Uncategorized

The real face of COVID-19 in South Korea

We’ve all seen the memes, repeated the same jokes, experienced similar thoughts and feelings… and together we can conclude 2020 has been one hell of a sh*tshow. From the potential start of WWIII, to the death of one of basketball’s greats, Kobe Bryant, 2020 has had it all. But nothing compares to that monstrous C word.

COVID-19 has, quite literally (and unfortunately), taken the world by storm, and yes, everyone is tired of listening to the multitude of rumours, the daily number of new infections, the promises of governments to ‘flatten the curve’ and get us back to our normal daily routines. The exhaustive list just goes on and on. But the way I see it, the British people (and those others in countries suffering massively from ‘rona) need to STOP listening to the daft, old governments and take things into their own hands.

Manchester (my hometown and one of the UK’s larger cities), has recently been plunged into the tier 3 lockdown procedure. For those unfamiliar with the UK’s (ridiculous) 3-tier plan, refer to https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/15/tier-1-2-or-3-englands-three-stage-covid-lockdown-rules-explained for more details or basically understand it as tier 1: medium risk, tier 2: high risk, tier 3: very high risk with each tier coming with its own limitations and restrictions.

Busan (my home away from home) has NEVER been placed into lockdown. Let me repeat that: Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, with a population of almost 3.5 million people, has not ONCE, since the first confirmed case back in January 2020 emerged, faced a barrage of (ridiculous – refer to the UK’s 3-tier plan) lockdown procedures.

Why is this, you may wonder…

Well for starters (and I don’t mean this offensively, I really don’t), Koreans can be quite the hypochondriacs. Indeed, when this virus first appeared on the Korean scene, I found myself influenced by their nature and was immediately wiping down my groceries with anti-bacterial wipes on my return home from the store. Necessary? Probably not. However, I deemed the slight possibility of droplets present on the surfaces of the items I purchased enough to act with caution.

This is only just the beginning.

Let’s take a look at what South Korea has done RIGHT thus far:

Masks

Quite the polarising subject, although I don’t fully understand why…

I have been wearing a mask, AROUND THE CLOCK, for the past ten months.

Is it a nuisance? Kind of, especially when running late and only just realising, after leaving the house, that I forgot my blasted mask.

Does it get in the way of my speech or breathing? No, it does not. It is a thin piece of cloth covering my nose and mouth.

Has it helped South Korea’s own personal battle with COVID-19? Undoubtedly. Just look at the figures for proof; SK currently stands at 25,424 cases TOTAL since January… the UK has clocked around 20,000 DAILY this past week.

Further proof to be found in the pudding… back in June, a Russian cargo ship docked in Busan and 16 of the 21 sailors on board tested positive for the virus. More than 170 people came into contact with the infected patients and were immediately placed into quarantine HOWEVER no positive test results came back after they underwent screening. Guess why… because they wore masks.

Simple as that.

Me and my mask 24/7

Temperature checks

The most telling symptom for COVID-19 is a fever.

Therefore it seems only sensible, and logical, to install thermal imaging systems, or at the very least a thermometer, to allow people to check their temperature upon arrival to a building, be it company offices, a restaurant or even the cinema.

My workplace installed their cameras back in May. A thermometer has sat by the front desk for longer still. Every person who enters the building is required to check their temperature, note it down on a form, and check to state they are happy to be contacted if necessary.

I visited a department store in my neighbourhood late last week where a security guard greeted me at the door and gently asked if he could take my temperature, to which I agreed, before directing me over to an area where hand sanitiser was provided.

No issue, no disagreement, no complaints. I throw away my right to ‘privacy’ each and every damn day and I couldn’t care less if my footsteps are tracked (they are always watching you on social media anyway!) because I am doing it for the good of others.

So, stuff your Donald Trump’s, your Minnie Mouse’s and use your real name and phone number. You don’t realise whose life you could save.

A thermal body camera implemented at my place of work. Hiiiii meeeee in the camera!

