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Hong Kong Take-Away
Some Personal Reflections on What the Pandemic has Brought and What We Will Keep

By Bill Stork

Having lived and worked through the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic in Hong Kong, I went into this virus experience a little bit better prepared, knowing that the most critical factor, in addition to the physical heath precautions, was to maintain a good mental outlook. And, rather Pollyanna-like, I continually look daily for positive ways in which this current situation has affected us and how we have grown from it.

First and most importantly, as a couple, it has brought my wife Jasmine and myself closer together. We are doing quite well at recognizing and respecting each other’s personal needs and creating personal space and personal time for one another’s daily plans. We strictly followed the restrictions imposed by the Hong Kong government, which include the two-meter physical distancing and wearing masks at all times in public; no evening socializing, as eateries and bars until recently have not been allowed to serve after 6:00pm and have limits to the number that can be at a table. I have self-quarantined, and Jasmine does her regular visits to the vegetable and flower markets, though with mask and goggles and a bottle of 80% alcohol antiseptic spray. Shoes and tote bags are sprayed and left at the door upon return, then a shower and the worn clothes are immediately washed.

Food! Yes, we still need to eat, but now we can focus on doing so in a perhaps healthier manner. The AirFryer Jasmine got for her birthday now gives us fried foods without all the oil. Another delight has been grocery shopping online. Additionally, it comes with free delivery, without having to do any of the lugging of heavy bags and boxes. A greater pleasure is to see that the items purchased online are significantly cheaper than those bought in the same brand supermarket. Such small pleasures do go a long way, and this facet of pandemic living we will definitely keep.

Yes, in-person socialization is one of the things missed, but the antidote for that is increased contact with Hong Kong friends and family by email and WhatsApp. I have found that I enjoy writing, and I am working on a new piece for the alumni association’s Alumni Voices.

My cousin was interested in Stork family history, and I have sent her a file quite full of items and photo album. Family seems to pull closer together in times like this. My children and sister live in California, and they have enjoyed my sharing a few memories and have repeatedly asked for more! I am now creating a Memories File of family stories before they get lost, with the idea of compiling them all on USB thumb-drives to be sent in December as xmas presents! This goes along with my work on a ‘pre-bucket’ list called ‘Un-Expectations,’ things that I have done in my lifetime that I never ever would have expected to have done. I add to it regularly, and am now on page five! I’ve just remembered to add serving as escort to Jodie Foster. This May, I celebrated my eighty-first birthday. Maybe more to come!

Keeping positive and busy is perfect, and somehow or other I became interested in recipes that I thought my culinary daughter might enjoy, with an emphasis on Asian specialties. These continue to grow in number, almost ninety so far. All will be collected in a digital notebook: What’s Cooking with William, then onto another USB thumb-drive for a birthday present. No, I do not try the recipes! This is entirely a passive effort as I am not even allowed in our kitchen (except for doing clean-ups).

Getting organized fits into the pattern somehow. But always in discrete chunks. Otherwise, the task would be so overwhelming as not to be enjoyable. A recent New Yorker cartoon showed a wife on the floor with cartons of photos and saying ‘of course this would be a good time to get the ten-year collection sorted.’ For me, it is not just the photos, but even so much more on my portable hard drives. But I will do a small bit regularly, and with any little accomplishment I can still claim positive progress. And this habit, too, I will keep post-Covid.

Somehow it seems important to use the time now available to help others. My daughter got a new job with one of California’s top coffee producers, and had several weeks of 1- to-14 hour days (I think she was moving the company’s online presence to a new server) and I decided to send her an outrageous pun every other day. [Smiley Face] Now I am helping her with the purchase of the house she has rented for the past nine years. A friend’s daughter will be applying to college next year, and she asked if I’d be willing to help get her organized, and later, comment on her essays. Another friend, applying for a position on the board of a non-profit asked me for help. And I send off books I have read to friends who I think might enjoy them. Now that Covid is receding in Hong Kong I will continue this, but in person, and over meals!

Patience. So important! Now that there is ‘time to get things done,’ there should be no pressure to do so! So, I have a new way of creating a TO DO list: Something that could be done at some time or other gets written on a small slip of paper. Each ‘task’ gets its own slip of paper. When there is time or interest in doing one of these, I just shuffle the slips of paper or select one by design or at random. That’s easy! But it hasn’t become a habit yet, as I always seem to have something in mind to do when I sit down in my office. And now that the Covid curtain is raising here in Hong Kong, my interest is looking for safe socializing opportunities, now that I have enjoyed my first venture away from home to have dinner with the local Yale-China Association director and his wife at a special dumpling restaurant nearby.

