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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Lockdown Chronicles - Stefan Pertz goes Shopping

 The one activity that is stuck in my mind as completely bizarre during the first lockdown in Malaysia (Starting 18 March 2020) was "Grocery Shopping". To say it were scenes from a movie would not do it justice for there was an eerie silence in the aisles, the Angst was palpable and the entire transaction more than just a transaction. It was also the only interaction with the outside world beyond ones own apartment. 

The bizarreness already started with the planning of how grocery shopping was to be done. I imagine it to be in a similar fashion then back in the stone age the men would hunt while the women were to attend to the living quarters. What with putting oneself into danger. As one was only allowed 10 kilometers away from home, the selection of places to shop was cut down drastically. One would want to minimise the exposure as much as possible and hence it became a weekly affair. With a very long list of items to get (For many, toilet paper seemed to have been an issue. We just got a 30 roll pack in February and that lasted quiet some time. IF you must ask). 

It was a trip to be taken early. On a Saturday. The supermarket opened at 7 instead of 10 and that meant an early start would guarantee less competition for the cabbage. Being a morning person, I often lined up as the first or second to enter. After having been screened for temperature at least twice. It felt like an elitist male-only club as it appeared that only husbands showed for this ritual. Confused husbands mainly. Decked out in masks, disposable headgear, aprons for some and gloves. I confess, I used plastic ones that we had to eat ribs and the likes. Usually generous with space, the parking decks were cordoned off, only allowing access to certain spots with one of the dozen entrances open only. Dark. Light shone only onto the few lots where the limited number of people would stop for their dash to the to grocer. It had something of "The Abyss" to it when your car dipped down the ramp to the basement carpark in sullen darkness and around the corner where the light beckoned you to hope of scoring luncheon meat. 

Having been to the former East Germany in its full socialists' glory, memories of that flooded back. Some shelves were empty and the dread to be going back to the wife to tell her that the yellow noodles or the "veg that looks like a cucumber, but purple" was out... Instead, one came home with whatever there was, no matter how many cans of Sauerkraut one had accumulated already. After four weeks, I scored the last packet of Yeast in that place, which staff hid on top of a shelf, out of sight. I guess it helped that I had always greeted him when shopping.

Gone were the husbands trailing their wives through the isles, not paying attention to the notion of why one would need the first pressing of soy sauce. When browsing the aisles in desperation to find the items on the list, there were up to 29 others in the supermarket, equipped with pictures on their phone, trying to match the items in the store to the visual. We were a tight group. Only 30 allowed at a time. And we were fast! Everyone was focused. Concentrating on getting back home for breakfast. The usually slow and seductive music was turned off. Only the breath under masks fogging up glasses could be heard. My guess is that by now, the hordes of clueless husbands have turned into shopping masters, knowing not only where stuff is, but what it costs. Eerie. It was that. The quiet. The seemingly limited selection, paired with the disappointment when, after all the effort, one could not get all items struck off the list. 

It was the mall being completely deserted that gave some perspective. Only the supermarket was open, the only source of illumination while the other shops were hastily abandoned and inviting mildew, spores and mold to take over. Darkness settled, being a constant tenant, as the mall was ditched in an effort to stop human interaction. 

Finding reliable sources of beer was an issue, as I remember at some point the supermarket having run out of it. However, tragedy was averted as many shops would still have plenty in their stores. It just meant an extra stop before going home. 

One thing I like was the idea that we should keep a distance. How many times have I lined up at the cashier and the next guy is closer to me than my underwear to my skin.... 


Calling for your story for The Lockdown Chronicles

I am looking for any stories from the lockdown globally to be collated and eventually published as The Lockdown Chronicles. The idea is to capture the spirit of this incredible time, so it can be preserved. It can be any account of how you experienced the lockdown: fun or sad occurrence. For example, how did you prepare for the weeks locked up at home or the struggle of husbands going to the wet market or the wild things that people did in order to make it through this unique period of time. I am keen to receive short or long stories on work related accounts or purely on what happened at home as well. Send me your story in editable text format via:

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