Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Swine Flu: A conversation of aggravation...

So with this Swine Flu outbreak reaching nearly every corner of the globe it was inevitable that it would become part of everyday conversation. Unfortunately the way it became part of conversations was annoying. I find myself at times, few as they may be, lecturing about the idea that being Korean does not exempt you from this pandemic, nor does your ethnicity play that much of a part in determining whether or not you will contract the virus.

It was a rather disappointing conversation I had last night with a Korean girlfriend of mine. Now, she is a very intelligent woman who has studied other cultures and seeks to learn about them through language and friendships. So I would hazard that she isn't the normal kimchi-thumping Korean who has no idea that being brown doesn't always mean you are straight from Africa. Unfortunately though it seems that aspects of the fact that her mind is still very much Korean occasionally pops up.

So when discussing the pandemic with her(it was my first time really speaking about it at all) she actually stated that Koreans don't really have to worry about contracting the flu because they are more immune. Granted she didn't say anything about kimchi thankfully, otherwise I would have walked away from the convo. But she did make a comment about Americans being more susceptible to the disease as well as stating that Koreans have recieved treatment and been fine while people of other racial backgrounds have died. She said(I am quoting straight from her mouth) "Well I'm Korean so I don't have to worry about it." Now honestly I'm not normally one to take great offense to anything really but these comments really touched on a sore spot for me. Maybe because my job is on the line, maybe because I've grown tired of hearing it...or maybe because I was just in a really shitty mood. Whatever the reason I didn't even take a breath before firing back a comment....or two.

This whole situation makes me feel like I am in the Salem Witch trials. I actually feel paranoid enough to look up and down the street before I go get food. Or I start to think that everytime a Korean person looks at me they are thinking "Swine Flu." And really there is no reason for that. So let's everyone think about this logically, why is it that many Americans came down with this virus? And why have some people died while others have not?

1) Proximity
If you really stop to think about it....well you don't have to think that hard, where did the virus first pop up? MEXICO. Ok, what country shares a border with Mexico?, teach-aaa Korea? -BEEEEEEEEP- Wrong, the U.S. So logically the virus, if it were to spread, would spread across the borders first before making that big leap across the Pacific/Atlantic oceans.

2) Surroundings
Now, most expats, especially those who work in a hagwon, when they first arrive what group of people do you normally find yourself surrounded by? Other expats. If you are around a large group of expats, some who may have come in contact with other people with the virus, then it is logical that it will spread. I for one had no choice about where I would stay when I first arrived. I was put in a room with 2 other girls from different parts of the U.S.(one of whom was a Korean who studied in the States). If either of the girl had sneezed chances are I would have gotten sick. Was it because as an American I lack the kimchi immune system? No, because of the fact that I was so close to those girls that before they farted I would be able to feel it. Sort of like the foreshocks of an earthquake.

So the most death reports have been from Mexico, the epicenter of the infection. Why do you think that is? Well first off this is a new disease, people were unaware that it was anything different than the standard flu. It took something as saddening as people dying for them to really stop and pay attention. Also let's think about the healthcare. How many of those people do you think had enough money to get thoroughly checked out? I doubt it had to do with the fact that they were a different ethnicity and more to do with the fact that they had less medical support. The U.S. has reported 2 deaths from the virus, one being a 22-month old infant and the other being a 33yr old school teacher who, now pay attention please, already had a respiratory condition. That kind of makes a difference regardless of what type of flu you get. The common flu strains can be deadly if you are already sick enough beforehand.

I will do my best to enjoy the time off I have because who knows when I'll be able to get another. But I won't let myself be ruled by fear for an unseen enemy. An enemy that strikes out regardless of your age, race or economic status.

I have an idea of how we may be able to keep so many from getting sick...hold a hygiene class and teach children(and their parents) that washing your hands after taking a shit is necessary, sneezing on your test paper and then giving it to others is disgusting and when you cough, cover your damn mouth.


Foreigner Joy said...

I think at this point this experience is probably making you count the days left you have in Korea. I too can't believe the ignorance of some people in this country. But maybe,...just maybe this is an opportunity for them to become less ignorant..hmmm

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to recount this story and your answers to your friend's questions. I think this helps us all think about how we will respond to the inevitable.

Chris in South Korea said...

My response thus far (to the better speaking English people): It's impossible to prove a negative, and discriminatory to require something from one group of people, especially if they show no symptoms.

To those who speak... less English: Eating hot dogs cures the swine flu! (OK, they don't really, but that's about as realistic as kimchi doing the job)