It’s been about two weeks since this whole stuck inside thing started in earnest and I’m not sure how much longer it will last. I’ve heard it said that we’re about two weeks away from having the situation contained. I’ve also heard the president say that we’re now on a war footing with this virus. I’m not sure how often “war” is used in Korean political rhetoric but I get the feeling that its use in this situation is a lot more meaningful than such flourishes are in America, where “war” seems to be the organizing metaphor for just about everything.
My belief is that this can all go on for quite a while longer. It also might almost be over. I just don’t know. Quite possibly, at some point, this virus might be contained or it might already be out of control and it’s possible that we’ve already passed that point. If it is out of control, everything that we’re doing and not doing here in Korea is still important. We’re buying other people in other places time. Time to prepare, and time to get their medical systems and procedures up and running. Time to try to get their shit together. We’re giving the world some breathing room and can we only hope that the world does not waste it. Every day that we can slow the spread of this disease through our action and inaction here saves lives. At some point, we may all have to all admit defeat, come out of our rooms to see how the world has changed in our absence, and just get on with life. But we’re not yet at that time.
I’ve heard some stories of people in America scapegoating Asians in general, Chinese and Koreans in particular. I can’t even begin to describe how much this angers me.
What we’re all doing in this city is pretty fucking good. The world should not be scapegoating Koreans. The world should be thanking Korea. Everyone in this country and this city –Koreans, foreigners, everyone– has given up something and a lot of people are giving up a lot. None of this is fun. And, yeah, we’re doing it for us, but we’re doing it for you too.
The information that is being gathered here will be invaluable and it will be shared. The time we’re buying other countries is important. This situation could have been ignored. The virus might have been swept under the rug. Instead, 10,000 people a day are being tested even though the results make Korea look like a hotbed of infection and transparency subjects Korea to a lot of bullshit reactions, misguided restrictions, and negative perceptions. Korea has been willing to take that hit. While the country is being insulted and its people scapegoated, important information on the virus, how it spreads, how it can be slowed, how it can be stopped, is being gathered. Models of behavior and response are being provided. At the very least, we are slowing the spread of this thing down. You shouldn’t blame Korea. You should thank it. This information and this time might help someone you love.
That’s something I want you to think about when someone tries to blame Asians for this disease. It’s something that you need to think about when it’s your turn.
I’ve written before on how strange it is to see images of America just going about its business. It’s like seeing some weird past. A living history of things you used to take for granted. Keeping in mind that I’m kind of stuck indoors and my perception may, as a result, be a bit distorted, this strange feeling has only increased. Seeing Americans and Canadians still having mass gatherings just looks bizarre. It kind of reminds me a very little bit of watching the first days of Hurricane Katrina on the news. You saw those images and felt like — Why is nobody doing anything? Where is the response? Is this just going to be allowed?
Of course, some people are doing some things. Many of these things tend to be the totally wrong things. I hear that there’s a lot of panic-buying going on. And, swear to God, you do not need to panic. Like, when I told you to make sure that you have enough toilet paper, I didn’t mean that you need ALL the toilet paper. Just how much are you planning on shitting anyway? How short were you on toilet paper?
If you run out of just about anything, you can go get more. It’s not that you can’t go out, it’s just that you really have to minimize your trips. You have to reduce exposure.
And bottled water? Like come the fuck on. The water and the electricity are not going to go out. (Well, maybe in Cali but fire season is coming and that’s business as usual.) Even if that were to happen, by the time that happens, you’re going to be out of water anyway.
Can everyone just pretend to be a fucking grownup for once? Wash your hands, create social distance, and wait for further instruction. Plan and prepare, sure. But hoard? No.
And masks? Would you just look at this ridiculous horseshit.
Like, unless this is some sort of art project, these people need to calm the fuck down. If it is an art project, good on you. If it’s a mental health issue, I’m sorry for even bringing it up –I should know better than to react with judgement to things I see online– and I sincerely hope you feel better soon. And if it’s just style, I’ll just mind my business and you can just carry on.
But a gas mask is not preparedness. Thinking that this nonsense is “prepared” is childish lunacy. If you’re the only person wearing a mask, it probably doesn’t matter. Like, seriously, just try to get it together. You look like an asshole and you might even be scaring people.