Emergency & Public Safety Alerts

Back in March, my phone was all abuzz with emergency alerts. I couldn’t go five minutes without my phone making its LOUD blaring noise alerting me with an update regarding to COVID-19. They dictate where infected patients have visited, specifying the time and date, as well as reminding the residents of and visitors to South Korea to constantly wear a mask, keep their distance socially and wash their hands.

Some people may argue it is a little too much, or too invasive, however it has had a remarkable impact on South Korea’s track and trace system.

Indeed, back in August, I went to a pizza restaurant in the Nampo neighbourhood of Busan. All was fine; I was seated upon a platform, away from the masses, enjoyed my meal, and didn’t think twice about ‘rona.

That was, until a few days later, I received an alert to say an infected person had dined at the same restaurant, on the same evening, albeit an hour before myself.

Well, I was all in a tizz. I panicked, wondering if I needed to be tested. If possibly, the air droplets containing the virus, could have been spread throughout the restaurant due to the air conditioning system being on full blast as we were still in the throes of summer.

After a solid one-hour breakdown, I spoke with my dining companion, who is Korean, who rationalised that if we were in any sort of danger or suspected to have the virus, the Korean government would have been in contact with us to tell us we needed to get tested. The government would have been able to locate us both as we both wrote our names and numbers on the form, as well as taking our temperature, upon arrival.

This is something governments around the world should immediately replicate. It is so useful and helps people determine whether they should get tested.

Just an example of the alerts I receive daily in South Korea… yes, I know they are in Korean but I can understand Korean and also there are translation apps

Two-week self-isolation

This one really isn’t that hard… if you have recently arrived from abroad, have come into contact with someone suspected or confirmed to have the virus OR suspect you, yourself have symptoms, then self-isolate. Watch some Netflix, read a book, do some DIY, but STAY AT HOME.

Now I know it will be boring and will, at some points, make you want to pull your hair out, but it is only for two weeks. That is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

I was meant to be travelling back to the UK for a friend’s wedding next month; initially, before COVID-19, I would have been able to stay for 4 weeks. This changed once South Korea stipulated arrivals to the country must self-isolate for 2 weeks to avoid potentially spreading the virus and I knew I would have to cut the trip to 2 weeks to accommodate that regulation and be back in time for work at the start of December.

One thing I must point out here is that South Korea did provide care packages for all people in self-isolation. They included food, drinks, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes. I’m not sure if they are still providing these but they were a hell of a lot better than the tosh the UK government provided which consisted of expired products and numerous unique ingredients.

Back to my case… self-isolating for two weeks was no problem in my eyes. I was ready and prepared to do this; I had accepted that it would just be part and parcel of my trip home however due to other circumstances, my trip has now been cancelled (☹).

Please, please, please stay at home if you think you must or have recently arrived from abroad. Get a lot of food in, ask your family or friends to deliver some groceries if necessary, just constantly dwell on the fact that you could help others by doing this.

In conclusion…

I’m not saying that different countries should copy each and everything that has been practiced in South Korea; I merely want to highlight the things I believe have made a difference and kept the figure down.

I also, obviously, know most people have been following the rules as necessary and I implore people to continue doing so. Don’t travel unless absolutely necessary, wear a mask at all times when outside and in public spaces, keep your distance socially, regularly check your temperature and self-isolate for at least TWO WEEKS (COVID-19’s incubation period can last this long).

You could really save a life or two.

Standard
busan, food, places

Busan Highlight… Knockout Café! 🤪🥊

The majority of young people living and working in this marvelous country don’t simply drink coffee; they breathe it. Coffee shops are abundantly available; indeed walk along any city road and you are bound to come across at least one franchise coffee shop as well as a standalone, hipster vibing café. The coffee culture here is so ingrained, so ordinary that to visit a fancy café or simply grab a coffee to go from any coffee chain is a daily activity in Korea. I like to view the coffee culture in a similar way to the drinking culture back home in the UK. Normally, back home, a group of mates or a couple on a date will head out on a weekend to a bar to socialise or talk; sub the bar for a coffee shop, and replace weekend with every day, and you can imagine yourself in Korea.

