Category Archives: news

Focus, friend. Focus!

Ugh

Look Korea, I’m rooting for you. I’m your friend. But this tendency to make things about you, this desperate thirsty shit needs to stop.

Black people are being killed and an authoritarian steak salesman is threatening to point US military guns towards US citizens, and yet you find time and resources to figure out which properties damaged were owned by Koreans? That’s messed up.

Koreans sometimes need to calm down and stop trying to find the Korean angle or trying to assert Korean-ness in things too much. I get it. There’s patriotism. There’s love of country and fellow country men. Canadians tend to be overly assertive in finding the Canadian angle in things, too. But sometimes Korean media just seems a tad too thirsty. Korea has arrived on the world stage. Most people can now differentiate between Japanese and Koreans. Korean media doesn’t have to weed through every miniscule detail in things to find out if there’s anything Korean in order to blow it up as if it’s a triumph or that Koreans are somehow victims.

I see this in local media a lot. “Oh, let’s send out a food truck in Washington, DC and film it for our reality show. People will learn about Korean food.” Yeah, great idea if most people don’t already know about Korean food, especially in Washington, DC. “Did you see that one ‘kimchi’ comment by one of the characters in Birdman? Don’t you think it’s racist?” Maybe? But it’s a super minor comment in a prestige film that not many people will see!

Do you know about Dokdo? It’s Korea’s Hawaii!” It’s not. Not even most Koreans think it’s Korea’s Hawaii.

Things like this can range from annoying to mildly amusing. But when a major international event happens and I see headlines like the one above, not only is it disappointing, it just reeks of being blind to the issue at hand. The writer, as well as the editor and everyone else involved in having the dumb article posted on the paper, seem to be unaware to the tense history between black Americans and Korean Americans, particularly the LA riots and Koreatown. Heck, officer Tou Thau, a Hmong American who was one of the officers who allowed the murder of George Floyd to happen, kinda symbolized the complicity of Asian Americans (the model minority) to the violence against black communities. Simply put, this is not the time to worry about property. Black people are dying!

In Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was murdered by cops, Gandhi Mahal, an Indian family restaurant was burned to the ground due to the protests. The restaurant was started during the recession and became a local community hub. During the protests, it became a shelter for protesters, especially to those who were injured. And when it burned down, instead of being concerned over his loss, the owner was quoted as saying, “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served. Put those officers in jail.”

Forget property. Forget who owns what. The headline should be “Racist Cops are Out of Control.” Sure, you could mention that seventy-nine Korean businesses were damaged or looted in the process, but if you’re not focusing on the racism, death, and authoritarianism in the US, then you’re missing the racist forest for the Korean trees.

Dark Times

Black

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”

Sinclair Lewis might have thought about the sentiment above, but there’s no proof that he actually uttered those words. But in any case, for the things that are happening in America right now, those words certainly will do.

After riots have broken out over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Donald Trump emerged from his bunker, had the police shoot tear gas at protesters to clear some room around the White House, and declared that he will allow military force within the country to quell the riots. Instead of backing down from his previous “once the looting starts, the shooting starts” comment, he doubled down with threatening to have the US military turn their might against Americans (As if the police aren’t already happily using military gear and tactics against Americans). And to complete the faux Lewis quote, he stands on a photo op holding a copy of the Bible as a prop. It was a slow and steady crawl, but fascism has come to America.

One of Trump’s favorite dictators, Duterte of the Philippines, has used similar tactics to cement his hold in his country. The Philippines is very similar to what’s happening in the US. Under the guise of the war against drugs and for the betterment of the country, he has sicced the police force as well as vigilantes to rein terror on drug users and suspected drug users. In the name of national security, he has silenced many of his detractors, even shutting down the country’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN. Just recently, Trump threatened to shutdown Twitter. If he had it his way, he would’ve shut down CNN and MSNBC a long time ago.

Now regarding his announcement regarding authorizing military force if state governors couldn’t get the protests under control. Much like his approach to the coronavirus, instead of leading, Trump is letting governors fix their problems independently, allowing him to take credit if the governors succeed and blame governors should the situation get worse. It’s leadership by cowardice. What Trump doesn’t seem to realize though is that it is illegal for the military to act within the US borders, and the only time the military is allowed to quell insurrection within the United States is if it’s under the request of the state’s governor. Now, which crazy governor would willingly point the guns of the US military on their own citizens?

What’s disheartening is the fact that amidst the protests, the coronavirus is still spreading. At the moment, the US is nearing 2 million cases, by far the highest in the globe. Should there be a surge in infections, it would inevitably affect the poorest in the country, and in this case, it would be felt more by minority communities protesting police violence. As if they weren’t suffering enough prior to the death of George Floyd.

The thing is, I believe the current protests are not only the result of decades of police abuse and racism. They are also the result of the US being fed up with 2020, if not the whole of Trump’s presidency. Communities have been ravaged by the pandemic. People have been suffering from the recession. There has been a constant rise in hate crimes in the US. The news has been a constant train of one injustice after another. And dumb, white people are angriest over the slightest discomforts… to the point of going around carrying guns to legislative buildings to protest wearing masks designed to keep them healthy. Which they all do unmolested, I might add. And so when the world saw Derek Chauvin slowly kill George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, which was ironically very reminiscent of Colin Kapernick’s protest against police violent, something inside many people’s hearts have died as well.

What police officers in US cities are doing right now as well as Trump’s move towards fascism is such a collective shame that many parts of the world have taken notice. There are rallies in many major cities. It is such big news here in Korea that people have started donating to black causes in the US. Even Iran is asking police officers in the US to treat its citizens more humanely. It’s like the whole world is looking at the most popular guy in school and seeing him hurt and embarrass himself.

I take no joy in seeing Donald Trump fail. It is frustrating to see him be evil or simply be inept and not see anyone stand up against him effectively. I have great love for Minneapolis. I have love for the US. Depending on who you ask, the country is Canada’s closest ally. So it’s infuriating seeing Trump fail America and the world again and again. And he seems to save his most vile poison towards minority populations and immigrants. Being a minority and an immigrant myself, I have felt the hurt of bigotry. I too have been racially profiled both in Canada and in Seoul. But I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and suffering to be a black person in America right now. The “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” that Trump has bragged about earlier were meant as a threat against protesters, but I have a feeling they are especially trained for Americans who don’t happen to be white.

Things are dark right now. It is extremely dark. With racism and disease, and as Trump hoisted that Bible in front of cameras, it is very difficult to imagine light at the end of this long and dark tunnel.

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Prom is Coronavirus Casualty (but there’s always Jennifer Lynn Jenkins)

Girl Diver

I met an old acquaintance of mine who had me spend time talking to his daughter. His daughter was studying in Canada but had to suddenly move back to Korea due to the coronavirus. Let’s call her Kelly. Now her education in Canada is in a bit of a limbo. She doesn’t know when and if she could go back to Canada to finish her senior. And worse in Kelly’s mind, she fears that she’s going to miss out on prom. Prom… Ah, to be young and naive. I asked her about her ideas about prom and it was interesting hearing how a lot of it is informed through YA novels and what she’s seen on her Netflix subscription.

I had to tell her that prom in Canada is called “grad.” And I’m not so sure about other kids, but I remember it not being such a big deal to Canadians, at least to me. I remember listening to ‘This American Life’s’ take on prom and one teacher said that it was the time when kids become adults in America. It’s when they dress up as adults, get treated like adults, are allowed to drink, and for a night, think that everything is possible. I remember my grad being a mixed bag. There wasn’t that much hype about it, but I do remember being in an environment where it’s all sort of a blank slate. High school hierarchy was sort off forgotten, tired facades were dropped, and for a night, I found myself socializing with people I normally wouldn’t hang out with. A couple of times I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, that guy ain’t half bad. I should’ve hung out with him more.”

Contrary to the critical hype, I actually went to grad twice. Both with the same person. My date wasn’t really my girlfriend or anything. She was one of my best friends at the time. I graduated one year earlier, so I took her to my grad and she invited me to hers. I was initially planning to invite a girl in my history class to grad with me. But when I called my friend for advice asking that girl out, I ended up asking her out instead. Interestingly enough, I believe the guy the girl in my history class went to grad with ended up marrying her. So that was all good for her. I never would’ve guessed that after seeing her all drunk with her future husband trying to nurse her back to consciousness.

I don’t really remember spending too much time with my date on either nights. I remember renting a limo once. I remember being drunk and getting kicked out on my second night. I remember not only do these events have liquor, they also had gambling, which is a really weird education/initiation for kids. It was like, “hey, in case you didn’t know the rules of black jack before you graduate, here you go!” I remember dancing with a girl whose name I believe was Jennifer Lynn Jenkins (I could be wrong). I always had a crush on her but thought she was too out of my league. She had beautiful long blond hair which seemed to just swish with every turn. I remember her having braces at one point, but then tried fangs in order to fit in. It was a thing back then, I guess. Anyway, for someone so attractive, she seemed to never really stuck with a crowd. I think it’s because she was the pretty girl who just moved from another school on her last year. Anyway, with the democratizing nature of the event, I was able to finally work up the courage and ask her to dance with me. She probably doesn’t remember it, but that was the highlight of all of my grad experience.

Outside of that, both events were mostly just hanging out and waiting for things to happen, just like what most teenagers do. We wait for people to arrive, for things to happen, for things to end. It’s not really exciting. Looking back now, aren’t teenagers dumb? We mostly spent our time waiting. I tell all of this to Kelly and that seemed to dampen the hype a bit for her. But I guess what really turned her the most is the fact that people are expected to have dates at grad. Well, at least that’s what media told her. A lot of people in both of the grads I went to didn’t really have dates. Or maybe they’re like me. I had someone with me, but she’s not really my date in the truest sense of the word. Anyway, most Koreans start dating at a much older age than Westerners. It’s not unusual to see kids in university who’ve never been on dates once. The pressure to have a date on one night in a foreign country with so little time must be daunting for her. But then again, she seems like a good kid. I’m sure some guy would ask her out given the chance.

Anyway, it was fun seeing how big a hype grad (or prom) is to a kid. It seems really foolish to me now. Heck, it seemed fooling to me even during my first year in university. But it’s interesting to see how kids’ minds are so different, even when they believe that they have become adults. Maybe it’s our minds changing significantly as we age, or maybe it’s just the wisdom (or cynicism) brought about by years of experience. I really hope Canada gets the virus under control soon. I feel bad for the young kids missing out on grad (or prom) this year. I hear that some schools are moving their prom events to August, but I’m not sure if that’s too soon for the virus to be under control and for such large gatherings to be safe. In any case, I hope next year, Kelly gets to experience this event which the media has been hyping so much for her.

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A Long Wave

Busy

People need to stop talking about a “second wave” or “the next resurgence.” Outside of China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, the world is still pretty much dealing with the first wave. It bothers me that people have been itching for businesses to re-open, to get their hair cut or their nails done, only after a few weeks. So much so that there are protests in some countries which could inevitably spread the virus even further. South Korea has been dealing with the virus and social distancing since February. The rest of the world needs to calm down.

South Korea has been enjoying a good record on getting infection rates down. The country had zero local infections for a number of days. Then over the long weekend, one person came from out of town to Itaewon in Seoul and partied in five bars and clubs. He ended up spreading the coronavirus to a number of people. Just this morning, the number was 52 cases. Unfortunately, the area and a couple of the clubs are popular among the gay community. So contact tracing will be extremely difficult. People would be more secretive about their presence in the area compared to how tight-lipped people were about their relationship with the Shincheonji cult during after the initial outbreak this year.

The incident highlights the greed and hubris of some people, both the business owners and the patrons. Club and bar owners have been itching to get people coming in. I realize they have bills to pay and everything, but this rush to open and fill their venues with people paying in often un-taxable cash has inevitably hurt their business even more. Now the bars and clubs are forced to shut down.

A bit of history. Itaewon is multi-cultural district near the army base in Seoul. A few years ago, due to the music video “Itaewon Freedom,” it became a very popular hangout spot not just for foreigners but also the locals. It caused a lot of Koreans to start their own bars and restaurants and even pushed out many of the foreign establishments which gave the area its distinct character. Later, with news that the army base nearby will be shutting down, real estate prices began to rise dramatically, and many of the businesses began to shut down as well. The place is now filled with buildings being torn down, presumably for bigger buildings to be built. Business hasn’t really been good for the area recently due to a Japanese boycott and the coronavirus. The place looks like a shell of its former self if you walk around during the day. Then a few weeks ago, ‘Itaewon Class,’ a popular webtoon-turned-K-Drama gave the area a bit of push, especially since the drama focused on upbeat nightlife and gorgeous young people. Unfortunately, I think the bar and club owners got ahead of themselves. Many clubs opened with sanitizers at the door and masks laughably “mandatory.” And now with these businesses being forced to closed, the area is dead both during the day and at night.

It annoys me how lame (yes, LAME) the people who insist on clubbing and partying during the pandemic are. Can’t they read the room? And yes, I’ve had my clubbing phase before, but I’m sure the minute someone tells me that masks and sanitizers are mandatory, I’d probably cool it a little bit. How fun could it be going out and partying wearing a mask outside of Halloween?! There are other ways to get laid! Or better yet, DON’T get laid. Stay in for a few days. It won’t kill you (It won’t kill your old relatives either). Even Pornhub is famously helping by providing their premium content for free. It annoys me still that with Itaewon bars and clubs closing, many are going to Gangnam and maybe even Hongdae to party. This is utter hubris. This is the Korean version of spring breakers in Florida.

And now people are on alert again. One of the infected happens to be US military as well. A few are foreigners. More than ever, people are talking about how many foreigners in the country seem to walk around thinking that they are invulnerable to the virus by not wearing masks. They don’t seem to understand that the reason why the masks and the whole sanitation and social distancing works is that if everyone does it, the greater the chance it will be effective. They can afford not to wear a mask because everyone else is. And that’s just being a selfish, ethnocentric ass hat. At least wear one because “when in Rome…” A collective effort is how Korea managed to get its coronavirus situation under control. It’s when actors stray from this collective effort that leads to an outbreak: the cult breaking protocol, and now with these dumb clubs.

It annoys me even more that the incident is probably reinforcing the stereotype of foreigners (and perhaps gay people) being too carefree or not being serious people. Just this morning, I was encouraged out of nowhere to tell my friends who went clubbing over the weekend to get tested. Huh?! Why me?? For years, people assume I have connections to the club/party scene simply because I’m a foreigner.

The thing is, even during the worst of the pandemic. I still went out to restaurants. I still went out to bars. But the establishments I go to are around my neighborhood. They are in the community which I would probably have contact with at some point since work was never really shut down for me. I don’t think it’s smart to travel, go to crowded places with other people from out of town or wherever, and inadvertently spread the virus. People still need to be wary of spreading the virus and not indulge in overly unnecessary risks.

So with Korea reeling and in a bit of a panic over the recent (hopefully) mini outbreak, why are other countries so confident that they can ride through it like more people won’t get infected? I realize companies want people working just so they wouldn’t cover their unemployment insurance costs, but other than that, how do you explain everyday Joe-Schmoe itching to go out there, get a haircut, and maybe catch the virus and kill grandma? There’s no second wave, folks. Korea, which is a model country in terms of the coronavirus is still dealing with the virus like it’s the first wave. Businesses are still hurting. People are still strapped financially. But with much of the virus still being unknown, it’s really best to just stick to social distancing and calm down for a bit. Get used to this new life for a while. I know, I know. It’s easy for me to say that while I still have a job. But, I have a feeling it’s going to be a very long and painful ride, and pushing life to normalcy regardless of the risks would simply make things worse.

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Loving Too Much

Cronus

I love Japan. Prior to the coronavirus, I used to go there every year. Heck, I dress like a fake Hawaiian person, just like many people do in Fukuoka. But just because you love a country doesn’t mean you have to turn a blind eye to the many things that are wrong with the country. It’s infuriating watching the early coverage of Japan regarding the coronavirus.

First off, commentators and “experts” were opining that Japan had a low coronavirus infection rate due to the country’s culture of wearing masks whenever a person is ill and their general cleanliness. This implies that other countries were somewhat less clean, doesn’t it? Singapore was hard hit early on by the virus, and I would argue that Singapore is a much cleaner country than Japan.

I was watching a documentary about the virus in Asia and it irked me how Japan was being covered (https://youtu.be/_wox36bFDqE) especially on the 36-minute mark. It just reeks of a superiority complex. And it doesn’t help that the French correspondent just fawns at the people’s commentary and doesn’t ask any challenging question. Which is another thing I find problematic. At the time of filming, France was having a surge of coronavirus cases. The French corresponded should be well aware of this. The French, much like most of Europe, didn’t take the virus too seriously, and was hard hit as a consequence. And yet, the French correspondent, like a proper weeaboo, just smiles and ignores the hidden danger of the virus. He even took his kids to a cherry viewing festival. No masks, just smiles.

The documentary is outdated by now, but it shows the willingness of people to give Japan all of the benefits of the doubt due to their love for things Japanese. Anime and manga are great. Sushi is delicious. The people are often very polite and can be charmingly quirky. But that doesn’t excuse many of the things that are wrong in the country.

The current government is horribly right wing. Abe often flirts with nationalist sentiments. Many Japanese are in total denial regarding war crimes and their involvement in World War II. They can be quite comfortable with blatant misogyny. Racism and xenophobia can often be excused as “cultural differences.” They are in denial regarding Fukushima. They seem to relish eating whales for no good reason. And these are just things off the top of my head.

I remember Takeshi Kitano once produced a panel talk show featuring foreigners called, “What’s Wrong with Japan.” It was unique because instead of having foreigners constantly detail how wonderful their host country is (Korean TV can be guilty of this), it asked foreigners what they didn’t like about Japan and how it can be improved. Instead of telling viewers what they probably already know and agree with (which can get boring and repetitive), it gave them a more critical view point. And the show wasn’t intended to be malicious. It was more about love and wanting some growth.

Anyway, going back to the coronavirus situation. Japan is still not testing as many people. They are also not very upfront regarding their infection and death rates. It annoyed me that even after a recent surge, I still occasionally see articles wondering “How is Japan getting low infection rates despite limited testing and contact tracing?” The love for Japan seems to have eclipsed some people’s logic.

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Money for the People

Buddha

In Canada, people in need during the coronavirus crisis would be given $2000 a month for four months. I’ve read from people going through the process and even read through the guidelines, and it seems simple enough. Not everyone would qualify of course. The program is targeted towards those who have lost their jobs or are struggling because of the lockdown. It’s not a free for all. Someone I know who hasn’t worked for ten years asked if they qualify for monetary assistance. As someone who is essentially retired and hasn’t paid income tax forever, he doesn’t really qualify. This is Canada taking care of it’s most vulnerable citizens. Coupled with universal healthcare, I think it’s not that bad. It could be better, but it’s still good.

In the US, they have a similar program which gives out $1200 to people help them out. Other countries have assistance programs of different amounts. How much each program actually helps is debatable, but the concept is all the same. People have lost their jobs or are not earning as much. They need help. Also, money needs to be moving around in order to maintain the economy. It shouldn’t just be static, otherwise there will be greater effects in the long run.

South Korea just unveiled a stimulus package that would help the lower 70% of the population. It’s a lump sum of 1000 Won to help people in the form of vouchers or check cards. As little as I earn, I don’t really qualify for assistance. I’m still currently employed and working every day. And though things have been tighter in the past couple of months, I’m still able to pay my bills and go out once in a while. I don’t really begrudge others for getting benefits. I’m just grateful that I’m still in a comfortable position not to require it.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the tone in the past few days in the country. Many people who are against the Korean president are complaining that he is essentially buying the support of people right before the upcoming elections. Also, many are complaining that it is unfair that the “bonus” is not universal and that they do not qualify. There’s also a conspiracy theory that the flattening of the curve in the country is a complete lie designed to make the current administration look good.

Well, first off, buying the support of people prior to an election is what every politician does in terms of their promises. Telling people that they’ll lower taxes, improve the economy, or whatever will ultimately impact the voters’ bank accounts. Offering the lower 70% a small financial assistance in the midst of a crisis is the least a country could do in the current situation. I just walked through a neighborhood near my workplace and it’s depressing to see all of the business that were shuttered due to a lack of tourists. People need financial assistance and more. This undeniable reality has become so evident that just recently, all of the parties have adopted some sort of financial assistance platform to help individuals.

Regarding artificially flattening the curve. Anyone who trumpets this doesn’t really follow politics well. An administration facing a crisis would more often see a rise in approval levels than not. George Bush saw his poll numbers rise during 9/11. Even Donald Trump is enjoying a rise in his poll numbers. A country in crisis would naturally root for their leader even if they don’t normally support him or her. You want your country to succeed. If Moon Jae-In is artificially deflating the number of infections, then he is going to make it a non-issue prior to the elections. This is similar to how Japan tried to make coronavirus a none-issue prior to the Olympics. The problem with this however is two-fold. One, once the coronavirus becomes a none-issue, it opens up the field to people who can criticize and proclaim they could’ve done better without much consequences. If you were in power, wouldn’t you want this right after an election? Second, if the lie becomes too untenable, then the political backlash would be so much worse. Moon Jae-In and his administration doesn’t have to worry too much at the moment. Well, not so much that they need to resort to shady tactics.

Anyway, I don’t want to delve into too much Korean politics. I’m just happy that some people are getting some help, sad that they are not getting enough, and grateful for every day that I’m able to work. And as for complaining about some people getting benefits while others don’t. One should look at their neighbor’s plate only to see if they have enough food to eat, not to check if they have too much.

 

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Online Musings

Shrimp

A few things about new life online:

I used to look down at the University of Phoenix and all of these diploma mills which have completely online education programs. It would appear that I was being dumb, especially now that most educational institutions have moved all of their curriculum online. What’s going to be challenging, and one that I’m trying to figure out myself, is how these programs will be dealing with testing and evaluation. Of course, some fields by their nature can be very easily adapted to distance testing be it through a timed online test or via long-form mail-in essays, but how about others? In any case, more people are going to have to be creative trying to come up with ways to educate and test outside of the classroom, and I’m trying to figure out how to basically make testing some skills cheat-proof despite the distance (part of my real job). It’ll be interesting to see how other people approach this problem.

Speaking of prematurely looking down on things. I remember Howard Stern looking down on podcasts and Youtube broadcasts. But now it seems everyone has no choice bu to adapt to Youtube broadcasting now that it’s not advisable to be in television or radio studios. Big names like Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers are working out the kinks to broadcasting at home and they have this sort of guerrilla amateurish vibe to them compared to longtime Youtube broadcasters. I’m not saying that Youtubers are looking to be the more superior form of broadcasters in these coronavirus times. Howard Stern, despite being at home, still managed to replicate the vibe he got from broadcasting in his old studio, complete with all of his staff working from their homes. The late night shows still come out pretty clever and entertaining. So how do these shows manage to do better in my opinion? It’s the writing. They actually have talented writers working hard on them. I don’t want to generalize, but many Youtube shows rely on one gimmick or simply run on the personality of the Youtuber. The ones that are actually good would have proper editors, writers, and producers.

And so now that most education and entertainment is now online. Doesn’t that make Internet connection a basic necessity?

I wonder how apps like Tinder and Grindr are doing these days. Early last year, Tinder began marketing heavily in South Korea. They’ve been in the country for a while but since last year, they began pushing it as a means to find friends of similar interests, not as a hook-up app. But now that everyone is social distancing even in South Korea where the coronavirus is starting to be under control, I can’t imagine people using it too much. And speaking of hooking up, what about people who normally hook up with people? I wonder how they are doing these days. Thinking of all the polygamists, open-relationship havers, and lotharios out there.

I myself have been more active online recently than usual. I don’t normally go out and meet people to socialize prior to the coronavirus pandemic, so I guess I’ve adjust better than most people. I’ve trained myself to be a curmudgeon at a young age and it’s paying off in spades. In any case, Instagram and Twitter are getting quite a workout. There’s family on Facebook, but it’s weird cause I imagine everyone would be just like me now, living like an expat separated from others, whose only connection to friends and family is online. Ignoring people on Facebook or any platform online would be truly, TRULY ignoring them.

Netflix was just introduced to South Korea last November. Whoever brokered that deal must feel like a prophetic genius. I worry about TV shows, movies, and media in general though. We already don’t have sports. At some point, if this keeps up, we’ll be running out of new movies and shows in the hopper. I’m already watching shows I normally would’ve skipped. Even the production of big studio pornography would be in danger. Most would probably be home cams and independent productions.

Online forums can be the most depressing place one can visit. There’s Twitter and its cynicism, but online forums, especially with expats in the country can be especially depressing. I don’t recommend it. If you’re thinking of going online to find people in similar circumstances, don’t do it. It’s just going to get you more depressed. Find stuff to be outraged with online. That’s more helpful than being depressed.

Trump and many conservatives recently predicted that the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic would cause people to want to commit suicide. Just last week, many conservative pundits online have been somewhat suggesting that the death of senior citizens would be preferable than a recession. Ghoulish. Well, since South Korea is basically a month into the future in terms of the virus and suicide rates have been traditionally high in the country, I decided to look at the numbers. In 2019, Koreans have been lamenting that the lackluster economy has been driving people to commit suicide, with the rate being 24.6 per 100,000 in 2016 and expected to grow further. Well, it’s now 2020. The economy hasn’t gotten much better and the coronavirus has made things much worse. The suicide rate in South Korea is somewhere around 26.9 per 100,000. It’s not really that high an increase, in my opinion. I still feel incredibly depressed and each day is a repetitive nightmare of meaningless routines, but I don’t feel any worse than usual.

Thank God for some good long video games coming this month. Unfortunately, while many of them are online, I notice that not many video games being released recently (or these days) are designed to be played couch co-op. They’re either one player games or games to be played with several people online, just not the person you happen to be in the house with. How is a person supposed to bond with people they are quarantined with? Tsk tsk. Seems like a missed opportunity in the apocalypse.

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Wearing Me Down

Space Man

I was done worrying about the coronavirus. I was done. Dammit, this thing has been on my radar since January, and I was done. Granted, I haven’t really been too worried about it until there was a resurgence in South Korea after Valentine’s Day, but the fact that my office is still responding to calls from customers, re-scheduling, informing them about the virus, has got me tired. I’m tired of worrying about my health, about people’s health, about my job, about other people’s jobs. This constant atmosphere of high alert, it’s stressful. It’s like we’re witnessing another global historic event that will affect the way we do things, much like Sept. 11, except this one is dragging along through the year.

Last Friday, I went out with some friends. I think because of the sudden drop in temperature, I got a bit of a cold over the weekend, but I’m almost over it. I usually get really bad colds about twice or three times a year, but this one wasn’t too bad. Still, it didn’t stop me from being overly anxious about it. “Do I have it? Is this it? If Tom Hanks has it, then maybe I have it, too! After all, cases of infection have been documented around the neighborhood I work in. Am I endangering everyone right now? Am I going to be Internet famous as the Canadian guy who got everyone in his office sick?”

Korea’s doing well right now. It’s not quite like Singapore, but it appears that the government has got the whole thing under control. The infection rate has gone way down, and more people are recovering from the disease in comparison. People everywhere are still wearing masks, and we are constantly getting updates on television and online regarding the disease.

The problem is now that Korea and China are on their way to out of the coronavirus hole, the rest of the world is just experiencing the brunt of the disease. Looking at the numbers, Spain and Italy have gone past Korea in terms of infections. Germany, France, and the US appear to be catching up within a week’s time. These countries didn’t take the virus seriously. Just a couple of days ago, people were out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, crowding bars and restaurants, despite news of the pandemic being ubiquitous.

Quite frankly, I think the reason why the rest of the world didn’t take it seriously for so long is because the initial victims were Asians. I suspect western countries saw it as a foreign matter. “It couldn’t happen here!” When WHO declared the coronavirus a global health emergency in January, they explicitly said it was not because of the tremendous number of infected people in China at the time but the few numbers of infected people in other countries. When the disease exploded in Iran, I don’t think people took that too seriously as well. The world has gotten too used to seeing dead Muslims. The WHO didn’t declare the disease a pandemic until the number of infected Europeans starting rising dramatically. That was March 11. Korea was already in the middle of getting the virus under control.

I think Japan is in denial as well regarding their strategy of suppressing their infection numbers by not testing as many people as they should. “It’s not a Japan problem. It’s a problem with other countries.” I realize it has a lot to do with politics as well as trying to keep the Olympics. But even if Japan looks good on paper regarding their infection rates, the rest of the world won’t be able to participate in the Olympics if they are dealing with the coronavirus come July. Just cancel the Olympics already!

So if Korea’s starting to look fine and the rest of world isn’t, why am I stressing about it? I’ll be okay, right? Well, not really. I have friends and family overseas. Aside from that, I worry personally about the economy. People are already predicting a recession in the US, and I can only imagine how that would affect the rest of the world. How would that affect the company I work for? Fear of the disease and self-isolation has already affected many of the industries here in Korea, particularly restaurants, bars, saunas, and gyms. But all of that, couple with the global economy is bound to affect me at some point. Whether I’ll still have a job next month or if my contract will be renewed at the end of the year worries me.

And even though there are good signs in the country, the constant flood of distressing news from abroad is stressful. I love Twitter, but right now, most everything on Twitter is about how Americans and Europeans are totally dropping the ball in responding to this pandemic. This is really the worst time to elect a failed casino owner as the leader of the free world. I wish I could insulate myself and just ignore all of the news out there. But when I look at some of my art friends who are oblivious to what’s happening, just going about their merry way, I get frustrated as well.

And speaking of art (this is still an art Web site), I haven’t stopped making art. However, I stopped looking for art shows to apply to. I imagine galleries are suffering at the moment. Who wants to attend an art opening right now? Same goes for theater productions. Luckily, there’s plenty of opportunity to get my work seen online.

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Coronavirus Prejudice Zits

Ceiling Monster

So I wanted to book an appointment with my dermatologist, and BOOM, right there, instant racism!

Sorry, sir, but it’s difficult to make appointments with foreigners right now. I know you’ve visited us before but because of the coronavirus, we are not allowing foreigners in the clinic.”

Now, the clinic I go to is often filled with children and it appears that they are dealing with various forms of eczema, which is quite common in the country. I imagine the clinic’s hesitation with having foreigners in the clinic is to alleviate parents’ worries who might be harboring some prejudice regarding foreigners, thinking that they are infected with the coronavirus. They don’t want to risk being in a room with a foreigner because, “you never know.” Or maybe that’s just the clinic being xenophobic on their behalf.

I am a Canadian in South Korea. The clinic knows this. I also spoke with a clear North American accent. It is very ironic that the country which is currently being shunned by most of the world due to fears of the coronavirus somehow finds a way to shun foreigners who found a way to stay and live in country despite the widespread fear and paranoia. Now, I understand the sentiment and the situation. This is not my first experience being subject to institutionalized xenophobia in the country, so I’m not about to raise Cain. It’s just that it’s always amusing whenever I encounter it. It’s like seeing a strange but somewhat familiar-looking animal… an animal which happens to stink.

See with this virus, there’s enough xenophobia for everyone to go around. First there’s the prejudice against the Chinese. “Oh they eat bats and other strange animals.” Then there’s the prejudice against Koreans. The Japanese government are now trying to paint Koreans as particularly risky potential carriers of the disease. They’ve canceled Korean visas and are now forcing visitors to go on 2-week quarantines. But while Koreans can complain about being victims, they are also trafficking with their own prejudices, prejudices which kept me from getting a prescription of pimple cream a few minutes ago.

I can only imagine how it is right now with Iranians in the US or with Italians in Europe. Actually, I don’t think think Italians would be subjected to much prejudice anywhere despite them now being the second country worst hit by the disease (That is officially with testing. Compared with countries who don’t test, who knows?!). Let’s be honest, Italians are white. This day and age, the image of disease vectors is a prejudice exclusive only to visible minorities.

Oh and about the disease, people are still on high alert despite the rate of infection going down in the past couple of days. Some politicians are cautiously optimistic that the worst is over, as long as there’s no resurgence in other parts of the country. I hope so, too. This heightened paranoia is not doing my skin any good. Add to that the economic anxiety brought about by the stock market crashing this morning and I’m about to break out like a fourteen year-old kid.

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An Update on the Panic

Ceiling Monster

I really didn’t want to write about the coronavirus again, thinking that the whole panic would’ve been over by now, but here I am again.

I just bought another set of masks. They’re still in short supply at the moment, and at least in Daegu where the most infections in the country have been, people have been lining up when they hear that shops have them. The problem with this is that in one instance, one of the people lining up was infected for the virus himself. I’m guessing the people lining up for those masks won’t be sleeping well for the next couple of nights.

Classes in the country have been postponed for another two weeks. I don’t have Korean classes this week, and I doubt if it will resume anytime soon. Many gatherings have been canceled due to fear of infection. Recently, a Zumba fitness class has been identified as infecting several students. This has confirmed fears of going to gyms or health classes. The gym in my apartment complex remains closed this week. I wake up early in t he morning with nothing to do.

Similarly, Japan has decided to postpone classes for a month. They’ve detected almost 1000 cases of infections but they aren’t testing as many people as in South Korea. Because of the virus, South Koreans are now unable to visit over 80 countries and people are also advised not to visit South Korea. Japan still manages to escape a strict ban to other countries, and is still one of the countries, like the US, that mostly prohibits other nationalities from entering due to the virus. I wonder when that situation would reverse itself, when let’s say Americans would be prohibited from entering Singapore due to American coronavirus cases.

I continue to be impressed with the transparency of the Korean government regarding their fight against the virus. New infections continue to be detected, but thousands of people are getting tested for the virus everyday. Real-time updates are available on television, and there is a website which pinpoints where the infections are on Google Maps. Unlike the United States, people don’t have to worry about costs when it comes to testing, quarantine, and treatment. The government has also set-up drive-thru coronavirus testing centers.

At work, things continue to be busy with people manning phones, rescheduling and updating people regarding our company’s actions during the heightened panic. Employees are still required to record their temperature coming in the office every day. Most people are walking around with masks around the office. I can’t spend the whole day breathing through a mask, so I do without.

I’ve cut down on my walks around the neighborhood where I work. I used to be quite friendly with many business owners and even the homeless people around the neighborhood, but I guess it won’t hurt if I don’t see them for a while. When I’m out, the streets are pretty empty. I don’t even see the vagrants I encounter on a regular basis.

There are now speculation that fear over the virus is going to lead to a recession. It’s continued to affect many businesses around the country. Quite frankly, I’m now worried about my company as well. Everyday I come to work, I count my blessings that I’m working for a company that could weather this crisis, at least for now. Movie theaters and theme parks are now closed. Study rooms, saunas, karaoke rooms, and many other businesses are currently empty. I went out for dinner last night. After dinner, I passed by a bar which caters to patrons going for a second round of drinking post main meal. It was empty. I imagine similar establishments would be the same.

I walked around the gallery area near my workplace the other day. The area was empty. Thursday is opening night for most of the galleries here and I imagine they would be equally empty as well. It’s a bad time for the arts. Curiously however, I read that a local production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ opened the other day despite the widespread fear. I noted that the production, like similar productions in other countries, decided to cast a female actor in the role of Judas. I realize they’re breaking a glass ceiling, but isn’t a woman playing the role of someone who backstabs the Son of God a step backwards for women?

Production on several reality television shows has been halted. I think this is a good thing, quite frankly. I can’t stand the Korean brand of reality shows. It’s mainly just people eating, singing, playing with children, or watching foreigners react to things.

For once, the regular weekend protests near my workplace has been canceled. I believe this is mostly the result of the religious leader organizing the protests being arrested prior to the weekend.

The leader of the cult responsible for the resurgence of the virus has publicly apologized for hiding documents and impeding the government’s efforts to track down potential infected members. He now pledges to help the government in their efforts. I’m sure the mayor of Seoul asking investigators to look into charging him with negligence has nothing to do with it. Officials have also announced that despite the current rising cases of infections detected, the virus contamination in Daegu is now 90% contained and will likely subside in a week or two. People are cautiously optimistic. It would only take one dumb cult or something similar to trigger another resurgence.

Fewer people have been going to banks. Korea is quickly becoming a cashless society and fears of contracting the virus has led to people avoiding waiting in banks or handling cash. Even if people have cash in hand, vendors (mostly street vendors) who don’t have card readers have mostly been out of sight. Markets have been empty of customers as well. When ordering groceries online. What would usually arrive within the same day will now have at least a two-day waiting period.

Frankly, I’m hoping that as soon as people start recovering, more people would be at ease or simply be too tired of living in fear. Living in fear of infection is tiring. Even if you’re not afraid of the virus, just constantly hearing about it can be very stressful. Over the weekend, I tried not to go out and just stay at home, but ultimately I had to go out and eat at a restaurant. Cabin fever can be quite unbearable especially when unwillingly subjected to it.

I’m now observing how the United States is reacting to the pandemic. Unlike in Canada, an American checked and being quarantined can set him back a month’s pay. The US also has leaders peddling false information regarding the virus. It’s like a perfect storm for a disaster and I’m hoping things get better soon before this gets out of hand. Unfortunately however, it seems like things are going faster than it did here in Korea. The first coronavirus case in Korea was in January 20. This was after several weeks of fear over the virus. The virus was mostly contained until a cult managed to spike the number of infections. A month later, there’s been over 20 deaths. The US has identified its first case of infection a couple of days ago. As of the time I’m writing this, there’s been 6 deaths. This does not look good at all.

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