Living in Seoul in midst of COVID19

Seoul COVID19

COVID19 update as of May 22, 2020. 

Employment issues, government support, online classes, clubbing and deportation. So many things are going on in the midst of this COVID19. It has been 3 months since I first posted about this and been updating this monthly (surprisingly). But as I sit down and write this blog, many questions arise. Until when is this COVID19 going to last? How are we going to adjust to a new normal?  What issues should I write about to help raise awareness of Korea’s situation? Should I even bother writing? Am I just updating this for the sake of it?

 

But here I am again. Updating you about the COVID19 situation here in South Korea.The last time I told my friends about a few updates, their responses were, “that’s crazy”.

 

Employment

If people are getting laid off around the world because of COVID19, in Korea, people can’t quit their jobs because of COVID19. The job market around the world has been hit hard due to the virus and will continue to be so until there is a solution found. There has been no big issues with people being laid off despite the fact that some businesses are barely surviving.

Someone told me that their start up company was put on hold and she is on unpaid leave until further notice. There is no knowing when she can go back to work.

But there are also people who have found it easy to find a different job. In the last 3 months of this COVID19 here, there have been a total of 4 people that quit in our company. 3 of them quit because they were able to find a better position at a different company. The remaining person when I last talked to her, she told me she is unsure what she will be doing and there is no job waiting for her.

Meanwhile, other companies are telling those schedule for interviews not to come at all as a precaution and also reduce labor costs. Surely, there are more reasons but those are the obvious ones in  my mind.

 

Support from the Government

The government first issued in April financial support for low-income families. The amount you can receive depended on which city or province you lived in. People were asked to apply from Monday to Friday, depending on the last digit of their birth year (same system as the mask purchasing). On the weekends, anyone can apply. You can receive the money through a card with the amount in it or get it online.

Then in May, the government issued financial support for everyone. The amount differed depending on the number of people living under one roof. The head of the household applied for it.

1 family member : 400,000 KRW

2 family members : 600,000 KRw

3 family members : 800,000 KRW

4 family members : 1,000.000 KRW

Valid until the end of August.

Citizens could apply through their credit or debit card company (excluded maybe a few companies). They can spend the amount mostly anywhere except for large-scale marts (think Costco, Walmart, etc.), online transactions, shopping malls, duty free, insurance, kindergarten, gift certificates, jewelry stores, public transportation, phone bills, tax or public fees and other bills.

It’s been pretty convenient. The moment I swipe my card, I get a message of how much I used and the remaining amount. /thumbsup

 

Gay Clubbing

Odd headline, right? Not so if you know what has been happening. Itaewon is an area in Seoul city where many foreign nationals live. The US military base used to be beside that neighborhood as well. One day early May, I received an emergency alert message that those who have been to 5 different clubs in Itaewon needs to get tested for COVID19 and quarantine themselves for 2 weeks. Immediately, I looked back and searched my malfunctioning memory the last time I was in the area.

Apparently, a gay went clubbing in 5 different clubs in one night on May 2 (or 3?) while showing symptoms. After that night, he went to the pharmacy/clinic to get medicine. Mind you, this created much noise in the country for many reasons. This society is very conservative still when it comes to homosexuality. Many people will still deny that they are gay. The clubbing culture is looked down upon (a little bit nowadays). The gay (let’s call him, “patient” from here on) went clubbing showing symptoms. I heard he didn’t apologize about it but made excuses, and also denied his homosexuality. You’ll never know. Maybe he isn’t. I don’t know him.

My friend asked me, “After the incident in relation to a gay Korean who tested positive for COVID19 – is LGBTQ+ become more fragile when it comes to hate speech or discrimination?”

It definitely has raised the level of fear of homosexuals here. There is a lot of hate towards them. I don’t have a Korean homosexual friend so I don’t know what they go through. But I’ve had people express ‘dislike’ towards them in a conversation before. More so now because of this incident.

The clubs (affected or not) were advised to close down for a month and going to Itaewon has once more, become bad news. (There was a murder accident many years ago that stained the image of Itaewon.)

This all happened a few days after Korea boasted of having zero to less than 10 new cases every day. A short-lived glory.

 

Schools

And the situation worsened because new cases started popping up all around within and in the vicinity of Seoul. But despite all this, the Ministry of Education still pushed through with opening in-person classes.

