12 April 2014

Korean Health Check

I never thought living in another country wouldn't be an adventure. And trust me when I say I consider myself adventurous, spontaneous and laid-back. However, these qualities have been tested and proven less true quite a few times already since we've moved to Korea. I can't tell you why, as I am not sure. I can only tell you the occasions that have given me reasons to doubt those traits.

I hesitated sharing my story from last week right away. While I realize it is best to write when something in fresh in your mind, I also knew more than anything that I was not ready to relive my experience yet. And no, I'm not trying to be overly dramatic. But keep reading. The comfort level goes from white-knuckle on steering wheel driving through traffic to I might as well be walking around stark naked playing a banjo.

For those of you who don't know, I have found, accepted and signed a contract for a teaching job (yay!!) I will start teaching high school English in a town about 15 minutes away starting the first or second week of May. Yes, I know, to those of you I talked to before we moved I said that's what I wanted to do, but I seriously never thought it would actually happen. And in the last month of getting paperwork together and running errands, I have doubted it more times than I care to admit. But honestly, if you have no deductive reasoning skills or common sense, you would be a goner in a foreign country.

One of my many requirements on the path to getting a work visa and to prove that I am healthy enough for work in Korea, was to visit an approved hospital and get a "Korean Health Check". The hospital was fortunately in the next town away, (not the town I'll be teaching in) but I had never driven or ridden through it yet (besides maybe on a bus to Seoul) and I was quite nervous. I would be making the trip alone and without a GPS or google maps. And obviously (or not), road/building/business signs are not in English. This picture is all I knew about where to go and how to get there. And now that I'm looking at it after making the trip, it looks nothing like this in real life. This looks chaotic, but also orderly. You cannot see order when you are driving on the street.
I was terrified of not being able to find the hospital and where I would park once I did find it (God forbid I get my car towed or ticketed and have to find an alternate way home) Fortunately, after missing just one turn, and navigating some alleys, I came across a group of men outside wearing hospital gowns and smoking. I'd found the hospital. Parked in the garage that looked much bigger online (of course) and found a spot 3 floors up.

I wish I'd spent more time worrying about what would happen in the hospital as I did about getting there. My directions from my recruiter were these: "The hospital address is again, 경기도 오산시 원동 560-70 오산한국병원 The contact number is 031-379-8691 but I don’t think they can communicate in English. Once you get to the hospital, there is a big main building. But that is not the one that you are going to. Next to the main building, there is another new building which is called 신관 (new building). You will need to go to the new building and then go downstairs which is 1st Floor, just one floor down from the gate. Once you get to the 1st floor, you will see the section saying 종합검진센터 (general check center), that is the place that you will need to go." I stood at what I could only assume by the hospital gowns was the hospital looking at the two separate doors that were supposed to be two separate buildings, but were clearly not, and wondering which set of doors was "newer". Fortunately a very nice older man noticed I was having difficulties and I showed him the email I had pulled up on my phone and pointed to the set of symbols that was supposed to say "new building". He pointed me to one of the sets of doors and I thanked him profusely. Once inside, I found my way to the first floor (which is the basement, of course) and matched the symbols up from my phone and the ones above each door, which all looked the same. Whew. I'd found the general check section.

Of course, no one knew any English so I showed the email again, which my recruiter had written a paragraph in Korean that explained why I was there. The nurse filled in some paperwork for me, after I showed her my passport (she confused my middle name to be my last name, which I didn't notice until I was almost done with everything, so hopefully they still accept the results...) and after a little waiting, I was escorted by a sweet woman upstairs to a desk where it looked like I would pay. There were many people in the waiting room and we stood waiting for my number to be called for over 20 minutes. In the meantime, I watched a nurse who was holding a cup filled with individual blood samples drop the cup, pick the 10 or so samples up and then notice that one of the samples had opened and spilled blood on the floor. She secured the lid and then wandered around looking for something to wipe it up with. Finally she found a roll of napkins and wiped up the spilled blood and went back to her business. No commotion. No panic or warnings about the blood and definitely no sterilizing. (pause for moment of horror)

