It’s all part of History: in every drastic, life-changing, life-threatening events like wars, natural disasters, man-made catastrophes, pandemics, you name it. In every such situation, there are always nonsensical side stories and oddities running in parallel.
The sort of thing that from a technical standpoint is not necessarily worth documenting on a History book, yet it’s often registered therein in a small, separate text box, written on a lighter, quasi comedic tone.
Stuff like Nicholas Alkemade, the British WWII airman who fell 18,000 feet without a parachute and lived. Or the “Nuts” episode from the Battle of the Bulge.
Covid-19 seems to be no different.
Indeed, this is a record of some side stories and oddities from Covid-19 as observed by myself, a Macau resident who is living through this crisis – and is conceivably in need to explore the comical side of things in order to keep a distance from depression.
I. The Toilet Paper Armed Robbery
This one had to be on top of my list. It all started in Hong Kong with a rumour that toilet paper would be on short supply due to whatever unsubstantiated Covid-19 related reason that obviously nobody cared to check.
As a result, a massive panic-buying took place which ended up creating a real shortage of toilet rolls in the city. Scenes from people fighting in supermarkets for toilet paper went viral in no time. Hong Kong residents began stockpiling it like gold.
Obviously, it was just a matter of time for the surreal to transpire: two knife-wielding thieves robbed a delivery man outside a supermarket and stole hundreds of toilet rolls worth over HKD$ 1000. That’s approximately USD$ 130 — not much money. But in any case the thieves were duly arrested by the police and probably going to jail. For stealing toilet paper.
Thank God this only happened in Hong Kong. Here in Macau we can still go to the loo with confidence.
II. The Metaphorless Money Laundering Scheme
The name sounds sophisticated, but you need not be a lawyer or finance guru to understand this scheme.
As the Covid-19 virus continues to cause havoc to China, the country’s central bank has implemented a new strategy to contain the virus – deep cleaning and destroying potentially infected cash. Chinese banks must now literally launder their cash, disinfecting it with UV light and high temperatures, then storing it for 7 to 14 days before releasing it to customers.
Some health experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of this measure though. Maintaining good hand hygiene is still the best way to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus, they say.
So nothing new here: if you are involved with dirty money, make sure you wash your hands properly.
III – The Eyelash and Fingernail Decay
On February 4th 2020, Macau SAR Government ordered the closure of all casinos for 15 days as a way to contain the spreading of Covid-19 — big news that sent shockwaves in the gaming and finance industry around the world.
What went somehow unnoticed by the international press was that the same order from the Chief Executive also included a whole bunch of other businesses instructed to close: cinemas, theaters, indoor playgrounds, arcades, cybercafes, snooker, bowling, sauna and massage parlours, gyms, health club, karaokes, bars, night clubs, cabarets, discos.
And, last but not least, beauty salons.
If you happen to live in Asia, especially in Macau or Hong Kong, you probably know the importance of beauty salons. It’s where the lovely ladies apply those fake, long eyelash extensions and get their highly elaborate fingernails painted with detail artistry.
Having no beauty salons means that, all of a sudden, half-painted growing fingernails lacking maintenance became abundant in the city. Same with the eyelashes that are falling off their eyes like some sort of disease.
Eyes are the window of the soul. All of a sudden your familiar faces look somehow different and you scratch your head wondering why, until you realize the issue.
It’s quite funny actually. But ladies are not enjoying I guess.
IV – The Duly Wasted 15 Minutes of Fame
Everybody is wearing a face mask for protection nowadays. In all occasions, even when you go to church — the priest celebrating mass is wearing a face mask. The only time you see people without a mask is in the restaurants, for obvious reasons.
Not even Andy Warhol could predict this. I feel sorry for the people who are getting their 15 Minutes of Fame at this time of Humanity.
They are still covered by the media as usual: you see them on TV, you see their photos in social media and newspapers. But all they show is their eyes. And a mask.
This gentleman here, for example. He’s a researcher from Hong Kong’s PolyU that developed a diagnostic system to help identify up to 40 types of bacteria or viruses causing respiratory infections. Quite a thing to help fight Covid-19. That’s perhaps his lifetime career achievement.
And all you get to see is his eyes. That’s the exposure he gets and that’s his wasted 15 Minutes of Fame. How unfair.
V – The Small Annoyance
Then there are these inconveniences caused by Covid-19 that make your life that little bit more frustrating.
i. Face Recognition Failure
The iPhone’s face recognition doesn’t work when you are wearing a mask. I’m sick and tired of having to type my passcode to unlock my phone. I wish I had an iPhone 8 with fingerprint activation. Same with my Surface Pro.
ii. Constantly Fogging-up Your Eyeglasses
The result of having your face mask on. You have to control your breath or you can go blind. And to make it more challenging, it happens when you are talking to people.
iii. Who Are You? Oh, It’s You.
With everybody wearing a face mask, it’s not that you will always recognize people. This is no different from wearing a burqa.
iv. Revised Greeting Rule
No more hand shaking and no cheek kissing for us Portuguese. I greet people either with a nod or with the open hand / fist, kung fu style salute. But some people just don’t get it and insist on shaking my hand – and I insist on refusing. It’s embarrassing.
v. Dry Hand
I lost count on how many times a day I get my hands disinfected with alcohol and have them washed with soap for 20 seconds, following the recommendations of World Health Organization. My hands are dry and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Before closing out on this post, I recall this one from the 2003 SARS outbreak: the Hong Kong Tourism Board was running a worldwide ad campaign with the slogan “Hong Kong Will Take Your Breath Away“.
Well, it so happened that shortness of breath was a symptom of SARS.
Before you say What were they thinking?, the ad was actually commissioned before the outbreak. So it was just a case of bad timing — and irony showing his hand.
Not much. Covid-19 is a serious threat, people are losing their lives, our lives are being affected and economies are being torn apart. Nobody is enjoying this and this was obviously not meant to be a disrespectful entry.
But sometimes in life you just need to have a laugh, whatever the case.
And life goes on.