Tag Archives: news

Where Religion and Covid Meets

Abstinence

Back in 2017, after years of scandals and people protesting everyday in Seoul, Park Gun-Hye, the conservative president of South Korea and daughter of the former dictator Park Chung-Hee was ousted from her position, formally impeached, and sent to prison for corruption. She was sentenced for twenty-four years. The protests, which was key in removing Park, was fueled by the president’s inept response to the Sewol ferry disaster where 304 people, mostly high school students, died. This, plus her government’s push for censorship and the discovery that the daughter of a cult leader was unofficially acting as her right hand man and was privy to state secrets pushed people to the streets. It was a natural groundswell which started from journalism, to the Internet, to mainstream media and some celebrities openly pushing for her ouster, and down to the streets. The impeachment of Park Gun-Hye was even seen as a model for how some countries *cough, United States, cough* should handle massive abuse and corruption by the government.

Conservatives in the country afterwards saw these events and tried to emulate it. They tried to push for the impeachment of the current president on made-up charges. Coddling to North Koreans, being inept, being a criminal, anything. The charges were extremely inept since none of them were based on provable facts, and the current president was enjoying an extremely high approval rating when his opponents started to encourage the rallies. Every weekend, they rallied their supporters, mostly made up of senior citizens, to the same place where the former protests used to take place. The protests became a mixture of confused ideologies, Internet rumors, and religion. People walked around with the Korean flag, the American flag to symbolize freedom from the supposed dictatorship of the current president, and the Israeli flag for whatever reason. In some instances, there were even signs asking Donald Trump to bomb North Korea. So much for being patriotic and Christian.

I work near where these protests occurred. They’re supposed to happen only on weekends, but sometimes I would see them on Thursday and Friday afternoons as well. The place I work at is also close to a park popular among retirees. There, old people would congregate, wander about, and shop for useless wares and snake oil. I notice that the same people that walk around the park, are basically the same type of people going to these protests. Often, the people around the park would be carrying Korean and American flags as well.

See, these protests have become more like a social gathering for people. It’s a thing to do in the afternoon. I passed by these protests a couple of times and many people are just chilling. There are even snack and liquor vendors. The frustration and rage that political and religious leaders are fueling, I believe, tend to be more rooted to longing for a feeling of being in control, longing for a time when they were younger and more relevant to society… which is ironically back when the country was under a dictatorship. And really, there is no concrete reason to any of their demands.

A: Impeach the president.

B: Why?

A: Because he’s corrupt.

B: Really, why?

A: Because, uhm, *Insert this politician under him* was corrupt/caught in a scandal/etc.

B: Okay, but he was let go. That’s not the president.

A: Well, uhm, look at the economy! (and on and on we go.)

The people attending these protests are at best bored. At worst, they are stubborn, brainwashed morons. They are being taken advantage of by political and religious leaders. A few days ago, these protests and the mega church where one of their leaders con his followers became the spark that started another spike in covid-19 cases, much worse than the previous ones we had in the country. The religious leader, Pastor Jun, was diagnosed with covid-19. And even after being diagnosed, he was caught walking around, smiling, and not properly wearing a mask. Asked about the disease, he claimed that it was spread by North Koreans who aimed to sabotage his church and the movement. In Canada, this would be seen as a false claim of terrorism. It is irresponsible and illegal.

Now people who attended the rally as well as the police they clashed with, who had no choice but to be there, are now at risk of having the disease. Thousands of police officers are being tested, but tracing all of the people who attended the rally and members of the church is more challenging. Before all of this, doctors were already on strike, demanding significant change in the country’s medical infrastructure, as well as an increase in pay for working in remote areas. Just yesterday, a member of the church who was diagnosed with covid-19 escaped from his quarantine and was caught in a coffee shop. These people are insane. Things were already bad. Religious nuts, craven politicians, and brainwashed senior citizens just made it worse.

