Tag Archives: United States

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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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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Money for the People

Buddha

In Canada, people in need during the coronavirus crisis would be given $2000 a month for four months. I’ve read from people going through the process and even read through the guidelines, and it seems simple enough. Not everyone would qualify of course. The program is targeted towards those who have lost their jobs or are struggling because of the lockdown. It’s not a free for all. Someone I know who hasn’t worked for ten years asked if they qualify for monetary assistance. As someone who is essentially retired and hasn’t paid income tax forever, he doesn’t really qualify. This is Canada taking care of it’s most vulnerable citizens. Coupled with universal healthcare, I think it’s not that bad. It could be better, but it’s still good.

In the US, they have a similar program which gives out $1200 to people help them out. Other countries have assistance programs of different amounts. How much each program actually helps is debatable, but the concept is all the same. People have lost their jobs or are not earning as much. They need help. Also, money needs to be moving around in order to maintain the economy. It shouldn’t just be static, otherwise there will be greater effects in the long run.

South Korea just unveiled a stimulus package that would help the lower 70% of the population. It’s a lump sum of 1000 Won to help people in the form of vouchers or check cards. As little as I earn, I don’t really qualify for assistance. I’m still currently employed and working every day. And though things have been tighter in the past couple of months, I’m still able to pay my bills and go out once in a while. I don’t really begrudge others for getting benefits. I’m just grateful that I’m still in a comfortable position not to require it.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the tone in the past few days in the country. Many people who are against the Korean president are complaining that he is essentially buying the support of people right before the upcoming elections. Also, many are complaining that it is unfair that the “bonus” is not universal and that they do not qualify. There’s also a conspiracy theory that the flattening of the curve in the country is a complete lie designed to make the current administration look good.

Well, first off, buying the support of people prior to an election is what every politician does in terms of their promises. Telling people that they’ll lower taxes, improve the economy, or whatever will ultimately impact the voters’ bank accounts. Offering the lower 70% a small financial assistance in the midst of a crisis is the least a country could do in the current situation. I just walked through a neighborhood near my workplace and it’s depressing to see all of the business that were shuttered due to a lack of tourists. People need financial assistance and more. This undeniable reality has become so evident that just recently, all of the parties have adopted some sort of financial assistance platform to help individuals.

Regarding artificially flattening the curve. Anyone who trumpets this doesn’t really follow politics well. An administration facing a crisis would more often see a rise in approval levels than not. George Bush saw his poll numbers rise during 9/11. Even Donald Trump is enjoying a rise in his poll numbers. A country in crisis would naturally root for their leader even if they don’t normally support him or her. You want your country to succeed. If Moon Jae-In is artificially deflating the number of infections, then he is going to make it a non-issue prior to the elections. This is similar to how Japan tried to make coronavirus a none-issue prior to the Olympics. The problem with this however is two-fold. One, once the coronavirus becomes a none-issue, it opens up the field to people who can criticize and proclaim they could’ve done better without much consequences. If you were in power, wouldn’t you want this right after an election? Second, if the lie becomes too untenable, then the political backlash would be so much worse. Moon Jae-In and his administration doesn’t have to worry too much at the moment. Well, not so much that they need to resort to shady tactics.

Anyway, I don’t want to delve into too much Korean politics. I’m just happy that some people are getting some help, sad that they are not getting enough, and grateful for every day that I’m able to work. And as for complaining about some people getting benefits while others don’t. One should look at their neighbor’s plate only to see if they have enough food to eat, not to check if they have too much.

 

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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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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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The Log Jammed in your Democracy

Rat King

Matthew 7:3, And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

The US has always prided itself as a champion of democracy. Americans are not shy with hyperbole. “The US is the greatest country in the world.” President Ronald Reagan called the country “the shining city on a hill.” Just last week, I kept hearing that the US Senate was “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” There are several reasons for Americans to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries outside of their own global interests, with the most noble being to spread democracy and uphold the rights of the locals being abused by a tyrannical rule. Sure, the Bush administration lied about the existence of WMDs, but the invasion of Iraq was also sold as liberating its people. This is why the toppling of the Saddam’s statue was such a monumental image at the time. The Americans were being “greeted as liberators.”

