I didn’t realize that most of 2020 is going to be me reacting to the coronavirus. It’s been six months now since Korea woke up to Valentine’s Day with a spike in infections. Though New Zealand has been the only country to fully be rid of coronavirus infections, Seoul has been regarded by many as the gold standard in dealing with the pandemic, especially in terms of contact tracing, mask-wearing, social distancing, etc. However, to this day, Korea is still struggling to have infections lower than 30 a day.
A few weeks ago, the country was on its way to having zero daily infections, but after relaxing on rules on bars and clubs, a few clusters popped up. And now ironically, we’re experiencing occasional clusters cause a rise in infections, most often from religious gatherings. A lot of recorded infections are getting caught via the immigration process and are coming from foreigners, but those are at least getting caught coming in.
What’s annoying, is that many foreigners don’t seem to care much about local regulations regarding the virus. It’s not unusual to see foreigners walking around with no masks on. I was planning to go to Haeundae Beach in Busan, but then I see that the beaches are not only super crowded, foreigners are lounging around the beach insisting on not wearing masks even when prompted by authorities to do so. Just a few days ago, a group of foreigners with US military were shooting fireworks at buildings and people, basically ignoring the police who meekly tried to stop them. Ugh. Youth + coronavirus + hooliganism = gross.
Just last week, my evening Korean classes were canceled for the month because one student from a different morning class was diagnosed with the coronavirus. Fortunately, they traced the virus and found that he contracted it from his workplace, which unfortunately is just a few blocks from where I work. They traced his actions using the mobile app we use to enter our class, and through his credit card activities. They also looked at CCTV footage of him and found that he was wearing the mask the whole time he was in the building. This raised a big alarm for my company and I was worried that it might affect me or my job. It still might. I tried to get tested for the virus myself, but I was told that I needed to exhibit symptoms first in order to qualify for a free screening. If I was “just curious,” I would have to pay the equivalent of $120 US.
Now, I’m quite relieved at the amount of surveillance available to track the one person who canceled my classes for the month. I do realize that a lot of this would be impossible in the US or other countries. Not only is the infrastructure not there, but people would also be unwilling to have their privacy or personal freedoms breached.
I mentioned that I was planning to go to the beach. I’ve been looking to travel outside of Seoul for vacation this year since I won’t be able to travel overseas. I don’t really travel around Korea since it can be just as expensive as traveling abroad. Why pay big money to travel in Korea when you can use the same money to travel somewhere more exotic? And yeah, I’ve already done as many exotic things in the country as I can. It takes quite a bit to excite me. So yeah, I’m not too excited getting stuck in traffic going somewhere crowded within Korea this year.
Aside from my vacation, Korean education, and work being affected, I haven’t worked out in a gym for six months now. Though I try to watch what I eat, I could say I’m currently in the worst shape of my life. Living in a small Korean apartment, I don’t really have the space to work out. As for working out in gyms outside, that would still be ill-advised due to the coronavirus. We’ve been ordered to wear masks even while we’re working on our desks at work, and it’s been quite uncomfortable. I can only imagine how hard that would be in the gym or anywhere working out.
A few interesting things of late.
The mayor of Seoul disappeared last Thursday. And after hours of searching he was found to have committed suicide due to the pressures of a recently opened investigation into allegations of him sexually harassing an assistant. An ally of feminist and progressive causes, it was a bit of a turn especially in the age of #Metoo.
I wasn’t aware of the allegations when I found out about the mayor missing. I remember I used to work with one of the mayor’s assistants, so I shot her a message, “Hey, where’s the mayor?!” just as a way to keep in touch. A couple of back and forts later, I moved on to other things. The next day, I learned that the mayor passed away. I also learned that he could potentially be a monster to women in his close circles. Then I go back that woman I was messaging the day before. Does she know? Has she heard rumors before? Surely, she must. Do I message back, “Hey, sorry about the news”? How do you respond in that situation?
