The New Normal

And so the Novel Corona Virus or what some has chosen to call the Wuhan Acute Respiratory Syndrome (WARS) has taken stage since the Year of the Rat, actually even before that, dominating the lives of everyone in Hong Kong. Whereas rioters created nuisance, obstructed roads and traffic and created chaos and destruction wherever they went, they were at least visible, indeed highly visible, often predictable, sometimes comical and would even follow a pre-announced schedule, this virus can be literally everywhere, invisible, somewhat airborne, highly unpredictable, contagious and potentially lethal.  This little over populated city came to a standstill with almost everyone donning face masks wherever he or she was. The Government has asked civil servants to work at home, first for ten days and now extended for another week till 16 February. Other major banks and corporations have followed suit: some report to the office on alternate days while most of them simply stay at home on self-imposed quarantine.  Then a self-proclaimed trade union in Hospital Authority calling themselves an alliance has orchestrated a general strike which they promised to continue until and unless the City closed all its borders. Common Sense must have taken a very long holiday if not already dead. Their demands are not trade related and are therefore unconstitutional if not illegal and run foul of the Basic Law. Well, tonight they shelved their strike after five days because of inadequate support from members many of whom they say have felt their conscience pricked. What a load of nonsense. Adversity certainly can bring out the worst and darkest side of people.

Meanwhile, all schools are closed till early March, public transport and buses in particular have curtailed their schedules so that the streets are very much deserted. I have never seen it that bad, from SARS to MERS, from bird flu to swine flu, and even going back to the infamous Hong Kong Flu in the Sixties. Then there are panic snatching for face masks, toilet rolls, tissue papers, disinfectants, rice, instant noodles and food in general. One wonders why people are not stocking up running water. The shelves of supermarkets and some shops are ransacked and cleaned up as others lament and lambast on the social media such bad and unethical business practices. Considering that these concerns are operated by tried and tested capitalist entrepreneurs who have never been known to be philanthropic or charitable, what can one expect?

Closer to home, we have indeed gone out much less, but we continue to walk outdoor without masks, mainly to the nearby park and markets, and we mostly eat at home. Friends have cancelled a few dinners while business dinners and meetings were postponed indefinitely. In turn, our dinners at home tend to get longer, with a recent one lasting from 5 to past 10 pm. But in general, most standing lunches have been suspended. Our standing Saturday luncheon between classmates from the Fifties which was adjourned in January for various reasons, not simply because of the Virus, will resume tomorrow. We have also decided to join a celebration dinner between friends some of whom we have not met for a few weeks. We will see how they go.

With more time in the flat, Su has unearthed the vinyl disc cleaner or washer she bought during the HMV Clearance Sale last August. It was a great bargain, she insisted. The machine is heavy, operates by ultra sound, and uses distilled water for cooling. But it is miraculously effective, bringing alive HI fidelity and stereophonic music that we once enjoyed in the Sixties.

On the traffic side, I have been using the car more often, on hygiene grounds, and it is much faster. It now takes me only 15 to 18 minutes to make the car journey of 17 km from home to Ricci Hall, and certainly within 15 minutes from Kennedy Road to Mei Foo by taxi anytime, through the Cross Harbour Tunnel, journeys which could take forever in the days before we had street violence and road blockades.

Mei Foo has been in the news for the wrong reasons these days. Government has identified the Heritage Lodge as an Observation Centre for people who have had close contacts with patients suspected of having been infected, as opposed to a treatment or quarantine centre. This is a boutique hotel featuring unique serene and scenic surroundings in a tucked away quietly from the urban setup, and is ideal for such purpose. But the local politicians are quick to capitalize on Government’s indecisiveness and weaknesses, and in no time have mobilized or hired crowds to stir up troubles. Last night for example, a 200 strong crowd chanting slogans and waving arms walked past our park downstairs into the direction of the Lodge. I bet less than 5% of the crowd were Mei Foo residents. The procession lasted five minutes flat and our place returned to normal peacefulness.

So, as the rest of the city are learning to grapple with the new normal, we continue to savour our quiet life, sitting at home watching the world go by.

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