photo of an empty toilet paper holder - photo by Ken Peacock

After seeing two months of empty supermarket shelves, with no toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, napkins, liquid soap, sanitizer, rice and other long-life foodstuff, and watching people at Costco hauling overloaded trolleys to their cars, I tried online shopping.

The alternative was no better. Panic buying, hoarding and opportunity shopping to resell items online, at markets and from small outlets had taken over our way of life. Large shipments of essential goods and medical supplies to China by property developers on private charter flights forced the government to ban the exports until local hospitals, doctors, nurses and medical staff had sufficient supplies for local use.

Hospitals, aged care facilities, hotels and office buildings reported huge increases in the theft of toilet paper, soap, sanitizer, protective masks and clothing by staff who took the opportunity to make some extra money. It is a new “economy.”

In search of fresh food I drove to the local fruit market and a bakery in the shopping mall. The mall was a lonely place as the non-essential stores were closed, leaving only the pharmacies, supermarkets, liquor store, delicatessen and the bakery open.

The mall had instituted the required social distancing requirements by painting markers on the floor, five feet apart, to assist people lining up outside the bakery. I joined the end of the line and waited patiently until I could reach the counter where only one person could be served by the sole cashier.

As I neared the cashier I realized why the line was moving slowly. A small person probably 36 years old, wearing a face mask, stepped into the gap in the line between me and the customer at the cashier so she would be served next.

I muttered something like: “Please go to the end of the line and wait your turn!” They either didn’t understand or ignored the suggestion and was served next. After she served me the cashier commented: “You know it is the year of the Rat!” I did know but had forgotten while I contemplated the impact of the Coronavirus on our daily routine.

According to the Chinese Horoscope or Lunar Calendar, 2020 is the year of The Rat. It is the first of the twelve zodiac animals.

the Jade Emperor - photo taken by Ken Peacock

The twelve year cycle was decided by the order in which they arrived at the Jade Emperor’s farewell party. Dating back to 2637 BC, when the first cycle of the zodiac was introduced, legend says the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from Earth. Only twelve came and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived – Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar.

The Rat is known to be charming, personable, outgoing and universally loved, as in Walt Disney’s “Mickey Mouse.” But sometimes The Rat’s affection is overruled by his or her shrewdness, love of money and ability to exploit an opportunity to buy things they do not really need. The Rat is at his best during a crisis when adversity is seen as an opportunity. Often he tries to do too much too soon, and cannot pass up bargains and good deals.

The Rat is seen as a sign of wealth and surplus, is clever, quick thinking and usually very successful. It loves hoarding, is able to turn unlucky events into fortune and is good at taking advantage of opportunities. The Rat is compatible with the Dragon, Snake, Monkey, Tiger, Dog, Boar and even the Ox. Even though Legend says The Rat tricked The Ox into giving him a ride to the Lord Buddha’s party and when they arrived he jumped down and landed ahead of The Ox – becoming first to arrive.

I was born in the Year of the Ox and didn’t feel compatible with The Rat who pushed into the line to beat me to the bakery cashier.

According to the Chinese Horoscope, The Ox is hard working, intelligent, honest and reliable. They are low key and never demand praise. People born in the year of The Ox gain their recognition through their own hard work, believe others should do what is asked of them and feel great responsibility towards their family. The Ox has a low-key personality and their strong sense of responsibility make them suited for professional and stressful jobs, including doctors, lawyers, businessmen and teachers. Often they are workaholics because they choose a career they are really interested in.

The Ox usually doesn’t allow anyone to go against their rules, including a rat that jumps ahead of them at the bakery. As I was only carrying a small plastic bag with six bananas I let the little rat go ahead unharmed – they probably were hoarding the bread anyhow.


Image Credits: the feature image of the rat was taken by © photografier and licensed at by using donations from generous readers like you; the photos of the empty toilet paper holder and the Jade Emperor were taken by the author, @ Ken Peacock.

Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock, a former senior Australian executive of a mining company, first visited China in 1972 at the end of the Cultural Revolution and before diplomatic recognition by the Australian and US Governments. This was the first of many visits to China during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1978, he traveled throughout China with a trade delegation and revisited Shanghai where he stayed at the Shanghai Mansions Hotel and discovered the “Last Bottle of Gin in China”.