No doubt, there were a lot of bad things to see during this COVID-19 crisis: death counts, unemployment rates skyrocketing, face mask profiteering, and moronic pandemic spring breakers. The number of uplifting, humanitarian stories couldn’t balance out all the negative, so things in everyday life had to keep me from going full-blown miserable. Here are a few of the small things that I found amusing or made me feel good during this grim period.
Reduced Food Waste
I take food waste seriously. If something is just a little mouldy, fuzzy or brown, I cut that part off and continue to eat it. I gnaw every last strip of flesh, tendon and gristle off my bones at dinner. I have gotten into foot-stomping arguments with Mark because he’s finicky about food freshness and doesn’t like chewing on bones like a dog.
On a normal day, behind the aisles of picturesque produce at the grocer are dumpsters in the back, full of food that are perfectly edible but are slightly off. An unsightly worm-hole on a piece of fruit. A pack of croissants with a best before date that was yesterday but they still look normal. Who knows, Malaysian grocers might have to do something as extreme as toss a pack of chicken that was accidentally left in the non-halal freezer because it is now “tainted.” I don’t exactly know where undesired food goes once it leaves the supermarket shelves, but in the initial days of The Great Panic Buying Spree, absolutely nothing was spared.
Every veggie, root, and fungus was picked clean from the shelves. Although “past its prime” chicken is an issue at my local Jaya Grocer, there wasn’t a piece of poultry to be found. The meat department was fervently butchering up cuts, but they could barely keep up with rabid buyers, who were snatching up beef as soon as it was placed on the counter. Stockboys didn’t even bother to move it to the appropriate section since it disappeared so fast.
Nobody could afford to waste food when it became an ordeal to get more. Of course, all the Covidiots who bought ten packs of celery might still be committing food waste because they could never eat it all before it rots, but with the apparent boredom eating everyone is doing during the quarantine, I like to tell myself that that’s not the case.
Police Actually Doing Something
Police forces have a reputation of being notoriously good-for-nothing. Malaysian ones are no different, but the police took their new responsibilities very seriously during this pandemic. Checkpoints were set up, officers prowled neighbourhoods on motorbikes, and fines and arrests were made for doing once-mundane things like going to the kopitam and jogging. Online, there were scary stories of expats getting fined for simply not carrying their identification when going out. I was stopped by an officer, and indeed, I was not carrying my passport. However, the officer just did his due diligence of confirming my reason for being outside and reminded me of the Movement Control Order rules before sending me on my way with a bid to stay safe.
They were enforcing, not power-tripping. I do not think the police relished handing out punishments to the people. They, just like everybody else, wanted this quarantine over so they could hang out at the mamak again! Whether it was due to their presence all over the city or just a cultural difference, Malaysia never had any of those ridiculous protests that were happening in other countries where the gathered masses would complain about their freedom and then see a sharp increase in Coronavirus cases soon afterwards. The police poking their nose into our business was annoying, but it was scary enough to make most of us stay the hell inside and take this situation seriously.
Nature Reclaiming What’s Hers
All those pictures of wildlife returning in the absence of people and bodies of water magically reverting to crystal clear states without earthling grossness to pollute them. I hope it made everyone realise what a blight to this planet humans are. Everything – plants, mammals, sea life – would be better off without us.
The Swole Suntory Stud
A wickedly handsome guy with muscles from here to Ipoh was queuing in front of me in the non-halal department during The Great Panic Buying Spree. While everyone else was stocking up on deli meats, cuts of pork and – for the truly desperate – Spam, what was so urgent for this yoked Adonis that he was willing to brave the crowds, the twenty-minute checkout line and potential infection? Ten cans of Suntory beer. I fucking loved this dude, and wish I could be quarantined with him.
Cheering and merrymaking from your window or balcony was the trend that swept the globe as a way to honour front line workers, from health care professionals to grocery workers. My neighbourhood first planned such an event on March 22nd at 8:30pm for ten minutes. I didn’t know they had done so and thought a wedding was taking place somewhere nearby when I first heard all the noise.
It’s a very dense cluster of condos where I live, so I could clearly see others on their balconies, flipping their room lights on and off, and waving their phone flashlights like at a rock concert. People cheered and whistled. We joined in by banging pots and clapping rhythmically. At one point, someone began playing their saxophone, which was such an ethereal sound cutting through the dark night.
It was fun to get involved and see the people who share this space with me. I saw my neighbours in the opposite tower for the first time… and just how many apartments were empty! For once, this neighbourhood felt like a real community. After this, it was somehow silently agreed that this event would happen every night for anyone who wanted to join in. Though the number of participants dwindled as the days went on, there was always a few denizens making a ruckus between 8:30pm to 8:40pm, and everyone else just acknowledged it without making a noise complaint.
Someone out there still thought that the wheat would refuse to grow and chickens would go on strike during this pandemic and needed to be reminded that hoarding was unnecessary.
These signs grew in size and frequency around the supermarket as the days went on. It was a subtle tut of the tongue to hoarders and a reminder to them that, yes, they are being judged when they roll up to the cashier with a dozen bags of frozen peas. Perhaps this sign was an empty reassurance, but there was always lots of toilet paper on the shelves, so maybe someone got the hint.
SMS Warnings About Fake News
A powerful detriment in a crisis like this is fake news. The wrong piece of information can inspire a massive panic, or lead many to believe they are invulnerable to the virus as long as they eat a lemon while standing in the sun. Impressively, I got several SMS warnings about fake news all throughout the quarantine.
“An infamous picture showing an ATM/armored car on the road is fake news aimed at causing public concern.” (22-3 9:30pm)
“Immediate action will be taken by the MCMC and PDRM to curb fake news about the COVID-19 outbreak. Don’t spread unverified news.” (24-3 10:04pm)
“Warning: Stop the spread of fake news or you will face stern action from the PDRM and MCMC.” (29-3, 10:57am)
This was a much more effective way to disseminate information. When gathering news, you have to take the initiative to click on an article or play a video. With this method, the information was forced into our faces and we had no choice but to see it. My telco figured out that we’re all attached to our phones anyway and addicted to checking the new message notification, so blasting the information there had more effect over any boring press release, I’m sure.
The Flattening Curve
All those hard restrictions made their desired impact. Malaysia has been showing promising downward trends in the number of cases as of the end of April, which has allowed the country to begin relaxing certain rules that have been talked about for a while. On April 29th, we got our first taste: it was announced that we could now do essential shopping in pairs! A small victory, but I was giddy. No more hauling home twenty pounds of food all alone, or writing exhaustive shopping lists for Mark that would still result in the wrong brand of butter purchased.
Mark’s Dumb Face
24/7… coming out of his home office to make lunch or kiss the top of my head at random points in the day. There were literal hundreds of hours that we spent in confinement together, and I only fantasised about physically attacking him once. That’s true love.
It’s been 44 days since it was business as usual here in Malaysia but we are about to enter a “conditional” MCO where offices, restaurants and parks are permitted to open. It’s still a long ways away before we can proclaim that this pandemic is on its way out, even in this country where the future looks optimistic. You can’t do anything about the thousands of people all over the world dying, so avoid the news if you find it too depressing and enjoy what comforts you do have.
What small, silly or inane things brightened your day in these dark times?