After I paid, unnamed nurse escorted me back downstairs, to a guy manning a desk in a hallway where we were directed to sit on a row of chairs in the hallway, apparently a waiting area. I had no idea what was next. During the wait, I watched a distraught woman walk alongside her husband, who was unconscious and laying flat on a hospital bed. A door was opened and what looked to be an MRI machine was inside. All of a sudden, 6 Korean men start lifting the man's hospital sheet (with him on it) and placing him on a smaller bed and moved inside the room. Then they proceeded to lift him onto the machine, adjusting so his head was secure. And yes, I am watching this whole thing. Fortunately, either they closed the door or I stopped watching and didn't see them actually start the machine.

Finally, I was called to a room with a large machine, where I was handed a hospital shirt by a young Korean man. I tried asking how much of my own clothes I'd need to take off, and understood that I could leave my pants on, but the shirt needed to go. Okay. There was a curtain I changed behind and then was told to stand still and hold my breath while they did some sort of chest Xray? He said "okay" and I exhaled. After seeing my results, the man spoke with the woman and she pointed to my bra, which I understood to mean that I was supposed to take my bra off for the Xray. Oops. So back behind the curtain, and back in front of the machine. They got a good reading, I exhaled literally and mentally and changed back into my own clothes.

The next room we went to was back to the general check section, which was just an open room with a couple desks and what looked like different stations for each "test". My escort was handed a paper cup, which looked like a dixie cup you'd fill with water, to which she turned to me and said "urine". I looked at the cup again, and she drew a line on the outside where I was apparently supposed to fill it to. Then she walked me into the bathroom, which was outside the general check section, down the hallway, and was a public women's restroom with 5 stalls. Apparently my escort was going to wait right outside my stall until I was finished. All the while I'd been being escorted, I felt not only out of place, since I was the only one over 5 foot 5 inches in the entire building, but I also felt rather incompetent to navigate the hospital alone and a little like a prisoner who was being guarded. This feeling was most evident as my escort stood outside my stall door. I managed to fill the cup as much as I needed, and sat there wondering if I should just walk out with an open cup of urine or what my other options would be. I opted to take a strip of toilet paper and try to cover at least the top of the cup. I opened the stall door, and my escort held her hand out to get the cup. uhhh....okay...then she took my lid of toilet paper off, and looked into the cup to make sure I filled it enough. So much for trying to be modest. She took off out the door and I stopped her to let me wash my hands. We walked back down the hallway and back to the general check section, where my cup was placed on a tray on a desk, out in the open, with nothing that could possibly set it apart from the other cups.

I then got my hearing checked, and my vision. Finally I was pointed to sit down at a desk, where a lady had a tray of blood samples. Fortunately, getting my blood drawn doesn't bother me, and she filled up two vials. I was given an alcohol swab to put on the vein after the needle was taken out. I moved the swab so I could make room for a bandaid, which I assumed I'd be getting. The nurse immediately scolded me in Korean and held my arm up to keep the blood from gushing out of my arm. Apparently no bandaid. I then was pointed to a room with an open door, and when I walked in the man sitting at the desk had his head back and was snoring quietly. Uhhh... I cleared my throat and he woke up and motioned for me to sit. In very clear English, he asked me if I felt safe in my home and if I consider myself happy. I answered both and was shooed out the door.

My escort appeared again, and I was ushered to the first desk I visited, where I figured out by the nurse pointing to a calendar that I was supposed to come back in one week at the same time and pick up my results.

I walked out of the hospital feeling not only victorious but also surprisingly shaken up. For Koreans, who I'd consider to be a very modest culture, their lack of privacy in a hospital was unnerving. I couldn't believe that I'd witnessed blood being spilled and wiped very carelessly up, and a man in very serious condition be lifted onto a machine for tests. I hope to never have to experience something like that again, and can now appreciate the numerous different protocols American hospitals require.