All levels, grade school to college were taking classes online. That changed 2 days ago, on May 20 when 3rd year high school students returned to a physical classroom for the first time this school year. Everyone was anxious about it. My colleagues were checking the news continuously for updates on it. And voila! 2 students tested positive for the virus that day. (I was really wondering if this news was reported on the same day on purpose.)

2 days after, more students have tested positive. Not many, but there are a few.  English academy teachers tested positive. Which led to students getting it as well.

I’m sure there are many reasons why they insist on holding in-person classes. But another reason would be because of the national examination (college entry exams). This exam is THE EXAM in Korea. Students work hard all their childhood for this exam and to get into a good college. I never took this exam before so I don’t know. But it is very much ingrained in the culture. May 20th was D-200 before this examination.

 

Since the cases are among the younger generation, who go to work, restaurants, schools, parties, Karaoke’s and other establishments – the threat has been very different and oddly difficult to contain.

Still, everyone is going on about their daily lives.

 

How are people getting by?

When I’m asked how Korea is doing, this is how I answer. “Everyone is just going on about their daily lives but only with masks on.” People are wearing masks. Different kinds now because the weather is warmer now, they’re wearing either thinner masks or cotton-cloth ones. So they ran out of thin dental masks and all of them are sold out. But the struggle would be masks for kids. The supply for masks for children weren’t high to begin with, so parents are scrambling to get some.

The number of cases have gone up to 30+, came down to 20 yesterday and now it’s back up. You know, COVID19, being unpredictable as always.

But life goes on. I don’t work twice a week from home now, just once. And we’re not required to use leaves once a week. Our office is full of people and we wear masks while working. There are an average of 80-100 people a day in our office. And we lacked space before COVID19. Buses and subway trains are full during rush hour.

To be honest, I am a bit fearful of getting it. Mostly because I have a weak immune system (asthma and allergies). But despite it all, I think Korea is doing better than many countries around the world.

I’ve been talking to different people, friends in different countries and have heard of their situation. It’s tough and the situation doesn’t seem to be getting better. But no matter what happens, my dear friends, fellow people… hang in there and keep walkin’. 🙂

 

COVID19 update as of April 21, 2020. 

Yesterday, South Korea recorded the all-time lowest number of cases, 8. Today, there were 9. This is a very big progress from 20+ cases recorded last week. Thus the government decided to lax the social distancing rules. In between the last update and this one, some rules were placed for social distancing midst the COVID19. Here is a before and now comparison. What I know of anyway.

 

Before:

The government decided that taking this situation week by week was not helping so they planned out things by 2 weeks.

Citizens were advised to cancel group gatherings and stay at least 2 meters away from each other. They asked the working class and companies to distance themselves in offices. And during meal times, not to sit across each other. Company dinners were cancelled and take-out meals were preferred. This led to a lack of take-out containers, disposable utensils and the like.

During the 2 weeks, gyms were asked to close. If they chose to remain open, they were asked to follow guidelines to help prevent spread COVID19. Gym members had their temperatures checked upon entry, required to wear masks during workout, towels and gym clothes were not provided. Even part of the shower stalls were blocked off. Initially, they didn’t allow members to use the shower facilities.

Churches were asked (pushed) to hold their Sunday worship services online. Staff were to wear masks, except for the preacher and others required to speak or sing in front of the camera. All group gatherings, prayer meetings and the like were cancelled or postponed. Big events were cancelled. Except for the Phantom of Opera musical that decided to still push through. Yes, with audiences. After much criticism however, they cancelled in-person performances and even offered an online performance for free.

These are the basic things I know.

 

Now:

It is much different. The COVID19 threat is minimal. (Though I don’t fully agree.) I went for a bike ride last week and there were heaps of people on the bike path. Cyclists were riding in groups. And no,  they were not 2 meters apart. Families were out with their children. Kids were playing soccer in the field and basketball even on the court. Parks were crowded as the Cherry Blossoms tree bloomed their fullest. Restaurants and bars were crowded once more. People were even lining up waiting for their turn to enter the establishments. Many have resumed working in person, cancelling working from home altogether.

Gyms have opened showers, provide towels and gym clothes, but still required to check temperatures and wear masks. I’m going back next week. So brave, Ji.

A few Korean megachurches have resumed doing a hybrid (online and offline) service with a limited number of people allowed to attend. Our church is still deciding when to make the slow switch to hybrid still. But we did start our online life groups the first week of April. That has been fun. But nothing beats meeting people in person.

To put the content above in short: People have resumed with their daily lives but with masks on. Except for the kids playing soccer and basketball, they weren’t wearing masks. SMH. I was so judgmental wearing my mask as I cycled past them. Sorry.

