South Koreans in Vietnam adapt daily habits to mitigate coronavirus fears

By Hai Hien   February 27, 2020 | 04:35 pm PT
New daily routines are helping Vietnam's South Korean community put locals at ease as their homeland struggles to contain the viral outbreak.

As South Korea hit international headlines as one of the countries worst hit by the epidemic, Lee adopted a new routine. Instead of standing in front of the mirror every morning before going out, he now checks his bag thoroughly to see whether his masks and hand sanitizers are inside.

Sharing an apartment with his friends, Lee, 44, has worked as director of a Hanoi-based representative office for a South Korean electronics firm for over a year. He lives and works in a building on Pham Hung Street in Nam Tu Liem District.

At the end of January, when the coronavirus hit Vietnam, the building’s management board recommended residents use face masks, though the South Korean man hardly registered the update.

"I only frequent South Korean restaurants," Lee explained, saying he didn’t face the risk of infection.

Things started to change recently.

In the building where he works, elevator buttons are covered with plastic layers, and guests are required to measure their body temperatures before entry.

South Korean people wear mask while strolling on Hanois Tran Van Lai Street. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga.

South Koreans don masks on Hanoi's Tran Van Lai Street. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga.

"They control things well in Vietnam; staying here makes me feel more secure than going back to South Korea," Lee told colleagues.

Several days ago, with one of Lee’s clients asking if he had recently returned from South Korea, the director added an additional line to his emails, stating he had not been back home.

The virus has affected not only Park Min He’s habits, but also his business. After seven years operating a small real estate firm in Hanoi, he has never seen a decline in South Korean clients.

"It is very quiet, people only drop by sometimes," Park commented. He is tasked with reporting new customer information to local police. 

"Now it is compulsory to keep the community and ourselves safe," he told a South Korean arrival. Park had to check his papers carefully before showing him any apartments.

He puts a box of masks on the table in his office for every visitor, though not all wear them. After the epidemic spread to South Korea, Park stuck a note on the entrance door: "Wearing masks to protect everyone."

Since then, no guest enters his office without donning a mask.

Instead of eating out, Park and his wife now bring their meals to the office and visit the market after work to prepare dinner. They have also said no to weekend getaways and delayed their travel plans.

"We will wait until the epidemic is over, then we will see," Park said, adding he is worried about his parents back in Busan.

Sejun (L) and his Vietnamese wife. Photo courtesy of Sejun Eun.

Sejun Eun (R) and his Vietnamese wife. Photo courtesy of Sejun Eun.

In HCMC, Sejun Eun’s coffee shop in District 2 has been deserted since the outbreak. "Revenue has decreased 50 percent since the virus struck South Korea," Sejun, 33, complained.

Living in Vietnam for six years, he used to head a business team at a South Korean firm in southern Binh Duong Province. In the past two years, Sejun and his wife have managed a coffee shop in the building where they live.

To keep their customers safe, Sejun’s wife bought liters of hand sanitizer, placed at the entrance of the shop. All staff are required to wear masks.

With South Korea severely hit by the epidemic, the couple started wearing mask themselves when venturing out. However, many still recognize them.

"I coughed in the elevator yesterday. It was crowded and everyone tried to move away from me," Sejun recalled, adding he understood their reaction. "The epidemic is getting worse, so people should be alert."

The Vietnamese-Korean couple has stopped eating and hanging out at local bars and restaurants. Trying to avoid gatherings, they go home and cook right after finishing work.

"Despite its severe effect, the virus has shown us how to protect ourselves and appreciate our families," said Sejun.

go to top