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Koreans seek time alone at COVID-hit Chuseok

Ticket desks stand nearly empty at Seoul Railway Station, Sept. 29, 2020. (Yonhap)
Ticket desks stand nearly empty at Seoul Railway Station, Sept. 29, 2020. (Yonhap)
Chuseok has traditionally been a time for families to gather, enjoy time together and share good food. Many visit their rural hometowns for ancestral rituals and reunions with other family members and relatives.

But this year, as long-distance trips and large gatherings are being discouraged as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus, many have been forced to adjust their plans.

For some, that is not such a bad thing.

Those yearning for respite from work, in particular, look forward to time alone or relaxing with their closest family members, minus the hassle of long travels and big family get-togethers.

“I’m going to stay home, sit back and relax, perhaps watching Netflix,” said Chung Yoo-sung, a practicing attorney living by himself in Seoul. “You can’t really go outside without worrying about the virus spread. But, it’s totally safe here at home.”

A 30-year-old office worker in Seoul, who asked only to be identified by her surname Lee, said she would rather make better use of the time by “working” at home.

“I was thinking about getting overdue house chores done,” Lee said. “Sure, I’d get some rest but I have a week for that. I haven’t had a good time just to redo my home and make it virus-clean.”

A survey jointly conducted by Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Public Health and the Seoul Institute on Sept. 21 found that only 1 in 5 people living alone planned to travel a long distance during the holiday. Across all households, 7 in 10 people surveyed leaned against Chuseok trips to their hometowns.

“I’m spending some quality time with my child instead of going out. I can’t take the chance,” said Ahn Sung-hwan, who works for an IT company. “We still can and will make video calls, like FaceTime, and reach out to our hometowns.”

Some people said they would venture out for a short refreshing day trip, but with only their closest family members.

“We’re going for an excursion around the suburbs, but no overnight stay. This is the only time of the year when my parents get off from work,” said a 28-year-old graduate student in Seoul, who asked only to be identified by her surname Kim.

Others are choosing to spend the holiday at hotels and resorts. Health authorities revealed that hotel bookings in Gangwon Province and Jeju Island were at 94 and 56 percent, respectively, as of a week earlier.

“Instead of the usual family reunions at my hometown, I’m staying at a resort with just my wife and children,” said a Seongnam resident who booked a hotel on Jeju Island and wished to be identified only by the surname Park.

“We will abide by all the social distancing rules in place and won’t stay long there,” he added.

While many people opted to either stay home or join smaller gatherings, some still said they were on their way to meet with families at their hometowns.

“We’ve skipped every family event, like our parents’ birthdays, since the coronavirus breakout early this year,” said Diane Han, a freelance writer. She added, “My parents don’t live that far so I think we will just say hello to our parents face to face and get back home this time.

“No overnight staying or dining is scheduled, though.”

By Choi Si-young (