Masks, goggles and alcohol wipes become hot Valentine's Day gifts in China

Newlyweds take a picture with their marriage certificates that they just received in front of the civil affairs bureau in Chaoyang district in Beijing on Friday.
PHOTO: China Daily/Asia News Network

With shops closed and theatres empty due to the coronavirus outbreak, lovers have been exchanging face masks and sanitisers on Valentine's Day rather than letters and chocolates as tokens of love.

On Sina Weibo, the top three searched Valentine's gifts this year are masks, goggles and alcohol wipes.

The Chinese phrase "Yi di lian", meaning long distance relationship, now carries a new context - relationship at the site of the epidemic - because "yi" is a homonym for sickness and outbreak. Despite the dire circumstances, people have found unexpected ways to express their love.

At a Shanghai grocery store operated by Suning, people can online order a 258 yuan (S$51) bouquet made of fresh produce, including broccoli, carrots, chili peppers and corn. Customers can pick up the bouquet or have it delivered to their sweethearts' homes, so that their loved ones don't need to go outside to buy groceries and risk catching the virus.

This unorthodox gift was surprisingly popular, and the store has sold over 50 batches since Tuesday, the store owner told local media. A female costumer surnamed Liu said her husband is tackling the epidemic in Shanghai, but he still prepared her a "surprise".

"At first, I thought I was going to a store to pick up some rice or oil, I didn't expect a hilarious bouquet of vegetables," she said. "Now I believe sending roses and flowers are super lame. Sending your loved one produce, now that is true love."

At the Hangzhou Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Zhejiang province, every day an elderly woman from a different ward brings fresh fruits and a letter written in large characters to her 88-year-old husband with Alzheimer's disease who lives in an intensive care unit.

The quarantine for the viral outbreak prohibited family members from visiting ICU, so the couple write letters of love and support, encouraging each other to stay strong despite both being very sick.

"She would begin all her letters with 'Dear husband', and he would end his letters with just his initial - Jie," said Li Liuyan, a nurse at the ICU.

"(Before the outbreak, ) the elderly woman would come to visit, wash her husband's hands and face, put her forehead against his and whisper words into his ears. All of us are touched by the gestures, this must be what true love looks like. So moving."

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Zhou Zongkui, a psychology professor at Central China Normal University, said that during an outbreak people can feel anxious and sad due to staying at home for too long.

"The psychological aftermath of a long period of quarantine can be a tricky issue," Zhou said.

Zhou said it is important to keep an optimistic outlook and eliminate negative public sentiment. As a result, medical staff organised dances and exercises for patients at Wuhan's makeshift hospitals, and videos of the events have gone viral on Chinese social media.

Recent photos and footage of medical staff showing romance have tugged the heartstrings of the public. One example is a video showing Chen Ying, a young nurse at the Fourth Hospital of the Zhejiang University School of Medicine, kissing her boyfriend against the glass separating the hospital and the outside world.

Liu Haiyan, a flower vender in Beijing, said she has been spraying her flowers with rubbing alcohol before putting them in elegant transparent boxes to avoid contamination during shipping.

Thanks to her precautions, she said her sales have even risen during the epidemic.

"We should quarantine the disease, not love," Liu said.

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