The coronoavirus has become a global news story, and each country is giving advice to its citizens as to how to best deal with the coronavirus.
The most agreed upon preventive measure seems to be frequent hand washing.
Another preventive measure, but not as universally accepted, is the use of facial masks.
In Singapore, the government has issued a statement that a mask only needs to be worn if you are ill so that you do not spread whatever is affecting you. Otherwise, there is little, if any, benefit to be gained from wearing a mask.
However, such advice has not stopped the frenzy surrounding the purchase of face masks.
We have not been able to find any facial masks at any of the places we have tried. When one of the local stores announced that they would be receiving a shipment later that day, a long, long line (or queue, as they call it here) began forming well before the masks were scheduled to arrive. The picture above shows one such line.
As you might imagine, the masks sold out quickly, and there were not enough for everyone in line.
We did not join the line, since we did not feel a mask was of immediate concern since we were not feeling ill. However, even though we felt fine, I must admit that having a mask for each of us would give us one less thing to worry about. In addition, since we have some upcoming travel plans, we would all feel better if we had a mask, especially while in confined places like an airplane or other highly trafficked areas.
As usually happens in such “panics” some people have tried to take advantage of the situation and started charging exorbitant prices for the masks. In addition, I would think a natural response in such a situation is that once you had some masks, you would guard them with your life, and would only share them if necessary, with family and close friends.
Fortunately, that has not been the attitude of a few people we have gotten to know in Singapore.
This past Friday we took a trip with the students to Malaysia. In an abundance of caution, the program leader had bought several face masks prior to the shortage, and she has been willing to share those maks with the students and with me and my family. Despite the advice about masks, I did feel protected wearing the mask around Malaysia.
But that was not the end of the kindness showed to us by Singaporeans regarding masks.
Earlier today I had sent a text message to one of the property managers where we are living about a minor issue with our apartment. I also asked him where we could pick up masks, since I had read about how the government had started a distribution system for many households in Singapore. When he stopped by to take care of our first issue, he also asked us if we were having trouble getting masks. When we answered affirmatively, he took four face masks out of his backpack and gave them to us. These were from his personal collection.
The final incident occurred a couple of hours later when I entered my classroom building. I have gotten to know the woman who works at the front desk a little bit, and she always has a warm welcome when we see each other. When I stopped by her desk today to say hello, I mentioned that we were traveling to Bangkok this weekend. She assured us that we would be fine, but offered the basic advice noted above, regarding hand-washing and masks. When I said we were having trouble getting masks, she walked over to her purse and took a couple out to give to me. I tried to protest, but she insisted, saying they were extra ones that she had.
I came away from all of these encounters impressed with how unselfish people were with something that was in critical demand, and potentially life-saving.
These three people are what one might call familiar strangers, people whom you know from seeing them on a frequent basis, but you have little interaction with them.
So for them to offer my family and I some of their masks was incredibly moving.
Like many other things I’ve noticed here, such behavior may simply be part of the culture, or it could be that I just happen to know three wonderful people.
Either way, we are grateful for their generosity, and they have taught me a lesson in kindness that I hope becomes a natural part of my behavior moving forward.
By the way, the line shown above is not nearly as bad as the one that formed in Hong King to buy some masks.