I've been quiet for a while, after watching COVID sweep the nation, no longer sitting in the epicenter of it all, I have been at a loss for words. I've removed myself from daily news reports of current numbers as all that really does is fuel the anxiety, but I can't completly remove myself from hearing about COVID as it has consumed every corner of the media. Almost every podcast I listen to has taken their own spin on the virus; "Ask Code Switch: The Coronavirus Edition", FiveThirtyEight "Why COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories Are Spreading", Freakonomics "What Will College Look Like in the Fall (and Beyond)", etc. Also, here in South Korea we're "at a critical juncture"" as a recent outbreak emerged at a night club. The recent reports here surrounding the "Itaewon outbreak" have sparked some thoughts and reminded me of articles I had been seeing weeks ago in the United States about minority groups being disproportionally affected by COVID.
The Itaewon incident began when an (unknowningly) infected patient visited a handful of bars and nightclubs over a long weekend, the catch though is that many of the establishments are reportedly LGBTQ+ friendly, at least within their circle of patrons. Once the news was released that such nightclubs were involved human rights groups across the country grew concerend. In South Korea there is still a huge stigma towards homosexual individuals and thus many feared that individuals who visited the establishement would go into hiding to avoid any stigma or discrimination it could case them, in both their personal and professional lives.
As the news spread both domestic and internationally I realized that the news was not focused as much on new COVID cases as it was on Korea's beliefs towards this community of individuals. Light is being shed on one of the dark sides to Korea, rather than praise for their stregth in testing and tracing. South Korea, like all countries, is not immune to having faults, there are areas of improvement, even within countries which choose to only highlight their strong points.
tOn top of this, the neighborhood of Itaewon itself is feeling the hurt. Many businesses in the area, even those not associated with the tracking of the spread, have temporarily shut down or have seen busienss at a standstill. With articles blasted across the country headlining Itaewon as the center of a new outbreak it's no surprise. Even my friends, who heard I'll be in Seoul in a few weeks, were concerned about what areas I'd be visiting. Similarly, Daegu and its citiznes are still hurting, depsite our numbers being controlled for weeks now. I'm sure it will be a long time before people forget about Daegu as being the center of the first COVID outbreak in Korea, I still have friends who tell me they can't visit, "it's dangerous".
Finally, the expat community of South Korea has been in the spotlight recently as the situation unfolds. After news of the outbreak spread there was sudden attention to foreigners living not only in Seoul, but across the coutnry. At work, myself and the other native teachers were asked if we had been to Itaewon between April 24th and May 6th. Our boss said he had been advised by the depeartment of Education to ask all Foreign teahcers, but no message of the same was sent for the Korean staff. Itaewon has long been concidered a "foreign community" in Seoul which could be used as an excuse, but the root of the problem lies within the gossip chain of Korea. Apparently an online netizen group of mothers started rumors about foreign English teachers visiting clubs in Itaewon during the time frame. This statement and the fact that the department of Education felt it necessary to act upon it does my head in. Who are these mothers and how would they know who was visiting clubs in Itaewon? Across the country foreign teachers were targeted, questioned about their whereabouts and many in Seoul were asked to receive testing, with no consideration or concern for their Korea counterparts.
The incidents here brought my mind back to news I have seen coming from my home country. Similar to light being shed on the stigma towards homosexual individuals here, back home light has been shed on the income inequality, and lack of healthcare for minority communities back home. The initial headlines began with a different narrative "African Americans disproportionally affected", but if you read the whole articles you would get to the root of the problem, and that lies within the foundation of our country. A healthcare system that has failed its population, along with other struggles for the poor, as well as middle class - but I won't get into all of that here.
Finally, what started since day one of all of this, the racism and xenophobia towards Asians across the globe. This was not a problem only in the United States, there were also reports across Europe and Australia. Apauling at the least, the fact that an entire race could be treated so poorly across the globe is shameful to the human race. Not only that, but the US has a president who fueled such beliefs, calling it the "China virus' and standing by that name when he received push back.
Ultimately it seems that this virus, while wreaking havoc on health care systems and economies has also done its part to shed light on the dark parts of society. Stigma, racism, stereotypes, fears and inequalities have been brought to the forefront of news articles and discussion boards. The real question though is, will any of our behaviors change, now that the world knows of the skeletons in our closets, or will this all be once again swept under the rug?
Emptying my Head
I'm an overthinker, my brain is always on overdrive. Sometimes the thoughts are pertinant to life, and other times they're just a trove of wonder. They're usually about, related to or in memory of travel. When they're good I like to share.