Thursday, November 19, 2020

How to Pass a Two-Week Quarantine

We finally made it to South Korea! And one of the requirements for all new arrivals to South Korea is a mandatory COVID-19 test and two-week quarantine if you test negative. (If you test positive, you're going straight to the Coronavirus treatment wing of the nearest hospital.) Thankfully, we tested negative and were able to head straight into our quarantine. We normally don't experience too much jetlag, but that trans-Pacific flight and 14-hour time difference are no joke! So we spent the first few days of our two-week isolation mostly sleeping.

As any Foreign Service member can tell you, PCS (Permanent Change of Station, i.e. post transfer) time is often a time of ruining habits. For most of us, fitness routines go out the window as we live out of suitcases and spend lots of time traveling. On top of that, when that shipment with all your kitchen essentials leaves and you're trying to use up everything in your pantry you can't take with you, eating well becomes challenging too. So healthwise, I went into quarantine with the attitude that it would be a nice reset for us. I made sure we were stocked up on healthy groceries including plain Greek yogurt, salad fixings, brown rice, whole grain bread, mixed vegetables, a few frozen meat options, and a bottle of soy sauce for flavor. (M was very disappointed in the lack of snacks and desserts, but it's all for our own good. And our wonderful friends and neighbors dropped off a few junk food items partway through our stay on request to help alleviate his suffering.)

I wanted to make the most of our two weeks, though, especially since I couldn't telework. (My job can't be done from home.) So (in classic me fashion) I made a list of everything I wanted to do! Here's an annotated list of what I did in case you're looking for recommendations to spice up your own quarantine:

  • Read: I read Shin Kyung-Sook's Please Look After Mom (winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize), Lori Gottlieb's Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (an excellent book about life and therapy, completely accessible whether you've been to therapy or not), and Michael Sandel's The Tyranny of Merit (an excellent political philosopher's analysis of the failings of meritocracy). I also caught up on something my friend shared with me a while ago: a bunch of links from this blog providing a deep dive into the history of South Korea's 1980 Gwangju Uprising/Democratic Movement (including expectations of U.S. involvement or support depending on your side). In addition, although the time difference means I can no longer attend my friend W's monthly Black Thought Book Club, he was kind enough to leave me on the mailing list so I was still able to do the readings on my own.
  • Learned the Dynamite dance: Look, I am a total Blink. (In other words, Blackpink is my favorite kpop group as you can probably tell from the post photo, which I made sure to snap at the airport. Definitely check out the Netflix documentary on them if you haven't yet!) But I must admit BTS's Dynamite is a hit. It's just the upbeat, carefree tune I needed in 2020, and I loved the choreography. So I decided to learn the dance on YouTube as my quarantine workout. It was a nice option because I didn't have my yoga mats or any equipment to do my regular exercise routines.
  • Attended virtual church: Thank goodness for modern technology! There is an English branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Seoul, and I was able to participate in church meetings on Zoom from quarantine. One member of my branch even dropped off some homemade food for us!
  • Wrote a lot: I finished a novel draft for the first time in my life! At 79,777 words and 388 pages, it is by far the longest thing I've ever written. I felt so accomplished to be able to say that I (finally) finished it after five years of thinking about it and over a year of writing.
  • Planned, planned, planned: I spent hours excitedly planning a bunch of things to do once we were out of quarantine. I scoped out restaurants, shopping, even a local study group, Airbnb experiences, and more. It definitely helped pass a lot of time and got me even more excited for life in Seoul.
  • Caught up: Thank goodness for video chat! I was able to chat with some friends and family despite the brutal 14-hour time difference.
  • Watched Netflix: We watched a lot of The Flash together, and I also watched a good bit of the kdrama Chief of Staff. I thought it would help me with my Korean more than it did, but the story and acting are great. Next time, I'll make sure to pick a kdrama with Korean subtitles--I'm definitely not ready to go completely subtitle-less.

In some ways, the two weeks felt long and in others they felt short. All I can say is that I am so ready to have quarantine over with so I can get back to living my (socially distanced, public health precaution respecting) life again. Now the next few years of our time in Korea on the other side of these walls can begin!