14 day Quarantine period in South Korea

The morning after my arrival, I was greeted with a phone call from the local government office. They had assigned a social worker to me for all my questions. I assumed he was in charge of all the international travelers quarantining in the area. He informed me about my do’s and don’ts during my quarantine.

  1. I was not allowed to go outside.
  2. I was not allowed to have guest over.
  3. I was to perform a temperature check every morning and evening.
  4. I was to keep my GPS on at all time.
  5. If I don’t move (If my GPS does not detect movement) for a certain period of time, I would get a random phone call or a visit.
  6. If my phone dies, the social worker would come check up on me.

Since I was planning on staying at the house by myself for the next 2 weeks, these were not a problem. He told me that the emergency kit will arrive the next day (2nd day of my quarantine) and that it would have information packets as well as the materials I would need. I didn’t have a thermometer and asked about #3 and he told me to just write in 36.5c in the app and in the notes section, write in that I didn’t have the thermometer yet.

He also asked if I needed food for the time being and I answered yes. He couldn’t tell me what type of food it was over the phone but told me it would be something I could cook with just the microwave. He assured me that all the materials will arrive the next day and I could start doing the temperature check as soon as it arrives.

Later that evening (1st night of quarantining), I received a text message, stating that I was Covid – negative from yesterday’s test. Even though I tested negative, I was suppose to stay under quarantine since there was the 14 day incubation period.

On my 2nd day of quarantine, as promised, all the materials were delivered to the house. It was delivered by the local office and they dropped it off in front of my house and called me to come out and pick it up. They had 1 big box and a small shopping bag. (On the box, it says “We can overcome Covid-19 if we are together” and it was from the Disaster Relief Foundation)

In the small shopping bag, there were the information packet, hand sanitizer, thermometer, extra masks, and hazard-marked trash bags. The information packet stated the rules again and had information about what to do on my last day. It was all in Korean. I assumed since the people who could quarantine outside the facilities are people with family in Korea, they would speak Korean. I do hope they have English versions available for 2nd/3rd gen. Koreans who are coming in to visit family. It also had official government forms with my personal information, stating how long I was to be quarantined at the written address. They were very thorough.

I was also surprised at the trash bag they provided. Normal trash bags in Korea are white or blue but this was bright neon orange. It also had the hazard sign on it. It made me feel like I was contagious and dangerous lol

As for the box, it was packed with food! There were rice, guk (soup), juk (porridge), and some side dishes. I was actually surprised at the amount of food. It looked like they made the effort to gave different variety of food so people don’t get bored and what to bolt out of their quarantine.

My father had to quarantine in August but he did not receive this box. I believe only foreigners get the food assistance and the content differs from family size and which district you were quarantining under. My father’s friend was under quarantine during the same time but in a different region and his box was more luxurious(?) than mine. I have been told that foreigners who are quarantining at the facility might get daily meals instead of pre-cooked food assistance.

I was actually just thankful to have free food for the duration of my stay. What I received above was my meal for the next 2 weeks. Of course since my parents lived hereby, if there was something I wanted, I texted the food to them and they came and left it on my doorknob. There are also lots of food delivery app in Korea and almost all types of food can be delivered. During quarantine, you can also order delivery but you cannot order food that would require you to return the dishes (aka. Chinese food). Just watch out for this.

And now that I got my thermometer, I had to check myself twice a day. My app would go off if I didn’t check myself on time. Usually the alarm would go off around 10 am, warning me that I have not submitted my morning checkup. And the evening one went off around 7pm.

The app itself is really easy to use. When you first download it, you have the option to select the languages. I picked Korean because that made it easier for the agents at the airport to set it up for me. (I had some issues downloading the app). When you need to submit your temperature, the circle would be red. You would tap the circle and the 2nd page opens and asks for your temperature as well as indication for symptoms. At the bottom of the page, there was a space for notes. Once submitted, it would take you to the main page and the circle would be blue. Simple.

