Monday, March 29, 2010

Insured but pretending not to be

With the healthcare bill all but passed I thought I'd share my experience of being "uninsured" in Korea. A sudden cold attacked me last night and I was up until 6 AM coughing so when I woke up this morning I had a sore, solidly mucus-lined throat and a congested everything. After notifying my boss that I would not be able to make it in today (and he notifying me that if I didn't want to come in I had to get a doctor's note) I headed to Sacred Heart Hospital, which is across the street from my apartment building.

I went straight to the reception area, where you take a ticket and wait for your number to be called. My ticket read 403 and they were on 388. "This will take some time," I thought to myself as I settled into one of the chairs. After about 3 minutes I looked up and 403 had rung. It really went that fast. I went up to the "receptionist" (more like a triage nurse) and she asked about my health insurance situation. I handed her my international insurance card (I purchased some health insurance before I came to Korea). She looked confused and asked someone else what to do. They asked me, "Do you have health insurance?" to which I responded, "Yes," nodding to the insurance card. Then another woman asked me, "Do you have health insurance?" to which I nodded once again. Finally, the original woman, who suddenly had a great idea, asked me, "Do you have health insurance?" to which I responded "No." Apparently that was the magic word; the women laughed and said "OK, that will be 16,000 won ($15) please. I paid, told her my symptoms, and then she gave me a hospital card with my name on it and some form for the doctor.

The next battle was finding the doctor. The receptionist told me to go up stairs and turn right, which I did dutifully and found myself very lost. I asked someone else who pointed me to the opposite corner of the second floor, where it said "Ear, Nose and Throat" in English (one of the few English signs). "That makes sense," I thought to myself, since I had a nose and throat issue, but when I got there I only saw two (English) signs: Gynecology and Reconstructive Surgery (they were two separate signs). I asked a nurse and she was nice enough to escort me to the exact location I needed to be.

I waited about twenty minutes to see the doctor, who asked me my symptoms (in English) and then checked down my throat for all of 10 seconds before declaring that I had acute bronchitis and listing an array of meds he was prescribing me. He gave me a form which I took to another reception area, where I took another number and had to wait about a minute (mainly because a woman gave me her ticket when I got there). They told me to go somewhere with complicated gestures, but I ignored them and went where I knew the pharmacy was. At the pharmacy they told me to go outside.

So I did because I realized I could just get the meds from any pharmacy. I went across the street where a fairly crowded group were waiting for their medications. I handed them  my prescription and about a minute and a half later (seriously) they handed me this awesome individualized pack of all of my medications, already divided into the dosages for me. I have to take three things thrice daily (one is an antibiotic, another a painkiller, but I don't know what the third thing is) and I also got some cough syrup.

Total time spent: 2 hours. Total medical bill, including medication: $35. Knowing I'm taken care of in a strange country: Priceless.


I had a pretty good weekend pre-illness:

1. Got a free couch
2. Went to an awesome Salvation Army-type place and got an iron for the low low
3. Got drunk and played Rock Band with some friends
4. Someone made me french toast with nutella and strawberries

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Curdled Cream

In honor of the day where everyone pretends to be Irish by drinking a stout and wearing green, I decided to make some Guinness chocolate pudding with a Guinness whipped cream. The pudding part of it came out pretty well but the whipped cream turned into a bit of a debacle. After whipping cream by hand for about 15 minutes, Jon finally found the soft peaks he was looking for, so I added the Guinness "syrup" I had been cooking on the stove. Well, it turns out cream curdles when in contact with hot liquid and the whipped cream turned into something that looked more like dark cottage cheese, thus we had to trash it. But the pudding wasn't bad at all.