Again, South Korea is on high alert. People in Seoul are advised not to travel outside of the city. Masks are required in most workplaces and allowed to be taken off mostly only on one’s desk. Gatherings after work are discouraged. Gatherings of more than fifty people are discouraged. Church services are canceled, as well as afterschool academies. My Korean class was again canceled yesterday. I’m not sure when classes will resume. Many stores were closed yesterday. Clubs, sports facilities, karaoke bars, and PC rooms are closed. Personally, this virus has already cost me money this year, and Pastor Jun and his followers just cost me even more. The economy was going back up but this recent resurgence has brought the economy back down again.

The first case of covid-19 in the country was brought by missionaries who traveled to Wuhan and kept their actions a secret for days. It has spiked several times in many churches. And now, the latest spike is caused by one of the most politically influential churches in the country. I don’t know what it is they do in these churches that they often become vectors for the disease. I’ve gone to coffee shops, bars, schools, company buildings, and restaurants, and they don’t become vectors for the disease as often as these churches.

The nighttime landscape of Seoul is dotted with so many neon red crosses. Unless the government cracks down on these churches, which are technically businesses, this virus will spike again and again. The wonderful thing about God is that he is omnipresent. People could still talk to him at home.

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Covid-19 isn’t free anymore?

Strawberry

I haven’t been very happy with the actions of some foreigners in Korea. As I wrote a few weeks ago, there’s been several reports of foreigners in beaches not wearing masks even when prompted by the police or given free masks by volunteers. There’s even been some arrests after some rowdiness during the July 4th weekend. It’s also, not uncommon to see foreigners not wearing masks as they wander around Seoul. As a foreigner myself, it makes all of us look selfish. Most people in the country are doing their part to contain the virus, and yet there are people around who walk around not wearing masks because “the country is safe.” It’s safe, thanks to most people wearing masks!

So now I understand why people might be annoyed with foreigners, especially since many of the cases of covid-19 now are getting caught in the airport from people coming in, both from foreigners and from Koreans coming home. But now I see that some people are pushing the government to charge foreign nationals for their covid-19 treatment as some form of punishment? Normally, the treatment is free for everyone, but I think some people believe that foreigners are taking advantage of this situation? I’m really not sure where the logic is here.

As of writing this entry, there’s about 14,000 cases of covid-19 in the country. 700 of those are foreign nationals. A couple of the article I read has stated that the treatment is causing an undue burden to tax payers, which is laughable sine the number of foreigners infected is quite small compared to the total number of cases. How much of a burden would that lighten if those foreigners were forced to pay for their treatment? According to the articles, government officials are saying changes will be targeting those who “intentionally cause a burden to the country’s quarantine and medical system.” The language is quite vague, but it’s notable that a couple of the big outbreaks were caused and hidden by Korean nationals. Also, threatening some sort of punishment to foreigners might discourage more from getting tested or properly treated.

As free as the tests are here, it is not really that simple to get a test. One must exhibit symptoms first for a prolonged period prior to getting tested. I am involved with several sensitive projects in my company, and when I learned that someone tested positive in a building I regularly visit, I tried to get tested afterwards. I got a big fat no. I was told to wait until I exhibited symptoms. Now, if I had covid-19 and was spreading the disease while I was awaiting symptoms, I would’ve been jeopardizing several projects and endangering lives. I was very much encouraged to not worry about it, but if I was indeed ill, does that qualify me as “intentionally causing burden to the medical system?” What if I was a foreign factory laborer who is in a more desperate situation? What if I simply was asymptomatic?

I think this is once again the occasional blaming of foreigners and enacting laws to punish them to ineffectively solve problems. I wrote several times about high profile child abuse cases and the way conservative Korean legislators acted was to force foreign teachers in the country to undergo mandatory AIDS tests, despite those cases not having to do with foreigners. Unfortunately, most of the Korean newspaper outlets online are conservative, so maybe I’m just reacting to the outrage among conservatives, but a part of me feels that when Koreans see dumb foreigners walking around not wearing a mask, it’s not a hard proposition to sell.

Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of crime against humanity by the Hague for his neglect with covid-19. He has recovered and posted a picture of himself holding hydroxychloroquine almost as a way to troll the whole world right before he drove off in a motorcycle not wearing a mask. It’s disgusting. How could the people of Brazil have this man as president over Lula da Silva, the man who raised the hungriest people in the country out of poverty?