They also provided me with a semi-therapist? The lady who called me was from a local community center and that she was in charge of my mental health/status while I was under quarantine. I’m guessing that a lot of people started to complain and maybe get depressed from being alone for 2 weeks. She asked questions about my wellbeing, mostly about my mental health, how I was holding up being alone, and if I needed anything to make me feel better. I told her I want to see people and be outside and she recommended that I put up the window curtain and talk to my parents from a distance. Not sure if this would help any elderly people under quarantine. But it was a nice gesture. She called me once a week but told me that if I felt anything, I can call at anytime.

After 2 weeks, I was FREE!!! On my last day, I got a final call from the same agent as the first day, and he went over my exit strategy. He told me that I need to take all the trash out in the orange bag and stray the inside and outside with the hand sanitizer. I was also suppose to re-wrap the orange bag with white/blue trash bag. Since I didn’t have any, I asked where I can get them, and he said I didn’t need to do it and that it could just be thrown out.

At 12pm, I was going to walk free, IF I didn’t have any symptoms. Luckily, I did not have any symptoms for the duration of my quarantine and I was able to just go. I had to keep the windows open in the house I quarantined at to circulate the air and the house had to be fully cleaned 24 hours after my departure.

It felt so nice to leave the house and I cannot wait to explore Korea!

Flight to South Korea

Hello readers! I’m currently in South Korea due to some personal matter and I just want to say that I’m amazed at the length the South Korean government is trying to take to make sure everyone, residents of Korea as well as travelers, are safe during this pandemic. In this post, I will summarize my trip from San Diego to Busan, and the process at the airport to my trip to Busan.

Flights. There wasn’t a direct flight to Korea from San Diego so I had to take a domestic flight to Seattle for a transfer. For internationally flights, I usually try to get to the airport 2 hours early and use the lounge if I’m left with lots of time. My first flight was using Alaska Airlines. I tried using the kiosk but since I was connecting to an international flight, I had to use the desk. The agent was super friendly, spoke clearly through the mask, and helped me check in. There was no line so I thought maybe there isn’t a lot of traveler. Boy, was I wrong. Once I was in the terminal, that is where I saw all the travelers. The stores and restaurants were full and lively. The lounges were all closed so maybe that contributed to the busy terminal.

There were signs on the airport terminal chairs on which seat to leave empty for social distancing. And solo travelers were abiding by the signs but family/friends traveling together were sitting together. The area near by gate was crowded and I figured that the flight might be full and I was correct. Every single seat, including the middle seat, was taken. The airline provided limited service in air for safety and requested that everyone on board keep their mask on during the flight. The crew walked around and if there were people who lowered their mask, they politely asked them to put it back on correctly. Luckily, my flight did not have any passengers who argued with the crew and it was a peaceful ride.

Once at Seattle, I had to check in with Asiana Airline for my international flight. They told me that I would have the whole row to myself and the flight was very empty. While checking in, they asked me to sign a form called “Agreement to Facility Quarantine”. I explained to the agent that I was staying in a place that my parents have prepared. The agent told me that I would have to explain my situation once in Korea but to board the flight, I would have to sign it. So I reluctantly did. The form had information on the 14 day mandatory quarantine measures, including the cost. After I signed the form, I was able to get my boarding pass.

There was only 1 lounge open (The CLUB at SEA) and they were also doing their best to social distance. For instance, all food was pre-packed and the food area was roped off. You had to ask a worker for the food and they would put it on the side table for you to pick up. They also had blue ropes on chairs to indicate which seat to keep empty for social distancing. The choices for the day were hummus with veggies, pita, cheese, fruit, and soup. The lounge was also empty when I visited and I was able to relax and stretch a bit before the long flight.

Because of the low number of passengers, the boarding process seemed short. And as mentioned before, I had the whole row to myself and the row in front of me was also left empty. The crew on board wore mesh covers, gloves, clear glasses, and masks, fully covering up for safety. They also asked people to keep their mask on at all times, excluding meal time, and to stay in our seats as much as possible.

I thought they would have limited services, similar to domestic flights, but they had regular service. They handed out their regular amenity, thin slippers and toothbrush and tooth paste. They also provided 2 meals (first meal was bibimbap! My favorite inflight meal. 2nd meal was chicken and potato) with drinks and came around frequently with trays of water and juice. I asked them to fill my water bottle and they were able to do so in the galley.