In closing on a happy note, I've been meaning to share these pictures I snapped while out walking Ada a couple weeks ago. This is how Koreans move furniture into their high rise apartment buildings, apparently...

03 April 2014

the apron side of life: roasted sweet potato tacos

I guess since I've made this dish three times in the last month and a half, I probably better share it with you. I first had this when I was at my friend, Jamie's, when we first moved into our house and a few of us ladies were waiting for our husbands to be done with work on a Friday evening (oh, the life...) I never even saw the recipe that day, but it was so good I thought about it the whole weekend and finally gave in and made it for the first time that following Monday (so I guess I've had it four times in the last month and a half...hmm...time for some new recipes...?)

I modified a few things, due to our taste for spicy things, the fact that my avocado wasn't ripe, and at that point didn't know where the soft corn tortillas were in the commissary, but I am very pleased with the results. (obviously, since I can't seem to stop making them) And forgive me, but if you are one who needs exact measurements, this might be frustrating for you. It's a really simple recipe, but adjusted depending on ingredients and preferences.

Roasted Sweet Potato Tacos

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/4 of a red onion, diced
1 1/2 cups of sweet corn
1 1/2 cups of black beans

(okay, to be honest, I don't really measure the corn and beans...I almost always use dried black beans for cooking, soaked overnight and then cooked for 45 min before adding them to this dish, but the amount of corn and beans you use depends on how many people you're trying to feed-this amount is good for the two of us, plus leftovers for one meal) I bet if you are canned vegetable person, one can of each will be just fine.

1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1/2 cup red cabbage, shredded
crumbled cotija cheese (what I would call Mexican feta...comes in a large, round block...you only need a little bit for this recipe, but it keeps for a month or so)
1 avocado
1 spoonful of greek yogurt
1 lime
pinch of red pepper
salt, pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2-3 T olive oil
soft or hard corn tortillas

Preheat oven to roasting temperature, 400-450 degrees F. Spread the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Add a couple pinches of salt, almost a full teaspoon of cumin, and about half as much cinnamon to the potatoes. Stir and place in the oven. Stir at least once while cooking, until soft, about 20-30 minutes.

While the sweet potatoes are roasting, dice up the red onion and the jalapeno.

You will also have time to crumble the cotija cheese, dice/shred the cabbage and cut up the cilantro. These can all be placed in separate serving dishes. 

For the avocado dip-cut up the avocado and place in a food processor or bowl to blend. Add the juice from half a lime, a pinch of salt, a spoonful of greek yogurt and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Blend/mix until smooth. Taste test and add what's missing. Add a couple shakes of red pepper for some spice. Put in serving dish. (you can also use simple diced up avocado chunks, but this is good for a tangy addition)

warm up some olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add the red onion and jalapeno and saute for 5-7 minutes, until soft and starting to brown. Add corn and black beans, and cook until warmed through. At this point, take out the sweet potatoes (if you haven't already) and add them to the skillet, along with the juice from the other half of lime, stirring for a couple minutes until the flavors have blended together.

Warm up hard or soft tortillas in the oven for 2-3 minutes, until ready to serve.

Serve sweet potato mixture in tortillas and top with avocado dip, red cabbage and cotija cheese.

I love serving this with a green salad. 

And there ya have it! Let me know if you try this recipe, which can be good for "Meatless Mondays" or "Taco Tuesdays" or no-name Wednesdays ;)

18 March 2014

as seen around Korea

This past week was a blur-I talked to my husband for a total of 3 minutes and saw him even less. While he was busy flying and going through qualification, I was busy baking for the F-16 maintainers, going to fun squadron events, and starting the process of getting a visa so I can teach English over here. Whew!

Here are a few photo-worthy moments from this past week...

