The Mrs’ sister suggested we drink more reddish soup. “It’s good for us! High in antioxidants and anthocyanins, it boosts our immune system and also pu xin, good for our heart”. Anything to boost our immune system will prick our ears with COVID-19 swamping the news daily. “Reddish soup?” I asked whilst purposefully traversing the aisles in my local Coles store. The fresh veggie section was just around the corner – it felt like she had remotely controlled my shopping trolley and veered it there. The only veggies I could think of that make reddish soups are beetroot and red cabbages. “No! Not beetroot! I said reddish” she used her annoyed voice on me. People often are cross with me – their voices show even if their faces do not. It is a skill that I have gained over the years – I have heard annoyed voices so frequently I can now hear it even whilst reading their emails and WhatsApp messages. Luckily, I did not argue with her, I was quick to spot the bunches of red radish near the carrots. As I picked the best and firmest Garnet plums that were on special at $5.99 a kg, I told myself it was not such a wise thing to do anymore. People should no longer be allowed to touch and choose fruits. An infected person with the COVID-19 virus could have easily planted some of their germs on the fruits. “I must wash them well when I get home”, I reminded myself. The long years of drought had trained me to be miserly with water. Now, I have to abandon the practice of conserving water. Lately, there have been many reminders for us to wash our hands for at least twenty seconds! I tried that once and it felt like an eternity as good clean water simply gushed into the drain. Now I have to do it with fruits too. The guilt feeling from wasting water will be enormous.
Yesterday, we were on our last roll of toilet paper at work. It is no easy feat to have them requisition the supply of toilet paper before they totally run out. This was a rare occasion they remembered, without the panic. The consumption of toilet paper at work is one roll a day. At 40 cents a roll, the annual bill to keep our bums clean is $100. I ask myself why I do not simply load up the cupboards with them. The answer is to avoid WASTE, I suppose. It is human psychology. The more we have, the more we will use. Twelve rolls at a time will have to do. For the same simple reason, I know of someone who does not go out with his wallet. The less cash he has on him, the less he will spend.
Right throughout my life, I am one who is averse to touching public things such as door handles, escalator handrails, elevator buttons and toilet seats. In the squashed confines of an aeroplane, my first task would be to wipe clean my immediate surroundings with the hot towel from the cabin crew. Only then would I praise their peanuts and other snacks in the hope of getting a few more sachets. With COVID-19 drummed into my head, I have become even more careful. At Coles, I found myself confused at the shopping trolley line. Would I need a shopping trolley? Do I grab one? If so, how do I avoid touching the handle? I placated my angst by wrapping the handle with their single-use fruits and vegetables plastic bags. I consciously reminded myself not to divulge this bad practice to anyone. My cynical friends who accused me of hypocrisy about the use of plastic would have a field day at my expense (again) if they learned I use single-use plastic just to protect my hands. Containing the spread of a virulent disease is more urgent than saving the planet’s ecosystems. When I got to the toilet paper section, I was floored by the empty shelves. Normally, there would be a mountain of toilet rolls from Mount Gambier for me to rummage through and compare quality and price. Kimberly-Clark’s mill in South Australia is in Millicent, a beautiful country town 4.5 hours south-east of Adelaide, in Mount Gambier. Luckily, they rejected my job application in the 1980’s as factory accountant. Otherwise, my sons would have grown up in that country town without any appreciation of what good Peking Duck is. There are certain rules to abide by when choosing toilet paper. It must be no less than 3-ply, ink, dye and fragrance free and it must cost less than 50 cents per roll. Ma has long suspected there is something not quite right about today’s toilet paper. She told me to compare the pack of 12 Sorbent rolls 100x105mm in her room with the same pack I bought. Hers was noticeably a lot heavier and bigger. “Do the poke test. See, yours is much less compact”, she gestured with her index finger. Yesterday’s was 94 cents a roll, but there were only four packs left. Breaking the price test, I took them all, much to the annoyance of a beautiful Chinese woman who was a fraction slower than me. Many have been inexplicably buying up toilet paper in Australia, following the same phenomenon in China, Singapore and other countries. Apparently, it is attributed to FOMO, the fear of missing out. In stressful times, this square piece of soft paper will comfort us – something so basic we must not go without. She must have been disgusted at me for not leaving her a pack. She rolled her eyes and I imagined she said “You ignorant old fool. Don’t you know of those infected with the virus, only 4% suffer from diarrhoea? Why so paranoid!” So kiasu, so kiasi, so kia lausai. That’s Singlish for fear of losing, fear of dying and fear of diarrhoea. It dawned on me to hurry my footsteps. The next stop was to load up on rice. Again, I was met with nothing but empty shelves at the rice and pasta section. I cornered a Coles shelf stocker in the next aisle. After a friendly exchange of a few words, he managed to find in the back room four bags of the Maharaja Basmati rice that was on special at half price. The beautiful Chinese woman was again a fraction slower than me. She asked the chap if she could have four bags as well only to be told they have truly sold out. As I passed many other empty shelves that used to display a variety of long life milk, flour and yeast, canned foods, I began to understand the hint of despair and desperation that people must feel when they run out of basic necessities. During riots, wars and periods of political upheavals, it would be most stressful to run out of food, water, medicine and personal luxuries such as toilet paper. It never crossed my mind that in Australia, I would one day experience a taste of this kind of distress. In many countries, normal life is being stopped by a living thing so small our eyes cannot even see. Trade exhibitions, seminars, concerts, football matches, festivals have been cancelled. We read about the closure of schools and universities. The lockdown of towns and cities in China have caused a shortage of manufactured goods with many businesses running out of stock. Some have even closed down. My own business has been also affected by another small living thing – a stinky bug which has detained a container of imports for three months whilst raking up a “Detention and Fumigation” bill of over $29,000. The coronavirus is also starting to rear its ugly head against my business – some fast sellers cannot be replenished as the materials required are being diverted for mask production in China instead.
Whilst loading up my boot, I felt a desperate need to rush to the shopping centre toilet. It is something I avoid – using public toilets. But, my advancing age means my bladder has acquired a more persuasive voice than my brain. It told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to go, and so I went even though my brain said “No, home is only five minutes away.” My brain failed to reason with my bladder. Fortunately, the toilet door was the type that I could kick with my leg to get in. I shudder at doors with door knobs. Doors in public buildings should not have round door knobs, the ones we have to fully grab with our hands to turn. The door handle of the toilet was the lever type – normally I could press the lever down with the back of my finger or knuckle to open the door. But, this being a posh shopping centre in a blue ribbon suburb, the door was too heavy for me to open with a finger. I was reluctant to go inside a cubicle to grab some toilet paper, so I had to do the unthinkable and open the door with my hand. Not wanting to get into my car with unclean hands, I returned to the toilet with the shopping trolley I had left on the verge (tsk, tsk, tsk) and used it as a door stopper. A lot of effort I know, but I managed to keep my hands clean that time!
On the way home, I could not resist the cheap petrol price even though my tank was two-thirds full. At 121.6 cents a litre, I saved 50 cents a litre. As such bargains usually do not last more than a day or two, it gave me much happiness to fill up the tank. The bowser nozzle had never bothered me before but this time it threatened me with COVID-19. I did not care what the bloke at the next bowser thought of me as I covered the handle and trigger with sheets of paper towels freely available at the bowser. “Prepare but don’t panic” – that was the advice in the news. At what point are we considered being paranoid, I wonder.