By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The coronavirus changed the entire human culture overnight, in some cases for the better … and in others, for the worse.
I had never questioned our family-style eating habits before. Now I do. Sharing food fosters the closeness of family members. There is joy in sharing food. When I was a child, my family never had a serving spoon on the dining table. Everyone chopsticked in the same plate of meat or vegetables. Sometimes, our family even dipped their spoons in the same soup bowl. Looking back, I felt how lucky we were that every kid in our family has grown to adulthood without major health issues. But that’s how many families eat in Asia. Later, when I visited my mother and aunt in Hong Kong, they all put a couple of serving spoons on the table.
SARS changed Hong Kong restaurants in 2003. Most restaurants place a serving spoon and two sets of chopsticks, one set black and another set white, for every guest. So we don’t forget which chopsticks you eat with, and which one you should use when picking food from the shared plates on the table. And you never need to be afraid of touching a serving spoon, also touched by other people because you have yours.
It is no surprise that Hong Kong, a densely-populated city of 7 million people, has only four coronavirus deaths, and fewer infections in the past two weeks. Well, you can also attribute the speedy actions of citizens wearing masks, and the government’s capacity in providing testing, as well as tracking where the virus spread.
America’s Chinese restaurants provide customers serving spoons, but not enough for every guest to have its own. In family-style dining, not everyone plays by the rules. I have seen friends getting impatient, and forget to use the serving tools during group dinners.
Social distancing applies not just in how we work, but how we live and eat. It is not unusual that the virus can spread among couples, siblings to parents, and vice versa. A close-to-home case is wife and husband, Ida and Robert Mar, owners of Kona Kitchen, who both died of COVID-19 within two days of each other. And Costco employee Regina Lee, who lived with her sister and mom, all three died from the coronavirus. One reason why Italy has exploded in COVID-19 deaths and infections is because Italians have close-knit families and generations living together, and the spread is severe among family members.
The coronavirus has taught us new necessities. The virus is extremely contagious, and I am in the vulnerable age group. When my husband and I dine together, we make sure to have two sets of serving spoons and chopsticks.
In the kitchen, we each have our own washcloth and hand towel. This practice shouldn’t be just during the pandemic. It should be implemented as a permanent solution to protect the health of other family members. Ideally, a husband and wife should also use separate bathrooms. During the pandemic, every household has few visitors due to social distancing. This would allow family members to use the guest restroom to prevent the virus from spreading.
Not all families have the luxury of separate bathrooms. Make sure you drop some disinfectant in your sink and toilet after different members use it.
Dirty cell phones
My cell phone was dirty in the past. It never occurred to me that I should clean it. If there is any positivity that comes from the coronavirus, this is one of them.
It never crossed my mind that I should clean my iPad or the television remote control. And I didn’t wash my hands often during the day. I never wiped door knobs or our water faucets. Just because I don’t see the dirt doesn’t mean it isn’t dirty, and requires cleaning.
I never washed my hands when I came home after work. Now, health professionals teach us to wash our hands when you get home because the virus might have landed on your hands while you were out.
Self-efficient and sufficient
Coronavirus has forced us to change our routines and be more self-sufficient. Chores where I usually ask for help, now fall on my own shoulders. I discovered that I can do a lot more than I realize. We learn to be self-reliant and confident that we can do it.
Perhaps my biggest satisfaction is fixing my glasses. Being a non-essential business, opticians have closed. A screw disappeared from the hinge of my glasses.
I borrowed my husband’s tool box and used one of the smallest screwdrivers to replace the screw with one from my old set of glasses. I never knew why I saved all my old glasses. Now, it has come in handy. For the first time, I noticed differences in the screw colors, metal, and size on the hinges. It’s hard even to place the screw inside the hole as the screw was too tiny. I found one pair of glasses that matched the size of the screw, but not the color. It doesn’t matter since no one is going to look at my glasses with a magnifying glass.
I miss going to my hairstylist for a haircut or going to my piano teacher for lessons. I enjoy talking to them. As my hair was getting long, I took a pair of regular scissors and cut them. Doesn’t matter that I had never cut my own hair before! I am not looking for perfection, the key is to get it done. This week, I am going to cut the upper layer of my hair. It’s easier if I cut it one layer at a time.
