The retrospective: Newsletters #1-15

I’m doing this because two years is now considered “forever” on the internet. (Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash)

Xin chào! Welcome to Semi-Online #16 – or a retrospective on my prior newsletters.

That’s right — I’ve released that many in almost two years despite my erratic newsletter writing. Never mind that four are outright fillers; the total’s impressive given my circumstances (and everyone’s super-short attention spans).

So I’m reviewing these past issues and seeing what has changed, what hasn’t, and what should. Two years is a blip offline and an eternity online, so I know there’s lots to point out and clarify now (and maybe set aside for future updates).

Thank you very much for staying and reading, and I hope you keep doing those as I try to write more and grow this weird thing. If you have any suggestions on my next topics, please let me know!

Straying from my roots

I remember this first newsletter in 2021 the same way I remember my old articles and diaries: with a fair amount of cringing and laughter 🤣️

At the time, some friends were starting their own newsletters (on Substack) and treating them like blogs. I wanted to do the same thing, but on a website I own and run. I didn’t want to fall victim to digital sharecropping and censorship, and I could also use this newsletter to upskill. Plus I was so tired of ‘social’ media and needed a break. Let me speak and be heard for once, you know, all that angst.

Some of what I wrote in 2021 has stayed as is. This newsletter is still free to access, and I still decide what goes live. But as I explained in newsletter #13, I’ve renamed it Semi-Online to reflect the reality of this older millennial.

Streaming on

Newsletter #2 covered online streaming and what the situation is in the Philippines. Out of everything in this retrospective, I think this has the most postscripts.

One out, one in

My beloved Discovery+ shut down its Philippines operations in April 2023. (Farewell, Deadliest Catch, Guy Fieri, and all the “guilty pleasure” cooking and aliens-are-here shows!) I can access Discovery shows via Amazon Prime Video, but I have to pay more per show (in US$) aside from the monthly Prime Video subscription fee.

As Discovery+ closed (most likely due to the US HQ’s merger-related restructuring, layoffs, and tax write-offs), a major player arrived in October 2022: Disney+. The higher-ups want more money, and they can’t afford to ignore us ‘lowly’ peso spenders anymore.

Oooooh boy, does it have plenty of content from multiple subsidiaries and partners (a.k.a. those who sold their souls to the House of Mouse)! This Marvel Studios, Pixar, and National Geographic fan is quite happy right now.

But we still don’t get full archives or everything the Western markets do. See, this is exactly why people use VPNs… or just 🏴‍☠️️pirate🏴‍☠️️ popular media. Offer everything, greedy media overlords!

Fees are up and down

Last February 2023, Netflix cut its monthly Basic and Standard fees in the Philippines. That got my attention because the global trend is for streamers to raise prices.

I didn’t notice Amazon doing the same thing and slashing its fees to ₱149/month. But there’s a catch: this rate is valid only up to December 2023.

Spotify and YouTube are also bucking the price-hike trend for now. But I dread the day they stop doing that. I use these two streamers every day, and I think they’re worth paying for. (Then again, they’re also the most obnoxious when it comes to ad bombardment for free accounts.)

Meanwhile, Apple jacked up its prices for TV+, One, and Music — which made me cancel ASAP 🖕️

The biggies and smalls are streaming now

Two years ago, I was so happy to see Trese representing us to an international audience.

In 2023, I’m equally happy to see more of us, as in Filipinos in the Philippines (not just the Filipinxs and Pinxys), shown online. That’s because more Filipino production/entertainment companies got into streaming for both profit and survival.

ABS-CBN charged online after losing its national broadcast franchise, to our delight and the Duterte administration’s anger. For streaming, viewers now go to its YouTube channel as well as partners like Netflix to watch new local series like Maria Clara at Ibarra.

Legacy producers like Regal Entertainment and VIVA Films plus TV channels such as Cinema One also put up many of their recent and classic films on their official YouTube channels. A sample: Regal posted eight of the late Cherie Gil’s best movies online. If you’re a Cherie Gil fan, you’re welcome.

