Like many people during the pandemic, Winnipeg’s Roby Yeung has been keeping busy with a creative outlet — in his case, the laser-cut jewelry, puzzles, toys and layered bathymetric maps he creates under the banner Erlenmeyer Designs.
But Yeung, 39, might have to devote more of his spare time to his hobby, thanks to his set of pandemic-inspired ornaments for Christmas 2020, including one featuring the face of Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, along with what is certainly the local word of the year: "fundamentals."
Over the past few days, Yeung has received more than 200 orders for the ornaments — which also reference masking, distancing and handwashing — and has garnered some local media attention for his creations, which he finds amusing.
"I’m still really surprised by all the attention because, at the end of the day, it’s a Christmas ornament," he says with a laugh. "But if it gives people a chuckle, why not?"
By day, Yeung is a full-time biology and chemistry teacher at Nelson McIntyre Collegiate. (The Erlenmeyer of his hobby’s name comes from the Erlenmeyer flask glassware used in chem labs.)
As a teacher, Yeung sees the importance of putting the "fun" in "fundamentals," as it were, during this time.
"I think as a teacher, we see first-hand the effect of the pandemic on our students, colleagues and families," he says. Finding moments of levity in what has been a stressful slog of year can be a vital coping mechanism.
And so, too, can finding a community good to focus on, which is why Yeung decided to donate $1,000 from the sale of the ornaments to the Christmas Cheer Board — and he has challenged other folks to match the donation.
The Christmas Cheer Board is another tradition altered by the pandemic; the century-old organization will be turning to food vouchers instead of hampers this year, which means financial donations are especially critical.
"We want to pay it forward," Yeung says. "We want to provide support for people who need it. The amount of orders we’ve been receiving, I think it’s important to give back to the community.
"I don’t want people to think I’m trying to profit from people’s misery," he adds. "We want to support our city as well."
As for the face of Manitoba’s pandemic response himself, a provincial spokesperson says Dr. Roussin is aware of the ornaments bearing his likeness and is happy a portion of the sales are going support Manitobans.
These ornaments aren’t just keepsakes commemorating the strangest of years, when we all wore masks and washed our hands raw and the biggest local celebrity was the chief provincial public health officer. Lighthearted though they may be, they are ultimately depictions of care.
"Having the ornament is a reminder that we have to continue helping each other when we can," Yeung says.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.