For entry documents, they added 1 more: Travel Record Declaration. They document had QR codes to 2 apps to download for the duration of my stay in Korea. I filled the form with my normal answers (eg. writing my parent’s address in the “address of residence”)

Once off the plane, there were 4 checkpoints leading to the baggage pick up area for international travelers. The 1st checkpoint was to download and setup the app. Since the Travel Record Declaration form had 2 QR codes, I assumed we had to download the 2 apps but it looked like they condense the app to one and only needed to download. There were banners with the correct QR code and an agent helping people download it. Once the app was downloaded, the agents at the checkpoint helped me fill in the information and told me not to exit the app because it will refresh and clear the information.

At the 2nd checkpoint, they verified the information written in the Travel Record Declaration form and the quarantine app. Since I was quarantining at a place my parent’s setup, I couldn’t use my parent’s home address but had to write down the address of where I would be under quarantine. They also called my parent’s to make sure the address was correct and to check if I was in fact their daughter. Once you pass, you got a Health Screening Certificate for the next checkpoint.

The 3rd checkpoint was the regular arrival checkpoint. They took my picture and fingerprints here and handed me the Entry Confirmation. Normally, it would end here but since I was not staying at the Quarantine Facility setup by the government, I had to go through one more checkpoint. At the 4th checkpoint, they asked for Family Registration Form (가족증명서), an official government documentation that verifies the immediate family tree. This was something that I only found out once I got to Korea and had to ask my parents to send it to me quick. Luckily my dad had a copy of it in his phone and he was able to send it to me right away. Please prepare this before arriving at the airport!

After the 4 checkpoints, I was free to claim my bags and left the area, only to find more checkpoints. There were 2 agents, fully covered, collecting the Certificate and asking where I would be quarantining. There were multiple areas that were directing people to different airport exits for different regions. Since I was going to Busan, they told me to go all the way to the end and follow signs for the KTX train. The international travelers who were staying in the Facilities were given lanyards and taken to a waiting area for their own bus.

The KTX area for regions outside of Seoul was on the other side of the airport so it was a bit of a walk. And on my way to the designated area, there were several restaurants and cafes that were open. I usually pick up my sim card at the CU convenient store and luckily, it was on the way. If you are staying in Korea for short period of time, I would recommend the sim card here and you can preorder for pickup from their website. Plus, grab some snacks and drinks! The convenient stores in Korea are definitely worth a visit.

Once at the designated area, there were more agents here asking where my final destination was. I told them Busan and they told me to wait for the next bus to take us to the train station. They told me that usually the bus operates 20-30 minutes but the there was a union strike that made it 40-50 minutes. And since the bus was coming from terminal 2 (half full), it can only take 15 people from terminal 1. Luckily, I was the last of that 15 and was able to get on the next bus.

They packed the transportation bus full and took us to the Gwangmyeong train station, which was about 40 minutes away. We entered from one side of the station and it looked like they closed the area to the public and was only using the entrance for international travels. Once inside the station, we had to purchase 2 tickets: the bus transportation from the airport (12,000 won) and the train ticket. My ticket to Busan was 54,000 won and I could not get on the earliest train and had to wait a little less than 2 hours for the next train.

TIP: In the waiting area, there were vending machines but not a lot of choices. A lot of it was empty since I arrived later in the evening. So please visit the restaurants/cafes/convenient stores inside the airport because taking the bus to the train station!

When we boarded the train, we were told to not worry about our seat numbers and just take any seat inside the train. There were 2 carriages that were only for international travelers and we had so much space. Everyone was good about keeping 6 ft apart and sat in various seats and we were told to keep our luggage on seats were weren’t using (I think they were trying to use luggage as indicator for spacing).

Once we arrived at Busan airport, we again separated into 2 groups: a group for people who had someone picking them up and a group for people who needed taxis (duribal). My mom was already at the station so I got in my respective line. We were led to the testing area and had to fill out more forms. We had to write down our contact information, our quarantine address (even if it was a hotel), and emergency contact. This was where I got my first test in Korea. They did both the throat and nose swab and told me that I would get my results tomorrow.

Once the test was over, an agent had to escort me to my mom’s car and gave her warnings about the quarantine. My mom and I were not to touch each other, we had to keep our masks on in the car, and she could only drop me off at my quarantine location. We followed the rules and she dropped me off and left promptly. If you were to take a taxi to your next location (quarantine location), there were duribal taxis waiting for people.

