it in the form of the ubiquitous Lechon Kawali cut). Score it. Salt. Sugar. Five Spice. Some cold water. Shaoxing wine. 22 minutes under high pressure. Take it out. Poke some holes with a fork, or a cheap pricking tool from Lazada or Shopee. Pat dry (it’s going to be bit sticky)! Brush on some baking power (not baking soda) and salt. Brush on a layer of canola oil. Finish in the oven toaster (yet again!) until a nice little crackling develops. Jesus Christ. Also delicious. 

We’ve had it so many times. Effort to taste ratio was a no-brainer. 

The Instant Pot is also made for South Asian cuisine. We ended up making so much Biryani with my kids emerging as devoted fans. The butter chicken is great and so addicting. Other favorites in 2021 were Southern Mac and Cheese from the NYTimes, and Thai Omelettes paired with Pad Kra Pao. We had steak with roasted baby potatoes with a generous serving of Ikinari Steak sauce that you can easily buy from any Japanese grocery. 

Other than that- a variation on roast chicken (never disappoints). We also made a conscious effort to incorporate more fish in our diet. A lot of Bangus. Salmon belly dredged in potato starch and air fried. Adam Liaw’s teriyaki salmon. We also found a reliable source of Chinese Broccoli which we poach with a little bit of salt and olive oil. I also discovered a great recipe with Lap Cheong (a.k.a. Chinese Sausage) and snow peas. 

We eat so well at home. And it’s so virtuous. We don’t spend as much on dining out and we get to taste food that’s normally not available in the city. I’m thrilled to give my kids an opportunity to explore the world with food, even if some dishes are technically not that authentic. At least they get the general idea. Ultimately, cooking at home makes me feel whole. 

It’s been ten years since I first walked into a grocery in New York City with the intention of cooking something for the first time. I made Bibimbap, a recipe I saw in Epicurious in 2011. I’d like to think that my girlfriend back then liked it. Or she was just being nice. 

Anyway, she ended up marrying me. It must count for something. 

Music 

Here’s the thing, obsessive loggers like me can’t rely on Spotify alone. While I do enjoy the yearly Spotify Wrapped, I still crosscheck everything with Last.FM, making sure I have all my stats in place, with data going all the way back to 2009 (yep, 12 years).  

It was a relatively quiet year for music. My overall listening decreased by 23%, with 6,223 scrobbles compared to 8,016 in 2020. I listened for a total of 370 hours, also down 31%. 

What happened here? It’s simple – I had fewer opportunities to listen to music. I no longer have a work commute and I’ve replaced running music with Netflix thanks to my treadmill. My listening has also shifted to something more shared too, playing music to entertain my wife and kids in the car. It’s less personal and more communal. 

I guess this is my way of saying that all my top tracks in 2021 were dominated by K-Pop. TWICE, IU, BTS, TXT and Oh My Girl dominated my personal charts. It would be dishonest of me to say that this was not representative of my preferences, I genuinely enjoyed all of them and sharing this experience with my family was welcome. A quick glance at my top 10 shows that 7 out of 10 tracks fell under the same genre.  I listened to my top track, IU’s “Lilac,” 81 times. That was surprising. 

I did listen to new stuff though. Some of them stuck. I really enjoyed “Savage Good Boy” and “Be Sweet” by Japanese Breakfast (whose book, “Crying in H Mart” was among my top reads. That’s a first!). The Charli XCX musical universe was quite prolific, thanks to multiple collaborations and a new album. I strayed a bit from the zeitgeist with Bad Bad Hats’ “Detroit Basketball” just to get a little bit of rock back in my life again. 

It was actually nice revisiting some old friends too. Jenny Lewis sang about a midlife crisis with “Puppy and a Truck” while Yumi Zouma continues to evolve in a post- Cascine world. I also enjoyed some Doja Cat and Hanne Mjoen. Everything else was a 10-play wonder. Again, I had limited opportunities to listen. I guess you could say I have more choices for entertainment now? That’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Technology 

I logged a total of 2,667 hours worth of screen time in 2021. Due to a tracking complication on my iOS device (and partially with Android), this may not represent the complete picture. It also represents an average of 7.3 hours a day worth of screen time. I think it’s safe to say that I spend a third of my day on screens. Surprisingly, my 2021 stats reflect a 13% decrease in screen time from 2020. I still don’t know what to make of that. The intent remains- I’d like to bring down my screen time further in 2022. 

