The Adventure Begins~

***This post will cover our traveling to South Korea, arriving, and the current COVID-19 quarantine protocol.

Not gonna let a little global pandemic or quarantine protocol get in the way of finally starting our new chapter, are we? Nope! In this post, I’ll talk a bit (or maybe a lot) about our trek from JFK to Incheon Airport, our arrival, and the current appropriately complex quarantine protocol in South Korea. Buckle up, there may be a bit of turbulence…

It all began on Monday May 18th at 8:45 am. Or maybe it began around 7:30 am when a frenzy to unpack, re-evaluate, repack, and repeat ensued upon my parents’ kitchen floor. After all was said and done my luggage was still over the weight limit…seriously if anyone has some great packing tips, I’m all ears. Anywho, we packed into the car and set out to JFK airport (John F. Kennedy) in New York City, New York, USA around 8:45 am. Nabi probably thought we were going for a walk in the park as she excitedly looked out the windows acting as if there was nothing life changing about to happen to the two of us.

Arriving at JFK was a bit strange to say the least. Normally, the departures area would be packed with people getting dropped off, jumping out of vehicles, grabbing their luggage, hugging/kissing/waving goodbye, and rushing in hopes they might beat a long line going through security. This time, there was no one in the drop off area- not a single car. We also forgot to reserve parking, but there was no issue there either. After walking into a silent JFK, I checked Nabi and myself in at the counter since online check-in is not an option for pet travelers. Nabi’s paperwork had to get all checked out as well and we made sure everyone was on the same page that she was flying in the cabin. (Check out Nabi’s upcoming blog post about her preparations leading up to the big flight on the Nabi’s Corner page!) Next, things got a bit mushy and teary, of course, as Nabi said goodbye for now to her grandparents and I to my parents and we were on our way to security. Nabi was a champ as we passed through the line within what felt like 2 minutes- there was only one person in front us and two behind. Seriously, it was a ghost town. But it makes sense though, right? I mean who in their right mind would travel internationally in the very midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? Oh yea…me and my butterfly. Hehe oops. Anywho, we breezed through security like supa stars, I let nabi down and she pranced past the gates with me and soon we found ourselves at our own gate. Sitting, waiting…cuddling. I was starting to like this traveling with my doggy side-kick plan already.

Nabi strutting through the near empty airport.
Just chillin’. Notice how quiet it is?

After hanging out at our gate for about an hour or so, we were soon boarding. Now, if you are a frequent flyer, you know boarding can feel like half the trip- it can take a long, long time. But, in this era of the novel coronavirus, it took us a whopping 5 to 10 minutes to get through the boarding line and to our seat. Temperature check and all! Unfortunately, I was a bit distracted to count but I’d say it seemed like there maybe thirty or so other passengers besides us? Korean Air, like at least the majority or I would hope all airlines right now, is spacing out passengers pretty well. Let’s be honest, I don’t think everyone was sitting exactly six feet apart but the airline is eliminating a seat in between each passenger so no one (not even family and friends) is sitting next to each other. In Nabi and my case, we sat in the middle seat in a three seat row with no one one either side of us. It felt like our own little island compared to how economy seating usually feels like. The #KoreanAir crew were also all wearing gloves and masks. I wanna definitely give them props for still all being so pleasant and cheerful even when having to work under the added pressure to an already stressful occupation. Another couple of twists to this flight were the passing out of instructions on how to install the Self-Quarantine Safety Protection App (which we will talk much more about later) and the fact that I and all the other passengers on the flight were also wearing masks. I decided to skip taking photos of the plane outside of our own seat to respect the other passengers privacy. But believe me, when the plane started revving up, if you looked around, you’d be wondering if the captain got his schedule mixed up and was taking off early.

This time, the flight duration to Korea was actually less than 14 hours! Nabi was a champ during take off, not a peep out of her. Once we were in air, I took Nabi out of her carrier and she laid on my lap for the greater part of the flight while watching Disney movies with me, making friends with some of the flight crew, and catching some Zzzs (in Nabi’s case, lots of Zzzs). Before we knew it, I was putting Nabi back in her carrier and we were preparing to land.

