Tag Archives: pandemic

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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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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