Some of the new streaming entrants carved out their own niches (for better or worse). For example: do you want racy films bordering on soft porn that aren’t shown in Filipino cinemas? Go to Vivamax. I’m not sure if you’ll thank me later.

YouTube also became a must for smaller/indie players. Even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, TBA Studios was publishing its full-length features on its channel. Gems such as Women of the Weeping River, Heneral Luna, and Smaller and Smaller Circles remain free to watch today.

Occasionally, the filmmakers themselves break their creations out to us. Good examples include Kip Oebanda (who made his film Liway watchable on YouTube for free) and the legendary Mike de Leon (who screens his and others’ films on Vimeo).

Global goes local

As our filmmakers reach a worldwide audience, the worldwide bigwigs are coming right to us.

Top streamers like Netflix and Amazon are stocking up on Filipino-made content — and content made outside the United States and Europe. Well, most of the focus now is on Korean entertainment, but I think this is a good start 🙃️

These articles from The Hollywood Reporter say that Hollywood shifted our way because it needs to expand elsewhere and boost subscriber rates; and that the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes are also putting pressure on it to source more content.

Hey, if it gives the Global South more opportunities and makes more Western audiences read subtitles, I’m all for it.

Newsletters and the newslettering business

Newsletters #3 and #9 are about reading, writing, and publishing newsletters in the Philippines. A few things have changed since I wrote them.

Reading them

I used to get my daily news from social media. Now, I read more newsletters. That’s great for my brain, but bad for my inbox 😳️

So I shifted all my email subscriptions to Stoop. Combined with Feedly for RSS feeds (yassss I’m a dinosaur), I’ve corraled all my preferred content into just two free services.

And I highly recommend these ‘new’ newsletters (new to me, anyway) 🥇️

  • The Unpublishable. Great writing about the US beauty industry and global beauty hypocrisies from beauty journalist Jessica DeFino.
  • Friendly Atheist. A long-running blog-turned-newsletter on atheism, organized religion, and US politics.
  • Exploding Giraffe. Brian K. Vaughan’s Substack contains updates on his book and TV projects, as well as new issues of his current graphic series Spectators.

Here are a few more authors with popular newsletters: Margaret Atwood, Etgar Keret, Chuck Palahniuk, Maria Popova, and Ann Friedman.

  • SatPost. Trung Phan’s newsletters are always informative, concise, and factual.
  • Rest of World. Your first stop for journalism that isn’t Global North-centric.
  • Sari Botton’s newsletters Oldster Magazine and Memoir Land give me essays on growing older/wiser and others’ interesting narratives.

Publishing them

I’m running Semi-Online a bit differently as well. I now use Newsletter Glue + Mailchimp to send out my issues, including this one you’re hopefully still reading.

However, I’m looking for a more affordable alternative to Newsletter Glue. I super love its tight WordPress integration. But it’s too expensive, especially during a worldwide recession and our “Grand Theft Marcos” times.

And I’ve changed my web hosting service! I used HostGator for more than a decade. But it kept raising prices and became too expensive + my websites were conking out more often. So I switched to Hostinger, and everything’s good so far for both my uptime and my wallet.

Earning from them?

Semi-Online remains free to read. However, I’ve been thinking of ways to monetize it and grow my subscriber list with my limited resources. I do know I gotta be aggressive with self-promotion first because I gloriously suck at it.

Timing and target market could also be tricky for me. In the US, the free and paid newsletter bubble seems to have burst. But it hasn’t even become a ‘thing’ here yet.

Sure, many Filipino writers have Substacks. However, blogs continue to reign for written content; and the only way to succeed at that is to do ads, offer advertorial packages, and play nice with PR and marketing firms for gatekeeping and free crap. That means it’s all about product placement and reviews; there’s little to no investigative journalism or bias-free industry analyses. And few of our writers have stuck with their free/indie newsletters long enough to monetize them.

Oh, and Substack and other platforms don’t support PayPal or Wise until now. Why am I specifically asking for these two payment platforms? Because we can’t monetize through Stripe because Stripe keeps ignoring the Philippines.