I arrived in Incheon around 5:30pm and got to my quarantine house at 1am. It took a long time but I was glad that they were taking the measures to keep everyone safe.

QUARANTINE: US vs south korea

Before I get started, no, I did not travel to South Korea. My dad had an emergency and had to visit the US to take care of some things and I’m logging this from what he told me. He purposefully stayed in the US longer so he would have plenty of time to quarantine and to take care of the issue. So here are his thoughts.

He flew on Korean Air and the plane was practically empty and he was able to have the whole row to himself. Everyone on board had to wear a mask at all time, including the flight attendants. The flight attendants took it a step further and even wore gloves.

Once he arrived, he went through security normally, no added check points for quarantine. He gathered his bags and left the airport. He said that majority of the people at the airport were wearing masks but there were some who had it down to their neck and/or was only covering their mouth.

After getting out of the airport, he headed straight to a place he was going to quarantine in. My brother and his wife stocked the fridge with food for him to last for 2 weeks so he wouldn’t have to go out. However, this was all optional in the US. My dad quarantined himself for the safety of him AND others.

My brother had booked him a drive-thru test 5 days into his quarantine. So on day 5, my father drove to the drive-thru testing center and got tested. It was self administered test (throat swab test). He stayed in the car while taking the sample and only opened his window to drop off the sample. Afterwards, he drove straight back home and wait for the results.

The results came back after 2 days and he tested negative. After hearing the result, my dad started to slowly go out, little by little. He went for small walks around the neighborhood but did it super early in the morning, around 5am or later in the evening, around 8pm. He did his best to avoid people during his walks. He did meet with a friend to have lunch but he told me he only took his mask off to eat and they had outdoor seating.

He did all of this even though it was optional. It is recommended but nobody, not even the government, was enforcing this.

Now, he is back in South Korea and the way the government is handling the quarantine is vastly different and they are very seriously about it.

First, when he arrived in Incheon, they took the screening very seriously. He had to answer questionnaires, check his temperature, and they made him download an app for checking on his whereabouts during quarantine. Dad said the process took a long time but was glad that they are doing a great job.

He had a connecting flight from Incheon but the connecting flight was cancelled and everyone who had a connecting had to go to the Gwangmyeong train station (about an 40 minutes away). The airport gathered all the people going in the same direction and put them on the bus to the train station. This was only for the passengers coming from international destination and they were very organized.

Once at the train station, they were screened again before getting on the train. The staff doing the training was very professional, fully covered up, and answered all the questions from the passengers. Before getting on the train, they were told which compartment and which seat to use. The train compartment for passengers from the flight used was separate from the one the others. So they even had some quarantining on the train!

He finally arrived in his hometown and was screened again before leaving the train station. He couldn’t take the regular taxi and had to take a special taxi called Duribal Taxi. These taxis are meant for disabled people but during quarantine, they were also used for transporting quarantining people. Again, another separation.

He couldn’t go home because he needed to quarantine separately from my mom. So he stayed in a nearby rental. Mom filled the fridge this time and they were able to talk through the door. Once he arrived at his safe house, he received a call from the local government office to talk about the quarantine process. So even before the day was over, he had 3 screening and 1 official phone call and this was on a Saturday! So they were not lessening up just because it was a weekend.

On Monday, a government official came by his safe house, fully covered, just like the staff above, and dropped off some goodies and again, explained how to quarantine and answered my dad’s questions. The goodies were masks, hand sanitizer gel, sanitizing spray, thermometer, and trash bags. ALL FREE! To make sure that people were actually staying safe, even at home.

One thing that amazed me was the trash. My dad was told that the trash from people who are in quarantine are collected separately so the trash collectors are safe. WHAT!!! Another separation. This was amazing.

My dad is still in quarantine but he cannot leave the house for 14 days. The app he downloaded will track him when he leaves. The app will also tell users if there are COVID positive people nearby and where they have been. This makes sure that people are able to track down the spread and the government can do their best to contain it. They really were trying to keep all the bases covered and I truly applaud the South Korean government for doing their best.

