I’m shocked by how desperate I want things to go back to “normal.” I didn’t know I would miss the weekly family dinners and hotpot gatherings this much.
Ninety nine percent of my social media feed is filled with the latest coronavirus news and memes. All emails end with something virus-related. “Let’s meet when the virus goes away!”; “With the virus right now…”; “The virus and all that has been happening…” — before the virus, from last June to last December, almost no one addressed the protests (another equally disrupting and upsetting news event) openly in work correspondences.
I was 12 years old when the city was hit by SARS. It was all a blur. The only things that stood out were the long holidays and having to fill out a daily temperature record sheet. This time ‘round, I want to remember.
Almost everyone I know is panicking about the coronavirus in some way. I think it has to do with the trauma of SARS. People had tried to race past it, but the coronavirus is bringing everyone right back. The rising death count on TV. The mass infection at Amoy Gardens, a typical Hong Kong housing estate. The realization of how vulnerable we really are.
Even my grandmother, who loved having us over, is telling us not to go visit her. Friends are frantically sharing news of shop closures and paramedic sightings, as well as mapping possible areas that confirmed patients have visited.
I’ve gone to all the nearby pharmacies in search of face masks, panic-cleaned the entire apartment with bleach, run up to strangers asking WHERE DID YOU BUY THAT TOILET PAPER, and bought so many eggs and canned food. I am planning my outings more strategically so as not to waste our mask supply.
Every time I catch up on the latest coronavirus news, my throat gets itchy, my head hurts and I freak out over whether I’ve caught the virus. My friend dreamed that she was the 25th confirmed case but the hospital threw her out because the wards were full. I dreamed that the government issued a lockdown on Tsuen Wan. Three men wearing hazmat suits barged into my home and burned everything down.
You learn intimate things about people you see every day. Things you thought you’d have known by now. “Why would anyone advise against wearing masks?” A colleague asked. “I wonder what they would say instead, if like me, they lost their mom to SARS.”
My boyfriend is still going to work and his face is breaking out from the prolonged face mask-wearing. His hair is too long because he needed a haircut, like, three weeks ago. Another friend is slowly leaning towards face mask-wearing. He says they single out his eyes, which are his best features.
After the initial days of panic, I was able to focus more on the unexpected joys. Like the Korean drama that I turned out to really like and never would have watched if not for the spare time (Crash Landing on You is funny, y’all). Playing online games with friends all day long, which is reminiscent of high school days. And, best of all, the hilarious Zoom meetings stories.
A professor asks everyone to turn on their front-facing camera. A young man, thinking he has muted his microphone, bawls “Uggghhh why are we doing this agaaaaaain uh” to the whole class.
While it’s sad that I can’t meet some of my friends and relatives during the outbreak, what I’m getting from them instead is equally special: hand-written cards by mail. I’ve read them so many times already.