My newsletter wishlist remains mostly the same. Aside from more payment options, I want custom pricing, better newsletter importing and exporting tools, and improved UIs.

I also wish Filipino readers actually start paying for great online content and respecting professional writers and their work instead of thinking that writing is easy and that all online content should always be free.

I ain’t movin’

Newsletter #4 is about me getting back on a (literal) treadmill while battling Superior Semicircular Canal Dehiscence (SSCD), an invisible hearing and balance disability.

I didn’t last long.

My SSCD symptoms have become more frequent, intense, and debilitating over the past year. So I stopped using my folding treadmill; as I type this, it’s stowed under my bed like a forgotten childhood monster 🙃️ But I keep wearing my smartwatch to monitor my heartbeat and sleeping patterns.

The modern fitness industry remains how I ‘left’ it: heavily dependent on technology and social media trends. People want to quantify everything, ‘influencers’ want to ‘influence’ in the worst ways, and brands want to take over our souls.

Although I’m surprised that folding treadmills and walking pads are now a big thing on TikTok. I’m not selling mine because I want to resume walking soon. But I find it funny that I was ahead of this particular curve:

Good reads:

“Behold the Rise of the Walking Pad”, Slate
“The Cosy Cardio Club: The TikTok Trend That’s Making Working Out Fun Again”, Refinery29

And I can’t believe I’ve bought into the overpriced water bottle craze. But if it helps me drink more water daily, so be it. (I’m a Stanley girl, BTW.)

Another good read: “How Stanley, the Thermos for Tough Guys, Became the TikTok Obsession of Millennial Women”, Bon Appetit

Party of one

I talked about moving out in newsletter #7. A year+ later, I’ve settled in, although I also know I won’t stay where I am forever.

Here are three of my biggest takeaways:

  1. Living in an old building means constant repairs + damages and complaints stemming from the other apartments (and inconsiderate/delinquent neighbors). My ongoing sagas involving my upstairs and next-door neighbors require a separate newsletter. 🤦‍♀️️
  2. Somehow, living alone is more expensive. I’ve seen this before in budget travel/backpacking, where prices are always for two or more people (and solo travelers always pay a premium, which defeats the purpose of backpacking). But the high costs of living in the Philippines today occasionally make me wish I had someone to defray them with.
  3. Independence is expensive and exhausting – especially if you’re physically leaving an abusive family and environment. Having the moral high ground feels great. But keeping yourself fed, clothed, debt-free, and healthy can be separate wars you could lose sometimes.

Doc’s staying online

Newsletter #10 is all about Philippine telemedicine. Like everything in this retrospective, I have some updates on that.

I received my third COVID-19 vaccine booster (and fifth shot overall) several months ago. Apparently, we need our 5G updates once a year 🙄️ But the vaccine supply in the Philippines is dwindling (or being utterly wasted), and the current government doesn’t seem to be upping vaccination or booster drives.

I guess Top 1 and 2 are too busy squandering the people’s money on F1 races and confidential funds (among other things). 🤦‍♀️️

The industry landscape has shifted, too:

  • Three telemedicine providers – KonsultaMD, AIDE, and HealthNow – were merged into KonsultaMD.
  • More new players came in, including mWell (owned by Metro Pacific; it currently has a partnership with sister company PLDT).
  • More telemedicine providers are now targeting both the general population and corporates (that’s for a future newsletter!).

Filipino doctors have kept their bad habits, though. For example, my cardiologist is sticking to online consultations; his hospital clinics remain closed. Either way, he keeps being late for his appointments. And my ENT remains tactless and sarcastic, which means she’s now my ex-ENT.

Lastly, on a recent visit to my city hospital, I saw more people waiting outside the clinics. Which makes me wonder if this is why more telemedicine providers are offering more discounted or free in-app services… 🤔️

Work: Retrospective and prospective

I said in newsletter #12 that I was returning to the workforce. But the search has been tough going.

Recurring SSCD episodes mean I’m not as work-ready as I want and need to be. This also limits the number and type of opportunities I can go after.

