• Mina Song

Living through a pandemic


When I first “really” heard about the outbreak in China, I was in Berlin. By the time I was back in Seoul, more people were wearing masks, but that was about it. As a Korean I didn’t have much trauma from an outbreak. In early 2000 when SARS terrorized the world, we only had 4 cases. Later in 2015, MERS hit Korea and left 38 deaths. I read that not much lab research could be done and there was no time to save samples at the time. Everything that may have been exposed to the virus went right into an incinerator. Because of the high mortality rate and because the outbreak took place at a top-level hospital, the priority was to contain the virus at all costs. Still, it ended without really hitting the public and their lives. Not remotely close to how COVID-19 reshaped our normal.


I was optimistic about the situation. Even when the number of new cases was skyrocketing, I knew this was from aggressive testing, which later proved to be the right approach. What I didn’t expect was how it was handled in other countries. I didn’t expect social distancing to become such trouble that it would eventually lead to closed borders and enforced lock-downs.

My plans have been altered (or more like delayed) after the pandemic was declared. Moving around the globe is not an option at the moment, meaning I’m stuck in Seoul. The sports center I registered for swimming classes has been closed for over a month. Even though things have started to relax a bit now, I feel it’s too early for any indoor sports yet. My only exercise option is running; then air pollution is a thing here. That’s why we had all these high-functioning masks in the first place. Whenever I’m free and the weather is nice, I still have to check the pollution map to make sure I can finally run. It was okay when it wasn’t the only thing I could do. Now, it just sucks.


I can’t casually walk into a random bar for live band music I hear from outside, can’t go to an exhibition at a gallery or a museum. If I have to eat out, I will only do that if the restaurant is empty, or as I do most times, I just go for a take-out. Basically, anything that has to with an enclosed space is a no-no or a timed-operation if I absolutely need to go in. Life without spontaneity is not really fun.


But no-fun is still better than the fear of becoming a carrier. I’m not scared for myself. The idea of me infecting someone else and putting them in a potentially deadly situation – that’s what horrifies me. And I remind myself of it when I feel down about not having a life. Sometimes I get upset seeing people not care as much because it won’t help end this misery sooner. Then again, the novel virus will not go away. Experts and researchers have been saying that this will be a seasonal thing. There is no real “end” to it. The vaccine will take a while, so we need to find a way to live the new norm.


I have new plans as well.


  1. I’m challenging to learn my third and fourth languages simultaneously, French and German. It’s not recommended, I know, but I have a strategy I want to try out. It’s too early to tell if it’s working. What I can tell is that I feel my language brain is stimulated in a new way, and it’s a good feeling. The whole point of doing this is to have fun, so I’m not going to stress myself over getting better quickly.

  2. Since cooking isn’t allowed where I’m staying, it’s limiting when it comes to the food I can take out while trying to minimize meat in my diet. On the other hand, it can be a creative opportunity to find and experiment with different ways of preparing healthy meals without a stove or an oven. Canned legumes can be a great option.

  3. I’m in a temporary housing situation and my room is where I spend most of my day. It’s the scenery I see the most. I’m ready to be on the move at any time so I don’t have much to help me store and organize small items. I figured that I can try to keep things at my eye level tidy and nice at the least. I also realized making my bed every morning is more important when it’s not my home.


Little efforts here and there help me feel more in control of my life and find small joys in this not-so-joyful situation. I hope everyone’s found their way to make it better. Stay safe!





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