At this point, I’m actually getting a better picture of how a typical day of mine is broken down. I know I spend a little over an hour, on average, exercising(I logged 390 hours last year), representing 4%. Combining that with workgives me visibility on what really happens to 40% of my day. I guess I spend the rest of the day, eating, sleeping and in some cases – commuting. Every minute counts! 

We’ve more or less adjusted to a pandemic-optimized technology stack. There’s no longer any need to agonize over which video conference app to use, since all of them work the same way. More than anything, it just builds a case for remote-friendly workspaces at home, if you actually have the space for it.  

But it does get a bit tiring, especially on days where you have consecutive meetings that require you to switch between Zoom and MS teams (with the occasional Google Hangout call). There are times where I don’t even bother to turn on the camera at all. We’ve all turned onto Zoombies. Overall, I spent a total of 166 hours on MS Teams, and 68 hours on Zoom. 

Maybe I just had more to say and reflect on in the past year, that I actually spent a total of 171 hours on Day One, the journaling app I’ve been using since 2016. I started out cold, writing two to three sentences in a day paired with some random photo I took that day. Who would’ve thought that I’d consistently churn out 1,200 word entries on a daily basis? It surely made me more prolific, writing wise.  

I’m also pretty good at maintaining streaks. The last time I missed an entry on Day One was February 3, 2016 (so that’s 2,159 days). By the end of 2021, I’ve had a streak of 1,801 straight days of logging my food in MyFitnessPal. I don’t see myself ending any of this anytime soon and even if I do, I guess I won’t really feel that bad? I’m just glad I made it this far. 

There was a lot of distraction too, despite the fact that I really wanted to cut down hours spent on social media. Twitter took up most of my screen time, accounting for a whopping 273 hours worth of reading. Facebook, on the other hand, clocked in at 167 hours. I could actually use this time towards other things. 

Notion remains to be my favorite app of the lot. And I’ve built great personal systems on the platform (calling it a note-taking app would be a great disservice to what it really is). All my 60 hours spent on Notion have been used to organize a lot of my data to great results. These systems are always evolving too, making it such a great tool for obsessive loggers like me. My experience building personal databases in Notion has made me drop Airtable completely. 

My overall software stack remained fairly consistent. 2021 marked my 8th year of using Teuxdeux, which remains to be my favorite task management app. I’ve introduced several hacks around the simple task manager too, mostly deploying emojis and markdown-based formatting to distinguish certain items. As for messaging, it’s still a hodgepodge of Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, Telegram and Discord (Slack usage significantly dropped since we don’t use it at work). Moneywell remains my go-to personal finance app. I think I’ve been using this for more than a decade now without really needing an update. I still have a pretty solid Feedly to Instapaper pipeline for reading articles. 

It’s been a while since my last personal technology refresh so in 2021, I upgraded some items. I finally retired my 2015 MacbookPro, exceeding its projected lifespan by a year. This machine has served me so well across multiple jobs. I guess my point is that laptop memory trumps processing power in the long term. I even managed to sell it at a pretty good price. 

It was a refresh in the truest sense that I ended up getting another MacBook Pro. I’m still not convinced of the utility of the touchbar, and I really miss magsafe but it’s still a proper replacement in terms of performance. That being said, I’m slowly weaning myself away from the Apple ecosystem, I might be having dongle fatigue at this point. My frustration with Apple Airpods also led me to buy a pair of Jabra wireless earbuds, a decision I absolutely don’t regret. It’s better, and cheaper. 

These things were never exclusive anyway. I’m happy with my iOS and Android phones. I should be equally as happy in a future where Windows and Apple perform pretty explicit jobs. 

Other than that, me hardware stack remains the same. Phone upgrade cycles are definitely getting longer. I’m actually happy to own four-year old phones (and still going strong) without the need for an upgrade. 

There’s also some weird decoupling from my Smartphone too. My wife gave me a Fujifilm XT-2000 mirrorless camera for my birthday. I’ve been taking so many photos with my smartphone that I’ll eventually regret it with the lack of quality. I’ve used it quite a number of times with great results, too. I plan to go deep with this in the future. This is just one of those things that a Smartphone can’t truly replace. 

Reads 

I really enjoyed my reading pile in 2021. It’s been a while since I last had a year (only because I try to give myself 30 chances a year) with an above average amount of memorable books. 

My bike lit odyssey continues, with a cluster of books that I read early in the year. I particularly enjoyed Grant Petersen’s “Just Ride” and Robert Penn’s “It’s All About the Bike”. There’s so much reading material about cycling and having read a decent amount of these, I’d like to think that the two books above are the most relatable. Grant Petersen, for one, seems to discredit our traditional lycra-dominated notion of road cycling and prescribes an inclusive and fun(!) meaning for the term – cyclist.  Penn, on other hand, talks about building his dream bike, giving his readers a crash course on all the craftsmanship and work behind the best bike frames and components and why they matter.