 

Difference:

Some universities have decided to switch to full online classes this semester. Other grade levels and schools have started the online classes as well. The challenge will be seen in the lower middle class children who attend public schools and don’t have money for private education.

And the endless mask wearing. Can’t wait to not have to wear them every time I go out. When all this COVID19 craze is over, I am going to take off my mask and scream, “FREEEDOOOOOM!!!” at the top of my lungs (quietly in my room as not to scare others).

 

Currently in South Korea (as of writing):

10,683 cases

8,213 recovered

237 deaths

2,233 active cases

 

The rest of the world:

My heart aches. People experiencing depression and anxiety, losing jobs, dying, having not enough support or care from others/the government. Struggling to get haircuts, supplies and milk tea.  And yet there are “anti-stay-at-home-policy-protests” going on in the US. Some countries have it under control, number of cases and deaths are minimal.

 

Me:

Going through this. Getting there. Our company requires us to work 2 days from home and 2 days in the office and 1 day, we have to use our personal leaves any time of the week. This week is the first time we removed the use of leave policy. I now have 5.5 days of leave left and 4 of those I must use on days designated by our company. (insert inverse smiley) Bus and subway is still crowded – this almost never changes for my travel time during rush hour. Reading books, exercising, watching Netflix, making calligraphy works, and most of all, resting. Fighting my battles. Hanging on to the Lord in my personal battles. His Love, Mercy and Grace is never-ending.

 

To you:

Hang in there. Though it seems tough and there is no way out, there is. It just takes time. And even when it’s as if time is against you, it isn’t. It might be necessary for you to have this time. Hold on. Hang in there. Hang tight. God’s got you.

 

Even indoors, just keep walking.

 

 

 

COVID19 update as of March 10, 2020.

Today marks my 6 full years in our company. Thank you for the support and encouragement everyone. Still planning to do a separate post about what it is like in the corporate world in South Korea, hopefully this year.

People were asking about the current situation in South Korea, so I wanted to drop a short update.

 

Daegu

This is the city where the Shincheonji source of COVID19 outbreak started. People have told me that this city is like a ghost town. Our company is prohibiting any business trips to Daegu. We are taking other precaution measures if we have to work or meet with companies from that region.

 

Supplies

I saw a funny meme-tweet this morning, it said: “To the people who have bought 27 bottles of soap leaving none on the shop shelves for others, you do realize that to stop getting coronavirus (COVID19), you need other people to wash their hands too, you great thundering walloper.

I found this to be hilarious. And it is true. People around the world are hogging their own supplies for themselves or family. What are you going to do with a kazillion masks on your own? In other countries, *cough* USA *cough*, people are stocking up on tissue paper. *insert inverted smiley*

The South Korean government announced late last week that they are going to implement a system to regulate the supplies. People can buy masks from the post office once a day per person. Or 2 masks on a designated day at the pharmacy depending on the last digit of their year of birth. Here is a list to explain:

Monday: last digit 1, 6 (ex. 2001, 1986)

Tuesday: last digit 2, 7 (ex. 1972, 1997)

Wednesday: last digit 3, 8 (ex. 2003, 1998)

Thursday: last digit 4, 9 (ex. 1994, 1909)

Friday: last digit 5, 0 (ex. 2015, 1800)

That is how the government is battling COVID19 mask hoarding right now. They have asked citizens to wear washable masks if they do not have disposable masks.

There are plenty of hand-sanitizers in public places (bus, restaurants, cafe’s, subway stations, etc.) that I did not feel a need to buy one. It would be nice to have one to carry around though.

 

To, from and at work

Everyone outside Korea have been asking if life here is ‘normal’. Friends, I can’t say that it is ‘normal’. Ever since COVID19, it was a combination of everyone’s regular routines + safety measures. My 2-week ‘safety quarantine’ ended and I was required to work in our office starting this week. I rode a cab to work and took the bus home after rush hour yesterday so it wasn’t particularly unpleasant or worrisome.

The bus was full as always this morning. But every single person was wearing masks. An employee is waiting at our floor before we go in to the actual office to take our temperature. There are hand-sanitizer bottles beside the employee and even after we go into the office. We are REQUIRED to wear masks at all times. The only time of the whole 24 hours I don’t wear a mask on a normal weekday would be when I am eating, drinking water or if I am at home. My close co-worker didn’t wear a mask yesterday because she forgot one and was told to buy a mask immediately.

