We are back to lockdown. Seoul will be on lockdown starting tomorrow until the end of the year. We’re now ending 2020 the way it’s been the whole year: miserable indoors, wondering if my job will be safe at the end of it all. Right now, we are required to wear masks at work even at our desks in the office. There are strict limits imposed on restaurants and coffee shops. The same goes for gyms, saunas, study rooms, and karaokes. So far, I haven’t been asked to work from home, but I work with publishing and testing. This might not affect the publishing side of things, but scheduled language tests were canceled a few months ago due to the pandemic.
It’s kinda ironic because just over the weekend, I happened to run into an old classmate from Korean class while I was in a bookstore. This is a class I had to stop attending due to the risk of catching COVID-19 and spreading it to my company. Well, I was thinking of maybe contacting him later for drinks sometime, just to properly catch up. Then BOOM, the government raises the pandemic alarm level. Minimize socializing. Stay home. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
What’s depressing is how all of this has affected many businesses in the city. Bars, restaurants, and stores which relied heavily on foot traffic, especially from Chinese and Japanese tourists have just been wrecked. Shopping and tourist districts have been ghost towns, which is more evident considering it’s the Christmas holiday. We were doing quite well, a couple of months ago, even had daily cases down to less than 50. But for the past few days, there’s been a huge uptick. Just today, there’s over 600 cases added to the country’s total. Luckily, people are not protesting against wearing masks. Everyone understands that it’s a necessity. I just wish the government provided more aid to businesses and made it easier for people to work from home.
There’s hope with the government securing contracts for the vaccine once it becomes available, but who knows when regular people would have access to it? Just like the rest of the world, I don’t think normal people would have access to it until summer 2021. And just to add more to the stressful situation, the government is also currently trying to contain a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu after a couple of cases broke out south of Seoul.
Seriously, I’m just tired of worrying. I’m just tired of wondering if it will be me next. I keep seeing all of these people suddenly put into these dire situations, and I can’t help but constantly be anxious of the axe finally dropping down on my skinny, selfish neck.
All of this comes to one conclusion: New Year celebrations are bullshit. I know, I know. It’s a bit early, but I’m stewing here. Last year, I saw Post Malone and BTS try to make the Times Square Ball Drop still be a thing for young people. I also saw several Japanese acts perform their annual song competition on NHK followed by solemn temple blessings. In Korea, they rang the Bosingak Belfry five minutes from where I work. It was crowded with people. Pengsu, a viral penguin mascot, was one of the bell ringers, which I assume added to the popularity of the usually crowded event. All of these events, all of these “farewell to 2019 and hello to 2020,” all of these blessings… they didn’t stop 2020 from being the disaster that it’s been. I can’t help but think that if 2020 had a face, it would look like Post Malone’s. And now the year is almost past and if we’re lucky, we all just got older fast. The unlucky one lost their livelihood, lost a loved one, or passed away themselves. And yeah, the mayor of Seoul committed suicide six months after ringing that bell (That’s not the only suicide story that happened around my periphery this year as well!).
New Years are like birthdays. They just happen regardless, and the only reason people celebrating them is they happen to survive another year. There is nothing special about them. If anything, the hope one feels at the end of the year should extend to every night when the day turns because that’s exactly what New Years are: just another day passing (how’s that for a somewhat positive turn?).