I was released from quarantine yesterday. At 9 am, a worker dressed in a full white pandemic suit knocked on my door and told me to go downstairs with my passport out. A bus was waiting outside the station to take us to the nearest subway station. From there, I took the subway to downtown Seoul, where I am staying at a motel near Gwanghwamun Square.
The subway stations are welcoming and pleasant with the smell of waffles. They’re also convenient and technologically advanced; Seoul Station has a luggage conveyer belt to help you go over an overpass.
I have been on a roller coaster ride of sorts since I was in China in January. Almost all of us must have been. I’ve been fortunate to not have gotten sick, and do not have any family members who got sick. Job hunt had some impacts, but I’m still freelancing. It was crazy in terms of seeing it unfold from the start of when people became aware of it as a pandemic, having our expectations change from “It won’t get to Shanghai” to “It’ll be like SARS” in the first iteration (where 8,000 cases in the whole world wouldn’t have been enough to make me “go back to America,” as people were suggesting in late mid-January), then from “It’s the plague!!!” to “It’s really bad, but it’s not going to kill everyone.”
I was making decisions and watch everyone make decisions about what was right or wrong to do in real time, based on very little information and quickly changing information. We would drink convenience store-bought liquor for fun outside a closed restaurant, on the day the restaurant was originally supposed to open in late January, before the government and/or owners (probably both) realized the severity would keep them closed for weeks and weeks. Then I saw when they opened the parks again towards the end of my stay in China, in late February, and saw it as an indication things were getting better (which they were in China). Finally, I ate Chongqing noodles as my farewell meal (the restaurants weren’t supposed to be open, but… …a few were).
I did not think the U.S. government was doing a very good job then in February, when the government was constantly denying and downplaying the virus. But even I wouldn’t have predicted how bad it got. (Yes, the government should have followed my recommendations and those practices that worked in China and Korea.)
I’m going to get a little spicy and insert a political tweet here. Yes, I am a political writer in addition to being a travel writer, and I usually keep my roles separate, but the I am the same person has the same opinions as my the political writer.
My point is really to say that, yes, in America, we can’t go live our life in anything approaching normalcy. Even going to the bar might not be the best idea. Because opening the bar when you have 70,000 new cases a day, to say nothing of Disney World, is likely going to cause the virus to spread.
Trump supporters might debate whether it’s because of Trump’s policies or not. I’m saying Trump never took the pandemic seriously from the start, as a review of his words and actions would make clear. But that’s going further than the point I need to make.
I got through 14 days of quarantine. I see everyone in Korea wearing a mask. And life in Korea is close to normalcy. If we want to get back to living, we need to take some real measures, including, perhaps, some tough measures in the short term (quarantining new arrivals to the country and/or from state-to-state and enforcing the quarantines!)–but some of the most effective measures are cost-free, like wearing a mask.
Quarantining for 14 days was damn annoying, but it was worth it for the ability to live my life and explore Korea.