The coffee culture doesn’t end with the cafés however; convenience stores and their fridges are always decked out with a vast selection of iced coffees, always on a 2 for 1 offer. Co-workers in any company will take pride in offering some of their hand-dripped coffee to their colleague, eagerly awaiting approval about their crafty, dark liquid. In addition there is always a big box of Maxim sachets on offer in every office; an easy to make, 3-in-1 coffee blend there, readily available for anyone and everyone needing a quick caffeine hit.

Have I made my point yet? Coffee is a staple part of life in Korea.

I spent the first year of my time in Busan exploring the many variety of coffee chains on offer; from the world-renowned Starbucks, to more Korean alternatives such as a Twosome Place (lovely cakes), finally ending up with the take-out kings at Compose Coffee (cracking milk tea during the winter months and a lush iced Choco Oreo latte during the summer).

The time felt right to morph in to a hipster and start exploring the more unique, standalone cafés pitched up on each and every single road, ready and waiting for its patrons to snap their insta-worthy shots.

On the daily, I walk around 서면 (Seomyeon), one of Busan’s hottest and more popular neighbourhoods, especially with the younger generations, and therefore my eagle eyes always spot a trendy looking restaurant or café that I add to my go-to list. Knockout café has been a permanent resident on my list for quite some time. Located down a side street, just off a main road (opposite the NC department store – always a good marker for people familiar with 서면), this café is dreamy from the get go.

The name of the café stands emblazoned in pink LED lettering, arching over a walkway that leads on to a stepping-stone path. The main entrance to the café lies to the left; a sliding door that opens to display the counter and till straight ahead with an arrangement of tables and chairs flanking the right side of the room. To the left is a cozy little love seat, padded with a soft comfy cushion, enough room for two people to just lie and relax, hidden away from peeping eyes thanks to the blue curtains containing it. Further beyond are the stairs that wind their way up revealing the true nature of Knockout; this is not just an ordinary café. Each and every seating area is designed and nurtured in such a specific and beautiful way; each table and set of chairs tell their own story. Some are styled to be living rooms, others are dining tables ready to host a dinner party. Go on up further and there is an outdoor seating arrangement: on one side, a wooden platform home to four tents, all snuggly inside with pillows and blankets, on the other, there are tables and chairs arranged under strings of twinkling fairy lights.

The café does not stop there; exit the main entrance and go to the left where there is a stairway going straight up with a doorway to the right. Through this doorway are more rooms with more various kinds of seating areas, all as wonderfully unique and lovely as the room that came before it. In general, the setup of and décor within Knockout are not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye but also remarkably comfortable, reminding oneself of home sweet home. A place to unwind, relax and cozy on down with a nice warm drink and sweet treat.

Speaking of a drink and a treat, Knockout’s menu provides its customers with a good variety; there are both a number of different coffees and teas, as well as smoothies, milkshakes and a whole load of cakes and other baked goods, such as croissants, scones and tarts, on offer, all lined up and on display ready for people to devour. In regards to the price, Knockout is fairly reasonable costing about 6,000\ per beverage and between 3,000-5,000\ per sweet treat. For sure there are cheaper alternatives when simply buying caffeinated drinks, both Compose Coffee and the Venti come to mind as well as convenience stores, however the coziness of Knockout is not something that can be so easily attained making it a highlight of Busan in my humble opinion and a must visit for all who crave a spot of comfort and homeliness in a city that can sometimes seem so foreign.

Standard
busan, hiking, places, Travel

Igidae Coastal Walk! 🍁

The Igidae Coastal Walks snakes alongside Igidae park, overlooking the turquoise shimmer of sea that flanks the path to the right. It is a 4.1-kilometre-long stretch of trail, sometimes muddy, other times rocky, an abundance of stairs both up and down as well as a few bridges that jump and bounce as you make your way across them.