This same promotion of democracy was the reason for getting involved in Iran, the Philippines, South Korea, El Salvador, Vietnam, Libya, etc. Of course there are different geopolitical self-interests in each theater, but the most prevalent way of selling intervention is the promotion of democracy and that the Americans are doing it for the good of the locals in the long run.

Spread democracy, sure. Ironically, the same senate that calls itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body” has stalled hundreds of bills passed by the House and simply gave Donald Trump a free pass after an absolute sham trial with no witnesses. It has given Donald Trump, a failed casino owner and an admitted sexual predator, freedom to commit crimes and be an unchecked dictator. When Robert Mueller decided not to definitive state whether Donald Trump committed a crime, Donald Trump immediately started to extort Ukraine to cheat on the 2020 elections. And now when the US Senate decided no to indict Trump for extorting Ukraine and trying to cheat on the 2020 elections, Trump immediately begins exacting revenge on witnesses who decided not to participate in his cover-up. He also orders the Attorney General to pressure the justice department to be lenient to his conspirators.

The US president holds full control over the Senate, a body made conservative due to a heavily gerrymandered process. He control the justice system with an Attorney General who will nakedly do his bidding for him and a stacked Supreme Court with two conservative judges brought in under very questionable circumstances. And right now, the Democrats on the House are too slow to act and to weak to boldly counter the President’s criminal actions. They’re also too busy attacking their own and propping up Pete Buttigieg, an ex-mayor with very little experience but comes with heavy corporate backing. It’s almost like they want Trump to win in 2020.

Donald Trump attacking witnesses and nakedly trying to help his lackeys a few days after not being indicted is a sign of unaccountable abuse of power. And who could blame him? He has never once shown any sign of restraint, ethics, or grace. He has never shown any sign of learning any lesson or demonstrated contrition. His behavior will only get worse until he finally makes true on his previous boast of being able to shoot someone on broad daylight in the middle on Fifth Avenue. Cowardly and corrupt Republicans as well as the weak and feckless Democrats allowed this to happen. This past week, we witnessed the full realization of a dictator ruling over the shining city on a hill. Even Jesse Watters, a conservative talking head, could plainly see it, “It’s fun living in a banana republic, isn’t it guys?”

A political commentator asked, “We saw what happened when South Korea’s Democratic Republic was threatened. We saw what happened when Hong Kong’s Democracy was threatened. What will we do?

The Americans will do nothing. Americans don’t have the patience or the attention span to do what the Koreans did or what the courageous students in Hong Kong are continuing to do. Koreans were able to oust their corrupt leader in less than a year. It took a long time to get through the Ukraine scandal and even longer for the Mueller investigation… and yet Trump is unscathed and currently enjoying a surge in popularity. The march towards November is long and sad, and if things continue the way they do, we will see four more years or more of Trump being the first American dictator. I love the law. I love the study of law. It hurts to see the rule of law being ignored completely and have a country which models itself a champion of democracy devolve into a cheap criminal enterprise.

Maybe before the US gets more involved in conflicts overseas in order to spread democracy, it should try to fix its own democracy first.

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The Cheating is Now a Feature

Larva

It’s strange but this is the second week in a row that I’m writing about sports. Even weirder is that I’m writing about a sport I’m not particularly fond of.

My wife has been following the Dodgers for years now, ever since Ryu Hyu-jin started pitching for them and Korean networks started playing MLB, particularly Dodgers games on a regular basis. These days, as long as there is a Korean player in the team, you’re sure to find their games in Korea. Anyway, due to my wife’s fandom, I’ve watched and casually observed the Dodgers play, to which I have absorbed quite a bit of baseball knowledge by osmosis.