And speaking of war crimes, Brazil is only second in covid-19 cases and deaths. The United States is still much higher in cases and deaths. It’s death rate is not as high as other countries, but that’s not saying much when you have the resources of the richest country in the world and you’re comparing the country to Spain, Italy, Peru, and Sweden. How come I don’t see Donald Trump being charged with neglect regarding covid-19? The man literally played golf as people died under his watch.

It is scary how China has been flexing its muscles throughout the world. It’s been trying to claim ownership over the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands for years now and it’s curious to hear what President Duterte of the Philippines had to say about this in his state of the union. He’s long been accused of kowtowing (haha, see what I did there?) to China, but when he said that he was inept in matters of war and that he can’t do anything when faced with China’s military might should they claim ownership of the South China Sea, it was very telling.

For one, no one is really talking about going to war with China. But for immediate effect, he goes straight to China’s military might in order to justify his helplessness in the matter. He is right to point out that these matters are best sorted out diplomatically, but you don’t start diplomatic negotiations by saying you are weak and inept. Other countries are facing up against China and they are not coming out as weak as Duterte appears. Taiwan, Vietnam, and Indonesia are not kissing Xi Jinping’s ring over the territory.

If anything, it shows how weak of a bully Duterte truly is. He can only lord over those who are weaker than him. He would extra-judiciously have suspected drug addicts and drug pushers killed, some of which are children, but cowers over forces that would literally take what his country has claims over. The country’s national anthem (Lupang Hinirang- The Chosen Land), much like “Oh, Canada” reads like a love song but ends with a very tragic, albeit romantic promise. The last verse goes “but it is glory, ever, when though art wronged, for us thy sons to suffer and die.” But Duterte, he doesn’t have the stomach for this. “Inutil ako riyan (I am useless there), and I am willing to admit it.”

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Coronavirus Life

Heart_apple

I didn’t realize that most of 2020 is going to be me reacting to the coronavirus. It’s been six months now since Korea woke up to Valentine’s Day with a spike in infections. Though New Zealand has been the only country to fully be rid of coronavirus infections, Seoul has been regarded by many as the gold standard in dealing with the pandemic, especially in terms of contact tracing, mask-wearing, social distancing, etc. However, to this day, Korea is still struggling to have infections lower than 30 a day.

A few weeks ago, the country was on its way to having zero daily infections, but after relaxing on rules on bars and clubs, a few clusters popped up. And now ironically, we’re experiencing occasional clusters cause a rise in infections, most often from religious gatherings. A lot of recorded infections are getting caught via the immigration process and are coming from foreigners, but those are at least getting caught coming in.

What’s annoying, is that many foreigners don’t seem to care much about local regulations regarding the virus. It’s not unusual to see foreigners walking around with no masks on. I was planning to go to Haeundae Beach in Busan, but then I see that the beaches are not only super crowded, foreigners are lounging around the beach insisting on not wearing masks even when prompted by authorities to do so. Just a few days ago, a group of foreigners with US military were shooting fireworks at buildings and people, basically ignoring the police who meekly tried to stop them. Ugh. Youth + coronavirus + hooliganism = gross.

Just last week, my evening Korean classes were canceled for the month because one student from a different morning class was diagnosed with the coronavirus. Fortunately, they traced the virus and found that he contracted it from his workplace, which unfortunately is just a few blocks from where I work. They traced his actions using the mobile app we use to enter our class, and through his credit card activities. They also looked at CCTV footage of him and found that he was wearing the mask the whole time he was in the building. This raised a big alarm for my company and I was worried that it might affect me or my job. It still might. I tried to get tested for the virus myself, but I was told that I needed to exhibit symptoms first in order to qualify for a free screening. If I was “just curious,” I would have to pay the equivalent of $120 US.

Now, I’m quite relieved at the amount of surveillance available to track the one person who canceled my classes for the month. I do realize that a lot of this would be impossible in the US or other countries. Not only is the infrastructure not there, but people would also be unwilling to have their privacy or personal freedoms breached.