We touched down at Incheon International Airport in the Republic of Korea earlier than planned around 4:30 or so. Now, I am kicking myself sitting here as I type this. I didn’t take any photos at Incheon Airport. I know, rookie mistake. Anywho, it was bizarre. Similar or maybe even more so than JFK airport, INC airport is normally filled to the brim with travelers from all over the globe coming and going. If it helps put things into perspective- this airport has an ice rink. Got an 8 hour layover? No problem! Grab a pair skates and pass the time. At an airport. On a roller skating rink. But something tells, me when Nabi and I arrived in INC on May 19th, the rink wasn’t open. The place was totally barren. As soon as we got off the plane I again had my temperature checked, next my passport and visa grant notice was checked, after that I and the other passengers on my flight went into another sectioned off station-like area where we all installed the “Self-Quarantine Safety Protection App” onto our phones.

[Photo screen shot of self quarantine app]

After installing the app on my phone and inputing my first round of data into the app, I joined another short line. I again was asked to show my passport, visa grant notice, and explain and describe where I would be carrying out the mandatory two week self-quarantine protocol. From this point, the staff called my Airbnb host to make sure everyone was on the same page and to make sure that I would be staying alone with my puppy in a single room-completely separate-all alone. Yup it’s true. After confirming with my wonderful Airbnb host, we were sent on our way to another station where I filled out more paperwork stating my Airbnb address and contact info and also signed another document stating that I agreed to do the mandatory quarantine and agreed to face criminal charges if I violated the protocol. This was all a bit helpful because by now I had written my Airbnb address about 3 or 4 times and had it pretty much memorized by then. and we were on our way down the escalator to the near empty luggage carousel area to get our two suitcases. Make that one suitcase. Oops. Someone apparently had the same exact luggage as I and ended up leaving the airport with poor Nabi’s kibble and other things including my prized Foval 2-in-1 travel adapter and converter. The two staff members (the only two staff members) in the carousel area were extremely kind and extremely apologetic for the mix up and quickly had me give them my Airbnb address, name, and phone number so the luggage could be delivered to me. Okiedokie then onwards we went. The last step was checking Nabi in at the agriculture veterinary inspection area. Nabi passed with flying stars with all her prepared documents and cuteness, of course. Then we were finally on our way to exiting the airport. But wait, not so fast.

Normally, at the bustling Incheon International Airport you would have various options as to how you would get to wherever you needed to go into Korea from the airport. This time was much different. After passing through Nabi’s station, we walked into the arrivals area where you would normally see people waiting for love ones with signs and the like. This time there was a small group of taxi and bus drivers sitting, waiting to be given their next assignment. I was asked for my Airbnb address by a kind man who seemed to be a coordinator of the operation. After this, putting my oversized piece of luggage, backpack, and Nabi into consideration I was paired up with a very polite and helpful taxi driver of a mini van. All of the drivers, I would like to mention, also were wearing gloves and masks. My new taxi driver friend took my suitcase for me and led me to the van. As soon as we were just about leaving the perimeters of the airport, my driver received a call and started answering several question in regards to where I was going and whether or not I had an official COVID-19 test prior to my arrival in Korea. The driver asked me about the test, I said no, and we ended up taking a slight detour over to the Gangnam Public Health Center. It’s too bad Nabi didn’t have thumbs to hold a camera…

While still in America, I watched several clips on CNN showing patients and even one of their foreigner correspondents getting the notorious nose swab test done. I thought eh, can’t be that bad. I was wrong. OW. But, it needed to be done so I can’t complain too much. I had a throat swab done along with an additional temperature check and soon I was back in the taxi with Nabi- our taxi driver said she made a bit of a fuss while I was gone but I couldn’t blame her. The voices in my head were making quite a fuss while I had to leave her in the taxi as well.

We arrived at the Airbnb around 8:45pm. I contacted my host to let her know that I arrived and that, unfortunately, Nabi was without food but that I would just share some of my dinner with her (“dog-friendly” food only!) for tonight. I asked if there was an online store I could purchase food from and have delivered until her American kibble found its way here. My wonderful host responded saying she would be over in a little while with some different foods and asked if there was anything else Nabi needed. Turns out her husband owns an animal hospital here in Korea about an hour or so outside of Seoul! So now that Nabi’s tummy was taken care of, time for mine.

