One of the reason I've been following this is because foreign teachers are seen (by the media) as a kind of 'plague' or 'virus' that threatens to infect the 'purity' of Korean culture and Korea in general. At least that's the kind of discourse I read when the Korean media constantly puts out stories about the 'qualifications' of foreign teachers--especially when those qualifications are put in the context of ethics and morals and saying were not qualified . . . but never providing specific hard facts to back this up which then leads to the simple basis of it's because we're not Korean that we're not qualified . . . wrap all of these things up in constant references and juxtapositioning with pedophiles, sex crimes, drug crimes, etc, and this is where my concerns begin to rise about how there's now going to be a real virus in Korea that will impact the day to day issues of Koreans and if the H1N1 virus continues to be connected to, and embedded with, the foreign teachers discourse of disease and a general threat to the well being of the country things are going to become 'interesting.'
The Korean cultural imaginary seems to have different kinds of fear of infection from outside influences. It fears the linguistic pollution and infection from English language and the effects it's having on Korean language with the appearance of some many Koreanized words aka 'Konglish'; it fears the effects of western cultural values and beliefs on its neo-Confucian culture; it fears the effects of immigrant men and women marrying Koreans and the mixed ethnicity children that come from those marriages . . . and the list goes on.
When I think about the way in which the Korean media has dealt with things like the Mad Cow scare I begin to feel very concerned about how they're going to approach the imminent H1N1 outbreak that I am certain is going to hit Korea this fall/winter as Korean students and teachers return from studying overseas, the massive influx of foreign teachers entering Korea for the beginning/renewal of contracts, and all the Koreans who traveled overseas during the summer vacation returning too.
From this article on the Korea Times
"A group of Japanese students wearing masks pass through the quarantine section at Incheon International Airport, Sunday. Two Koreans and a Japanese national died of complications from influenza A (H1N1) over the weekend." (Korea Times)
Add to the mix the general lack of awareness in Korean culture about the need to cover one's nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and proper hand washing protocol combined with a lack of soap in school bathrooms . . . well, I think it's pretty safe to say that the infection numbers are going to EXPLODE in September and October--that's my guess, anyway.
Now the media blitz is beginning to take off and they're finally starting to embrace the reality that Korea will not escape/avoid having to deal with the virus.
"But doctors worry that once school starts in September, a mass infection may occur as students who have been overseas for the holidays return and raise the possibility of transmission among classmates and family members. Government data show that 50.1 percent of flu cases here involve inbound travelers, while 14.7 percent contracted the disease locally. The center also said that eight classmates at a high school in Daegu were confirmed to have contracted the virus Saturday."
I'm really surprised to read that rumors are out there (no source is given for this info, and you have to take everything the Korea Times says with a ginormous grain of salt) that schools may be closed.
"The government is considering shutting down individual schools for a certain period if an infection is confirmed among staff or students."
With the SMOE orientation coming up fast I'm imagining what the odds are that at least one person in the 500 or so teachers that will be fresh off the plane and arriving at the orientation will be an H1N1 carrier . . . I imagine that they must be pretty high but have no basis for this other than this quote, "Government data show that 50.1 percent of flu cases here involve inbound travelers, while 14.7 percent contracted the disease locally" from the KT article, and other things I've read in online news and the WHO website.
Time to start megadosing vitamin C I guess . . . though I don't think that's going to help all that much . . .
Well, what do you think? Will the goverment shut down all the schools in Korea for 10 days? I don't know how that would work because schools also function as a babysitting service for all the working Korean adults during the 9-5 work day period, and hogwans (private cram schools) take over after the kids get out of regular school from 4pm till 11pm . . . I really wonder how the economy will deal with this if the schools are shut down--not well, I'd imagine.
I really hope that foreign teachers don't become a part of whatever the primary angle is that the Korean media takes on this because the last thing we need is to be seen as the carriers of H1N1 . . . combined with the unqualified/impure discourse that has been going on for years.
p.s. If I were a hogwan foreign teacher right now I'd be banking every Korean won I am paid and saving it just in case the 'fit hits the shan' and causes a massive number of hogwans to go bankrupt and put hundreds if not thousands of foreign hogwan teachers out on the street with no job and no place to live . . . yikes.