Reader, this week I experienced overwhelming kindness after sharing a Tweet on my Monday morning commute. (I thought I’d throw a positive curveball in after so many not-so-positive ones.) I shared a note calling for people to visit, or even call in and order from, their local Chinese takeaway because sales have been down at my family’s restaurants and those of my British-born Chinese friends.
This is going to sound kinda mad, but this week, pls consider making your weekly takeout a Chinese takeaway. My family's businesses have all been impacted hugely by coronavirus panic 😭— Michelle Chai (@winyeemichelle) March 9, 2020
As COVID-19 sets its talons into the UK, a few things have happened:
- The British public have inexplicably been out on the prowl in every supermarket known to man, buying out stocks of antibacterial hand gel, hand soap, toilet paper, dry pasta and canned goods.
- A pretty impressive wealth of memes about hand-washing have flooded social media streams.
- Chinese takeaways and restaurants have seen a huge drop in footfall and revenue.
As an Internet-loving takeaway kid, I Tweeted about a conversation my family and I had yesterday. We gather on most Sundays — it’s how I came up with my popular Sundaze series! — for family time, and my Uncle and cousin both mentioned how it’s been scarily quiet at our takeaways recently. Dad joked that he’d be laid off soon, but the truth was floating around just behind the wisecracks: people are being told not to come in anymore because the demand isn’t there right now, and cash flow is tight, meaning they can’t be paid.
Edited to add: The response has been nothing short of overwhelming. For so long, the British-Chinese community and I have been on the receiving end of endless cruel remarks, taunts and ignorance, racist comments. It has, of course, been exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak, but at what cost? I’ve spoken candidly about people dramatically wrapping their faces in scarves near me, getting out their seats on the busy commuter train and going to the other end of the carriage. Others have been physically attacked. The outpour of kindness, support and understanding has been phenomenal. I’m hand-on-heart SO proud to have brought attention to something so close to my heart. Purveyor of the tastiest form of activism this year? I’ll take that!
Of course I’m not stupid. It’s perfectly reasonable to be worried about the potential fallout of a coronavirus outbreak. Not only for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions (*ahem*, both my parents, my aunties and uncles, and I are included in this), but across the nation. Somehow, the constant noise from the media has placed cotton wool over everybody. As I write this post, there have sadly been four confirmed deaths in the UK, caused by COVID-19.
“Ah, it’s only four, out of tens of thousands,” One comment underneath an article read.
Four people, humans, whose families are currently grieving, devastated by this relatively unknown virus. Four people who contracted a virus, more than likely unknowingly.
I’ve made no secret of the racist abuse I’ve experienced pre- and post-coronavirus news. It’s been weeks and I’m still enjoying getting a seat on busy London commutes. I still hear people talking about me and how I ‘probably have it, but the Chinese don’t care about others’ right in front of me, because they don’t know I understand English. But on Monday, my morning commute Tweet exploded. Seven thousands likes. Two thousands RTs of support. Hundreds of, mostly, kind and supportive messages from people who finally got it.
The Chinese takeaway is a cornerstone of British culture, I think you’d agree. It’s the most popular takeaway in the UK, according to a survey conducted by the National Charity Partnership in 2017, and I’ve seen it firsthand. You see, I grew up underneath the counter of my parents’ takeaway in the early ‘90s. Mum worked at the front counter, Dad in the kitchen, me in a travel crib right by the plastic tub of pre-packed prawn crackers. When my National Insurance number arrived unceremoniously in the post, I joined them. I took orders, I packed prawn cracker bags, I packed orders and grabbed drinks from the little freebie Coca-Cola fridge. I ducked as a brick came through our window, I endured as the kids at school taunted me for being a lowly takeaway shop kid. And so I felt bound to say something to my wonderful community of followers, and it’s taken on a life of its’ own. The tastiest form of activism indeed!
Being a takeaway kid has been a lot to unpack over the years. I’m 29, and I’m still just about coming to my own realisations on a lot of things. One thing that being a takeaway kid has taught me is resilience. Here’s to bouncing back, to washing our hands regularly, and not being racist.
Thank you for continuing to support Chinese communities and local businesses everywhere.