I mentioned that I was planning to go to the beach. I’ve been looking to travel outside of Seoul for vacation this year since I won’t be able to travel overseas. I don’t really travel around Korea since it can be just as expensive as traveling abroad. Why pay big money to travel in Korea when you can use the same money to travel somewhere more exotic? And yeah, I’ve already done as many exotic things in the country as I can. It takes quite a bit to excite me. So yeah, I’m not too excited getting stuck in traffic going somewhere crowded within Korea this year.

Aside from my vacation, Korean education, and work being affected, I haven’t worked out in a gym for six months now. Though I try to watch what I eat, I could say I’m currently in the worst shape of my life. Living in a small Korean apartment, I don’t really have the space to work out. As for working out in gyms outside, that would still be ill-advised due to the coronavirus. We’ve been ordered to wear masks even while we’re working on our desks at work, and it’s been quite uncomfortable. I can only imagine how hard that would be in the gym or anywhere working out.

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A few interesting things of late.

The mayor of Seoul disappeared last Thursday. And after hours of searching he was found to have committed suicide due to the pressures of a recently opened investigation into allegations of him sexually harassing an assistant. An ally of feminist and progressive causes, it was a bit of a turn especially in the age of #Metoo.

I wasn’t aware of the allegations when I found out about the mayor missing. I remember I used to work with one of the mayor’s assistants, so I shot her a message, “Hey, where’s the mayor?!” just as a way to keep in touch. A couple of back and forts later, I moved on to other things. The next day, I learned that the mayor passed away. I also learned that he could potentially be a monster to women in his close circles. Then I go back that woman I was messaging the day before. Does she know? Has she heard rumors before? Surely, she must. Do I message back, “Hey, sorry about the news”? How do you respond in that situation?

An odd thing about Korean law is that once a suspect of an investigation commits suicide, the investigation is immediately dropped. Now, I have no dog in this fight. The left in country seem to be suggesting that the mayor was a victim of a smear job while the conservatives are trying to press for more investigations. As a westerner, I figure this shouldn’t be the end of the investigation but the beginning of one. A person is dead, and at least one crime might have been committed. Couldn’t the victim still press charges on his estate for damages if the allegations are true? Couldn’t she press and claim damages on his office? How many victims are there? Alternatively, if he is indeed the victim of a smear, isn’t that a crime in itself? I know defamation is a serious crime in Korea. They should be trying to root out this conspiracy if it exists. This is why there should be an investigation.

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ICE in the US is an evil organization. It has canceled the student visas of all international students if they’re only taking online classes due to the pandemic. They are thus trying to pressure schools to open classes and force the students to take the classes in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. This is pure evil. International students are a big source of revenue for schools so they are facing a risk of losing a huge chunk of funds for this year and the foreseeable future. Students on the other hand are now on a limbo. Trump has screwed with their future.

And as I was learning more about this, I also learn that ICE will now be training people on how to make citizens arrest. Great! Empower racists to make citizens arrest on brown people. As if things weren’t bad enough as it is with the police getting carried away with the power they have. Now they’re going to let loose a bunch of overeager racists with their guns on brown people just trying to get by in the middle of a global pandemic. Ugh. Maybe those international students are better off studying elsewhere. The US under Trump is becoming a hole.

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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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Thoughts on Peter Nygard

Squidy

I was a bit surprised to learn about the allegations regarding Peter Nygard. For the uninitiated, Peter Nygard is the founder and was the head of Nygard Fashion. He immigrated to my hometown in Canada at a young age and built Nygard Fashion to become one of the richest men in Canada. His stores are all over Canada. I remember them being a common presence in department stores where women can buy athletic wear at a reasonable price.

I always remember Peter Nygard as a patron of the arts. When I was in art school, I and other artists were invited to suspend our studies for a semester in order to work and make art in his property in the Bahamas. It seemed like an amazing opportunity at the time, but it also meant abandoning the current semester. Not only did I have student loans at the time, I was also the recipient of a couple of scholarships. I wasn’t sure how dropping my studies for a semester would affect future loan and scholarship applications.