{photos from day 1}

Korea has an amazing food delivery industry. Really it is incredible. Unfortunately, I learned delivery apps can be quite difficult to utilize for foreigners fresh off the plane. I was already aware that I would need a Korean phone number, but I was not aware that for most apps I would need a Korean bank account and card. So, long story short, after a bunch of trouble shooting, my MVP friend who lives about 2 hours away from where I am currently in Gangnam, Seoul ordered and paid for a nice warm bowl of Korean ginseng chicken soup with medicinal herbs and white rice which arrived at my door about thirty minutes after being ordered. I would later find out that the most popular food delivery app, 배달의민족 or roughly “The Delivery People” has a plethora of restaurants which accept payment via card or cash upon delivery. Oh well. With a full and satisfied stomach, it was shower-time for both Nabi and I and we both fell asleep quicker than I thought we would. But, jet-lag came back with a vengeance during the remainder of the week to come.

The next day, Wednesday, came and went in kind of a blur. Actually the whole first week did. Okay, Wednesday, Day 1. Around 2pm a “1st level inspector” from the Gangnam District Health Center contacted me via the app Kakaotalk. I was in the midst of taking probably my 3rd out of a handful of naps I took that day when my phone went off. I had a very pleasant conversation where the inspector confirmed my address, told me that I was to not leave my room during the 14 day period unless I felt sick and needed to go to the hospital. In that case, I was not allowed to leave and go to the hospital before contacting the health center. The inspector then explained that there would be a package delivered at my door within the next day or so filled with food, water and other daily necessities. Lastly, she explained that there would also be a monitor assigned to me and that my monitor would be coming to confirm my address and introduce herself by Friday. Oh and by the way, I also got a call from the Incheon Airport earlier that morning letting me know they had my suitcase and it would also be delivered to me by the end of the day and it was. Thank Nirvana.

Day 2 of quarantine was like Christmas! First I got an unexpected call at around 2pm again, this time, it was from my assigned personal monitor from the Gangnam District Health Center. She told me that my care package would be getting delivered sometime later that day and that she also would be coming to visit me. Around 6pm my doorbell went off and by the time I threw a mask and gloves on whoever rang the bell had left but not my package~! I quickly yanked and pulled the box inside and opened it up. The box was filled to the top with simple and easy to cook (or microwave) meals, snacks, 3 large bottles of water, and 2 orange medical waste garbage bags. As a side note, normally disposing of trash here is a bit complex as everything needs to be separated, however, during my 14-day quarantine I was to put all of my waste including recyclables into these medical waste bags. That’s when I knew were not messin’ around. Only a few minutes later and my bell rang again, I look at the security camera to see that my monitor friend was already outside the front door of the building. I quickly slipped my shoes on along with my PPE again and rushed downstairs. There, I was given more documents to sign. I was also given a bag full of at least 50 masks of different varieties, sanitizing spray, hand sanitizer gel, antibacterial hand wash, antibacterial wipes, and 2 pairs of plastic gloves. And to top it all off, I was also gifted an adorable bucket with a plant in it just starting to bloom little pink flowers. Gotta say I felt quite well cared for. 🙂

From toothpaste to Choco Pies, I received a very generous care package.

After our meeting, my monitor reminded me via Kakaotalk text that she would be stopping by randomly every once in a while to see how I was doing and make sure that I was following protocol by staying inside. She also let me know that my quarantine would be officially over as of 12:00 midnight on June 3rd. She added, however, that I needed to go to the Gangnam Health Center sometime during the day on June 3rd to get a quick exam and another COVID-19 test done. After all that, I would be free to do as I please.

So! That’s the gist of everything in a nutshell as far as the protocol goes. Here we are on May 31st, day 12 of quarantine in the homestretch. Gotta say the time has surprisingly flown by (although that is probably partially because I was stuck in quite a jet-lagged haze during the first 5 days or so). Luckily this past week, I started taking advantage of my friend’s generosity and used his phone number a few times to get some fresh food from the outside world on Wednesday, day 8. I was able to do this via a more foreigner-friendly app which I mentioned above, 배달의민족, “Delivery People’s App”. This app allows you to pay by cash or card (depending on the restaurant you order from) so a bank account is not necessary- you only need a Korean phone number.

