Our Seoul experience | Inquirer Opinion
In the Pink of Health

Our Seoul experience

“Do not forget to download your arrival and boarding pass before you sleep.” This was the kind reminder of my roommate as we were mentally measuring how best to compress pieces of evidence from last-minute shopping. The Asian Congress for Pediatric Infectious Diseases had just ended, and we were ready for the flight back home the next day in time for Halloween.

The story of the Amazing Race from last week’s column still had a Part 2. The flight from South Korea to Manila had been canceled because of Severe Tropical Storm Paeng, and a dear colleague who graciously fixed our travel arrangements was stressed out but in command. The next flight out was scheduled for Nov. 1, and we had no place to stay. It was a holiday weekend and accommodations were fully booked. Having received the news on empty stomachs, gone on a 20-minute cab ride to have dinner in the university area, all 11 of us knew it was futile to solve anything unless we had infused ourselves with that much-needed supply of glucose. We proceeded to feast on fried chicken, squid, shrimp, and beer, after which we resolved to divide and conquer. Admittedly, we were worried but determined to keep it together.

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As the four of us stepped out of the restaurant, a companion happened to look up and saw a popular hotel chain. Undaunted, we walked the few blocks to get to the place after having collectively decided to simply walk in and take our chances. Weaving through a thick but masked crowd, we were definitely on a mission. To our pleasant surprise and pure disbelief, five rooms were available! How could it be? It was next to impossible as we were in the center of a popular shopping district. Jubilant, we returned to the other side of town, grateful for answered prayers.

The whole experience was the beginning of a great team building exercise.

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“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Let us all thank the person who came up with this quote. We more than made a glass of lemonade, we made pitchers. After having refreshed ourselves from the numerous intellectual and social interactions with our pediatric infectious disease counterparts from varied parts of the globe, this unexpected turn of events was that unscheduled holiday. Knowing the amount of work and the patients we left behind, we all had to temporarily and consciously let go of things beyond our control. We had two extra days left to immerse ourselves in a different environment, learn more of another culture, and just simply enjoy being in the company of friends.

Important takeaways: From a medical standpoint, we learned that regardless of GDP, we are all on equal ground as no country has been spared. COVID has become less of a mystery, but much remains to be fully understood. RSV and influenza are on the rise, pneumonia, antimicrobial resistance, dengue, and tuberculosis remain to be threats to public health concern that urgently need attention.

As individuals, the lessons we learned as a team and from each other will forever be impressed in memory. All of us knew that we each had to contribute to providing solutions to the problems presented with the abrupt disruption of travel arrangements. We had to think clearly and always as one. We knew our strengths, having closely worked together, from numerous shared advocacies as a society, and we have that envious bond that has been carefully and solidly built from a common and shared sense of purpose. More importantly, we had each other’s respect. We recognized that we were all of strong will, used to being leaders, but were also cognizant of the power of being a team player. Left unspoken, we knew how vital it was to feed on and radiate positive energy to get over a minor hiccup in plans. This was our own version of a team building moment.

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