Tag Archives: panic

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Everybody Panic!

MERS_warning

I probably won’t get the MERS virus. I regularly interact with people who travel to the Middle East. There are people around me who ARE from the Middle East. But I’ll probably be fine. Probably.

But that’s not what the Korean media would have you believe. I’m not minimizing the seriousness of five local deaths, but for weeks now, there’s been non-stop news regarding the MERS virus spreading like wildfire in South Korea. People are at a panic due to a lack of confidence regarding the way the government has handled and is handling the situation. To date, there has been a new protocol established to track down suspected MERS patients using the GPS on their phones. There is also new hospital procedures designed to isolate patients coming in who suspect they may be infected. However, some people still believe it is too little too late.

The Korean government began by being secretive regarding which hospitals have identified patients with the MERS virus. Understandably, they don’t want people to panic. But instead of preventing panic, people now suspect that the Korean government is simply protecting their political backers by keeping the names of the hospitals secret. They have since reversed their position. Twenty-four hospitals have been identified, and major ones have come forward as identifying MERS patients, but the damage was already done. The people are in fear.

“What happened to all of those patients? Where else did they go? Did they take public transportation? A lot of people don’t really cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze! How many people are infected with MERS and have not been identified? What else is the government not telling?! My supervisor has a cold. Could it be MERS? Should I start wearing a mask? Why is she in the office? Shouldn’t she go to the hospital? What if she catches MERS in a hospital? Which doorknobs has she touched?!?!”

Classes have been suspended. People are walking around wearing masks. People are being encouraged to wash their hands and use disinfectants (As a germophobic, I welcome this!).

government_MERS

Of course, warnings like this don’t really inspire confidence from people.

camel_water

I’m gonna miss drinking camel water!

The whole thing will probably pass the same way the avian flu and SARS scare came and went. It’s just interesting seeing how the panic spreads from a combination of ineffective government response, media hype, and Internet paranoia. It’s like being front and center at the beginning of a public panic.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,