Monday, January 05, 2004

Stray Cat Blues
It's official! SARS is back on the mainland. And the civet cats are taking the blame.
For several weeks there have been daily reports about an unidentified 32-year-old "freelance TV producer" in Guangzhuo (not far from SZ) with SARS-like symptoms. The World Health Organization and China's finest medical authorities have been testing the hell out of the "SARS suspect" - who is in "stable condition and recovering" - and yesterday announced that he is not longer a suspect. He's the real deal.
No word on whether he ate or had any other intimate contact with a civet cat - the Chinese media acts as stenographers, rather than reporters, most of the time - but the news is also full of reports of a supposed genetic link between civet cats, SARS and people who include civet cat as part of a daily balanced diet.
To show they're on top of it all, surgically masked health and law enforcement authorities throughout China are busy staging photo ops of them confisicating cages of the beleagured cats for extermination - 10,000 in Guangdong alone. Rat markets and diners are also being shut down.
Television is also packed with public service ads urging folks to fight SARS by wearing masks, washing their hands and getting plenty of fresh air.
The first measure, in my eyes, is merely a cosmetic, feel-good measure - much like the doctor and nurse costumes that some drug store clerks sport here - and the latter a little ridiculous considering that the air quality in all the major cities is roughly the equivalent of smokng 87 packs of cigarettes daily between taking gulps from the rusty tail pipe of an idling bus.
I've seen no ads telling people not to spit in public or urging them to cover their mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing - an apparently exotic custom practiced by few except barbarians and Chinese who have lived overseas and been unfortunately exposed to our quaint practices. While hawking up a loogie and launching it into the air and onto the sidewalk, street or elevator floor is technically an offense for which one can be fined here, it's rarely, if ever, enforced.
I've begun my own SARS prevention procedures.
First, I gave the 34 civet cats I'd been harboring in my apartment to the local animal shelter; anyway, they were hell on the furniture, particulary when they were in heat, and neighbors were either complaining or coming over to ask if they could "borrow"one for breakfast. I also eliminated rat from my diet, though it pained me greatly me to do so.
And I no longer take a crowded elevator at the Lucky Number. Recently six passengers and I were treated to the delightful sight of another rider who coughed up his green gold, delicately lifted the corner of his surgical mask and loudly expelled the glistening nugget out on the elevator floor.
No one else seemed to notice or care, but I got off at the next floor, though it was still 11 above my destination, and waited for another car.

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