Now, when it comes to masks, you need to understand something. While some medical practices might be nice and objective and scientific, many are a complex grouping of cultural practices, established social codes, various ideologies, and differing norms — most of which are adapted to specific environments and circumstances. Even those nice and objective and scientific medical practices are filtered through that whole complicated matrix of meaning.
What I’m trying to say is that the right and wrong of wearing masks is complex. When you look at Asia, you have to try to understand that it’s a little different in some ways. Masks don’t look like panic. They don’t look like fear. They’re basic tools. They’re a sort of bare minimum hygienic practice that is used for a lot of things. They’re also tool that people know how to use. They aren’t so much meant to keep you personally safe but to also prevent you from infecting other people on the bus. You might not feel sick but you could be asymptomatic. A mask, here, is basic decency. And it makes people feel better.
Right now, right here, having a naked face when you’re out and about on the streets of Busan looks about as bonkers and irresponsible as the lady with the tub on her head. I saw an exposed mouth on the street the other day and it was like looking at a public display of pornography. On top of that, I’m a foreigner. I don’t want to look like I don’t care about the public health and the established community standards. It’s a a bad look. I’m not into it. And when I see a white guy –because, god knows, it always has to be some fucking white guy– parading around the street without a mask, I just want to shake them and scream: “Who the fuck do you think you are, Mister?! You think you have some special access to SCIENTIFIC TRUTH? Put your ego aside and get with the fucking program. For once in your goddamn life, put other people first!” But that’s just me. I’ve been known to be irritable.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll maybe try to write the thing I meant to . . .
It’s been about two weeks since this whole stuck inside thing started in earnest and I’m not sure how much longer tit will last. I usually have a pretty simple routine. I wake up. (Often around midnight but that’s another story.) Before I even look at my computer or phone, I read a short story. I’ve been doing this for a while. It’s a pretty good thing to do. Nice way to start your day, and you get through a lot of short stories. Then I usually do some writing.
When I finish that, I fuck about on the computer for a while. Then, when I hear my wife’s alarm go off, I put on some tea for her and start my Korean lessons. I see her out of the house, then it’s exercise, shower, get dressed. (I haven’t been doing everything up to this point in the nude –usually I’m wearing sweats– though, of course, you’re free to imagine any of this anyway you like. Not like I can stop you from being such a huge perv.)
After getting dressed, if I have schoolwork, I do my schoolwork. If I don’t have schoolwork –and I actually don’t have schoolwork right now because I couldn’t get past the wait-list for an astronomy class– I read some textbook — yes, for fun, and I take notes. If I don’t have a textbook, I read papers and academic writing and that sort of crap. Then I put on some B-movies and attend to my housework and errands. In better times, if I have the time, I like to take a walk. I go out and do something free or cheap. Maybe grab a cup of coffee somewhere if I’m feeling ambitious. Just, you know, get some air, try to talk to some people and use some of the Korean that I’m trying to learn. I also like to have an afternoon nap. And I also read a bit of whatever novel I’m reading.
I get up before my wife comes home. I check to see if she wants to meet for dinner or a date after work. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I get dinner ready unless she wants to cook, which she sometimes does. We eat and talk and hang out. I go to bed around eight or nine and get up again around midnight and start all over again. That’s my basic template.
So, it’s not even like I go outside a lot. I’m not some sort of outsdoorsman. But this inability to simply run errands, to just leave the house for any old reason at all without even thinking about it all, this all wears on a person. An erosive malaise sets in. I feel like I’ve been in a waiting room for weeks. You get that weird dazed feeling you get on a really long flight. The movies stop helping. It’s really surprising how much even a short walk sharpens you up. It’s surprising how much you took even that for granted. And what a time to not have any classes. That could not have been timed worse. I was really planning on spending this time doing some exploring and finding a proper Korean class through the community center.
Also, my poor wife! Stuck in a room with me? I know she wants to get back to work.
When we see a neighbor out our window, we all wave at each other. That ain’t right. That’s no way to act. People can’t just go around acknowledging each other like that.
It’s almost like when you quit drinking or drugs or smoking or some such thing. On paper, it doesn’t seem like that big of a change on paper. But, when you actually do it, you just feel like — where did all this fucking time come from and what do I do with it now?
Some burpees, I guess.
May Satan have mercy on us all.