The person in charge of coordinating the whole project seemed a bit stand-off-ish as well. The sculpture tech in the studio, him and my sculpture professor at the time seemed to be far too in-love with their own greatness to be good instructors who encouraged their students. Honestly, I was going to pursue sculpture instead of drawing in university, but that sculpture professor turned me off completely. Anyway, I decided not to go.

I heard from some people who worked on the project, and they weren’t too happy about the experience. There was the usual work during the day and get blink drunk and party at night stories, but that didn’t really surprise me. Any kid in university or a fresh graduate on his first job would more than likely be indulging a bit. What surprised me are stories about people being overworked and being woken up at odd hours in the morning for what seemed like random tasks. I also heard about people contracting infections or getting ill during their stay, but I always dismissed that to being in a tropical environment and not being used to it.

Anyway, I didn’t really think about those anecdotes too seriously since I sorta admired the guy. He’s a self-made man. He’s an old-school patron of the arts. He reminded me of Bob Guccione. And, he dated Anna Nicole Smith, who I kinda had a thing for after watching the third Naked Gun movie. Just looking at Peter Nygard, he looked like the head of an elderly man with long, slick gray hair photoshopped into the tanned body of a club bouncer. He’s built like a boss villain in a King of Fighters video game.

So it was a bit tragic to hear that he is now being investigated for sexually assaulting around 36 women, 17 of them being Canadian. Apparently some of them are minors as well, with at least one incident occurring in my hometown. Several close executives are being investigated as well for covering up and allowing the crimes to continue. The Bahamas property was also alleged to be one of the places where he would gather women, many of them locals who happen to be minors, and force them into sex acts. There’s even allegations that he had minors defecate into his mouth. Interestingly, this is very similar to what the founder of McAfee, John McAfee, was accused of having women do to him in his private depraved kingdom in South America.

Nygard International has filed for bankruptcy protection in the wake of the allegations against Peter Nygard. There goes a legendary patron of the arts from my hometown. If all is true, what a scumbag!

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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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During the Apocalypse

Alright

Qwerty Magazine, an English literary journal from the University of New Brunswick recently included my works in their fall/winter issue. I’m very pleased with how it turned out. Ever since university, I always thought that my works don’t really fit well in a gallery setting. The images are too small and it requires a more intimate inspection than what is normally done in a gallery visit. This is why I had my first collection of works published shortly after graduating.

Anyway, a big thank you to Qwerty for including me. In these coronavirus times, people are canceling art openings and many galleries are struggling. There really is no good reason to be gathering with a big group of people, unless it’s for a vital cause. Looking at art and consuming free wine and cheese is hardly something one should risk getting the coronavirus for. This is why it’s good to have alternatives to showing my art, be it online or publications. Now, it can be more difficult selling works online as opposed to directly meeting with people in galleries, but I was never really big on selling my art anyway.

I don’t really care if people buy them. You see them, you enjoy them… I’m content.

I have come to a hard epiphany though, and it’s not just me, many gallery owners I know have come to realize this as well: we have to improve our Internet game. Outside of Instagram, I don’t really have much exposure online in regards to my works. And I haven’t even really been that active one Instagram until about a year and a half ago. I’m not really set up for online sales, and people who are interested in my works have to go through a prolonged, archaic process of getting money transferred.

Many galleries are similar. They don’t really have a platform for promoting artists’ works online. They are simply there to provide a space in the real world to show works. Here, like many others in Canada as well, they rely on the artists to bring their own people to the gallery, people already familiar with the artist. They don’t have their own community of art lovers independent of the current artist showing their works.

Once the physical gallery is taken away, like for example because of the coronavirus, there is very little incentive for artists to get involved with many galleries since they don’t have a platform to launch the artist out to the greater art community. Artists would be better off marketing their works themselves since they might have the same digital clout, if not bigger, than many galleries. Galleries, much like artists, need to improve their Internet game and build a robust network which can promote artists outside of the physical gallery. And that’s the biggest change right there, they need to promote the artists, not really on people who already know the artist to bring digital and physical traffic. It’s not enough just to provide physical space. Otherwise, they would become less relevant as time goes by.

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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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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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