Contestant 421 This is what happens when quarantine rules change mid-air

By Paul Karrer

My wife is from a nation that will remain unnamed. But they love kimchi a whole bunch and it is directly south of North Korea. Additional hint: It is the setting for the very popular worldwide TV series “Squid Game.” If you’ve seen it, you might get a kick out of this. If not, you can still appreciate it or at least consider yourself very lucky.

The U.S. State Department suggested that people not visit this country south of North Korea.

(Why the feeble attempt to mask the origin of this nation? Potential wife-umbrage at slights about her once upon-upon-a-time homeland. She is now a U.S. citizen, by the way. Also I can try a wimpy defense of plausible deniability, as I didn’t directly mention the country’s name.)

Now, if the State Department suggests not going somewhere, there is usually a very good reason like, war, famine, no infrastructure, chaos, diseases or, in this case, a pandemic with frighteningly rising numbers in that country.

My wife wanted to visit. She has been gone many years but likes to go back when she can.

When she last left the USA to visit this place, the rules instructedvisitors to stay in family home confinement/quarantine for 10 days. This was possible if a family member showed up at the airport and had proof of being a direct relative. Not a problem in this country, as all people are registered in many ways. And of course, visitors must show multiple proofs that they have had their COVID vaccinations. They also must have a test showing they are negative. Plus, visitors had to have a location app downloaded on their phones so the COVID disease trackers can watch them.

That was the steadfast rule (while my wife was flying from San Francisco to said country), until supposedly a minister and his wife decided they could do what they wanted, broke quarantine and were caught. The home quarantine rule ended while my wife was in the air. Upon landing she was informed she had to quarantine for 10 days in a specially assigned quarantine hotel. People in HAZMAT suits met her various times. In line in the airport. In line during her vaccination check and as she rode the bus to her hotel.

This country had a war with the country north of it in the 1950s. These are very hardy people who take their wars and COVID very seriously. They do not fool around. But they do make fantastic pulgogi, musical groups, movies and loving beautiful wives (again, an enfeebled attempt to suck up if the plausible deniability ruse fails).

My wife is in room 421. I call her contestant 421, ala “Squid Game.” She thinks it is funny, so that is good. There is a speaker in her room.  All messages are in four languages, including hers, Chinese, Japanese and English.

Her 10 days are regimented as follows:

  • “Visitor 421, please put your hazardous waste in the bright orange plastic bag on the left side of the door.” Hazardous waste consists of anything disposable she has touched.
  • “Visitor 421, please stand at least 6 feet away from the door when your meals are delivered.” She gets three meals a day. They are okay, she claims. Okay from her is good, as she is a phenomenal cook. There is no food choice in what one gets.

She cannot leave her room under any circumstances. I asked, “What if the hotel catches on fire?” This country has had more than one real nasty killer hotel fire. She smiled at me as she videoed her room.

“They have thought of that.” She shows me what looks like a huge cinderblock and a lot of rope attached to it. She is supposed to smash the window and climb out. She hates hiking. I know she’s never rappelled. She tripped in our kitchen just before she left.

“Umm, what … floor are you on?” I asked.

“Only the fifth.”

Only, I think, Only. OMG.


She Kakaos her friends, our daughter, and me each day. Kakao-ed, which is this country’s version of Skype or Zoom, and a zillion times better.

A friend gave her a variety of streaming access codes. So she watches the TV dramas she adores. She is on day seven today. I will call Contestant 421 in a few hours.

I’m very glad I stayed home. But I’ll be happier when she’s back. And as for that minister and his wife who screwed everything up, I hope they find their Promised Land less promising and a lot hotter than they ever imagined … for all eternity.

Featured image: Adobe Stock photo

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Paul Karrer

About Paul Karrer

A retired elementary school teacher, Paul Karrer’s writing has appeared in San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Monterey Herald.