We are required to report our place of destination if a brave soul plans to travel outside the country. And other rules are being implemented. Too many to tell.

 

Schools

Graduation in Korea is on early February and unfortunately, that was also when COVID19 cases started to increase. So among cancelled events, graduation ceremonies became one of them. Students were still allowed to meet with their friends to take a few pictures on school grounds.

Classes have been suspended for 2 weeks. This is an order from the Ministry of Education, “encouraging” universities to postpone start of the school year/semester for 2 weeks. However, the outbreak has not calmed down to the point of safety where students can return so they have transitioned to online classes. All universities are going to hold classes online (in a week, I believe) and they have started to brief the professors.

International schools have already started the online classes. Kindergartens and day cares are closed for the meantime as well. This is difficult for households with no stay-at-home parent. The ‘work from home’ system is not widely implemented in the traditional corporate world in Korea yet. So day cares have given limited opportunities to working parents who have no one to take care of their child. Still, parents are very much afraid that their child might get COVID19 at school.

 

An interesting theory I heard…

…that once summer kicks in in this part of the world and winter busts in the southern part of the world, COVID19 will move towards that area. And once winter shifts, it will come back again. So we have to wear masks for the rest of our lives unless there is a vaccine developed ASAP.

 

On a side note…

South Korea is burning cash, literally. But people generally don’t carry cash around here, so…

Colleagues say, “Who carries around cash these days anyway?”

 

Lastly,

some people think this will be over by April. I believe it will blow over by mid or end of June. But no matter what the circumstances, COVID19 is still a virus you can recover from. More deadly and painful than the flu, yes, but the fatality rate is low. Make sure the elderly are more cautious than those that are younger. The death rate of ages 49 and below is less than 1% and those at 80+ years old have a death rate of 14.8% (source: Coronavirus Worldometer demographics).

 

I will be updating this blog once in a while and will notify you through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter whenever I do. So, keep posted and keep walking! 🙂

 

Original post:

Many of my friends have been asking how I am doing and are very curious about COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation here. Usually I avoid posting about current issues. Last time I did was 4 years ago. But I needed to update this blog anyway, plus it’s easier to relay information all at once. Please take this blog post as, a personal update for my friends, all of you and a little background on what is happening on the ground.

 

And decided it’d be cool to post it on a leap-year. 😉

 

Seoul

A little background on my current situation.

If you do not follow my Instagram account (which you should), I was away on a trip to Laos and Myanmar. Both countries have no known COVID19 cases. I was told to work from home for 2 weeks when I came back. This is an improvement, actually. Initially, our company wanted me to use 3-5 days of my personal leaves to quarantine myself. I am happy working from home. Despite the necessary adjustments and challenges, I am enjoying not having to choose what to wear, put make-up on and get on the public transportation.

Closed?

Other small and medium-sized companies have asked their employees to work from home. Can’t necessary blame them, there has been more than 3,000 confirmed cases as I am typing this entry. Office buildings, shopping malls and even grocery stores, most establishments that have had confirmed case patients loiter about their premise have shut down for a few days to disinfect their whole area.

The very common tourist shopping mall in Myeongdong, Lotte Department Store that has a Duty Free on its top floor attracts many Chinese tourists. That mall closed down for 3 days to disinfect. The grocery store in front of my house, where so many people in my neighborhood go to was also shut down for a while because a confirmed COVID-19 case patient loitered around for 2 hours.

You get the idea.

 

Seoul

Masks and hand sanitizers can be found invevery establishment. Even in a Ta-Da (타다, an Uber-like taxi service) vehicle were hand sanitizers. But these supplies, affordable ones are sold out within 1-2 hours when sold online. Even thermometers are low on stocks. An $80 thermometer now costs almost $200. Everyone wears masks whenever they go out.I had to buy a red-colored mask because it was the last mask available in the convenience store.

 

Restrictions.

There are preventive instructions and symptoms of COVID19 everywhere you turn. Friends say buses and subways are more quiet or empty, but some have also shared that it is still as crowded in malls. It is still winter after all and people prefer to stay indoors. Many people don’t like being cooped up in four corners for a long time. Even myself, like going on walks to stretch my legs a bit.

My father is in the hospital right now and it is quite difficult to see him. They have restricted the entry points to the building, allowing only 1 guardian to stay by the patient’s side. My mother had to come down, give me the visitor’s pass. To enter the hospital, I fill out a form with my name on it and confirming that I have no symptoms of any kind of the virus, etc. Then I can go up to see my dad. It’s no easy though. My brother was denied entry when it was his turn.

