By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Last week, a rare lunch invitation showed up in my email. It was like a bright light on a gloomy day. During the coronavirus pandemic, every community event on my calendar got canceled. But before I said yes, there were unsettling concerns…
Should I go or not? Of course, I should. It’s a farewell lunch in a restaurant with only three other people. Honestly, I have missed dining out with friends and family since the lockdown. It has been five months since I stepped foot in a restaurant for a sit-down meal.
I am a foodie. As a journalist, what better topics to write about than interesting food in exotic places. Before COVID-19, it was part of my ritual to dine out at least once or twice, and sometimes as much as four times a week, including attending events. My last restaurant dining experience was March 8. Do the math. Holy Moses! I have lost 80+ opportunities for fancy meals and fascinating conversations.
According to health tips, places like crowded indoor restaurant dining, bars, and nightclubs, gyms and athletic studios, amusement parks, and high contact sports with shared equipment (football/basketball), conferences and large religious and cultural gatherings, music concerts or places where people are singing or shouting, are high risk areas for spreading COVID-19.
My husband and I have been staying home a lot. We do takeout only once in a while, but I have treated friends on their birthdays with takeout. We jump out of restaurants like lightning. Sorry, we are in the high-risk age group for COVID-19 and are careful to protect ourselves. I don’t use credit cards for takeout either because I will have to linger longer in a restaurant. The exact amount with tips is what we hand to the restaurants in a small bag. We don’t want any change back.
The goal is to avoid human contact as much as possible.
However, shouldn’t I experience what it’s like to dine out during the pandemic?
Perhaps, another blog topic! I am curious how a restaurant prepares for in-house dining.
Should I wear a mask when I talk with my host or not during our lunch? We must. When we talk or sing, droplets are released from our mouths, and that’s how the disease spreads. COVID-19 is airborne. Even if other guests mind, I have to suggest to them that wearing masks, though inconvenient, would be safest for all of us.
Am I rude if I wear a special mask with a hole in the center to allow me to eat, and then seal it back when I stop eating? There is such a mask, I have seen it on YouTube. Picture it, it’s hilarious. But would it slow down my eating or cause too much trouble? Would I annoy other guests if everyone finishes eating, while I am still munching? Hmm, I guess it depends on the host.
Would it look odd if I brought along my own hand sanitizer and wiped my plate and silverware at the table? Should I have my own napkins, too? If I use the restaurant’s napkin, I prefer to have paper napkins than a cloth one, which is more hygienic.
This time, I won’t be sharing food with other people, like I used to. I would just order my own plate of food. The server is supposed to wear gloves. If he or she doesn’t, should I refuse to eat or bring a pair of gloves for him or her? I know, I am being paranoid. But who can blame me in these strange circumstances?
COVID-19 has turned some of us to be anti-social. Hugs are a no-no now. While I am outside, I am pretty conscious about social distancing. When I meet friends in public, I am quick to warn them, “You are too close.” It might rub some folks the wrong way if I have to constantly remind them, “Pals, social distancing! Please.”
While chatting, most people tend to forget and lean forward. What should I do?
I often say it with a smile. Wish they could see my smiling face without make-up! And absolutely no lipstick as it can smear my mask. Why bother to make my face pretty? No one can see it.
Most of the people are aware that it is risky to shake hands. Elbow bumps are fun.
I have not encountered anyone objecting to it or disliking it. My real issue is with public restrooms. I am scared to go into any public restrooms, period. What’s the solution? Don’t drink too much liquid before and during lunch, I assume. It doesn’t sound crazy to bring your own sanitizers and wipes, according to stories in the mainstream media. Cover the toilet with a lid when you flush. Get out of there when it’s flushing. That explosive loud noise could mean all the germs and viruses are flying in the air.
In these unusual times, little things like going out to eat or getting a haircut bring me unexpected joy. We have taken all the pre-COVID-19 routines for granted. This lunch would be like an adventure to me. I would remember it for a long time. So much of my celebrations were tied to restaurants, big and small, formal and informal, intimate and casual. Thousands of amazing dining memories can’t be captured fully in words and pictures. Wish I had taken more photos during my past restaurants’ experiences. Thank you for the memories.
There were 660,000 restaurants in America before the pandemic. In Washington state, there are over 15,000 restaurants. Sad to say, many of these restaurants would not survive after the shutdown. The majority of the Asian restaurants are not big enough for social distancing. They can only do takeout. How can they survive if they can only rely on takeout? How can they make enough money if they can only reopen at 25 or 50% capacity?
“I don’t make any money at all with takeout,” Chinatown International District restaurateur Leo Chan said. “But I don’t want to lay off any of my kitchen staff (over 10). They need the job and money. This is what I think to keep me going: I am in the business not for making money. If I am not losing money, I am a winner.”
Restaurants are the backbone of our economy. The Asian community’s No. 1 industry is food, groceries, and restaurants. They provide not only a large number of jobs, but varieties of jobs for all age groups and different skills. Restaurant jobs have lifted up many families, immigrants, and refugees. Who could imagine some of the CID waiters advertising properties for rent in the Seattle Chinese Post? One waitress proudly told me she owns three houses. It’s the American Dream. If you work hard and save, wonders can happen. I am also grateful that waitressing helped pay for my college. Although I received tuition scholarships for my junior and senior year, I still needed money to live. So do thousands of Americans who work in restaurants to support themselves so they can pursue another career like acting and creating art.
Asian restaurants’ consistent support for the Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post, through display to classified advertisements, is the reason why we have survived for 38 years. The demise of Asian restaurants has triggered a ripple effect for us and many families. Losing them will be detrimental, not only to the community, but to us, too.
Our deepest appreciation to all the Asian restaurants, the key fabric of our community, which have suffered most during COVID-19! Thank you for your contributions, and I am proud to say that as of this printing SCIDpda said no businesses in the CID have permanently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.