Ultimately it is, in a word, wonderful.

I have completed it three times so far and I have already chalked it up as my most regular walking spot in my mind. The walk itself is fairly easy to conquer; yes, I have said there are an abundance of stairs, and while that is very much the case, I find the task of climbing them exceedingly easy given the gorgeous view that stays by my side almost the entire time I walk the path.

The three times I have been and done the trail, I have started by the Oryukdo rocks. Pretty easy place to get to; a lot of buses make their way directly down the road, reaching the skywalk by a short walk. I always hop on the 24 bus, which is about a 20-minute journey without much traffic. The rocks themselves are pretty cool; greyish-black, they stand in the midst of the water, silhouetted against the sky forming a remarkable juxtaposed image of rock and sea.

IMG_8771

Sorry – I’m taking up a lot of this photo but it seems to be the only one I have of Oryukdo!

Between the Oryukdo viewpoint and the beginning of the coastal walk is an information centre, a restroom and a map which highlights the places of interest along the route. I must admit, I cannot exactly pinpoint each location stated on the map and confidently exclaim ‘I’ve been there!’ but given I have at least another year here and the already stated opinion (or fact) that Igidae will be my regular walking haunt, I already know I will visit everything the map has to offer.

Anyway, back to the trail… imagine you are stood in front of the information centre; the Oryukdo rocks are to your left, straight in front is the road, with a small car park coming off it and therefore to the right is the beginning of your walk. There are two options for you; one is a smooth pathway and the other are steps, about twenty or so. Both options lead to the same place; a flattish stretch of land with greenery, water and in the not-so-far distance, stairs leading upwards.

IMG_8777

This body of water is at the top of the first set of stairs – leading up from the road, Oryukdo and Igidae’s information centre

Climb these stairs all the way to the top; to the right is a seated viewpoint and to the left is the continuation of your route. Follow the wind round to the right, up a few more steps and you’ll find yourself at a fork. Take the right side, up along a path lined by trees to either side where you will then reach a clearing with two benches facing the ocean. Everything is pretty straight forward from here on out, stretching from Oryukdo until close to Gwangandaegyo, a sight that remains in your view along the trail.

IMG_2260

Gwangandaegyo! The diamond bridge of Gwangan! A view of your endpoint that is almost always constant along your route

What I love most about Igidae is the scenery. You are literally walking on the edge; stepping along a cusp of woodwork, strategically placed to separate land and sea. Despite being in the middle of winter, plush, green leaves and the first of the buds envelope you; to your left, right and above you, they frame the path ahead of you. Even the branches that stand leafless are pretty; I love the way they look, their gnarly, barren arms reach out over the edge adding more beauty to the path you are upon. Rocky, craggy surfaces stretch out beneath you; reminiscent of Oryukdo, they perfectly clash with the calmness of the sea that their pointy edges cut in to.

Honestly, it is a beautiful view.

The first half of your walk is spent on the wooden structures, stairs and all whilst the second half levels out on to nature’s own surface, more inland but still close enough to the shore to see the ever-nearing Gwangalli beach. Your final stretch sees you cross four short bridges and from there you reach a final stretch of narrow land which takes you to the end of the Igidae Coastal Walk.

1c242767-afaf-411b-a95a-c4289bc0b599

One of the four bridges you encounter towards the end of your route – and also me, jumping for joy!

A road curves off to the left of the trail’s end, going slightly downhill before weaving right. You can follow this road (with the aid of Naver or Kakao maps – although it is pretty damn simple) directly to Gwangalli beach, taking in the expanse of water still on your right hand side, the iconic bridge that stretches across it and also the plethora of street art on offer, highlighting some of Busan’s best and more well known attractions such as the Firework festival that happens annually during autumn.

If you ever find yourself in Busan, make walking along the coast at Igidae a must-do! No matter the season, you can always enjoy the view whilst getting a good amount of exercise in as well.

Standard