In 2017, the Dodgers were set to win the World Series. After missing the chance to finally win a ring for several years, I thought I was time for Kershaw to get one. I remember them looking to be the favorite to win despite the odd move of suddenly bringing outfielder Curtis Granderson and pitcher Yu Darvish into the roster.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers didn’t win that year. Houston Astros beat them and won the World Series. There was a bit of drama during the game as well. Yuli Guriel was seen making a racist gesture in reference to Yu Darvish. He was penalized with a five-game suspension for 2018, but that racist gesture and the rather light punishment is still fresh in the memory of most Korean baseball fans. I remember feeling quite upset at Yuli Guriel. It didn’t help that he had that cocky Michael Madsen look and he peddled a BS excuse that he used to play in Japan, giving him the racist immunity idol. I felt bad for Yu Darvish, but I can’t help but blame him for the Dodgers losing the World Series that year. He seemed to be giving away the easiest throws. And despite him not delivering for the team, head coach Dave Roberts kept him on.

For over a year, I thought it was stupid to have brought Yu Darvish on. They could’ve let anyone pitch in his place and the Dodgers would’ve won the World Series.

Fast forward to 2019 and we learn that the Houston Astros were in fact cheating. They had cameras set to catch the signals of the other team. Then they would warn the batter if a fastball was coming by banging on trash cans. It was a set-up that they had in Minute Maid Park. Yu Darvish pitched for the Dodgers in 2017 in Minute Maid Park. They knew what Darvish was going to throw. The Astros were cheating. And in the process of cheating, Yuli Guriel had the grace to be racist as well.

So what happened next? After months of deliberation, the Astros’s manager and general manager were suspended for a year. The club was fined $5 million and will be deprived of their first and second round draft picks for two years. The Astros later announced that they fired their manager and general manager. No players were punished. They get to keep their championship.

This is shit.

MLB’s reason for not taking away their title was that sign stealing or predicting the pitcher’s throw was always a part of the game. The Astros used technology to give them an edge during the game but the tradition was the same. If the league was to take away their title, then it would start a cascade to other past scandals. Remember the 90s when players started to look like wrestlers and were batting home runs regularly? Also, there have been many instances of alleged sign stealing, but not as systematic as the one employed by the Astros.

This reason is also shit.

While it’s justice to fire the manager and general manager for orchestrating the cheating system, the players themselves carried out the sign stealing system. Whatever happened to sportsmanship? The players knew that they were playing with an unfair advantage. Winning and losing in baseball has consequences. It affects a player’s stats and their standings. For over a year, Yu Darvish had to suffer the blame of losing the championship for the Dodgers. He even had to change the way he pitched. Players were traded due to their performance and their bottom lines were probably affected due to losing to the Astros. The Dodgers might not even have the same line up now if they won that year. That was probably Kershaw’s closest opportunity to win that gold ring. He got robbed. People got robbed. The manager and general manager weren’t the only culprit. The whole team participated in the robbery.

That is not to say that the Astros are bad athletes. They’re world class athletes. But the fact that they needed to cheat in order to win the championship casts a dark shadow on their talent and their achievements. If I were an Astros fan, I’d probably feel pretty bad at this moment. It’s like being a Milli Vanilli fan. Yeah, maybe those guys can actually sing their songs, but it’s too late. They were caught using voice doubles. But unlike MLB, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences actually took away Milli Vanilli’s Grammy.

This sours the whole sport for me. Unfortunately, MLB is hoping that by force of habit, people will still continue to watch baseball and that this scandal will soon be forgotten. But for me, it shows an organization that is willing to allow athletes to cheat in order to become stars, and once they become stars, they can no longer be taken down. I can’t help but think of the phrases, “too big to fail” and “we don’t look backwards, we look forward.” I’m trying to think of any other sport outside of WWE that allows the game to continue despite cheating, that allows cheaters to keep their medals. But unlike WWE, MLB will still pretend to be a “real” sport and not sports entertainment. It’s disappointing. And for what? Because it’s too much of an inconvenience to look back? Too many injustices have to be corrected? If this is “America’s favorite pastime,” then it sends an awful message about what America is and its tolerance for unfair advantages.

