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Masks and Roses

Updated: May 7, 2020

By Teresa Knight

COVID-19 tales from Lake Forest, CA.

On April 7th, I went to the Laguna Niguel Walmart to pick up an order I‘d placed online. Laguna Niguel is an affluent and predominantly white city. I was stunned to see so many people hanging out outdoors. There were young people playing ball in the grass, middle-aged people running, old people walking dogs, and mothers pushing their babies in strollers. People were everywhere and none of them were wearing masks!

Hadn’t they seen the numbers? Laguna Niguel’s population is around 60,000 and they have 22 confirmed cases. Newport Beach, another affluent, white city, has 73 cases among a population of around 87,000. On the flipside, Irvine, with its large populations of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese people, has only 77 cases among its population of 280,000. What do the numbers tell you? Asians are scared, so we stay home, but laomei just can’t bring themselves to do so. (Laomei is a Chinese word for the Americans.)

My next question is: Why don’t laomei like wearing masks? People have told me that wearing masks is uncomfortable, wearing masks is ugly and that if you’re not sick, you don’t need one. The first two reasons aren’t worth refuting. If you put comfort and beauty before your health, I don’t know how to convince you. The last one is tricky. I know that we don’t use masks to deal with a normal flu season, but COVID-19 is different from a flu virus. It’s possible to carry the virus without showing symptoms.

And then, the last reason: Chinese people bought up all the masks. That might be true. The virus first broke out in China. Chinese Americans still have connections to China in one way or another. We learned from our friends and relatives how severe the situation was and started hoarding masks before laomei were even aware of it. By the time Laomei started buying masks, they were sold out everywhere.

I am a nurse and have lots of exposure to the virus. Entering March, as China’s situation began to die down, friends and relatives began to mail their extra masks to me. Suddenly, I became mask-rich. I decided to give them away to the community.

I sealed five masks in a plastic sandwich bag and left it in my mailbox for the postman. I also gave masks to gas station employees. I am very grateful for all the people who still have to work at this dangerous time. I want them to know that someone cares.

I went to Ralph’s for groceries. When checking out, I handed a bag of five masks to the girl at the checkout stand. She looked at me coldly as if I was violating her right not to wear a mask. I held the bag out waiting for her to take it for almost 5 seconds. Finally, I said, “Whatever, I’m leaving it for you.” Then I left the bag on the counter. The girl didn’t say a word.

My next stop was to the Irvine Walmart to pick up an order, but the guy at customer service told me that I’d chosen the Laguna Niguel Walmart online. I left disappointed, but I still handed him a bag of masks. He happily accepted.

As I was walking outside, the girl at the door smiled and said, “Have a good day!” I took out a bag of five masks and gave one to her. A smile bloomed across her face, “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure!”

While I was driving to Laguna Niguel Walmart, I saw so many people hanging outside without wearing masks, but my reserve was down to two bags. I decided to give them to the first elderly people I saw. I saw an old lady walking a dog and I stopped to chat her up. If she lived alone, I’d give her one bag. If she had a family, I’d give her both.

Most of the time when I gave out the masks, the other party was happy to accept. I’d only encountered the one person who reacted coldly. My friends didn’t think I was being wise. “They might think you are too intrusive. What if the girl at Ralph’s threw the masks in the trash after you left? What a waste!”

I think I’m getting old. When I see young people working without protection, I have these motherly instincts that I just can’t fight. I’m not mad at the girl at Ralph’s. I’m just worried about her. Does she think wearing a mask makes her unattractive? Is beauty more important than life? Next time I see her, I’ll give her another bag. There is a saying in Chinese, “If you give someone roses, the fragrance will stay on your fingers.” And masks are far more essential than roses. I don’t mind if she thinks I’m too bossy.


Teresa Knight (田青) was born and raised in Wuhan, China. She came to the states in 1997 and now working in Orange County, California as a nurse.


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