Rachel Smith, addicted to making objects of interest and of beauty, fled to China where a lovely middle-aged Chinese man with a flawed lung in a string vest taught her the ancient secrets of Chinese watercolour as he fed her watermelon and other nourishing fruits.
For some time now, I’ve been following Rachel’s addiction on Senseless, her Instagram account. One of her most intriguing projects was that of “restyling” matchboxes. She made a matchbox a day for a year.
Rachel lives in Hong Kong so she knows better than I what living a lockdown is all about. She said that the fifth week is the hardest. I’ve just arrived at the second and feel the stress. So I asked Rachel to write something for this blog about the experience of living a shut down. And here’s what she had to say:
Hello World! Counting from the first real panic here in Hong Kong, we have been living with this virus since the end of January. We are sitting here in our homes, watching you go through the same trauma we went through and empathising with you. We are on week 8 of our Coronavirus lockdown in Hong Kong. Rice and toilet paper have been back on the shelves since week 3 and food scarcity isn’t much of a concern here now.
It turns out that even without the dreaded ‘hoarders’ just a small increase in weekly buying habits of the entire population of our city will put a strain on the supply system. The food supply system is more competent than most other things in the world. Do tip your hat to the delivery driver next time you see them and maybe let them cut in front of you when you see them on the road. Take a moment to think about the farmer who grew your food as you are eating it. They keep you alive. Now is a good time to start looking at your own food habits. Do you throw food away because it spoils before you get around to eating it? What a luxury! We in first world countries have so much and we are often not even aware of it. Take a good look around your kitchen and really think about how much you need to live on for 2 weeks. It is easy to overestimate. We WANT diversity, exceptional tastes, beautiful food. We are so blessed and wealthy that we can choose to have a different meal every night. We have been living in paradise. We can live on a lot less.
Check your basics. Challenge yourself to think of how long you can continue to make meals for in what you actually have in your home right now (not allowed to include eating a family member). You will be surprised. It is a great time to have a discussion with food fussy family members about being open to different experiences (skip the toddlers – they won’t listen anyway). Instead of the multi ingredient foodie posts you usually see on social media – share simpler recipes with family and friends. Eat until your hunger is satisfied and then stop. You will find your food anxieties lessen with each meal. Take a deep breath. The supply chain will recover soon.
What to do about this home quarantine? Once again we are blessed. We have a world of entertainment at our fingertips. We have the capabilities to communicate with loved ones. We can’t always have close contact but we have so much more than previous generations had! Now is the time to sit down and write a letter. Write to everyone you know. Use a pen, find that fancy paper you have been saving for a special time. Write to your future self and put the letter in a book and forget about it, write to yourself at 10 and give advice about life. Count your blessings, then count them again. Write your fears on toilet paper and use that paper over the coming days. It brings whole new perspective.
Sit down and do something analog. Spend a ridiculous amount of time organising your stationery drawer, refold ALL your clothes, clean and polish your shoes – repair your socks. Do all that stuff you don’t have time for normally. Whatever you do, DO something that you can finish at least once per day. Even if it is small and not every important – to decide to do something and then follow it through gives you a real sense of accomplishment. We could all use a win even if it is only getting the inside of the bathroom cabinet sparkling. Now is a good time to have a hobby – or even an obsession.
Christmas comes every year – start knitting those socks, pick up a pen and draw a picture, do the same small thing over and over again until you have multiples, draw 10 sheep, write 10 poems, arrange 10 photos – having one of anything you have made is satisfying – having 10 is a collection. Research something you have always been curious about. Do you know anything about pangolins? Or how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly? Or why narwhals exist? Why spelling is so annoying? Check out one of your friend’s obsessions – ask them what makes researching 18th century sailing vessels so exciting – you may be surprised now that you have the leisure time to listen. Got kids? Get yourself a deck of cards and play some card games. They learn so much from playing games – risk assessment, calculation, social cues, how to lose well and win gracefully. Get them to make up the rules – let them discover why guaranteed winning isn’t as much fun as they think. Start a game with friend over facetime – play scrabble online.
Now IS the time to take advantage of the screens! Do the schoolwork if you can but also take some time to talk about why they are learning what they are learning. And if the lesson doesn’t make sense or it is too hard? Leave it, come back to it again.
We are facing a new world order here, compound fractions will still be there when all this is sorted out. My partner and I have very different working hours. Often I get out of bed to get ready for my day an hour after he gets into it from work. We don’t always get to hang out with one another but for the past several week – we suddenly have a lot of time together in the same (very) small space. We have headphones – so we can listen to separate things in the same place, we have our own devices to limit demand on the computer. We don’t have kids but we do have one another and we are enjoying getting reacquainted. We sleep when we are tired, and wake up when we are not. We are finding life has a new rhythm and we aren’t trying to change it much. At first we worried about the future but every time we made a plan and adjusted our expectations, they changed again. Now we are just sitting and waiting to see what happens next. People are infinitely flexible, resourceful and creative. That includes your partner and your family. That includes you.
Some of Rachel’s Matchbox Art:
Below is a video showing how the Chinese are keeping down the number of infected: