Tag Archives: disease

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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The Panic is Real

Ceiling Monster

It’s been going on for weeks now, but the sudden upsurge of coronavirus cases which began from that church in Daegu has resulted in what I could only describe as a proper widespread panic.

First off, next to my office, they’ve expanded the customer service department and people have been answering phones non-stop… changing schedules, updating customers, etc. It’s become a bit of an irritant, as my quiet office is suddenly abuzz with telephone rings, chatter, and people milling about back and forth.

Everyone in the office is advised to wear a mask. The department head instructed me directly to wear one. I often get away with skirting the rules, but with this one, it’s getting more noticed than usual. Aside from the mask, I just learned that we’re supposed to get our temperatures checked when we enter the building in the morning and for some peculiar reason, go to the tenth floor to have it recorded by a clerk there. This one, I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Besides, I should get a pass on this. I’ve been pumping Purell on my desk long before it became fashionable. I’ve also been campaigning against using those disgusting fingerprint scanners we have in the office.

My building has been sprayed several times for viruses. Even last night, the elevator smelled of disinfectant. I’m assuming this added zeal is also because they found cases of coronavirus in the neighborhood I work in. Because of those cases as well, there are not too many people walking around outside, a very touristy neighborhood which would normally be busy with Chinese tourists and food vendors. It’s actually quite eerie.

People have been buying canned goods, instant noodles, and bottled water, thinking that they might be forced to stay indoors for an indefinite period in the future. Masks, while generally available, can be sold out in some stores or available at an inflated price. And speaking of masks, most people outside are wearing them. My train commute is normally packed with commuters, which I imagine is a promising vector for a viral infection. This week, there’s noticeably fewer commuters. I believe this is because many companies have advised their employees to stay at home and telecommute for at least a couple of days.

A company I worked for had its headquarters shut down a couple of days for disinfection. This is because a neighboring building had an employee who was diagnosed with the virus. Many buildings are connected by underground tunnels lined with shops and restaurants and perhaps even a pathway towards a nearby subway station. This makes an infection in one building a cause for concern for the whole neighborhood since many company employees use those tunnels not only to travel between buildings but also to eat lunch.

Classes have been delayed for a week. My Korean class next month is delayed and could potentially be canceled depending on how many people sign up. Attendance to after-school programs have been down since many parents would prefer their children stay at home. I haven’t seen Chinese students in the institute I attend. In fact, I think the attendance of adult students has been down as well.

No one is going to movie theaters or amusement parks. This must be a huge boon for Netflix which was just introduced to the country last November. And speaking of business, the virus is hurting many big Korean companies especially ones relying on their ties to China, be it import and export or tourism. I just hope that this would be the final lesson for these companies to diversify already and not be too dependent on the Chinese. They should’ve learned this lesson many years ago after the THAAD fiasco. These big businesses will survive however. I’m more concerned about small businesses that are currently suffering because of people choosing not to go out for fear of catching the virus. The lady I used to buy sushi rolls from on the subway station hasn’t been there for days. I hope she’s okay.

It has affected me financially as well. Usually, I’m involved in many side projects starting in January. It’s almost March and many of them have either been canceled or delayed ultimately due to the coronavirus panic. People don’t want to be near other people if they can avoid it.

Some churches have canceled in-person services. Instead, people are asked to view services streamed online, an odd mixture of religion and technology.

The government has instructed weekly protests in the city centers to be halted momentarily. Last weekend however, far rights groups still staged a protest near my workplace in defiance of the government order. They believe the government is using fear of the virus to quell political dissent. The protesters are mostly senior citizens manipulated by charismatic leaders pandering to them. You’ll often see them on weekends waving the Korean, American, and Israeli flag demanding that the Korean president be impeached for whatever reason.

Some Koreans are complaining that the government should have temporarily banned all Chinese nationals from entering the country, not just ones from Wuhan. I’m willing to bet however that these same people will be the first ones to complain about Koreans being detained overseas or prevented from going to their country of destination. Right now, a group of Korean travelers are being prevented from entering Israel. It’s caused a minor stir in the country.

Not many people are traveling overseas. I know people who are getting married this summer and they haven’t been really that thrilled talking about honeymoon plans. The price for tickets to China however has risen due to Chinese nationals wanting to go home and many destinations to China being unavailable due to travel advisory. I’m not too keen on traveling either. I wasn’t too keen on traveling to Japan earlier, but now even less, especially after seeing how Japan is currently bungling their handling of the virus. I imagine this is going to be a disaster for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics which they’ve been hyping for so long now. Personally, I think this is a good thing. I believe the Japanese government is not being truthful regarding the current danger left by the Fukushima disaster. They’re going to use the Olympics to whitewash their failed effort to properly contain the radioactive contamination. I also believe that the Japanese government is using the Olympics to bolster their right wing nationalist agenda.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I’m not really too concerned about catching the virus. I believe it is still very much hype at the moment despite all of the events I described. Still, I don’t want to be the one who catches it and spreads it to everyone I know. Imagine the constant nagging I would hear from people if I do catch it. I don’t think it would be good for my resume either. I just want all of this to be over soon. This virus is not good for business.

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Achoo!

Tongue

Before the long Chinese New Year weekend, I asked a coworker if he was going somewhere. He said he had plans to visit Japan. He just hoped that he won’t be encountering too many Chinese tourists because of the coronavirus which is all over the news at the moment. I shrug and nod at the thought.

After living in Korea for so many years, I could differentiate Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese by the way they look, dress, and behave, especially as tourists. Listening to that comment, it’s a bit odd to hear such casual xenophobia from coworkers, when from a western point of view, he might as well be Chinese himself. Right now, I’m seeing Chinese Canadians are reporting being stigmatized due to fear of being infected by the virus. The same goes in other parts of the world. News about French newspapers being particularly insensitive towards their Chinese populace has been going viral, no pun intended. Asians aren’t usually very loud when they suffer racism. In fact, many racist Asian tropes have been so normalized due to people suffering in silence that it takes a fair amount of time to convince them that such tropes are racist.

In any case, I think situations like these are just catalysts for internal racist attitudes to be openly vented. I was inclined to believe that racism against Chinese people overseas due to the virus was just media hype, but then again, I’ve seen people in Korea actually fearing the Chinese. Chinese students and instructors who visited China during the break are asked not to attend school for at least two weeks. Places where Chinese tourists usually crowd in the city look quite empty. I haven’t really seen this strong a reaction in people and in the media since the avian flu hit the country, not with SARS or MERS. And even with the avian flu, the only time it affected me was not being able to visit the aviary in the zoo.

Anyway, I’m not really too concerned about it at the moment. I still believe that the rate of infection and casualty is still pretty low compared to other diseases that were previously hyped up. Though the youngest casualty is 36 years young, the majority of the casualties are over 60 years old. Videos of tents and Chinese medical professionals yelling instructions in Chinese might sound scary, but I don’t think it’s too much to get into a panic over. Tents with sick people, hazmat suits, loud foreign language… these are all intimidating at a very basic level. Then you add in some communism and a distrust of the Chinese government and you have a potent mixture of irrational fear that allows you to be dumb, or at its worst, be unkind to your neighbors.

Gotta keep calm.

Just stay healthy, eat right, wash your damned hands, and be nice to Asians.

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