Monday, May 25, 2009

Swine Flu-rific!

A few weeks ago, when the Swine Flu hysteria was at its zenith in the US, I mentioned to my dad how relived I was that the first confirmed case of H1N1 virus in Korea was a Korean and not a foreigner. This was back when there only was one case of the Swine Flu in Korea, before the outbreak in Japan and before the H1N1 virus was any sort of threat to Asia. It was just a passing thought.

The reason I mention this is last week, a batch of 30+ native English speakers arrived in Korea and spent a week in training. One of them had Swine Flu. On Saturday, the Korean government started rounding up all the foreigners from the training and sent them to quarantine. Indefinitely. No one can get a straight answer, which could be a sign of something shady, but is most likely the result of the Korean medical system and the Korean government's way of dealing with foreigner (personal rights? telling people things? what's that?).

You'll note that I said that the government began to round up the foreigners. Not the Korean instructors who spent the week in the same close quarters with Patient Zero as the quarantined foreigners. Just the foreigners. Korea is a xenophobic society. Not on an individual level - I have personally faced very little discrimination - but as a society, Korea's not sure what they think about us, but it's not good. What I'm worried about is that this will escalate from quarantining people who have legitimately been exposed to an all-out witch hunt.

When I showed up to work this morning, before I'd seen the buzz on the Korean blogosphere (there's been no mention of the 50+ quarantined teachers in the news, but several of the quarantined teachers have blogs and it's all the English Korea blogs are talking about), my vice principal hurried up to me and asked how I felt. I told him I felt fine. He asked again, wanting to know if I was coughing and if I knew what the symptoms of the Pig Flu were. I told him no, but that I felt fine. He let it drop and I went about my business. (Keep in mind, I haven't been in the US for eight months and I haven't left Korea since before the Swine Flu outbreak. I have absolutely no greater chance of being infected that any other teacher at the school.)

This evening I read that the Ministry of Education is checking up on foreign teachers. Another source is saying that all public school teachers who arrived in May will be quarantined at home for a week. Another person said the Ministry of Education called his employer and asked if there were any Americans working there. There are several reports of hogwons (private academies that are super popular here), including some in my area, closing and their teachers being told not to leave their apartments. Quoting the Hub of Sparkle: So is this the latest xenophobic witch hunt? Last year, it was diseased American cows. This year it’s diseased American teachers?

I'm not really worried. I'm certainly not worried that I might catch the Swine Flu and from what I've read, the worst that could happen to me is that I get an enforced vacation and spend the week obsessively watching K-dramas and sleeping in. (When I put it that way, *cough, cough* I think I might have the piggy flu. Quarantine, yes please, make mine a double.) It's just annoying. It's annoying to be singled out for no valid reason. It's annoying that more fuel is being added to the already present xenophobic fire. And it's sure as hell is annoying for the teachers who are stuck in quarantine, all of whom where fresh off the plane and some of which weren't even at the training conference and where just tossed into quarantine because they were a foreigner and, don't you know, we all have the Pig Flu.

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