Perhaps some of you reading are from towns such as mine: small population (4,000 or less), close-knit community where we know almost everyone by name, low crime rate, rural agricultural area (a majority of our surrounding residents are farmers with a high percentage of the students being bussed in for school), numerous faith-based Catholic and Protestant families and a strong sense of connection to one another.
It is quite interesting that the virus situation, at least for us here, is pulling folks together by pulling us apart. Social distancing is now the catch phrase that enters everyone’s vocabulary.
We unite in overcoming the virus by not uniting, or rather physically uniting. It is recommended at least 3-6 feet should be maintained between individuals who meet one another. My mom and I do our best to follow these suggestions, although not between ourselves.
Marshall churches have canceled all activities, our schools have discontinued classes for 2 weeks (I see that as a very optimistic announcement), our nearby state park, Lincoln Trail, has closed as mandated by the Illinois state government, restaurants now only allow take-out orders, our public library is closed, local dental services are suspended except for emergency cases (call and our faithful Dr. Darlene Hildebrand, DMD, will arrive at her clinic to take care of you), and absolutely no visitors are admitted for our local nursing home residents at Burnsides and The Villas.
What is open? Marshall’s Cork Medical Center, local banks, and grocery/supply sellers which are the Dollar Store and Walmart.
Of all the above, what has interested my students in China the most involves grocery items.
Supermarket restrictions in China during the virus
My students in China were asking me about my local supermarkets. When the virus was rampaging throughout China, all city and smalltown groceries had strong restrictions in place:
- Neighborhood supermarkets took turns opening on certain days for certain hours as stated by city government edicts.
- Only 1 household member at a time could buy groceries. That person could only patronize one supermarket. ID cards had to be shown, stating neighborhood addresses and names, so households could be monitored to make sure grocery visiting rules were being followed.
- Wearing a mask was mandatory to enter any grocery store, or even to walk the streets.
How about America? What surprises my students the most?
For small-town Marshall, two stores are available for buying groceries and supplies: The Dollar Store (limited items) and the Walmart (wide range). While restrictions in China were very dramatic, entering either store in Marshall is a lax affair. No masks are required, no restrictions on how many family members can enter or how many visits are taken to the store and no ID checks needed except if your credit card or written cheques are not already in the store system.
These non-restrictions astound those in China who so carefully adherred to the regulations with little hesitation, as well as little choice.
What we do have available upon store entry is hand sanitizer and also disinfectant wipes for the cart handles, all free of charge. While people are not concerned so much by going out in public at the store, they are taking advantage of the free sanitizers, as did I on the most recent visit to the grocery.
What are people buying?
My students wondered about grocery items in stock. They had heard reports that, in America, there were mass runs on grocery stores and our products were not available.
“Do you have enough vegetables? Can you get meat? Fruit? Rice?” Yiyi asked in one of my postings.
I have to laugh a bit about that one. Vegetables, fruits and rice are the one thing it seems Americans have plenty of because . . . we don’t eat them. Walmart’s shelves were packed full of fresh produce: colorful displays of broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, celery and full bins of fruit, including apples, oranges, tomatoes, strawberry and blueberry containers not to mention tubs of watermelons.
Americans are not big on healthy eating or preparing foods. We are all about fast food consumption.
And plenty of coffee. We all know how important our coffee is!
The biggest dents in supplies at the Walmart? Toilet paper and tissues, the meat sections (fresh and frozen), milk, eggs, ice cream, bread and peanut butter. Those aisles were either completely empty or in great need of restocking.
Also emptied out were the instant Chinese noodle packet shelves. Nada! Only a few lone survivors of the rush were left, enough for me to at least take a picture to send Yiyi so she could marvel over the tastes of Americans. This also included instant iced tea bags, which I certainly didn’t expect.
Cross-country truck driver’s lament
It was the above image that confronted itself before me and a visiting truck driver from North Carolina. We had a short conversation about his search for toilet paper along his I-70 travels, the interstate being practically within a stone’s throw of our Walmart.
“This is the 12th stop I’ve made, both Walmart and Costco, and toilet paper is all sold out. ”
I commented that at least he has a job, which is going to be a great concern to others who are going to be laid off work in the next few days, weeks and months.
“Stay safe,” were my cheerful departing words. He smiled wanly, obviously disappointed that a visit in Marshall hadn’t yielded what he so longed for and, most likely, was not going to find on any future stops.
Encouraging Reports from my Chinese home, Luzhou
While the virus is now getting its foothold in America, in China, it is waning. There have been no more new cases in Wuhan, the epicenter, and in other cities that had been hard-hit.
In Luzhou, my city of 5 million, the 25 cases there have long since been released from their hospital stay and returned home. Residents are taking daily constitutionals along the Yangtze River, pet owners are back to walking their doggies outside (restricted before), streetside sellers line the sidewalks once more, catering to neighborhood needs, and small restaurants are beginning to open their doors to customer regulars.
How nice that news from my Chinese home in Luzhou is so uplifting after such dire reports 8 weeks ago.
Feeling utterly overwhelmed
It is easy for us in America to become disheartened and feel helpless and hopeless. The same situation met my Chinese friends, students and colleagues in mid-January and February and yet, they survived.
As my best friend, Li Xiaolian (whose English name is Cathy), has been telling me in her text messages: “Fight, fight, fight! We in Luzhou have successfully conquered the virus. You will, too. Take heart.”
Thank you, Cathy!! We in Marshall, and around the country, will do our best.