An odd thing about Korean law is that once a suspect of an investigation commits suicide, the investigation is immediately dropped. Now, I have no dog in this fight. The left in country seem to be suggesting that the mayor was a victim of a smear job while the conservatives are trying to press for more investigations. As a westerner, I figure this shouldn’t be the end of the investigation but the beginning of one. A person is dead, and at least one crime might have been committed. Couldn’t the victim still press charges on his estate for damages if the allegations are true? Couldn’t she press and claim damages on his office? How many victims are there? Alternatively, if he is indeed the victim of a smear, isn’t that a crime in itself? I know defamation is a serious crime in Korea. They should be trying to root out this conspiracy if it exists. This is why there should be an investigation.
ICE in the US is an evil organization. It has canceled the student visas of all international students if they’re only taking online classes due to the pandemic. They are thus trying to pressure schools to open classes and force the students to take the classes in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. This is pure evil. International students are a big source of revenue for schools so they are facing a risk of losing a huge chunk of funds for this year and the foreseeable future. Students on the other hand are now on a limbo. Trump has screwed with their future.
And as I was learning more about this, I also learn that ICE will now be training people on how to make citizens arrest. Great! Empower racists to make citizens arrest on brown people. As if things weren’t bad enough as it is with the police getting carried away with the power they have. Now they’re going to let loose a bunch of overeager racists with their guns on brown people just trying to get by in the middle of a global pandemic. Ugh. Maybe those international students are better off studying elsewhere. The US under Trump is becoming a hole.
When I was training as an artist, I had my heart set on being a sculptor. My first professor was very encouraging. He taught me how to weld and work with steel. I didn’t have much money back then, but he allowed me to make pieces out of the scraps we had in the sculpture studio. I really enjoyed making small pieces of metal art. I was often in the sculpture building early in the morning hammering and shaping steel like a prairie anachronism.
Come second year, I had a different sculpture professor, Gordon Reeve. I didn’t like him one bit. He wasn’t shy in showing his favoritism to a couple of the female students. He tends to be quite cliquey with the thesis students as well. Suddenly, it was like high school all over again. Only the professor was one of the asshole kids, and I have to prove my worth to him. Instead of challenging me, I was uninspired. The only thing I learned from him is that when showing your works during a review, make sure to have good lighting and environment. Get ready to amp up the bullshit. If the only thing a student learns is how to sell works instead of how to make good art, then the 120 hr program was a waste. Maybe it was me, maybe it was him. I say it was him.
Fast forward a few years later and I learned that he was commissioned by the city to create a sculpture in Assiniboine Park. This was a park near my old high school. I used to go there all the time. I would eat lunch there, take a walk, visit the zoo, or enjoy the Leo Mol sculpture garden (Leo Mol was a Ukranian-Canadian sculptor, superior to Gordon Reeves.). Reeves already had several public sculptures in the city. This one however, was the worst. Named ‘Agassiz Ice,’ it’s a set of aluminum sculptures modeled after a glacier in Nunavut. In the grandest of imagination, they would be imposing structures conveying the relentless force of time and nature. Instead, the city got a set of humble figures which look like aluminum sheets the size of a couple of minivans.
I was upset about it. Not only was I hearing about Gordon Reeve again, but I was terribly unimpressed at how the city spends its money on public art. The piece looks like any mediocre government-mandated corporate art in front of buildings here in Seoul. They could’ve used that money to fund other art programs instead. Heck, they could’ve used that money to fund better artwork. It’s illegal, but I had half a mind to have taggers paint a price tag on it, making the piece mine, much in the same vein as Marcel Duchamp. But I also wanted to send a message to viewers as to how much the city was spending on mediocrity. I mean, Google it yourself. Doesn’t that sculpture look like any sculpture one would find prior to entering a golf course? Anyway, I was convinced by artist friends that it was a bad idea. And since they’re the ones who have to put up with it and I just simply have to not read any news about Winnipeg for a while, I decided not to commit any act of vandalism.
But why am I writing about Gordon Reeve and Agassiz Ice? I just thought about them because recently, I had to explain one of the cultural ‘attractions’ in my hometown, the Canada Museum for Human Rights, a $350 million project sitting in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. It is a museum designed to educate visitors about the sufferings in the world. If the news and the Internet is not enough for you, then drive over to downtown Winnipeg and learn about all of the atrocities in the world! Ironically, from its creation, it was rife with controversy. Not only was it built in Indian sacred ground, the inclusion of what was to be exhibited has turned into a suffering Olympics among the city’s different cultural groups. Not to mention, it doesn’t even include the current Israel/Palestinian conflict. That’s our cultural attraction, folks. A museum built to either infuriate or depress visitors.