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Criminality and being “right”

Old Man with Wings

It’s very difficult to follow hockey when the Trump impeachment is going on. I wasn’t able to follow the Clinton impeachment back in the 90s, but what’s happening right now is a great learning experience if not a historic event which would probably be discussed in law schools in the future. It’s quite engrossing, especially with the brazenness of the government officials (and non-government goons) protecting Donald Trump and the bravery of the long-time career officials who tried to function amid all of the chaos but have no choice now but to call out illegal behavior. What’s even more engrossing is the almost soap-opera aspect of all of the twists-and-turns. Just a couple of hours ago, it was revealed that Devin Nunes, ranking member and the Republican lead of the House Oversight Committee, was linked with Lev Parnas, the Guiliani associate who was indicted for illegally directing funds from a foreign government to US officials. This puts an ethical dilemma on Devin Nunes and his role in the hearings into question since he is now implicated on the whole thing depending on how far the Democrats would push the issue.

It is all pretty compelling stuff. And the issues at hand are more serious, not just a man hiding his affair from his wife. I’m pretty sure I would’ve been tired of the whole Clinton impeachment drama after a couple of days. I don’t know how Jay Leno at the time stretched that out into a nightly comedy staple.

Although I’m often not happy with the weakness of the Democrats, I’m very pleased with how t he hearings are going. Today with Dr. Fiona Hill, we get to hear her say that the notion that the Ukrainians were the ones who hacked the 2016 elections and not the Russians is basically the product of Russian disinformation. This makes everyone perpetuating the stupid conspiracy theory, including Donald Trump, a tool by the Russian government. Yesterday, we heard Ambassador Sondland admit to the quid pro quo and name all of the major players in the attempt to pressure Ukraine into announcing a fake investigation into Trump’s political rival. Ex-Ambassador Yovanovitch provided more details regarding the conspiracy and was even subjected to harassment by the president in the middle of her testimony. And of course there’s Lt. Col. Vindman who testified to what he witnessed and remind everyone that in the end, despite of how low the state of politics around the world is now, he still believes that in his country, “right matters.”

And I think in the end, that’s what separates the good guys and the bad guys from the very beginning of the Trump nightmare to now. It’s the notion that right matters. It’s not the matter of whether something is illegal or not. It’s whether something is right… doing the right thing despite the limits of your role. And vice-versa, doing the right thing despite the ease and freedom you are given to abuse your power.

Sure the US government could ban people from the United States based on their religion according to the Supreme Court. But is it right? The US government could endlessly detain people attempting to apply for refugee status. But is it right? Even with the smaller things. Sure the president is entitled to spend most of his time in a golf course on the tax payers’ dime. But is it right? Evil has skirted on legality and it beat people down to being too tired to vigorously call out wrongdoing when evil is no longer hiding and what is happening is plainly illegal.

I think one of the biggest culprit of this is Mueller himself. He was tasked with rooting out Russian interference in the 2016 United States election and suspicious links between Trump associates and Russian officials. He had the ability to expand his investigation into other things related to the Trump organization in order to learn more about its criminality, but instead, he strictly focused on most limited of scopes. A number of Trump associates were indicted as a result of the investigation, but he didn’t even bother interrogating Donald Trump Jr. He was also happy to let Donald Trump mail in answers to an interview as if he was earning a degree online. Mueller stuck to what his role was. He stuck to his reputation of being a strict, no-nonsense actor… leaving the final conclusion of a Trump-Russian connection to House of Representatives and a Senate that won’t act on it. Right matters. But for Mueller, he decided to play it safe and stand by while Trump, Barr, and other right wing hacks proclaim that Mueller’s lack of firm conclusion exonerated the president. Mueller was a soldier and a hero, but I don’t think he has the courage of a whistleblower, the courage to stand up and point out wrongdoing if it means stepping out of your role.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has fallen into this same trap. She wanted to narrow the impeachment inquiry strictly on the conversations regarding Ukraine. Now she is free to do so, and expanding beyond the business with Ukraine could be seen as overstepping or a “witch hunt.” But with a creature like Trump, someone who makes impeachable offenses on Twitter during the hearing, doing the right thing is not sticking to your role and limiting yourself to the advantage of your enemies. The right thing to do is to be just as courageous as the whistleblower, be just as courageous as the witnesses. There are limits to one’s roles, but loving your country and upholding the oath of office sometimes requires going beyond that.

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