On Saturday, Jon and I met up with our friends from training at Dongdaemun Market, an enormous shopping area north of Seoul. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures (in fact, one of the stall owners wouldn't let me take a picture of an awesome San Jose sharks t-shirt she was selling), but I'll probably head back up there soon. There are dozens of multi-story shopping malls, each story featuring hundreds of small stalls each with a different owner. They had everything you could think of, clothes-wise, and apparently even had entire shopping malls devoted to sports equipment. We didn't spend long there because we had St. Patrick's Day festivities to get to, but decided it was probably worth a second trip.

For St. Patty's Day, Itaewon held a festival so the foreigners were out en masse (as were MPs, just in case they got too rowdy). We grabbed some Mexican for dinner and then went to a rugby pub for a bit. We finished the evening at a club.

A small group of us hit up Butterfinger Pancakes bright and early Sunday morning, and then, excited about the prospect of staying awake for an entire day (including a morning, an afternoon, and an evening), something we hadn't done in months, we decided to head north of Seoul where a number of palaces reside.

There are five palaces, but Jon and I only visited the biggest, Gyeongbokgung.

Actually, while we were waiting in line to buy tickets to enter the palace, we were approached by EBS, an educational TV channel in Korea. They asked if they could interview Jon and me for their English show. Jon answered a question about home renovations and I talked about what I did when I felt stressed. The woman who interviewed us said she'd send us a video of our interviews later. Now, I know what you're thinking, but when we got back I wikipedia'd EBS and it's totally legit.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Look Ma, I did something cultural

We had one nice day last weekend so Jon and I decided to take advantage of it and go visit a temple in the middle of downtown Seoul. (Actually, we decided to meet up at the COEX Mall for more mall-happenings but then someone told me that there was a temple right across the street and we thought it might be nice to actually go outside, see some daylight, and learn a little about Korean culture for once.)

So we went to the temple, which is literally across the street from the biggest mall in Korea, and it was surprisingly serene.

They were putting up these lights while we were there.
Despite the city being so close, it was quiet and the other visitors seemed to be there for worship.
We did venture inside the main temple building, but there were people praying so we didn't take any pictures. It was beautiful though, with a huge gold statue of Buddha in the center, thousands of tiny lights lining the walls, and intricate wooden carvings.
We watched a monk beat the drum.

Before we left I picked up an assortment of souvenirs.


It's week 3 of the term at work and it seems as if the students are starting to get into the rhythm of things. My Memory Mega class, the lowest level class that meets twice a week, can be quite the handful now that it consists entirely of boys, but overall the week just flies by.

I'm fortunate that I have my own classroom, but it is on the third floor (while our main floor is the fourth and the majority of other teachers are on the fifth) so I do feel a little isolated from the others. Also, my classroom is on the inside and so has no windows, which I've decided is partially a good thing because it is one less distraction for me and the students. It also means that the only daylight I get is when I'm walking to work (because my apartment windows also face in and the sun never shines directly onto it). The other effect of an inside classroom is that it gets very hot very quickly, and the staff have set our heater/AC to "heat" for the time being. So around hour two of every class I hear grumblings about how hot it is and "Teacher, turn on the air" to which I always reply, "Sorry, I can't." "Teacher, open the door." "Sorry, I can't." And so on until I remind them that it will be way worse when the weather heats up and then they shut up.

Which got me thinking about the merits of cold weather (and yes, it is still cold; today the forecast suggests snow):

1. Cold weather is relatively clean (rain and snow wash away the grunge on the sidewalks and streets; people don't sweat)

2. No bugs

3. The air is clear

4. Students never complain about it being too cool in class

5. I don't have to see people's feet via sandals or flip-flops

Friday, March 12, 2010

An Astro Tomato by any other name

 [Updated 3/24]
 At my hagwon the Korean students get to choose English names if they want. Most of them choose something innocuous but anachronistic like Sally or James, but some of them go with names that are a little...interesting. Here is a list of names I've either had in my class or heard of:

John Red
Pikachu (for both boys and girls)
Super Sally
Sally Pink
Sally Purple
C (yes, like the letter)
Jack Sparrow

And the best group ever:
Ketchup (who is friends with...
Tomato (and....
Astro Tomato!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cold Spell

[Quick recap of last weekend: We went to Costco to get some good old-fashioned American sundries (and a Costco card). Among our spoils included a huge block of cheese (2lbs of it), a large apple pie, a rotisserie chicken, and granola.]