In the Philippines, white-collar work (and all of its associated problems) is back to pre-COVID levels. People are in the office again, reporting to micromanagers who loathed not having total control over their employees during the lockdowns and work-from-home orders 😝 This mass return to offices also explains why Metro Manila traffic is back to its hellish ways, only with much higher rent and gasoline prices + way more undisciplined drivers and riders.

I wish there was a study on how many white-collar Filipinos have resigned (and/or chosen permanent WFH arrangements) since 2020 + how many returned to the ‘old ways’ by choice. If there is an existing or ongoing study, please let me know! 😁️

As for freelance work, job-related online scams are on the rise. These scams can range from online fraud/theft to human trafficking.

And despite the recent nationwide SIM registration directive, nameless fraudsters continue to have access to our numbers and private information, and use chat apps like WhatsApp to spam and scam us. It’s fairly easy to spot them if you’ve been in the freelance industry long enough and practice due diligence. But there were instances when I almost ignored actual inquiries from honest people/companies because they came off as scammers.

Here’s a small sample of the scammy WhatsApp messages I’ve received since April 2023:

Overall, finding legitimate part-time jobs with fair pay, fair terms, and basic accommodations for disabilities has been trickier than ever. Rising living costs, small local salaries, increasing competition, and scammers and traffickers preying on newcomers can all be as daunting as the job search itself.

Again, all that’s for another newsletter. 😥️

Friends no more?

In my 14th newsletter, I went into friendships — and, using a retrospective view here too, knowing when to leave bad friends behind.

I wrote it fairly recently and I’m not yet done ditching bad people, so little has changed as of now. But more of my friends also did their own ‘culling’, offline and online. Those who haven’t yet are considering it. And one person actually unsubscribed from Semi-Online after reading what I wrote (twice) 😆️ I’m not mad, and we remain friends IRL.

I also learned that a fellow writer and close friend who died several months ago kept some big secrets. One of those was that the name we knew him by wasn’t his real name. We could call it a pen name or literary name, but this alias was also why our other friends couldn’t find any obituaries for him.

In yet another possible future newsletter, this makes me think about the following:

  1. How well do I really know my remaining friends?
  2. Re: my late friend – I told our writer friends that I didn’t care what his birth name was. But if your own friends went by false names (and weren’t harming anyone by that), would you be comfortable with it – and all their potential falsehoods you might never know about?

In retrospect, some people are just horrible

I said in my 15th newsletter that I began talk therapy to help me process several long-term life issues.

I’ve learned since then that therapy is indeed a long game. But it also hinges on these factors:

  1. Finding an experienced, mindful, and kind therapist who’s well-suited for me and open to my input too,
  2. Advocating for myself whenever necessary,
  3. Recognizing when the therapist and safe space I paid for are no longer helpful and/or safe, and
  4. Having the strength and money to start over with someone else.

I was trying to be upbeat in that newsletter. And in the beginning, therapy was going great. But over time and after much thought, I realized my (now ex-)therapist and I weren’t a good fit. I was already telling her what I wanted and needed, but she had other ideas and strategies she kept forcing on me. And because I called her out on that, she became passive-aggressive (and outright hostile at times) in our last session and used tactics I first saw in my own abusers.

So I fired her – and escalated the matter to her superiors.

A director at the Ateneo Bulatao Center told me that he’d conduct an investigation, and I made my own session notes available to him. But I highly doubt anything good will come out of this. They will always protect their own.

What I do know is that my ex-therapist shouldn’t have a license to practice in the first place. And if you’re like me (suffering from decades of verbal and emotional abuse, and needing tailored solutions), do not seek help from a university-affiliated organization that primarily trains inexperienced therapists through textbook strategies! You’re just asking for trouble, my guinea-pig friend.

I do plan to return to talk therapy in the future. But it must be with more knowledgeable and credible professionals who can quickly adjust to what I want and need. Hiring anyone who falls short of those criteria would be a severe disservice to myself.

Heyyy 👋

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