Updated: Dec 27, 2020
The date was July 2, 2020. After a short bus ride from Osan Air Base, we arrived at Camp Humphreys. My first impression was definitely affected by my extreme exhaustion. It was flat, lacking color (just like an Army base!) and almost dead empty due to Health Protection Condition Charlie (HPCON C). We arrived at a rec center for our first COVID test. After registration, we were taken to a large room with chairs placed six feet apart. Families were called one by one for their testing. There was an obvious sense of dread among the younger children; they knew their inevitable fate.
Since April 1, the South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun imposed a new mandatory two week quarantine for all arrivals. For those in COVID-land (aka the U.S.), “quarantine” is something you do to keep yourself from spreading the Coronavirus to others. When new people arrive at Camp Humphreys, quarantine is immediate for two weeks at the “quarantine barracks” . Yes, there are designated towers housing hundreds of people who receive food three times a day and are allowed to walk around outside maybe twice a day. I experienced “quarantine” in the States at the beginning of the pandemic. “Quarantine” in the states allowed my family and I to go shopping, regularly talk to others in persons, and spend lots of time outside with friends in close proximity. Outdoor movies, kickball games, and bike rides were part of our day. South Korea’s quarantine is very different. We were not allowed leave our house or even open our front door. We could not go shopping and we were truly isolated for two long weeks. Now back to the fun...
After 30 anxious minutes, we were called. I volunteered to go first with my dad. They shoved a bendy rod very far up my nose for an uncomfortable few seconds. It was over as soon as it began. My younger sisters Edie and Ellie were… less enthusiastic about getting their test. They embraced the suffering and got it over with quickly. A small van was waiting to take us to our new home in South Korea. The ride was silent. As we pulled into our new neighborhood, I noticed someone recording our arrival. The driver dropped us off at our new house and helped us unload our fourteen suitcases. Our long-time friends the Ohs showed up to welcome us and brought us some necessary supplies and comfort food. Finally reconnecting with the Ohs after 9 years was incredible! Then, quarantine began. We closed the front door and didn’t open it for another two weeks. The house was near empty, aside from the few pieces of furniture that the Army provided for us.
Quarantine was a unique type of challenge. Two weeks worth of free time is dangerous to an undisciplined person. I immediately decided to schedule my day and make the most of my time. I created a list of tasks and skills that I must accomplish before quarantine was finished. I realized that remaining physically active and getting some sunlight is also necessary to keep me sane. The first few days were hard. I consistently woke up at 5 for nearly a week due to the time difference. Sometimes, my siblings would already be awake and active when I went down stairs in the early hours of the morning. This made the days much longer than necessary. Instant ramen made those early mornings bearable. Thank you, Ohs. You were life savers.
I don’t know how many of you have multiple siblings, but if you do, you might be able to understand my plight. They opened the faucet of my sanity and drained it all in a matter of days. New record! Their boundless energy is unmatched, and during quarantine, they had no way to expend it. They would chase each other around the house and occasionally smacked their heads on furniture, resulting in a very sad few minutes. My parents smartly noticed their frenetic behavior and decided that they would exercise daily. It made them tired for about 15 minutes afterwards, but then they returned to normal.
We played many games of Monopoly and Risk. Our family was the opposite of the families you see happily playing board games in TV commercials. The Ohs also brought us a trampoline and a hula hoop (all the while keeping their distance), which prompted Ellie to start a rhythmic gymnastic craze. As a family of six, we eat a lot of food. So much in fact that some poor souls had to shop for us every three days. We just kept running out of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Since my mom had never been to Camp Humphreys’ commissary, she had to FaceTime the shoppers to help in knowing what to buy.
With all this spare time I could do a lot of reading. The army kindly provided us with some handouts that helped prepare us for life on the outside. I intensely studied the map of post nearly everyday in order to get my bearings. I was able to read many books that I was previously unable to read due to time constraints. My parents also made us watch classic, Oscar winning movies such as Casa Blanca.
Thinking back on this experience, I would tell you that my quarantine time was a test of character. The hardest part about quarantine was staying motivated, and the most enjoyable part was being able to relax and catch up on sleep. If I had to quarantine again, I would probably go back to my same schedule and goals.
If you would have asked Eli, my younger brother, what he thought of quarantine, he would have said, “Well, because I'm an introvert, it was amazing. Family was by far the most difficult part about quarantine. The easiest part of quarantine was being able to sit on my butt and play video games all day. If we had quarantine again, I’d build up a ‘gaggle’ of snacks, and yes I know that gaggle is used when flamboyant flamingos flock together.”
My older sister, Edie, who is eleven, would have said this about quarantine, “It was completely horrible… hmm yes. It was absolutely horrible and I hated it. I did like throwing the football around and watching trash AFN TV shows. I also liked doing the goblin gallop. The most difficult part was not meeting anyone, now my 'socialness' is low. The easiest part was being able to eat rainbow sherbet ice cream and watch tv all day. Next time I would try to be more active and bring headphones so I don’t have to listen to my siblings.”
My youngest sister, Ellie, was the only one with a somewhat positive experience. She would have said, “It was ok. Ummm, not going outside and playing with friends was really hard. The easiest part was that I had my family there with me. I would probably not spend more time on my electronics if we did that again.”
After twelve days of imprisonment, we were taken to be tested once more. It went worse than the first one, but maybe we were just tired. My dad joked that the swab touched his brain and made his leg kick. We were plopped back in our house to nervously await the final results. A few days later they came. Negative. We were finally free! The moment we were let out, we all ran outside and enjoyed our first actual taste of Korea. My sisters even hugged the trees! Our whole quarantine experience felt like the movie Groundhog Day. We woke up and did the same thing everyday with no end in sight. Not that I would wish quarantine on anyone, but basic freedoms such as being able to go outside and go where you want are sometimes taken for granted. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
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