I lived in Sendai, Japan from 1992-1994, working as a conversational English teacher. One of the first things I noticed is that many people wore blue surgical masks as they made their way around the city. Cars were a scarce commodity because of the density of the population, so people took trains, buses and rode their bikes, weather permitting. A respectable percentage of the people I saw in transit donned these masks. At the time, I thought they must be sick…
Fast forward 28 years, those same surgical looking blue masks are a regular sighting in California, as well as a plethora of designer, avant-garde masks in a variety of patterns, shapes and colors. I myself have a collection of masks, one might even call me a mask hoarder. I double mask, with the surgical mask under a colorful cotton mask, I have a visor too, and glasses because, why not?
What I realize now, and remember from my time in Japan is that it’s very difficult to understand somebody when they are speaking with a mask on. It’s even more difficult when they are speaking a foreign language, but I digress.
Now, to have a “face to face” meeting with a customer, I almost have to yell to be heard with the mask, and the social distancing, so by the end of the work day, I have a sore throat, a headache, and I do feel a bit exhausted… wait-do I have COVID?
I also realized, after many foiled attempts, that you cannot drink coffee, water or any other beverage with the mask on-believe me, I’ve tried. Nor can you eat with the mask on – tried that too. I do go out to my car for food, beverage and a “break” every so often, and my car has become a designated safe zone and restaurant.
Witnessing the great traits of human ingenuity and adaptivity, we now have clear masks, so people can read lips, masks with small safety seals for drinking using straws. I’ve seen so many cool masks, who ever thought we’d want to collect these as accessories; a mask for every occasion. I find myself shopping for masks now instead of shoes.
Speaking of shoes, my ears and face, not unlike my feet with a new pair of shoes, are quite sore after a day with the mask. I can’t wait to get to my car and pull the masks off with the same gusto I have when removing heels after a long day at the Dallas Market. Then there’s Maskne, acne or breakouts from the mask. I haven’t experienced this, but my skin doesn’t love the masks-it’s better with the surgical mask underneath, but still.
Yes, they are inconvenient, they are indeed a pain. What I find so interesting, however, is that we’ve adapted so quickly, and to such an extent, that we’ve monetized the model and created a whole new cottage industry out of it. I find this to be such a powerful demonstration of hope, ingenuity and adaptivity, I can’t wait to see what we come up with next.