I was getting down to having nothing to eat besides ramen, spam, and canned tuna. I was grateful to still have something in the cabinets but I longed for some fresh fruits and veggies. I literally did a happy dance when I was eating my first delivery order. Below are some of the foods and drinks I’ve ordered thus far. yummy yummy~

After ordering this bubble tea on Friday, I wondered. How is someone gonna drive over here with my tea on a motorbike and not have it spill everywhere? This was my answer.

On Wednesday as well (or was it Thursday?) I got a kakaotalk message from my monitor asking if everything was okay as she noticed my temperature go up by 0.1 degree Celsius. And then yesterday, Saturday, my monitor called me from the parking lot as she stopped by randomly to wave to me through the window (thank goodness I wasn’t sitting on the pot at the time) and take a photo of me. I fought the temptation to make peace or heart signs.

Nabi has really been a trooper through all of this so far; can’t say how proud I am of her. It can’t be easy being an 11 month old yorkie pup and being stuck inside an approximately 320 square foot apartment for 14 straight days. She’s still her same Nabi-self making me laugh and smile and keeping me sane or at least a bit less insane. 😛 Once this is all over, I am excited to take her out to the many parks in Seoul and to also explore the rest of this country with her. I also have hopes to quickly find a more permanent apartment to rent that is just spacious enough for the two of us and nearby a park or two; stayed tuned. ^_- This is only the beginning. We’ve got a lot of building blocks to set up.

Oh I almost forgot! Below is a photo of probably one of The Korean Government’s most important weapons in their battle against COVID-19- “The Self-Quarantine Safety Protection App”. This app is currently GPS tracking my whereabouts (which is probably not very exciting to watch-honestly I have not left the building) and also alerts me about every 12 hours or so to check-in with my current health status or “self-diagnosis” if I haven’t already done so. I really don’t feel like a prisoner; I don’t feel like my privacy is being invaded through this app. Yes, it is active 24/7 but it is a GPS tracking device; it doesn’t have a camera or mic. To the people monitoring the app I’m probably just a little dot on a map. By agreeing to follow this protocol and be monitored through the app I am also doing my part as a responsible global citizen and global team player in the battle against this virus. Through this app, people can be alerted if someone in there area or on the bus they rode earlier today was diagnosed with the virus and that could save lives and keep the virus from spreading. Every day, among those alerts are ones reminding everyone to use PPE and wash their hands, keep social distance when possible, etc. Some people might be bothered by this protocol or feel like it is going against their personal rights. Honestly, as you can see, it’s really not so bad. Frankly, I would be much more bothered if were asymptomatic, violated the protocol and went out partying as many tourists and foreigners are doing, and spread the virus to someone else causing terrible damage to their health, or even worse, death. In comparison to other developed countries around the world, this country has done a stellar job fighting this so far, in my opinion. It would be terrible for me to enter and mess it all up on them, right?

Here are some more moments from our quarantining days so far…

Disclaimer: Although you can check your dog’s body temperature via their front leg pit (add one degree if you do!) it is still not as accurate as checking via the behind. If you think your pet has a fever, take them to the doggy doctor! A dog’s normal temperature is usually between 101 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nabi, it’s day 12~ ! Nabi, “Wait…what day is it?”

In the next post you’ll be hearing some more from Nabi about all the documents and to-dos involved with getting her here with me legally, safely, and happily. Head on over to Nabi’s Corner to check it out.

She asked me to show this off. Not bad for 11 months, eh?….

*****UPDATE!!!*****

I was talking to a friend from my company a few days ago and found out some unfortunate news. Not every system is perfect. She just arrived back in Korea this past weekend and is staying at an airbnb for now in a different district of Seoul called Jogno. It turns out each district of Seoul was given a lump of funding from the government to assist people on 2 week quarantine, however, each district’s budget is different and the district choosing how to disperse it. Unfortunately, Jogno district doesn’t seem to have as big a budget as Gangnam does. My friend will not be receiving any care package or money for food and necessities. A complete 180 compared to the care I received from the Gangnam district center. 😦 If you are going to be traveling to Korea during this time, I suggest you try to research and find out the funding situation at the district you are planning to stay in for your quarantining days!

—-update posted on June 11th, 2020 ^^

One thought on “The Adventure Begins~

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