25 degrees F outside this morning. Good thing I bought that gansta sooper thick hoodie, I think it was useful for all of three weeks!
School is closed today because we had over 50 swine flue cases in our school, and our school is late following the trend of school closures trying to shut down the epidemic here.
The epidemic, though, seems to be encouraged by Asian culture, even though paranoia about it has been building to near hysteria for many months now. EVERY single night, swine flu is on the news. Night after night after night. To be honest, my response to this kind of overload is always to shut down: I tuned it out so long ago I have no idea what it really is, what it really does, or what the current situation is.
There are anti-bacterial dispensers for the students to rub on their hands when they walk in the school. There are extra signs about washing your hands thoroughly. The surgical masks are more prevalent, but as a prophylactic measure they aren’t used consistently enough to do any good, as most of the time they are hanging unused from ears or scrunched below the chin so people can talk and eat, etc. And yet – everyone is still sharing their side dishes and stealing food from each other’s lunch trays with used chopsticks.
So last week I went to the CDC to hear what the U.S. take on swine flu was about. The CDC recommended more hand washing, staying home if you were coughing and had a fever, and to not gather in large groups. The threat of death seemed pretty minimal, and the threat was more from complications due to other illnesses. As a pandemic, it didn’t worry me very much. I mean, it wasn’t like it was EBOLA or anything gruesome like that.
Last month, in one class I noticed a cup with about twelve toothbrushes in it. I brought it to the attention of the home room teacher, telling her this was not a sanitary thing to do if they were worried about the spread of swine flu. The teacher acted shocked and said she’d look into it. A week later, I notice the cup is still there and I depart from my English lesson to point out that flu is spread through germs and germs are distributed in the air through drops of saliva and that saliva is on your toothbrushes and that a dozen toothbrushes touching means a dozen girls are exchanging the germs on their saliva. Please, I implored, Please don’t put your toothbrushes together – you might as well be kissing a sick person – it’s unsanitary! The only response I got was a giggle because sanitary, it turns out, is mostly used for feminine products. Great. A week later, I go to that classroom and the same cup is still full to bursting with a dozen toothbrushes, all touching.
I really wish the health professionals everywhere would revise their messages for Asian culture. People here would change their habit without complaint. But everyone in charge seems to have forgotten that swapping spit isn’t on the minds of anyone here and that contamination amongst friends is overlooked and welcomed.
Today I am home early, because I am fortunate to work for sensible people. While the kids stay at home and sleep or play video games and enjoy their time off, most of the teachers in Korea have to go to work and sit there all day while they do nothing in an empty school. But it’s a bonding experience and it means lunches out together, etc. But at my school, this warming of seats is up to the discretion of your department chief, and most of ours are letting the teachers go home. So we all have to come in and report, and then most of us can take off thereafter.
So that means I can catch up with all the back-logged writing I need to do! Procrastinate. Procrastinate. Procrastinate.
And that pesky letter to Kim Sook Ja. I carry it around with me everywhere I go, so I’ll have it with me should I get a moment of inspiration. But the moment never comes. And I just carry it with me. I guess a part of me likes it that way. Unsent, it remains a possibility. Sent and ignored, it means not breathing fully. Sent and received could be crushing and anti-climactic.
But the swine flu is telling me I have no excuses anymore.