Before my departure for Korea, I had randomly tuned into the news, forever out of it after Colbert left the tube. The report had announced a MERS outbreak in Korea. It was a few weeks before my departure and already a number of people had died. Was I really going to go to Korea?
A few years ago, I had hesitated about going to Dubai when a travel advisory was issued for Americans going into the Arab world. The advisory was quite vague, even though it sounded threatening. I decided to go anyway and all was fine. However, while in Dubai, after enjoying some camel meat and posting a picture of the meal on Facebook, I received a frightening comment regarding my choice of lunch. The response linked to an article that suggested camels were potentially responsible for this new syndrome: MERS. Needless to say, I had some indigestion.
Was I going to play with fire again? Or was this just another media story because the summer was starting off slow? I knew one thing for certain, I was going to see a lot of face masks.
Traveling During a MERS Outbreak
But when I arrived in Korea, I saw plenty of mouths. In the span of one week, maybe a few dozen people were spotted wearing those hospital masks, despite being surrounded by the millions in Seoul and Busan. The real danger zone, it seemed, was in the hospitals, but I didn’t research this much further. If anything, traveling during a MERS scare was replete with benefits. Many of the touristy sites were less packed and during the month of July, the Korean government was offering free admission to the Royal Palace and Folk Museum to encourage travel, (though I’m not sure how motivating a ten-dollar savings is in getting a person to journey to Korea).
When I boarded my flight from Jeju Island to Seoul, getting ready to transfer to Japan, I felt at ease that I wasn’t experiencing any respiratory issues. I breathed well, that is until some nice Korean lady sitting next to me on the place asked, “Aren’t you worried about radiation?”
At first, I thought this were some panicky traveler-question worried over the full body scanners at security. But, no, I realized a moment later that she was referring to the Fukushima disaster of 2011.
“Isn’t that sort of over?” I said, figuring that I would be far enough in Tokyo, working my way west as the days passed.
“I wouldn’t travel to Japan,” she said. “I don’t eat anything from Japan either.”
Fuck, I thought. Only a few hours to decide with a non-refundable ticket to my name. I used to reproach my wife when she laid in a tanning bed. Was I really going to give myself over to nuclear radiation? I pictured people in yellow plastic suits.
What to do?
And then into a Nuclear Zone?
Well, I went to Japan. And ate some really amazing sushi.
The camel and the Koreans could have given me MERS. The sushi, radiation. Maybe I should have stayed home where nothing bad ever happens, unless you happen to accept a grill as a gift from a friend, stumble upon a brown recluse spider inside, get bit, watch the poison spread to both hands, feel a burn up your arm and in your heart, head to the emergency room, and then spend a fortnight worrying about necrosis.
I guess the moral here is don’t let too many things scare you away from travel and don’t take free grills.