While it is not safe to travel abroad at this time, if you really need to travel, please be cautious and keep clean! Wear a mask and gloves and carry hand sanitizer, just in case.

Busan: the Port City

Busan. I love this city. It’s the second largest city in South Korea and although it doesn’t have the old and new feel of Seoul, it does have it’s own charms. Also, Busan contains the word for mountain but the city is also surrounded by water. So if you are looking to vacation, this could be it.

Busan is a city with a lot of history. After WW2, Korea was just freed from Japan’s colonial rules and had no real leadership and was a strategic location for the US, China, and Russia. China and Russia were pushing for communism while the US was aiming for democracy. The country was way too vulnerable and took in what was near them. So the northern part took in the communism ideals with Kim Il Sung as their leader and the South took in democracy(more like capitalism) with their first president, Syngman Rhee. Both leaders claimed that they were the rightful leader of freed Korea. Unable to come to an agreement, Northern Korea, attacked the South.

The innocent people of Korea, not knowing what was going on, fled. They had just been freed from the Japanese but now, they were fighting each other. Many people, including people in the North, were leaving everything behind to save their lives. The North kept pushing and pushing and eventually, Busan was the last city standing on the South Korean side. And from here, the South, with the help from the US, pushed back. Eventually, they came to terms and set the 38 parallel line and the DMZ.

So within the city of Busan, you can still see the remnant of the War. Gamcheon Culture Village is one. People now come to see the Village as this colorful, artsy place, but actually, these were the houses the refugees built on the mountains. There were so many refugees, this was the only way to house all of them. People from the era still live here but now it has become more of a touristy place to take pictures from.

Gamcheon Culture Village (From https://www.gamcheon.or.kr/?CE=about_01)

If you enjoyed some history from Gamcheon Culture Village and want to see something new, head over to Haeundae area. This is the up-and-coming (not really coming anymore, just up) town. With the highrise buildings that overlook the ocean and gentrified restaurants and cafes, this is the town that everyone wants to be a part of. During the day, enjoy the ocean view from a terrace cafe or walk around the Dongpaek Park and during the night, take in the night view in front of the Bay 101 and enjoy the night life. Also, Gwangandaegyo during the night lights up the beach pretty well if you want to just sit around.

View of the Gwangandaegyo from Dongpaek Park

These are two things I really enjoy about Busan. I’ll write up a list of places to visit for now but will talk in more detail about other places as well later.

  • Other places to visit in Busan:
    • Taejongdae Park
    • Songdo Skywalk and cable car
    • Yonggungsa Temple
    • Nampodong and Gukje Market
    • Bosudong old book street
    • BIFF Square

Trip to Korea : The planning

I really do love planning trips. My family and friends all know this of me. I personally think that planning the trip can be as fun as the actually travel part. (Of course, nowadays, it can either make you hype or spoil the fun with all the pictures and videos you see online)

I recently visited my cousin and she told me that she was planning on visiting Korea soon. And that she wanted me to help her plan for it. (YAY!) I love it when people tell me that they are planning to visit Korea. It is my motherland and I want people to learn more about my culture (and that it isn’t just about kpop or kbeauty).

So we sat down together and went through some guidelines together: How long are you staying, where are you planning on staying, do you want to be more adventurous, do you want to play the tourist, a lot of walking or more relax at a cafe, etc. So many questions asked! Why? Because when people visit Korea, most of their time is going to be in Seoul, the capital. Seoul is a relatively small city and most of the major touristy places are accessible by foot. So the trips can be vastly different from person to person.

My cousin told me that she planned on staying at a friends house for a couple days, her uncle’s house for a couple days, and my parent’s house for a couple days. So that would be 3 cities. I don’t have to plan anything for the duration of her stay at her uncle’s and she only wanted recommendations for my parent’s house. But she definitely wanted a scheduled itinerary for most of Seoul. Her max stay in Seoul would be 4 days and she wanted a mix of touristy and relaxation time. She would be staying at her friend’s house, which is outside of Seoul but close enough to bus/subway into the City.

When this information, I started to jot some ideas down. I’m mostly driven by food and just hanging out with friends while in Korea but it was going to be different for my cousin. So here is to me starting 🙂