So yeah, that’s what bugs me about my hometown sometimes. We spend so much money on things that don’t make anyone happy. So much money on grand visions that end up either being incredibly mediocre or simply a headache. It’s not cultural, but for less than what they spent, they could’ve built the largest indoor water park in the Western Provinces. That would’ve at least brought in some tourists into the city. I mean, seriously? Outside of school field trips, who will drive to Winnipeg to get depressed?
I’ve been really busy this week, so just a quick posting of a drawing, or as I like to see it, a self portrait. I’m a urinal of a human being.
Back in 2017, a man in BC was eating cherries and he happened upon a couple of cracked seeds. He ended up eating the pits inside He later experienced stomach and chest pains, dizziness, trouble breathing, and disorientation. He was hospitalized and was later found to have symptoms of cyanide poisoning. The two cherry pits, chewed and reacting with digestive juices, essentially produced cyanide in his stomach.
I’ve always heard rumors about apple seeds, almonds, and cherry pits having a bit of cyanide. Later, I learned that so many fruit pits do contain toxins. I guess it wasn’t just me because watching Ozark (Spoilers!), one of the main characters dies after being poisoned with two ground up cherry pits in his coffee. Looking it up online, many people have been curious about cherry pits’ toxicity and “experts” have either been warning that only two pits could kills a person or that one would need to chew around 30 pits in order to get a toxic effect. Fortunately, cherry seeds have a very hard shell and it’s very difficult to crack one inside your mouth. Most people who swallow cherry seeds probably pass them with the toxic pit inside unmolested.
Last Thursday, I bought a pack of cherries. Planting so many cherry seeds, I have experience cracking cherry seeds open. With a vice grip, I got the skill down pat. Looking around online, it seems that 30-40 pits chewed would be toxic to humans. I’ve seen a video of a person eating one cherry pit, so I’m thinking if the body can neutralize one or two pits’ worth of naturally-formed cyanide, 30 to 40 or so would probably overwhelm a person’s liver. Now after an hour of enjoying a bag of cherries, it took me less than thirty minutes to have over forty cherry pits extracted. It’s simply not that difficult. And looking at my harvested pits, they are so small, they look like a handful of pine nuts. I could probably mix them with regular nuts, eat them while mindlessly watching a dumb Youtube video, and I’d be on my merry way.
As written by Hammerstein and Kerr, and famously sang by Paul Robeson, “I’m tired of living, but scared of dying.” The scariest thought is not so much as the quick deterioration from poisoning but the idea of surviving it. Nerve damage, losing organ functions, brain damage, etc. I already wrote a will long time ago, which despite not being the intent, the document reads like a really passive-aggressive suicide note. It would be super awkward to have tried suicide, suffer damages, torture people around, and have them really know what you thought about them. As if life wasn’t unbearable enough.
To a determined person, cracking 30-40 seeds isn’t so much a deterrent. It’s not a hurdle. Chewing the pits might even be pleasant. They might taste good. However, it’s the cowardice. The cowardice is the deterrent.
I haven’t been very happy with the actions of some foreigners in Korea. As I wrote a few weeks ago, there’s been several reports of foreigners in beaches not wearing masks even when prompted by the police or given free masks by volunteers. There’s even been some arrests after some rowdiness during the July 4th weekend. It’s also, not uncommon to see foreigners not wearing masks as they wander around Seoul. As a foreigner myself, it makes all of us look selfish. Most people in the country are doing their part to contain the virus, and yet there are people around who walk around not wearing masks because “the country is safe.” It’s safe, thanks to most people wearing masks!
So now I understand why people might be annoyed with foreigners, especially since many of the cases of covid-19 now are getting caught in the airport from people coming in, both from foreigners and from Koreans coming home. But now I see that some people are pushing the government to charge foreign nationals for their covid-19 treatment as some form of punishment? Normally, the treatment is free for everyone, but I think some people believe that foreigners are taking advantage of this situation? I’m really not sure where the logic is here.
