Another week has gone by and my mind is full of thoughts again. This past weekend saw me sitting on a bus for 6 hours as I went to the east coast of South Korea. A swim in the Pacific Ocean if you will. Then a little trip to the local moonwalk station to show off my moves and maybe a soju or three. So all in all a good weekend. My week however was not so great. It's always interesting doing the important things in another language. Going to the bank, the post office or even the supermarket can be very tough when no one speaks English, or your Korean is so bad that it only makes the pretty check out girl smile as you try to ask her how much it costs. However going to the Doctor is the true mission, the picture above sums it up perfectly. How do you know if he just said you are dying or you are sick?
Starting at the weekend, it really is funny to see how different beach life is in Korea. For starters the beach is cordoned off to specific swimming areas. They have a net around the area and people do not swim anywhere else. You can't swim far out, and if you do, the locals are amazed and pull their cameras out. I suppose this comes down to most of them not being able to swim. This doesn't explain however, why they swim in their clothes. Jeans and all. Just doesn't make sense to me, funny to watch, but very strange. Koreans are a conservative bunch and this is probably why most of them choose not to wear bathing suits. They can wear the shortest skirts in the world so that I can see their underwear, but not bathing suits. A friend of mine always likes to say that Koreans get 9/10 things right, but the last one they get wrong is so far off the mark that is makes everything else seem strange and irrational.
Moving on, a quick thought on this, South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world. And you only have to be here a little while to notice this. I mean don't get me wrong the woman are very good looking, but it is almost an obsession within the society to look perfect. I look in the mirror and I see my big nose and I say, hell Yeah that is MY big nose, but it is different here. This can all be summed up perfectly with what happened to me yesterday while teaching my 10 year olds. I was doing a lesson on survival English, these kids are of a higher level, so I can talk freely with them without the need for me to stumble through my weak Korean. I was doing a lesson on going to the doctor or the hospital (because of my experience that week) and I asked them when they last had gone to the doctor. One of my students put her hand up said she had just gone the other day. She explained she had an itchy arm, so she said itchy doctor. I explained she went to the skin doctor or dermatologist. This was followed by the girl sitting next to her, telling me she went to the same kind of doctor. This is how the convo went....
Student: Teacher, I went to skin, face doctor, same same.(she then points to her cheeks and says something in Korean)
Me: Oh so you had a rash on your face and needed the skin doctor?
Student: No teacher, I have no rash, I get botox
Me: I am sorry what? You got botox
Student: Yes teacher, in my cheeks.
(another student chimes in and explains that the Korean word she said earlier meant plastic surgeon and not skin doctor as I thought)
I asked a few more questions as to why she got botox, but it all seemed pretty normal to her and the rest of the class. She is 10, what on earth is she getting botox for. I mean she does have wonderful smiley cheeks, big and rosy, but my word that was a shock to me.
This leads me to my own trip to the doctor. It starts with me standing at the reception and smiling. I greet them in Korean and explain I need to see a doctor (I know that much). Then I can only assume that they asked me the standard questions. Whats wrong? Have you been here before? do you have medical? I just stare blankly and smile. I tell them my Korean is bad I am from South Africa and here is my registration card. It is their turn now to stare blankly at me. This goes on for sometime before I fake a cough and hold my side. They gesture me to sit down and tell me to wait for my name (Ok cool I understood that part).
When I finally get into the Doctor, I am happy to know he can string a few words together, but he really only knows the medical words. The explanation with what is wrong with me, comes out something like this.
You...side, pain....maybe kidney disease, but there is more pain today. You have fever no. So maybe not. I can say that you have pain and maybe it go away. I give you medicine.
Did you get that? Because I sure as hell didn't. I know I should know more Korean and it's not his duty to know English, but you have to admit its confusing. All I got out of that is that I might have kidney disease. And that is something I would like explained. So off I went to the pharmacy. And there I found my guardian angel. An old sweet man who couldn't stop smiling at me. He took my prescription and off he scurried. He was soon back with a variety of pills in little bags labelled for each day...Koreans are very organised. He looked at me and in perfect English asked me if I had pain in my side. He then explained that I had nothing to worry about as it was just a stomach thing that can be caused by a number of things. Phewww well thank you Mr Pharmacy man. Kidney disease to a simple fix. I still don't feel 100% so I feel as though I will have to brush up on some more Korean and try again soon. But it really does make you realize how good you have it when you can just have a conversation with your doctor.
Ok cool those are enough thoughts for this week. It is Mudfest this weekend and I am looking forward to the biggest foreigner gathering in South Korea, should be a good one.