After a few days of nice springtime weather, it appears the cold is back. It snowed a few inches yesterday, and while snow is pretty and soft and what I imagine clouds feel like if they were solid, I'm over it. According to the New England-ers and East Coast-ers who know about this thing called "the seasons," March is a fickle mistress, so I guess I'll have to wait a few more weeks before I can expect warmth and sunshine on a regular basis.

The term is trucking along now and I'm proud to say I've remembered almost all of my student's names so far. They seem to be a pretty good bunch overall, although I already had to send one to the FM's office (like the principal's office). She is a middle school student (in Korea that means about 16 years old) in my high-level reading class who strolled in late to both of the first two classes and was always late after breaks. While the class was reading or answering questions, she would be drawing in her book. If I asked her a question she would either ignore me or shake her head. She also put make-up on in class right in front of me. Now, normally it wouldn't bother me so much but it's a very tough class and all of the other students are highly motivated and very smart, so she was really slowing things down for everyone. Basically I snapped and said that if she didn't want to participate in class she could leave, which she did without fuss. Then I was concerned she would literally leave (we're not allowed to let the students leave early; liability and all that) so I escorted her to the FM's office.

So that sucked a little bit, but after seeing how harsh I was to the girl, the rest of the students were perfect angels.

In more exciting news, today is pay day which means money and Mexican food! And apparently they're opening a Taco Bell (I know, what does that have to do with Mexican food?) somewhere in Gangnam.

This weekend I believe Jon and I will be heading back to the Board Game Cafe for a re-match, and then on Sunday my writing group is meeting up again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Term

We started our new term on Monday, which means a fresh start, a new schedule, and a fresh batch of students for me to complain about. My schedule is OK, but my selection of classes is a little...uh, let's say diverse, resulting in me having a ton of prep work each week. It goes as follows:


Doesn't look too bad when I write it out like that, I suppose, but it's a good amount of work. Each new class I have to prep for is shaded in a different color, so I have 5 classes, and one from each program (Memory, Reading, Listening, and iBT). iBT, by the way, is a test prep class which teaches the TOEFL, or the test that non-native English speakers take in order to get into an American University (and which Foreign Language High Schools in Korea require for admission). 

Memory Giga is the lowest level class we teach for students who are just starting out in English. On Monday they did a project where they picked their favorite witch and then had to fill out a paragraph that looked like this:

My favorite witch is ____________________. I like her because she _______________________. She is _____________________ and _________________________.

One of my students filled in every blank with "witch." 

This week has been a little nutsy because, in addition to a brand new schedule, we also have to deal with the beginning-of-term busy work: introducing ourselves to the students, discussing classroom rules (No Korean, no food during class time, etc.), and making hundreds of handouts of syllabi and other nonsense. I suppose it's necessary but it all feels like a giant pain in my... And every night I've been feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Oh well, it will ease up next week, I'm sure.

In other news, Jon and I went to a dog cafe called Bau Haus. It is pretty much what it sounds like; a cafe with dogs. Some of the dogs are owned by the cafe owner, but customers can also bring in their own dogs, or have them boarded. 

I dubbed this one "Trousers McGee."

We called him "Bear."

Also, a new Mexican restaurant called Mr Kook's opened up near my apartment building. I know, the name doesn't sound very Mexican, but pretty much everyone who has been there has raved about it so I decided to go check it out. They've got garlic fries, huge sloppy burgers, and very spicy tacos made with corn tortillas. I was sitting there wondering how such an awesome place could exist right across the street from me, until I saw this:
...and then it all made sense.