Recently, I experienced fourteen days of mandatory quarantine in Seoul, South Korea due to the recently introduced COVID-19 health and safety measures. (Thanks, pandemic). I think it is an understatement to say that life as we know it has changed dramatically all over the world, and going through quarantine upon arrival in Seoul is certainly one of those dramatic changes. However, I was asked by my publisher to try and see if I could make the trip to Korea for the release of my book, Chasing Life: Lessons on Suffering Well, in Korean. After many conversations with my family, we felt it was important I make this trip happen in order to help the promotion endeavors of the book in Korea. And so, the quarantine adventure began.
Although I had done extensive research about quarantine, nothing could have prepared me for the experience — not even the storm seasons under my belt as a child in Puerto Rico! I came prepared with art supplies, plenty of writing and reading material, some snacks, and of course, enough technology to watch all the Netflix and Korean dramas I wanted. However, on day three, I was already in trouble when regardless of all my preparation, I found myself in desperate need for human interaction. It was a big learning experience, so let me break down my experience for all of you expats or fellow travelers out-there…
I. The Cost
For starters, there is a high cost for quarantine, and you are responsible to pay for it. The cost could range between $1,650 to $2,000 depending on the facility you get placed at. So, just be prepared for that. With that being said, let’s talk about my living arrangements: There is a big difference between being quarantined at a house as opposed to a hotel room. For one thing, there wasn’t much change in scenery and little to no space for workouts. My room only had one small window, and the view was a construction site next door. The rooms were kept warm, meaning I had to leave my window open 24/7 for air circulation and to get some coolness in the room. There is no room service. No one comes to clean your room for the duration of quarantine. You are given two bath towels, four hand towels, some toiletries, and plenty of water bottles (thank God for the water!). My room had a queen size bed, and a twin-size bed next to it, a small desk, and a toilet/shower room.
II. The Announcements
There is a speaker in your room with messages on constant replay every two to three hours (first in Korean, then translated to English, Chinese, and Japanese) to remind you that you are not to leave your room – not when to come out to receive your meal and not when you need to put your trash outside your room door. It also reminds you that you are not to smoke in your room, that no visitors are allowed, that no food is to be ordered from the outside world, and no one is allowed to bring you or send you anything. I have never been to prison, but I would imagine it is probably something similar…(I’m being sarcastic, of course.) In addition, you must take your temperature twice daily and record your health reports on an app you download upon arrival to the hotel.
III. The Meals
Your room door must remain locked at all times until you hear an announcement that your meal has been delivered. Then, you may crack open the door to grab your meal out of a basket they had placed in front of your room. The meals had to be prepaid, and you get three meals a day. There is no menu to choose from. You could, however, request “vegan” or “regular” meals. If you have special health needs, you need to make this clear prior to arrival, though that did not help me at all. But, you can try. Because of my health situation, the meals became my worst nightmare (not because they were bad taste-wise, I happen to enjoy Korean food very much) because of the sodium content, the sugar content (almost everything had honey or a sugar syrup in it), and lots of carbs. I became so sick. I experienced headaches, high glucose, high blood pressure, nose bleeds, nausea, and few vomiting spells — all this after testing negative for COVID! So, I did the only thing I knew to do, I changed my meals to “vegan” thinking this would improve my situation. It improved some, but by then I felt so sick to my stomach, I ended up skipping many of my meals. The good news is, I lost some weight! My advice: Bring plenty of snacks you can have as a “go to” in case of a bad experience. I honestly did not bring enough because I did not think the meals would make me so sick. (Again, they were not bad tasting, just not good for someone with diabetes or a heart condition.) By the way, the meals were always cold. There was no microwave in the room, only an electric kettle to warm up water for tea or coffee bags that they did provide in the room (yay!).
IV. The Time
You may be asking… how did I pass the time? I drew and painted – a lot! I read, I wrote, I prayed, I studied Korean language, and I watched Korean TV. I got a head start on Christmas gifts’ prep, and had plenty of conversations with God, (and with myself… no shame in that!) as well as with family and friends. I meditated a lot and got plenty of rest. I also watched Netflix and Korean dramas, but I will tell you that even watching TV, or your computer screen, gets old after a while. Come prepared with plenty of things to occupy your mind that don’t require just watching a screen all day. I packed and repacked my suitcases several times and also rearranged my toiletries almost daily! After a while, counting the windows of the hotels across from your room gets tedious and boring. Just saying. Though it wasn’t the best of times, some good things did come out of it. I’m happy to announce that I wrote some of my second book while in quarantine!
V. The End
For the departure, they gave me two times to choose for; depart at 7:00am, or at 12:00 -midnight. Since I was ready to leave after the third day, I chose the earliest time. On the morning of my exodus the hotel was gracious to call me a taxi and arrange for pick-up and delivery to my next destination. During my stay, the hotel staff were also kind to give me extra coffee and tea bags upon request, and even surprised me with a few snacks to help me out. Redemption is a beautiful thing!
In retrospect, would I do it again? Probably not. I think I would have rather waited and come after the pandemic situation was better, thus skipping quarantine. However, I have no regrets in coming to Korea. Now that I am here, I am loving every minute of the adventure and doing what I came here for. I hope this is helpful to you as you prepare for your next business or leisure travel. As they say in Korea, Fighting!