 

Seoul

“1339”

The government has set up a hotline “1339” to call if a person is experiencing symptoms of COVID19. It is to consult with someone whether they need to go to the hospital or not. This is to prevent having too many people in hospitals. Everyone is saying that going to the hospital might actually be worse because there are so many patients. It is worse in some hospitals. I received an alert message a few days ago asking people that if they have visited a certain hospital, they need to get checked for symptoms or report it.

Mega-churches have cancelled their services due to COVID19 altogether and decided to stream online. Both Korean and English ministries. Only staff and pastors would go to church to set-up and broadcast the sermon, but all attendees stay at home. Different airline companies have cancelled flights or asked passengers to change their schedule or reroute to a different country. Country that is not Korea or China.

 

Fear and panic.

With all these protocols set – it doesn’t ease the fear and panic. Our company isn’t the type of company to easily ask people to work from home. Koreans never close mall or grocery operations down. The people here are workaholics. Various places and people taking these measures state how serious of a situation this is. And as fearful as I have been, and still am – I stand my ground.

 

Seoul

Churches that are still holding services are being ridiculed and the government is telling churches to cancel services and any meetings or fellowship gatherings altogether. Why? Well, thanks to the cult (sarcasm). About 2 to 3 weeks ago, a cult named, Shincheonji had a suspected COVID19 civilian in Daegu city. She showed symptoms and was advised to quarantine herself, but then she attended church. And everything went spiraling down from there. In a week, the count of COVID19 cases skyrocketed from 23 people to 422. Then now more than 3,000.

People are blaming the cult for the increase of COVID19 cases in Korea. They say they have 250,000 members. Others believe there are more. They are also accused of telling their members to go around attending services in other churches since theirs was shut down. Attending other services is to show that they are not the cause of this sudden outspread. I am honestly to the core of my bones, not a fan of this cult group. They are annoying and their belief is insulting. But the blame game doesn’t stop there.

 

Seoul

Never ending blame game.

Before this Shincheonji madness, everyone was blaming China for COVID19. Racism. A virus is not a valid excuse for someone to be racist. Not a fan of Chinese people? Fine. But is it right to go around, cursing or shouting at them, making snarky comments and worse yet, resort to violence? People were acting as if the virus was already in the blood of Chinese, laying dormant and awakened now.

Then it moved on to people blaming the government why they continued to allow Chinese people in the country. Complaining to the government why they only banned arrivals from the Hubei province and not all of China. Citizens are saying that the government is not imposing a ban due to inter-relational political issues. In April, President Xi Jinping is due to visit Korea, is this the reason why?

So many speculations. Some might be true and others false.

 

Seoul

Tired.

Now, everyone is just tired. Tired of wearing masks, being paranoid, not being able to meet people and roam freely, have restrictions and really, tired of hearing the same news over and over again. Everywhere you turn, the news and conversations, it is merely about COVID19 and how this or how they think the situation escalated.

Honestly, we will never know and I remain very skeptical about all this. I have not read any news or a testimony from a recovered patient. None. (Please send me a link if you have ready any.) What was the experience like? Do people collapse on the street? Or is it a painful experience? How did patients recover? How are the tests being done? Could be that all the answers are in Google’s database, but still have not heard about any of these matters.

 

The world does not evolve around COVID19. It should never be.

There is other news though. A vaccine is found. Great! You can get the virus again even after you’ve recovered. Terrible. The topic of COVID19 has taken over the media that other important issues aren’t discussed anymore. There have been earthquakes in different parts of the world. A dispute is happening in India. Another shooting in the US.

 

 

Seoul

So, how am I doing? I have one week left of “work from home” before I can go back to the office again. Even then, we have to wear masks at work, check our temperature twice a day and work from home on some days. I wear masks whenever I must go out. Wash my hands as frequently as possible. Avoiding crowded places and taking my vitamins, drinking lots of water and (trying to) sleep better. That’s the best I can do, can’t I? I really don’t want to live in fear, it is wearing me out. At least I did my best trying not to get infected. And I hope that my family will be safe in the midst of all this. But really… a few weeks ago when the tension was high, this Bible verse comforted me and I hope it does the same for you too.

 

Seoul

Psalm 91

1He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

 

 

Keep healthy and keep walking.

 

Photography. Writing. Emotions. Christian. Not the typical Live. Love. Laugh blog but I hope to bring some joy into anyone who reads my words and sees my pictures.

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