It was raining for one of the fini flights last week, so we were all tucked in a hangar, which turned out to be the same one belonging to the jet that had just gotten back. It was funny watching all the guys push the plane back into it's home. (a fini flight is the last flight someone flies in the jet at that current base, or sometimes ever. whoever can gather, does, and watches the pilot try to run away while climbing out the jet to avoid getting sprayed with water by his family)

It has been so fun being here at Osan with Nicki and her husband, Tim. They were just leaving Sheppard when we arrived, so we didn't get to know each too well. And as it goes in the Air Force, they are leaving in the next few months. But that's long enough to make some good memories, including purse shopping last week and our first "out on the town" squadron event.
If you find the damage to this area of the car, you win!! But seriously...Tyler got out of a very tight parking spot cleanly (or so we and our friend, who was spotting, thought) and as we tried leaving, were bombarded with two Koreans trying to tell us we had hit and damaged the car. And by bombarded, I mean shoving and leaning in the car window to try and turn the key off. Before we knew it (well, 45 minutes later), we were surrounded by 8 Korean police officers, 4 cop cars and 1 ambulance (apparently the driver of the car Tyler "hit" had told them he was drinking and driving, so they were ready to carry him to the hospital...?) In all seriousness, we weren't sure what was going on - the frustration we felt at not being able to communicate with the police officers and the accuser (who would speak English at us and then, when spoken to, would say "I don't speak English") was something I hope to never repeat. In the end, between a security forces guy from an Army post on the phone and a nice English-speaking Korean who stopped by, we walked away $30 poorer and 2 hours of our lives wasted. 
 Let's play "spot the jet"...anyone? :)
Now? I was sitting at this light for a very long time and watched 6 F-16's come in for their landing. Glad I snapped a couple pictures. After telling this to Tyler, and doing some time calculations, we realized that I was probably taking a picture of him landing! Crazy!
This is another light I sit at for wayyyy too long, but I just thought I'd show you how Koreans sit in the middle of the intersection, waiting for the light to turn (or just waiting for a break in the traffic so they can run the red light) from my observations, scooters and taxis are except from all traffic laws.
As are little old men on motorized wheelchairs... (forgive the mustache sticker inside the car...)
This was taken at the cultural "Pumpkin Duck" restaurant, where we had a squadron event last weekend. Indeed, this is a slow-cooked duck inside a pumpkin. Served with Korean sides-kimchi, pickled jalapenos, steamed green leaves, and a mustard sauce. And yes, it was delicious, both the duck and pumpkin.
This was Tyler's birthday lunch at AK Plaza, a large shopping center in Pyeongtaek. It was very good, and where we came to the realization why Koreans are not usually overweight...their food is all really spicy, which makes you have to eat it slow, and when you eat really slow, you fill up faster. aha! From your personal dieticians, Tyler and Danielle. You're welcome.  
Bubble tea for dessert. 

Thanks for checking in!

10 March 2014

home sweet Korea home

It is a little weird posting pictures of our house for the world to see. But considering I couldn't tell you our street address if my life depended on it, I think I'm probably okay. There are some pretty fun quirks to this house, including the chipping floors (the tiles looked so fancy upon first glance) and the security system that shows a video of the person ringing the door. The oven is too small for my cookie sheets and only has one rack and we have a plate drying/sterilizing contraption (where a microwave would normally be) above the sink that we have no idea how to use. We have huge windows throughout the whole house and love sitting on top of a hill with a great view of our neighbors and the surrounding area. And as you'll see, the upstairs is completely empty and is just waiting for visitors! We have furniture and a washer and dryer thanks to our landlord, who gave us money to buy American furniture at the BX on base, and a second couch thanks to Zack and Beth.

