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Wearing a Mask can be Cool | Joy Chen | #LetsResetNormal


A 16-year-old from Shanghai, China

Now more than two months later, I still cannot believe what happened on the rainy night of January 23rd, two days before Chinese New Year. I still cannot believe I went to the last show of Notre-Dame de Paris musical before theatres and cinemas got all closed. Above all, I still marvel at my wonderful experience of spiritual connection during this tragic time, the scenes I saw and the words I heard that I would never forget.

That day Wuhan went into lockdown. Everyone in China was in shock and within seconds the news was all over the internet. The roads were suddenly empty and everyone started wearing a mask. I have been waiting for the Notre-Dame de Paris musical for ages hoping to see the best of all times. I had the best possible ticket but I started to wonder if it was worth going. It wasn’t my first time watching it, nor my second, it would, in fact, be my third time watching it in the theatre. I have also watched the DVD countless times. You might say I’m crazy, but let me answer with a line in one of the songs. “Vivre pour celui qu’on aime. Living for the one we love.”

It was in this spirit of passion, I went on my journey to the theatre wearing an N95 mask for self-protection. Some spectacular scenes unfolded in front of me one after another.


Nearly two-thirds of the seats were empty at 6 (this is Shanghai! You need to imagine the usual crowdedness during rush hour in a city of 35 million people.) In my cabin, every single person was wearing a mask of some kind and it was deadly silent, as if it was doomsday. However, despite the scariness it aroused in me, it amazed me also how quickly people responded to the call of self-protection and social responsibility. 

At the gate of the theatre

Temperature check procedure was newly deployed at every entrance. People waited anxiously but cooperatively in line, some took the time to calm themselves down after running in the rain, panting behind their masks.


People were trying to spread out. I could not help noticing the types and colours of masks. In the theatre of around 2,000 seats, I was visiting a mask exhibition. One ticket, double shows! What would it look like from the stage? Would the actors and actresses be distracted? It must be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them also.

It turned out, I was worrying too much. The show was just as amazing as usual – actually, even better than the previous ones I watched, probably because we all wanted to save the best for the last. The masks did not seem to block the interaction from the audience. After all, our passion could still be radiated from our eye contact and voices, even though we were sometimes completely out of tune. Blame the mask! Let me tell you the true downside of watching the two-hour musical with an N95 mask on all the time is the pain. But safety goes before comfort.

Curtain call

Amongst the enthusiastic audiences gathered around the stage, the lead actor, Gringoire, gave a speech. Apparently, it was not something he’d prepared and rehearsed for. Its authenticity struck us, and I would never forget what he said. “Everybody on the stage noticed that the vast majority of you are wearing masks tonight. I would like to thank you all for this smart and respectful behaviour. Thank you so much. We all know how you are facing a major public health challenge and we trust you together will solve this by acting as responsible citizens. Thank you very much.” It was caring and understanding and so nicely conveyed despite the language barriers between people from different continents.

We took a giant group photo that night. We were smiling under the masks despite knowing that it would not be seen at all. I believed we all smiled to ourselves with a feeling of pride and connectedness. Music had cured our anxiety and connected us spiritually. I was lost in the vast sea of compassion, unidentifiable in the photo. But to me, it was the most special picture I could ever have.

We sang the song “Le Temp des Cathédrales”. We were a bit off the tune with masks on, but the song touched me more than any time before. There was a line in the English version of the song, “From nowhere came the age of the cathedrals,” that struck me suddenly. Isn’t it also the age of the cathedrals these days in a way? Uncertain, chaotic and unpredictable. It came from nowhere, no one could ever imagine it happening and we could not believe it is coming. It is a very challenging time. But it is in this very moment that we see the most beautiful part of humanity, such as this magnificent scene right in front of me. The beginning of 2020 is deemed a special memory, as the song goes: “live in glass and live in stone”. “In two thousand this will end,” the song suggests. Yes, sooner or later this will come to an end and we should remain hopeful.

In the future, history books will state: “The virus was eventually killed and the spirit of compassion and connection survived.”

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Wearing a Mask can be Cool | Joy Chen | #LetsResetNormal

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