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 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...