As of writing this entry, there’s about 14,000 cases of covid-19 in the country. 700 of those are foreign nationals. A couple of the article I read has stated that the treatment is causing an undue burden to tax payers, which is laughable sine the number of foreigners infected is quite small compared to the total number of cases. How much of a burden would that lighten if those foreigners were forced to pay for their treatment? According to the articles, government officials are saying changes will be targeting those who “intentionally cause a burden to the country’s quarantine and medical system.” The language is quite vague, but it’s notable that a couple of the big outbreaks were caused and hidden by Korean nationals. Also, threatening some sort of punishment to foreigners might discourage more from getting tested or properly treated.
As free as the tests are here, it is not really that simple to get a test. One must exhibit symptoms first for a prolonged period prior to getting tested. I am involved with several sensitive projects in my company, and when I learned that someone tested positive in a building I regularly visit, I tried to get tested afterwards. I got a big fat no. I was told to wait until I exhibited symptoms. Now, if I had covid-19 and was spreading the disease while I was awaiting symptoms, I would’ve been jeopardizing several projects and endangering lives. I was very much encouraged to not worry about it, but if I was indeed ill, does that qualify me as “intentionally causing burden to the medical system?” What if I was a foreign factory laborer who is in a more desperate situation? What if I simply was asymptomatic?
I think this is once again the occasional blaming of foreigners and enacting laws to punish them to ineffectively solve problems. I wrote several times about high profile child abuse cases and the way conservative Korean legislators acted was to force foreign teachers in the country to undergo mandatory AIDS tests, despite those cases not having to do with foreigners. Unfortunately, most of the Korean newspaper outlets online are conservative, so maybe I’m just reacting to the outrage among conservatives, but a part of me feels that when Koreans see dumb foreigners walking around not wearing a mask, it’s not a hard proposition to sell.
Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of crime against humanity by the Hague for his neglect with covid-19. He has recovered and posted a picture of himself holding hydroxychloroquine almost as a way to troll the whole world right before he drove off in a motorcycle not wearing a mask. It’s disgusting. How could the people of Brazil have this man as president over Lula da Silva, the man who raised the hungriest people in the country out of poverty?
And speaking of war crimes, Brazil is only second in covid-19 cases and deaths. The United States is still much higher in cases and deaths. It’s death rate is not as high as other countries, but that’s not saying much when you have the resources of the richest country in the world and you’re comparing the country to Spain, Italy, Peru, and Sweden. How come I don’t see Donald Trump being charged with neglect regarding covid-19? The man literally played golf as people died under his watch.
It is scary how China has been flexing its muscles throughout the world. It’s been trying to claim ownership over the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands for years now and it’s curious to hear what President Duterte of the Philippines had to say about this in his state of the union. He’s long been accused of kowtowing (haha, see what I did there?) to China, but when he said that he was inept in matters of war and that he can’t do anything when faced with China’s military might should they claim ownership of the South China Sea, it was very telling.
For one, no one is really talking about going to war with China. But for immediate effect, he goes straight to China’s military might in order to justify his helplessness in the matter. He is right to point out that these matters are best sorted out diplomatically, but you don’t start diplomatic negotiations by saying you are weak and inept. Other countries are facing up against China and they are not coming out as weak as Duterte appears. Taiwan, Vietnam, and Indonesia are not kissing Xi Jinping’s ring over the territory.
If anything, it shows how weak of a bully Duterte truly is. He can only lord over those who are weaker than him. He would extra-judiciously have suspected drug addicts and drug pushers killed, some of which are children, but cowers over forces that would literally take what his country has claims over. The country’s national anthem (Lupang Hinirang- The Chosen Land), much like “Oh, Canada” reads like a love song but ends with a very tragic, albeit romantic promise. The last verse goes “but it is glory, ever, when though art wronged, for us thy sons to suffer and die.” But Duterte, he doesn’t have the stomach for this. “Inutil ako riyan (I am useless there), and I am willing to admit it.”