corona blues

With a four months old baby and all the joys and challenges he brings maybe I should be too busy to miss anything, but this week I have been overcome with nostalgic feelings from the time before the face of the world changed. Maybe it is tiredness, maybe it is that autumn is coming, maybe it is the realization that the situation is not going to be different anytime soon, but whatever the reason I acutely felt a longing for the way life was before. I am not talking about life before being a husband, before being a father, on the contrary – no I am just talking about the small pleasures of everyday life that I took for granted before the corona virus, pleasures I really miss now when I cannot enjoy them at all.

With the clear air that autumn brings, not being able to freely breath that air unfiltered by a mask has become like having lost the sense of smell. A week ago my wife told me not to be so overly careful about wearing a mask if other people are not close by, but since I find it difficult to appreciate the air if other people are in the vicinity I thought I did not mind the mask that much. It was not until we took an early morning walk to the river and enjoyed the fresh morning air that I really felt how much I dislike wearing masks – it is quite suffocating, both literally and figuratively speaking.

Will things ever go back to the way it was, when masks were an optional accessory mostly used on the subway; the thought of a future where I always hide my face in public is a scary prospect. Will my son grow up wearing a mask while playing with his friends, will he grow up in a society where he does not meet other peoples smiles – I hope not. Being able to meet other peoples smiles is another of thoses everyday pleasures I miss, whether it is when entering a store, meeting a fellow hiker, or holding up the door to a parent with a baby car. I miss hugging my brother, I miss playing with my nieces, I miss going on a little trip to the mountains. I really miss being a shufu without feeling corona stress, fully enjoying grocery shopping.

Oh how I long for the mornings of food exploration in the nearby grocery store. In my eyes, the Japanese kitchen is full of strange wondourous ingredients, and I love learning about the world of washoku – Japanese food. If you do not no anything about tofu – how do you choose from all the dozens of different kinds? When buying natto for your wife – how do you know which one to go for when all you can think of is how those sticky smelly stringy fermented beans grew in your mouth last time you tried to eat them? How do you know which package of miso makes a good base for the seaweed soup you are cooking tonight (not to mention how in the world can you select the seaweed when your previous experiences of seaweed is confined to the slippery green mush best avoided when sea bathing)?

I found that I could learn a lot about washoku by lingering in the store watching other shufus do their shopping. If we needed a new bottle of Japanese soy, I stood looking at the plentitude of bottles (with what I am sure was big confused eyes) until another housewife came and bought her soy. If I sensed that she seemed to know her business, I would choose the same bottle, thinking that that way I cannot go completely wrong. Using the same system, I could even extend my culinary learning process after a while by exploring what seemed like popular ingredients I previously had not used.

Before the virus, when feeling blue like I do today, I would make a leasurly morning grocery shopping outing to raise my spirits, which makes all of this an unfortunate catch-22 type of situation (or as I like to call it a circle of sustained misery). I would arrive just before the supermarket opened, I would wait outside the doors and be the first customer riding the escalator down to the bottom floor where the supermarket and all the different food stalls are located. When arriving there I would make my to the grocery store, passing the bento food stalls, the bakery, the cheese store, the sweets shops, all while being greeted by staff standing outside their stalls bowing, wishing the first few customers of the day welcome.

As I walked past the bowing staff I would feel how gradually my state of mind got brighter and brighter. I really like the Japanese custom of bowing. Myself, I bow as often as I have the chance – my wife laughs at me sometimes saying I am too Japanese, but in times of corona, bowing whenever I can is one of the few pleasures unaffected by the virus. I even treat myself to the odd bow at home as well, not so appreciated by my wife who then involuntarily teaches me Japanese expressions of dissatisfaction, much to my pleasure. Oh joys of everyday life.

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