I would consider myself a reluctant/accidental Japanophile at this point but reading Matt Alt’s “Pure Invention” led me into a pretty deep rabbit hole that influenced most of the stuff that I picked up in 2021. The last time I enjoyed a book talking about the same subject matter was W. David Marx’s “Ametora” book. You really can’t help but admire Japan’s ability to do things their way. 

My shift to the financial services industry also prompted me to take a crash course on all things payment and fintech-related. In the course of understanding how payment systems work, this led me into the fascinating world of central bank digital currencies, explained really well by China-based Richard Turrin’s “Cashless”. Ahmed Siddiqui’s “Anatomy of a Swipe” was also well-written (you’d be amazed at how much financial plumbing is involved). I actually did back-to-back readings of CoinGecko’s “How to DeFi” book series but it just left me more confused at all these crypto-based financial products (some ideas were quite novel though). Overall, I think I gave myself a proper primer. It was enough for me to develop an informed opinion on things at work. 

Financial markets went crazy, almost to the point of irrational in 2021 and Morgan Housel’s “The Psychology of Money” presented a great perspective on what it really means to deal with money matters and how to properly frame all liquidity and hype around markets last year. Speaking on the topic of Money, Felix Dennis’ “How to be Rich” was a highly recommended book for entrepreneurs and the role of wealth in the greater scheme of things (TLDR: money can’t buy everything. Youth is wealth). Meanwhile, Gary Hoover’s “The Lifetime Learner’s Guide to Reading and Learning” put all of this reading in the right perspective. 

 It was also a great year for memoirs, with Tamara Shopsin’s “Arbitrary Stupid Goal” ranking high up on my list only because reminded me of the quirky characters I encountered in New York City. Michelle Zauner’s “Crying in H Mart” was quite readable, an honest portrait of a daughter coming to terms with the death of her Korean mother using food as a platform to tell her story of loss. 

 This is my first time to do this, but here are my Top 10 books of the 2021. 

  1. Pure Invention by Matt Alt 
  2. Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin 
  3. The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel 
  4. Cashless by Richard Turrin 
  5. The Lifetime Learner’s Guide to Reading and Learning by Gary Hoover
  6. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner 
  7. Just Ride by Grant Petersen 
  8. How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis 
  9. Nomadland by Jessica Bruder 
  10. It’s All About the Bike by Robert Penn 

Gaming 

It was a relatively quiet year for gaming – a stark difference from my experience in 2020 (I stopped playing Hades though). Maybe I didn’t invest in enough discovery. A lot of non-gaming things kept me busy, too. 

I did make an effort to revisit some of my older games on the Switch, which remains to be my gaming platform of choice. I played a few hours of Animal Crossing (with all their updates) and some mindless games of Fortnite for fun. It was gaming tourism at best, with no immediate plans to come back. 

I did play a lot of Minecraft with my son. It was significant enough to get a Realms Plus subscription for a few months just to see what else we could get from the game. We started out by building a simple town in survival mode and expanded organically by building a few colonies here and there. On some days, we’d invite some of Max’s friends to play with us, but most of time it was just me and my son building stuff. 

I enjoyed this a lot. It was a great medium for father and son to bond in a pandemic. It was normal for us to talk about what we plan to do on that particular day, from resource mining, colony building and exploring. A quick glance on my Switch shows that we’ve spent approximately 235 hours of playing. That’s still a lot of gaming hours. 

But that’s pretty much it. I guess it also shows why Minecraft is such a great intergenerational game. For a lot of us, it’s our first experience of the Metaverse (especially with all these public servers). And I just love the fact that there’s no pressure to really achieve anything, just like a true sandbox game. It was $25.00 well spent. 

Travel 

A mid-year surge coupled with quarantine restrictions was enough to deter us from becoming too ambitious with travel. We often found ourselves dreaming of traveling back to New York City only to talk ourselves out of it (the mandatory ten day quarantine period reentering the PH was really a deterrent). The last time we went on trip was back in December of 2019. So technically, it’s been two years. 

A lot of people went ahead with their international travel plans in 2021. I’m really happy for them. Imagine going to a place where case counts are significantly higher yet finding ways to go about their lives. This was the case with my friends who visited the US. It gave us a glimpse of what it felt like to move on, though it did look a bit risky from afar. The prospect of walking around with no face shield made me green with envy. 

