Corona Tidings from Seoul
South Korean wear masks because of the high-pollution levels, when they have a cold, or for the simple vain reason to hide their swollen faces after a beauty surgery. Then one day came the news of a novel virus breaking out in Wuhan, China. The unexpected seriousness of this virus only hit me, when I looked for a mask but none could be found.
Reading time: 3 minutes 30 seconds.
Listen to this story:
Masks were always readily available in South Korea at one of those convenience stores found every hundred meters. South Koreans wear masks because of the high-pollution levels, when they have a cold, or for the simple vain reason to hide their swollen faces after a beauty surgery.
Then one day came the news of a novel virus breaking out in Wuhan, China. The unexpected seriousness of this virus only hit me, when I looked for a mask but none could be found. However, still seeing cotton masks hanging from the shelves, naive me thought to buy them the next day, only to find even those disappear without a trace.
That was around the middle of February. Now countries all over the world face a crisis in masks. In South Korea, the government has taken control of the supply of masks. We receive one of those emergency messages on our phones that notify us which pharmacy sells masks in your vicinity. Thus during lunch breaks, you can see people queue in front of the pharmacy, getting their allotted ten-piece set of masks by presenting their citizens’ cards. Nobody can get more than their share, everything is stored in the system. Bad luck for those tourists with a visa-free status or those illegal migrants.
For sure, we all wish for a vaccine to be found soon and our lives return to a state of normalcy. But I also think that this crisis may have given us some unexpected benefits. First of all, after having lived in Seoul for about three years, I have seen that South Koreans often instead of coughing into their hands or their sleeves, would just cough in front of them, so you'll be covered in mucus and snot once you leave the fully packed subways. This means once someone has a cold, you can expect a few days later that half of Seoul will have a cold. It is not that this etiquette hasn’t been learned as children, it just doesn’t seem to be too bothersome”. Nowadays, however, everybody sneezes nicely into their sleeves and takes distance when coughing. Let's hope this behavior continues even in times without COVID-19.
And most importantly, it's the enormous difference you notice in the air quality. Usually, spring is the season with the worst air pollution in Seoul. But the suspension of many factory works and the lower levels of people driving around have a noticeable effect on air quality. Yes, I cannot join my daily Taekwondo evening classes, because all group activities have been banned, but I can have a run along the canal, not to worry that normally this would have done me more harm than good.
The next few weeks will be a quieter Seoul, but we will get through these times and as the Koreans like to say when cheering somebody up: Fighting!
How does this story make you feel?
Talk about this Story
Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter
A story by Joost Backer
I suddenly find myself going on strolls through the park with friends, doing board games at home, or talking to my neighbours almost every morning from our balconies. It’s a weird situation. But thankfully for me, not necessarily a bad situation.
A story by Boubacar Amadou Samiratou
Everybody tries to help according to their own ability. The opinions and methods diverge, but I believe that deep down, our common interest is the well-being for all.
At Correspondents of the World, we want to contribute to a better understanding of one another in a world that seems to get smaller by the day - but somehow neglects to bring people closer together as well. We think that one of the most frequent reasons for misunderstanding and unnecessarily heated debates is that we don't really understand how each of us is affected differently by global issues.
Our aim is to change that with every personal story we share.
Correspondents of the World is not just this website, but also a great community of people from all over the world. While face-to-face meetings are difficult at the moment, our Facebook Community Group is THE place to be to meet other people invested in Correspondents of the World. We are currently running a series of online-tea talks to get to know each other better.