A few days ago I needed a new pair of headphones. So I went to a mobile phone shop outside my compound. I had to wait while the proprietor went to his other shop to get what I wanted, leaving me alone with the shop lady and her son who was playing video games in the back. We struck up a conversation.
I learned she’s from Fujian and grew up speaking Minnan dialect and only learned Putonghua later in life. She’s afraid she doesn’t speak it well. Her son has a foreign teacher, also from America, but he doesn’t speak any Chinese. We bonded over both being outsiders in Shanghai.
The proprietor came back. As I paid and turned to leave, the woman called to me. I saw she was holding something. When I got a step closer I saw it was a face mask in a clear plastic baggie. She held it up carefully, encouraging me take it out. It was the last one in the baggie. “Take it, you can use it.”
At home I set it aside. I almost surely won’t use it unless I absolutely have to, but neither could I bring myself to toss it, not when so many people on are going without. Who would have thought that the world would come to a place where a simple face mask could be a gesture of friendship between strangers?