Intellectual pursuits: avidly, I follow the latest investigations and efforts with the Covid … testing, tracking, vaccines, therapeutics, antibodies, mutations, boosters, oral vaccine possibilities. Fascinating. I am also reading five or six news briefings daily, and continuing to look at political divisions and tribalism (and whether there are, as Yale Law professor Amy Chua puts it, any group-transcending values) and in the context of the recent words of history professor Timothy Snyder. I also suggest the recent book The World- A Brief Introduction by Richard Haass, president of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

Covid-coping has certainly caused new patterns of living to evolve, as you have probably already noticed. The regularity provides a positivity of its own. My morning begins as it does for most people, with certain morning obligations to be immediately attended to, but for me this is short-lived as I retreat to my cozy therapeutic heated mattress for a half-hour of meditative thinking as I drift off for an hour or more of very satisfying rem-sleep. Then a mug of great coffee as I eliminate the chaff from my “GmailBox” and make a few quick replies before diving into the news briefings. Brunch is followed by clean-up and put-away. A few minutes to check if the plants need water, if there are items that need to be added to the next food-delivery order and if there are any items that need to be added to the TO DO box. What follows is an hour of dedicated writing, an hour of research/filing/organization, and another hour of writing. Somewhere in there is a short snack. At 6:00 pm we start two hours of TV news broadcasts from international, Chinese, and Hong Kong sources during which time we have dinner. Later in the evening there is time to bring some humor into my life, watching the NYTimes ‘Best of the Late Night Shows’, reading the daily New Yorker ‘Humor’ newsletter, enjoying a half-hour of a BBC comedy series, and reading online a Bertie Wooster episode now that P G Wodehouse is in the public domain and available thanks to A couple of chapters of bed-time reading are now directed to my latest interest, Japanese honkaku, which feature intricate locked-room murders, of which Agatha Christie’ Murder in Mesopotamia or her Hercule Poirot’s Christmas are perhaps the best-known English examples.

I am asked if I will stay in Hong Kong. It has been home since 1994, and my attention remain focused on the quotidian developments that have put Hong Kong in a delicate position. The new National Security Law imposed by Beijing is squeezing out the democracy-inclined politicians worried that they might be imprisoned for saying something deemed to be unpatriotic. ‘Patriotism,’ as yet undefined, is the criteria now for arrest and imprisonment. The American Chamber of Commerce released a survey recently in which local expats indicated by 42% an interest in leaving Hong Kong (though no time table was provided). One expat interviewed on TV said that he was very happy to stay in Hong Kong, ‘it’s safer than the USA.’ Maybe so. I expect to stay. But we live here on the edge of the South China Sea, definitely a volatile arena as it also relates to perhaps ‘undefensible’ Taiwan … but that, perhaps, is a story for another time.


We welcome your comments below.

2 comments to Hong Kong Take-away

  • Lee Bolman


    NYT just ran an article saying that Hong Kong has enough Covid vaccine to cover the population, but, even with a variety of incentives, the take-up rates are significantly behind Singapore, and even farther behind the US. What’s your sense of what’s happening?


  • William Stork

    Greetings, Lee,
    Yes, Hong Kong has an ample supply of vaccines, both SinoVac and BioNTech-Pfizer. When the vaccination process was initiated with the SinoVac, the reservation bookings were immediately filled and this lasted for a week. Then in the next ten days six people died, and although the government medical people said there was not a direct relationship, the bookings for jabs fell off dramatically. The latest report that I heard was that 20% of the population has had at least one jab.
    The worry now is that the shelf life of the vaccines will expire in September. The govt has resisted the idea of any monetary inducements, but they have ‘encouraged’ the big businesses to offer inducements. Smaller businesses have been encouraged to give employees two days paid leave to get their jabs, and some have even added a bonus for so doing. Restaurants can enjoy extended hours, currently covid-restricted, if their staff members are all vaccinated. There is talk of college stuents being allowed back on campus, but only if vaccinated, and the Education Department has floaed the idea of requiring vaccinations for all teachers. Thage for getting a SinoVac jab has just been lowered so that upper primary and secondary students can get their vaccs.
    As I mentioned in an earleir article, Hong Kong has an incredible Center for Health Protection, one that is doing such a good job with the testing, tracing, isolating that H K has had single digit or zero covid cases for almost a month, and this added sense of security – while restrictions are still widely respected – does create a disincentive, unfortunately.
    As for the shelf-life issue, there is one silver lining in that Nepal, in desperate need for oxygen, PPE and masks and vaccines has just offered to buy Hong Kong’s surplus. As our borders remain closed and planes grounded, trucks are already on their way with supplies purchased by one of Hong Kong’s tycoons.