The rest of the world’s loss is my country’s tourism sector’s gain. We actually managed to get on a plane and escape our bubble twice in 2021, both in Boracay. It was worth all the trouble. 

Our trip in February was our first in almost twelve months, which goes to show that it hasn’t really been that long. It was also the kids’ first visit to Boracay since they were born. As for me and Rica, we haven’t been back in more than decade so we didn’t really know what to expect from the island that was home to a lot of memories. 

Boracay during Amihan season is great. The weather is nice and cool and the water isn’t green from the algae (is this still even a thing?). The island was also noticeably cleaner than the last time we remembered it. Duterte’s Boracay rehabilitation project is clearly at work here and I have to give credit where it is due. We stayed in station one and loved it. It had everything we needed at that very moment. Even the airport was a huge improvement. 

We enjoyed it so much that we made a promise to go back. And we did just that towards the end of the year. This time joining another family. We stayed at the Crimson Hotel, a huge complex located at Station Zero that’s relatively isolated from the rest of the island. Given that the threat of coronavirus was pretty much there, vacationing in an area with not much people helped address our concerns. 

Other than that, travel was basically limited to what was within reach. We did squeeze in a quick holiday in Anilao, Batangas and enjoyed it. It was kids’ first time to go on an island hopping trip. It was ultimately a time to give everyone a break from our pandemic habits. We needed this. 

That being said, I’m looking forward to more travel in the future. We owe it to ourselves to see the world (even the country). We do plan to take the first flight out, as soon as we feel it’s generally safe. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. It’s really time to move on. 

Hobbies 

2020 introduced cycling cycling and rekindled my relationship with the kitchen. The past year was no different, allowing me to sample a few more things that I wouldn’t normally consider in pre-”new normal” times. This pandemic has definitely changed us in so many ways. 

A hobby can be a pretty complex activity for a serial overthinker. All this sampling led me down that path, often questioning the existence of these things in the first place. Why am I doing this? What do I want to get from this? Does this make me happy? 

Hobbies have become a tactical refuge for me in 2021. It became a deliberate activity to have fun without the pressure of achieving something substantial. It became a platform to find joy and meaning in a work-like activity without the pressure of chasing secondary rewards and incentives. We do these things because it’s fun. 

You’d surprised at how much free time we actually have. It’s much more than you would think. 

Gundam 

Youtube is a weird place. All it took was one algorithmically recommended video to plant some seeds in my head. A few weeks after watching said video, I ended up buying my first Gundam model kit from Lazada, called Gunpla. 

My first Gunpla was a High Grade RX-78-2 – basically the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Gundam. I also bought a starter model building tool kit for cheap too, all I knew back then was that I needed some nippers to separate the parts from the runner. Bear in mind I had no idea what these things were called. I just needed a cutter to release the parts. The lingo just followed. 

I was pretty amazed at how this “flat” kit came together. The articulation was impressive and it also looked good. It was a fully posable robot made of plastic that came in a box, all assembled in an hour. But it wasn’t really about the end product. I really enjoyed building the whole thing. It was craft entertainment.

I wanted to make more. I tried my best to temper my newfound appetite for model kit building by limiting it to one a week, a trend that lasted for a little over three months. I built a total of 15 kits by the end of 2021. Needless to say, it was a lot. 

I eventually found a working cadence to this, having realized that a kit a week just isn’t sustainable. I progressed by starting out with a portfolio of HGs and finishing the year with my first Real Grade (RG) build. Now that I’ve reached a certain level of proficiency, I’m taking my sweet time now. I’m not as build-crazy as I was in the first month. I’ve invested in proper tools too. 

I was really surprised at how fun this hobby was. It gave me a reason to buy a toolbox again. My fingers would occasionally get nicked by sandpaper. These were all new things. 

Another interesting byproduct of this whole experiment was its proximity to anime, the same medium that inspired the model kit. I ended up learning about the multiple timelines in the Gundam media franchise, from the Universal Century to Post Disaster. Think of these things as multiverses, but the story structure is more or less the same. 

Photography 

I first encountered the Lomo camera in an old issue of Details Magazine in the late 90s. I eventually asked my friend to buy me one all the way back in 2001 from London. It was the classic L-CA, a camera that eventually led to proto-hipster movements in the mid 2000s. Back then, we went on multiple Lomo photo safaris in Manila, partied with the lomomanila community and even learned how to develop film. While this was all happening, Flickr provided us with a space to share all of our photos. It was a landmark moment in Internet communities going offline. 

This whole movement eventually waned with the advent of smartphones and on the other side of the spectrum, accessible DSLRs for enthusiasts. I went with the smartphone crowd thinking that it was good enough. This carried on for a decade. 

But my kids are growing up fast. These photos can only be as good as the latest generation of phones made by Apple and in my case, Huawei. This prompted me to consider picking up photography again. 

So much has changed since I last held a real camera. Apparently, a new type of “serious” digital camera has emerged and they’re called mirrorless cameras. These cameras are smaller and lighter than their counterparts and appears that they’re cheaper too. This is the camera du jour for people like me and a lot of models offer great picture quality while offering a point-and-shoot experience. 

My wife gifted me with a Fujifilm XT-2000 camera. It’s a camera highly recommended by a lot of vloggers (I did my research before adding this to my wishlist). It handles pretty well and I was really impressed at the photo quality. As it stands, I have no immediate plans to go deep with this camera but it did make me appreciate photography again. I can sleep soundly at night knowing that my pictures will be of a certain quality from this point onward. I’m happy that the kit lens are capable enough and that’s good enough for me. I’m pretty stoked to use this once we can freely travel again. 

Incorporation

These new hobbies approximate the same journey I went through when I picked up cycling in 2020 – marked by a short mania period followed by a more reasonable easing, turning something exciting into something more relaxed and sustainable. We only have so much time in a day and you really have to strike a balance. At this point, I’m already mindful of all my commitments. You simply can’t make room for a lot of things. With that in mind, I opted to optimize for fun and fulfillment. This also meant letting go of things. 

I  guess we all needed a distraction, something that would prompt us to log-out of zoom and do something different.  It led me to surprisingly new pathways towards things that I never imagined myself would take up (or in some cases, take up again). 

It is possible to make a hobby out of hobbies. 

Family 

After a year of living in the pandemic, the whole family has settled into their own pandemic ways. We continue to live life in the submarine that is our apartment, exploring new depths while waiting for orders to resume life in pre-pandemic conditions. The initial shock of adjustment of the lockdown was behind us, we all had to march onward. 

We are thankful for the previous year for giving us a taste of the good old days. Traveling early in the year was such a huge deal for the kids, allowing them to see beyond the bubble. Towards the end of the year, we started arranging meetups with friends and family, expanding the bubble even more. Sure it took us a while to get here, but it’s finally happening and we’re just so happy to have made it all the way to this point. 

My boys continue to evolve. Pretty fast. Oz started schooling and he seems to like all 30-minutes of it. He’s into more things now like rainbows and kitchen sets. Max, on the other hand, still continues to mash things up with his old LEGO sets and obsessing over Minecraft. As a sidenote, we finally gave them proper haircuts here at home. It was refreshing to see Oz with short hair. It suits him well. 

I’ll continue to cherish these memories with my children at home. Next thing you know, we’ll be back at work. 

As for Rica, my wife/best friend/coworker had a pretty busy year at work. I still remain in awe of the demands of her professions. I can even categorically say that she’s much, much busier than I am. Her love for BTS remains pretty strong, filling our apartment with all sorts of memorabilia, most of which end up in bed (like that pillow of V, alongside two dolls). I guess we all find different ways of coping during this period. I’m happy she found her happiness in a group of talented young men from Korea. 

It really takes a team to keep our head above water. I’d like to think that we’re thriving together. We share more than ever. It makes you think about how things will change yet again once they declare the end of this pandemic. I’d like to keep this one. 

Looking Ahead 

For what it’s worth, the pandemic has given me a new lens to examine the world. We remain lucky to have survived another year. As I type this in 2022, all I wish for is an opportunity for the whole world to thrive amidst all these “unprecedented” events. It’s going to be this way for years. Unlike 2020, we’re wiser and more capable of tackling all these things head on. This is enough reason for us to celebrate life, warts and all. 

I’ve definitely changed in the past few years and I can see myself go through multiple transformations for the rest of my life. With my pandemic-survival toolkit in tow, I’m more bullish about a better future. All these years don’t have to be incremental either and I’m really thinking about dropping some items in my portfolio of things to do. As mentioned above, I just want to optimize around happiness. 

META 

I started writing this report on January 16, 2022 while recovering from COVID-19 (next year’s report is going to be interesting). I still try to write a bit on weekdays (I just tune out completely on weekends). The shitty first draft was finished on March 11. I endorsed this to Rica in April to proofread. I added some links towards the end of May. I’ve been having some WordPress problems. I uploaded my last draft in June 1.

This is my eight year of doing this. I’m so happy I managed to keep at it. I’m occasionally surprised to see that people have actually read my annual reports. Thanks!