Please note: contrary to my book, which has been translated by native English professionals, this post is translated in part by Google Translate and might not be perfect.

This post is also available in Nederlands

It was the day before Riemer and I went to Disneyland that I decided to try Korea. I’ve been waiting for Japan for over a year now, and it didn’t look like anything would change in the near future. And camping any longer in Riemer’s living room, or in hotels in Utrecht, didn’t seem very appealing to me. So I chose Korea.

If you’ve been waiting for Japan for a year, Korea is ridiculously simple. You apply for an online entry permit (K-eta), you will receive an answer within 24 hours, you do a PCR test and that’s it. Korea is waiting for you. I gifted myself a one-way business class ticket, hoping to get some sleep.

Counter Slalom

I slept maybe four hours (because sleeping with an FFP2 mask is no fun), and then it was time for the Korea Grand Counter Slalom, or the endless procedures at the airport. I had put all my paperwork (PCR certificate, printout of my K-eta and the four forms I had to fill in on the plane) in a folder, but it wasn’t always clear at which desk they wanted which piece of paper. I’ll try to remember as best I can.

The first counter I encountered wanted my PCR certificate. In return, I got a sticker on my passport, which most likely stated that the check was OK. I’m not sure if there was yet another counter in between, but after that I ended up in a line for people without a Korean passport. There was a small booth with SIM cards, but I had an e-SIM so it wasn’t necessary for me. There were notes everywhere in the queue with a QR code, with which you could download an app. When it was my turn, I took a seat opposite a man in a hazmat suit, with a mouth mask and face shield, behind a plexiglass wall. He wanted my phone and helped me set up the app.

I’m not exactly sure what went wrong, but my Korean phone number didn’t work. The internet via the e-sim had been working fine all along, but apparently it took a little longer to activate the number. The app wanted a phone number, otherwise the installation could not be completed. My Dutch number was not allowed.

Oh-oh, here we go, I thought. They’ll probably send me right back. (Or at least back to the SIM card booth.) But the man asked if I had any other contacts. I hadn’t. Then I suggested to use the number of the hotel I booked for after the quarantine. The guy briefly called the hotel to verify my booking, and then it was okay. Phew.

The next counter was the quarantine check. A lady asked me if I had any relatives in Korea. I hadn’t. “You know that you have to go to a quarantine facility for 10 days, right?” Of course I knew that. I had brought a suitcase full of snacks with me for a reason. I got a red badge to hang around my neck, and a red sticker on my passport: quarantine. There were also yellow badges, which were later taken to the hotel, but they must have had different conditions or something? Anyway. Next counter.

Passport control. Finally. Would they finally kick me out? Of course not. I gave her the K-eta form (I think?), and the lady behind this counter asked me what I was coming to do. “Well uh, I was actually going to move my company to Japan, but you know, they’re still closed, so I thought I’d check out Korea…” The woman laughed and let me through to the next step: my baggage!

This whole thing lasted about an hour and a half, I think. In the baggage hall I took a moment to go to the toilet, but fortunately there were toilets at various points in this route. I hear from people who return to Japan that it is different there. Anyway, my suitcase had been circling on the belt for an hour, so I quickly found it. I gave the nothing-to-declare note to the customs officer, who thought I looked totally trustworthy, so I was allowed to proceed.

The van is coming soon - or well, sometime

Normally you now come through large sliding doors and you are in the country. Ready, finish, insert Mario flagpole finish sound. But not this time. I had to go to a waiting area with my red badge, where I met another Dutchman. He was here for work. He also had to go to the quarantine hotel, but then he could at least work in the right time zone. Not much later we were picked up and taken to the next waiting room. Note: these waiting areas are little more than a section of the arrivals hall with bulkheads around it. We sat here for an hour, and I started to collapse. There was no toilet here, I couldn’t get out of here, and I had no idea how what where and when. Yes, we would be taken to a hotel. But were we waiting until there were enough people? Until the bus arrived? Until a hotel was available?