No handshakes is my favorite new normal. You have no way of knowing if the person you are shaking hands with might carry all kinds of germs and viruses. I was never comfortable greeting other people with a handshake. But being a business owner myself, I didn’t have any choice. Now, the elbow bump actually makes more sense healthwise, and I embrace it.
If your dirty hands touch your face, you are doomed. By the way, I love touching my face. Don’t all women? Now, I have to remind myself, hands off from my face or any other parts of the body. NBC News suggests that you can use tissues instead of your hand. My skin itches all the time because it’s dry. Spraying distilled water over my face is another way to stop the itchiness.
Because we emphasize cleaning and sanitizing all the time during the pandemic, we tend to overuse tissues and paper towels.
We use as many as 20 paper towels a day. It’s convenient, but wasteful and creates a lot of garbage. That’s when we decided that each of us should have our own hand towel and washcloth to wipe as much as we want. And we change our towels and washcloth every day.
One way to use paper towels is not to use the whole piece. Then, we split them into halves. Now, I use about 5 sheets of paper towels a day instead of 20.
Choosing your neighborhood
My husband and I didn’t know if we had made the right choice to move into the Chinatown-International District (ID). The pandemic affirmed our decision.
At the time, our relatives and friends, including our sons, doubted our choice, because the ID has the image of being unsafe. Its air quality is now the worst in Seattle.
No one could predict a global pandemic and a shutdown. We are grateful that we live right in the community that we don’t need to drive, take the bus, or take the subway. It is a blessing that the ID consists of more than 10 supermarkets, big and small, and hundreds of restaurants. These businesses provide numerous job opportunities.
It took my friend who lives in Arcadia, California more than one-and-a-half hours to go grocery shopping in the morning, even though 7-8 a.m. is designated for seniors. By the time it’s his turn to go inside the store, all eggs and milk were sold out.
Another friend in Toronto, who lives a couple of miles from supermarkets, said online grocery delivery is a three-week wait. She and her husband have been locked down since March 17, and her niece is the only one bringing them groceries.
Those situations would stress me out because I have to depend on others for my basic needs. It would drive me crazy if I don’t have an egg for my breakfast. Residing in Chinatown for close to two decades enables us to buy our own food and work in the same neighborhood, to publish Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post on time, rain or snow, virus or other emergencies. I thought COVID-19 would disrupt our publishing schedule, but it hasn’t.
During the stay-at-home era, we walk to buy food. A few friends tried to stop us to chat. Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I reminded them to social distance or bid goodbye immediately. I apologize to all those who long for human contact. The truth is, I’d like to chat, but not right now.
We appreciate the chance to exercise and get out of our home. I feel wonderful to be able to support businesses with my tax dollars where we live and work.
I am not telling you where to live. But if you have been grumbling about your neighborhood due to COVID-19, maybe it’s time you think about your options. Pick a neighborhood which will suit your needs and lifestyle.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COVID lessons learned
From Eugene C. Lai, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Washington alumnus and Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience
Houston Methodist Neurological Institute Houston, Texas
(As of press time, the City of Houston has reported 50 deaths from COVID-19)
1. COVID-19 is very dangerous because it is highly contagious by droplet spread. It can take up to 2 weeks after infection before symptoms appear, it can be spread to other people by an asymptomatic patient, and it can survive on contaminated surfaces for up to a week or more.
2. There is no proven effective therapy at the present moment to treat COVID-19. Do not believe false information about a treatment or cure. Get reliable information about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control, American Medical Association, or the National Institute of Health. The best ways to prevent infection are washing hands often, keeping a distance (6 feet) from another person, avoiding social gatherings, and wearing a mask in public.
3. Infected people can have mild symptoms (only fever and coughing for a few days), or moderate symptoms (fever and coughing for a week or more, plus short-of-breath and excessive fatigue), or severe symptoms (including unable to breathe on one’s own). Elderly people with hypertension, obesity, and diabetes, and especially if they have concomitant heart or lung disorders are at a much higher risk for severe symptoms. People with immunological disorder or taking immunosuppressants are at high risk at any age.