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Virus-weary South Koreans compete to be the best at doing nothing at all

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“But what the brain needs during these unusual moments is a time to relax, to take a mental break to break free from the self-perpetuating cycle of anxiety,” he added.

Charging

The 90 minutes that 24-year-old college student Lee Ji-won spent in the Space Out competition is the longest time she spent doing nothing in a long time.

“The coronavirus opened up a lot of free time for me, but I felt pressured to use that time effectively,” she said.

As a senior in college with a major in social work, Lee is preparing for South Korea’s hypercompetitive job market, which is getting even tougher as many job opportunities dry up in the wake of the pandemic.

Lee’s days are heavily laden with screen time, which has increased since the pandemic with online classes.

He forced himself to take a break and flew to Jeju from the mainland city of Gwangjuf for the competition.

Many participants in this year’s competition signed up to unplug from the pandemic. Credit:Instagram

“This time you could really let me go,” he said as he walked out of the Healing Forest. “I felt very refreshed.”

Restaurant owner Jwa Hyeon-guk, 40, took an unusual move: closing his restaurant in Jeju City for a day to participate in Space Out.

During the pandemic, his pork knuckle restaurant switched to delivery and takeout.

“My restaurant lost the hustle and bustle of diners and I had a lot of time to myself, but I couldn’t spend that time in a relaxed way,” Jwa said.

The restaurateur said he was staring at his phone for many hours, checking customer reviews of his restaurant on delivery apps and pondering how to improve take-out packaging.

Jwa said he tried to stop thinking about his business and simply stared into space on the day of the competition. “It’s tough these days, but I know good morning will come eventually.”

The best way to do nothing is determined by the heart rate and the vote of the audience.

The best way to do nothing is determined by the heart rate and the vote of the audience. Credit:Instagram.

Youn Kyoung-won, 55, who runs a fruit compote business, accompanied his daughter to the competition.

Youn was spending too much time at home in 2020 feeling “trapped.” She ran her business from home while her 12-year-old daughter, Lee Ji-hyun, took online classes in her room.

Her daughter suggested that they participate in the Space Out competition and have a moment to relax together.

A 2020 study from South Korea’s Family and Environment Research found that two-thirds of the women surveyed said the burden of parenting increased as family members spent more time at home.

“I can relax here,” Youn said.

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