Note from the Editor: In today’s Quarantine Diaries, we’ll travel to South Korea to visit Seung in Seoul! I’ve only known Seung for a few months since we started working together at Refinery29 back in November, but we quickly bonded over our love for design, fashion and travel! Since we’ve all been working from home for almost two months, I was so sad when she decided to return to Korea, since going back to the office won’t be the same without her :'( On a happier note, let’s see how she’s going in one of the best countries to be in during this pandemic!
Hello, nice to meet you! This is Seung Won Chun aka Song. As you can guess from my name, I was born in Seoul, Korea but never got to experience much of the city since I immigrated to Canada in mid-semester of grade five. Ever since, I was living a nomadic life moving to different cities and countries due to my parents’ devotion in searching for a better educational system for my sister and I. All thanks to their love and support, I was able to receive BFA degree in illustration and start my career as a graphic designer in one of the world’s cultural centers, New York City. Well, until we got hit by COVID-19.
This pandemic changed many of our lives and it definitely affected me in an unexpected way. Just couple weeks ago, I was living in New York working alongside Michelle at Refinery29 as a Junior Designer. April was supposed to be a busy month for me since I was preparing to move into a new studio space located in Brooklyn but instead, I’m now writing this in Korea. It was one of the wildest decisions made in such short period of time but I thought this would be the right moment to be with family more than ever.
Having experienced immigrating to different countries made our family bond tighter. About seven years ago, we parted our ways to three different countries: Korea, Vietnam and New York due to job locations. Seeing how quickly the situation changed and many countries cutting or limiting travellers, I was afraid not knowing when I would be able to see them again, so we all decided to meet back in Korea. Packing up seven years of life in New York within two weeks was crazy. I still have nightmares about packing endless luggage.
To prepare myself for the travel, I bought latex gloves, masks, glasses and spray sanitizers so I can disinfect the surfaces I touch. I know this is a bit over the top but I wanted to be extra careful to insure the safety of myself but also others in case I was exposed to the virus during the travel. Usually I make sure to arrive to the airport 3 hours prior for international flights but with literally no traffic and lines for the security check, I ended up with too much time to kill at the gate.
Seeing the busy JFK airport completely empty struck me on how real the situation is. Since I haven’t been outside for about 3 weeks, what I was seeing on the news didn’t really feel real. Everyone had masks on and kept their distance while waiting for boarding. Securities scanned temperature of incoming travellers and aircrews wore masks and gloves during the whole flight.
Korea became one of the first places that got hit with the coronavirus in the early stage. However, its now become the focus country for responding well in preventing the virus. The Korean government was very transparent from the beginning with sharing data from its test results and showing the places patients last visited in order to disinfect and warn people who’ve stayed in the same location. This became controversial since it may be seen as an invasion of personal privacy but it seems like most Koreans have a positive view of the system.
They also acted quickly with creating various successful ideas such as drive thru test sites and check-up app installation for all incoming travellers. Which was what I had to do as soon as I landed. I filled out some paperwork and walked through a heat detective camera where people were divided in two groups depending on where they came from or if they have any suspected symptoms. Those people would get directed to an on-site test room.
Since I didn’t show any symptoms, I just downloaded a 14 days self-quarantine app that needs to be filled out every morning and afternoon. When I came out to the arrival gate, security stopped me to ask about my method of getting home. Those who don’t have a personal car were directed to buses used exclusively for incoming travellers. This bus would drop people off to the designated test site according to where they live. Although I had my own car, I wasn’t able to take the test on the way home because I arrived pretty late on a Sunday. Early next morning, I drove to the designated site to take the test. The process was relatively quick and didn’t hurt that badly since I was so mentally prepared by watching multiple YouTube videos on it. It just felt kind of spicy? It was like when water rushes into your nose wrong while swimming.
The test results came very quickly about 6 hours later. Though it was negative, it is still mandatory to keep distance from my family. I started my 14 days of self-quarantine alone at my sister’s one bedroom apartment. The next day, the health department sent me some sanitizing products and trash bags that only they can collect afterwards. They also called me about a counsellor I can talk to for any questions about health related issues under quarantine. Overall, I’m really impressed with how thorough Korea is in dealing with incoming travellers.
I’m still feeling pretty jet-lagged and I keep waking up early in morning. The first thing I do is record my daily temperature and answer some health questions on the self-quarantine check up app. I would get a reminder message if I forget to enter it past noon. Before I arrived in Korea, my dad bought weeks worth of food so I can survive for two weeks without going out. I would grab some eggs, bread, an apple, and make some coffee for breakfast. While I eat, I usually watch any Korean entertainment shows that are on TV, but my current obsession is this Korean remake of the BBC drama called Doctor Foster. The storyline really gives me anxiety but it’s so good that I can’t stop.
I also try to soak up as much vitamin D as possible since I have to remain indoors. Thank god my sister’s room has a full width window. This has become my favourite spot under quarantine.
I came to Korea without a job so this long stretch of free time has been perfect for updating my portfolio and resume. As I was working on it, I wanted to explore motion design more so I started to teach myself After Effects by watching YouTube tutorials. At some point, I just had to take a break from it all and thought that it would be a good idea to try a 1000-piece puzzle in order to get some piece of mind. After three hours of trying, I couldn’t even get the borders right. I think it gave me more stress! :’)
Before 5pm everyday, I would put another entry into the daily check-up app and do a workout before having dinner. Normally, I would do it before going to sleep but this routine has changed since I don’t get hungry around dinnertime anymore, and craved food late at night instead. Before cooking dinner, I would look out to see Namsam Tower to see if it’s a good day to get some fresh air in the house. Namsan Tower is an observation tower that lights up in different colours depending on the level of air pollution. Blue lights mean that it’s a clear day while red means there’s a high level of air pollution or that a micro dust warning has been issued. Korea suffers from air pollution so it is always good to check before ventilating the house.
Days are starting to blur as the end of quarantine life is getting close, but I am getting excited to reunite with my family and spend some quality time together. As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, I was able take a break from a busy lifecycle and reevaluate my priorities. While this is a tough time for all of us out there, we can still find joy and hope from within. Slowly but surely we will fight through and see the end of this tunnel together!
You can follow Seung on Instagram at @sing_seung