A View of the Covid-19 Crisis From South Korea
What Then Must We Do?
Bretigne Shaffer Podcast
I interview Stefan Raymond, a Canadian who has lived in South Korea for nine years. We chat about some of the differences between how the Covid-19 outbreak has been handled in the US vs. in South Korea, as well as how people living in both places have reacted to it all.
After recording this podcast, I was struck by something that I had kind of forgotten about in all the years since moving back to the US from Asia. I remember coming back, not the last time, in 2000, but the time before that, in 1996, from two plus years in Japan.
It was probably the worst culture shock I have ever experienced. Because I was coming from a place where I never had to think about politics. I could focus just on work, and writing, and friends, and appreciating the beauty around me. It was such a beautiful time.
Even my time in Hong Kong, where I was a journalist and was focused on politics, was so different from being here. I never feared the government while I lived there. I worried about what the Chinese government might do after 1997, but I wasn’t really afraid, and I certainly didn’t fear the government (pre- or post- handover) while I was there.
Coming to the US from that was a huge shock, and not only because of the government. The things that stand out for me the most are: Being inundated with loud, violent, scary images all the time. In entertainment and on the news, which a lot of people seemed to be tuned in to ALL the time. There were the constant car pursuits, where police chased citizens in cars for god only knows what reasons; there were the reality TV shows following police around as they broke into people’s homes and threw them down on their lawns; there was the constant, constant fear porn masquerading as news, with furrowed-browed newscasters issuing dire warnings about all the things we were supposed to be afraid of today.
I was in Tokyo when the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack took place – on a subway train I sometimes rode on. It was a huge shock, but people’s lives got back to normal pretty quickly. Probably there were some additional security measures put in place after that – but if there were, I never heard about them. And the event wasn’t used as an excuse to clamp down on the free movement of peaceful people, as every crisis in this country is.
My interview today reminded me of all of this – of what it is like to live in a country where you don’t fear your own government. And I don’t mean that the governments of Japan or Hong Kong were completely libertarian (although HK came very close), or perfect by any means. But, speaking as a foreigner living there for many years, those governments were in the background. I never worried about them doing the things I worry about the US government doing to the people living under it.
I want so badly to get back to that kind of place. A place where I don’t have to be obsessed with politics, where I don’t feel like the biggest issue outside of my own personal ones is an out-of-control state rampaging over our society.
It is possible to live in a peaceful, civilized, culture. I know, because I have lived in some. I just don’t know if it is possible here.