So here is our house in pictures, per numerous requests. Seeing these does not mean you now have an excuse not to visit us, mmk? ;)

our living room-the white contraption is the air conditioning unit. and the heat comes through the floors. the blinds in the corner are currently broken and we were told the new ones are "on the way"
this little room is the entrance. the storage unit on the wall is great for all of Tyler's shoes... ;) despite the door not closing all the way and having a considerable gap on the bottom, this room is much colder than the rest of the house.
m.e.s.s.y. laundry room. but American washer/dryer! Korean units are just one machine, both for washing and drying and apparently to encourage them to hang dry their clothes, it takes hours to dry one single load. so we are very thankful for these.
we love this wall in our living room. makes the wall seem less bare, since the two items you see hanging are two of four we brought with us.
yes, I know. It's a toilet. sorry. but this is to show how we've blocked off the upstairs - we just need you to see that even though we're living in a fancy Korean house, we're still 90% ghetto. perhaps these will be replaced one day. perhaps. all the cold air stays upstairs, so we don't even have to turn the top floor boiler on (until we have visitors, of course)
this is the first floor guest bathroom. no, we haven't tried the shower yet. 
our "walk in" closet off the master bedroom. we did not choose this house because of these built-in closets, but oh my word...I have no idea what we would have done without them! 
master bathroom
master bedroom right off the living room, with doors to the patio and another fancy wall, so a headboard is very unnecessary (which is good, because ours is in storage)
now for a couple fun quirks: this is the right side of our refrigerator. you push this little square box and they have a compartment so you can grab your "most reached-for items". very energy efficient, so you don't have to open the door every time you want milk/orange juice/water. I mean...how could we have lived without this?!
and while this isn't the largest ice box and it is annoying having to refill the trays in the sink, all you do is twist these nobs and the little ice cubes fall out of the trays and into the bucket. adorable.
here is our kitchen, fridge in the back left corner. and while the oven is small, the dishwasher tiny and the counter tops about mid thigh-high, I really like this kitchen. And I love having our table in here-makes it very "family style" and informal.
this is our sad and bare upstairs. and this little elevated room is what our neighbors are using as their living room. they were also able to bring all of their belongings, so it looks very cozy and homey. and when I want to watch a real tv, I'll just scurry up the road. behind these shades is one of two balconies upstairs. 
this is guest room #1, which is our storage room (there are two more guest rooms, both larger and brighter than this but since they are completely empty will go down as "not pictured")
upstairs bathroom
upstairs balcony #1, with a great view of the neighbors (where Ada is walking goes to the front part of the balcony)
and finally, this is the view from balcony #2, behind the upstairs "living room" the rooms upstairs are quite chilly right now, which will change rather quickly when it starts warming up.

And there ya have it! this is where we live. we love it and are excited about being here for another 17 months (today is our one-month Korea anniversary! and I promise I will not be letting you know that every single month)

Thanks for stopping by! hope you have a great week!

05 March 2014

Seoul incredible!

My trip to Seoul yesterday was fabulous! A few of the girls at the Army post there showed us "country bumpkins" around and it was so much fun riding the subway like a local, stopping to eat street food and eating some good ramen from a famous noodle shop. It was also fun to talk Noonday-it's so strange having other Ambassadors so close to chat with. They are all so fashionable, which makes it even more fun! (Thanks for the pose, Amber! This is the purse I think you should get, mom! And anyone else...it is SO much better in person!) link here: http://daniellebrummer.noondaycollection.com/bags/lines-and-stripes-catch-all

Our lunch at the noodle shop was quite the experience-they have two kinds of noodles...spicy and not spicy. Most of us chose the not spicy option and were very happy (especially after seeing the deep red color their broth was compared to our yellow broth...yikes!) I can't wait to come back to Seoul and have my tour guide, Amber, show me around again! (wink, wink) Amber and I have been emailing back and forth since starting with Noonday late last summer and when I suspected we might come to Korea, she was so helpful in reassuring me that being an advocate with Noonday can still be very effective overseas. She is a rockstar Ambassador and I love soaking in her wisdom. Chalk one up for the Air Force!