Anyway, when we got on the bus an hour later, we were told where we were going. “You’re going to the Ramada hotel in Yongin!” said a lad in a hazmat suit, as if we were going on a school trip. By now I had thrown back an Imodium, because I find long bus trips scary. I was glad I did, because the big screen in the bus indicated the expected travel time: “97 minutes left!” Yikes.

The bus was very hot, because it’s winter here and Koreans don’t like cold or anything. It was already quite hot at the airport, but this bus took the cake. Next to me on the bus was a strange man who, like a true gangster, was threatening people over the phone. At least, that’s how it sounded. Now I don’t speak Korean so maybe he was just angry that the peanut butter jar was empty, but the aggression in his voice was universal. He had his mask on his chin, but I didn’t dare say anything about it. I held my FFP2 mask on firmly in the sauna bus.

I think they accidentally installed patio heaters instead of lights or something

Check check check in

Fortunately the bus driver drove like crazy, so within an hour we were at the hotel. My suitcases were sprayed with disinfectant and our group with red badges was placed in a kind of makeshift classroom in the lobby of the hotel. A paper with instructions was taped to the tables: “Delete the airport quarantine app, and install this other one.” My neighbor and I couldn’t install the app due to lack of phone number. “Oh, never mind,” said a young cop in a hazmat suit. “It’s not mandatory anyway.” Huh? Well, apparently you don’t have to work with a quarantine app if you’re locked up in a quarantine hotel anyway. Kinda makes sense.

I filled out my forms: Allergies? Nope. Mental health issues? Not at all. I’m Very Normal. I have no idea what would have happened if I had ticked the boxes. Maybe they wouldn’t have given me a room on the twelfth floor with windows that can open. Anyway. I was the first one finished, paid 891 euros (all-in!), got a key card, a bag with snacks and cup noodles (it was evening, and we had just missed dinner) and was allowed to go to my room. That same evening I was drilled out of my bed: PCR test! There was a lady in white suit at my door with a cotton swab. She swept it all but subtly through my nose and throat, and then I never heard from it again, so it must have been negative.

The view, so cute!


The first three days were quite tough: I was totally overstimulated by the long journey and many question marks along the way, and I had to get used to the room, yet another new environment. (And I had to get my period, because I thought, I might as well do that if I have nowhere to go.) I would like to go for a walk now and then, but of course that is not allowed. So instead I open the window, stick my nose out, I feel that it is six degrees below zero and then the desire to take a long walk disappears quite quickly. Fortunately, the headache has now subsided.

Ten days of this

But there I am, on the twelfth floor of a Ramada hotel in need of renovation, just outside Seoul, next to Korea’s largest amusement park, Everland. Unfortunately I can’t see the park, but I overlook a street with restaurants and hotels, a large coach parking lot and a cute little light rail station. When I open my window, it smells like Japan. Or well, like Korea. Or better yet, like food. But that smell is for now the closest thing to the travel experience that I will come in these ten days.

Because I have to sit here for ten days. I get a meal three times a day, cold but varied, and I have a 20-pack of half liters of spring water (which I can have unlimited replenished). Furthermore, I can take out my garbage every day at 6:30 pm, in an orange bag with a large chemical waste logo. Every morning at 10:00 I am brutally awakened by a broadcast message. The first message asks us in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese to take our temperature. The second message reminds us that we are not allowed to smoke here, or else we’ll face deportation. This message is in Korean, English, Chinese, Arabic(?) and Russian. Japanese people would never do such a thing, I guess.

View through my window

"And Toeps, are you surviving?"

You may be wondering if it’s tough, such a quarantine. Now I’m only halfway there, but the answer is no. First of all, I don’t have to think about anything. I don’t have to cook, I don’t have to go anywhere. What a rest! I also have internet, so I’m working hard. The rest of the time I sleep. To be honest, I’m more anxious about the bus ride to the train station when I’m free again than I am about the next five days. Because this is lovely.

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