Shanghai residents stuck in an indefinite lockdown due to a Covid-19 outbreak have resorted to bartering for food they have struggled to access because the city’s logistics infrastructure is under immense strain.
While typical trades might involve eggs for toiletries, some people have become more creative in their bartering.
Ying Chengtuo, 29, obtained three oranges from his next-door neighbour by allowing her to play with his cat, Orange, for 30 minutes.
Ying has been quarantined since March 20 , when a positive case was discovered in his compound. After receiving the notice, Ying rushed out to buy bags of rice and noodles to ensure that he “would not starve.”
However, he did not expect the lockdown to last for so long because the original plan had been to lift the quarantine on April 5. Like many people caught in limbo, Ying began to run out of certain types of food.
According to Ying, residents in his compound formed a WeChat group for bartering food on April 5 after many families ran out of supplies or became tired of eating the same meals every day.
After going days without eating any fruit, Ying spotted that his neighbour had offered half of a box of oranges and apples to trade on April 9.
Ying added her on WeChat and offered to give her his pre-made stock for hotpot cooking; the only thing he found potentially interesting enough to provide out of his limited options.
However, as the food shortage continues, eating hotpot has become a luxury, and the neighbour said she would give him two oranges for free.
"During these hard times, I only felt comfortable if I could give her something back in return," said Ying, who then proposed to let the neighbour play with his cat for half an hour. He had remembered the neighbour asking if he had an orange cat during their conversation and figured she might be a cat lover.
The offer was accepted, and Ying took his cat to his next-door neighbour's flat as the quarantine policy had been loosened and residents in his building could move around inside, according to Ying.
After the play date with Orange, Ying's neighbour told him that she had a great time with the cat, and gave him a third orange in thanks.
Ying, who has been living alone under the lockdown, credits his cat with providing him with psychological comfort and helping him manage his mental health during the pandemic.
"I shudder to think about my mental state without the cat," Ying said. "I don't have to play with him all the time, but just knowing that there is another living animal in my room is comforting enough."
On April 11, to Ying's relief, his compound received three rounds of supplies, including garlic, ginger, a bag of rice, steaks, carrots and some green leafy vegetables.
Stories of Shanghai residents being creative in helping each other with food shortages have been popular on China's social media.
In one popular video, an older man living on the first floor can be seen tossing a large bag of vegetables that he had grown himself to the man living directly above him, who leaned out to catch it.
Another man was reported to have used a drone to deliver groceries including Vitamin C and half of a fish to a woman living in his block.
Shanghai reported 22,342 positive cases on Tuesday, the first time case numbers had dropped in ten days.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.