Without my iPod, I'd be unemployed

When I returned to Seoul a few weeks ago, I received a very cryptic text message from my friend Matt.  

Matt: Does your new job require you to be punctual?

Me: Um, I assume so.  Why?

Matt: Because you aren't very good at it.


Well Matt, I've been trying my damnedest to make you proud.  Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean everyday), I really have to search for the motivation to get to work on time.  When that motivation proves too elusive, I can count on these three songs to get my ass in gear.

Ratatat, 17 Years

Does It Offend You, Yeah?, We Are Rockstars

Peaches, Mommy Complex.

In reality, I've been listening to Peaches' Fuck You Like a Billionaire, but alas, there's no studio version for that gem. Shunda K is amazing on that track. Officially in love. 

BTW, I am almost never on time for anything.  Ever.  Once upon a time I was a very punctual person, just ask Stephanie.  But then I stopped caring.


Free Time... Sorta

A new record -- breathing the raunchy Seoul smog for three whole weeks before getting sick.  I believe I deserve a medal.  I got a day off from work instead.

I woke up this morning feeling less than stellar.  Actually I felt snotty and achy and gross, but I'll skip the details.  Anyway, not having the phone number for my school (genius, right?), I was forced to call in sick in person.  This is almost never a good idea.  While I was thinking "At last! My boss can witness firsthand the snot practically leaking from my nostrils," my boss was thinking "You were well enough to get your ass here. What's the problem?"  So I put on my sickest face (not difficult as I was feeling LIKE HELL) and headed for school.

I ran into Director Lady in the hall and pled me case.  Director Lady was surprisingly understanding and gracious and urged me to got to the doctor. Fine.  ENT Specialist, here I come.

*At this point I'd like to digress from the "Mindy Goes to Seoul and Gets Sick" portion of the post.  Bear with me...

Now, I have been to *a lot* of doctors in my 29 years -- 3 sprained ankles, 1 broken wrist, 3 CAT scans, 2 dislocated shoulders, 3 dislocated kneecaps, 1 broken nose, 2 chipped teeth -- hell, the list could go on. I've even been to my fair share of doctors in foreign countries. And it is with this authority that I can safely say Seoul has the grossest* healthcare facilities.  Seriously. Dirt-stained walls, grimy floors, totally unsanitary disposal methods (think used syringes in a cardboard box masquerading as a trash can), glove-less docs and nurses... And don't even get me started on the lack of doctor/patient confidentiality.  Suffice it to say it's nonexistent.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about the clusterfuck that is Healthcare in America.  Because, even though the sanitation standards are less than savory, I managed to get adequate, efficient care (including x-rays), WITHOUT insurance, for around $30. This would've cost me a couple hundred dollars in the States, easy.  

But back to the clusterfuck.  I think I've solved the problem.  Do as the Koreans do -- adopt the "good enough" mentality and choose efficiency over safety.  Cut out the middle man.  Get rid of all the cleaning and sanitation personnel and confidentiality requirements.  Can you imagine how much money hospitals would save if they started employing elderly Americans to mop ER floors?!  How many trees would be saved if no records of care were kept?!  How refreshing it would be to get a smack on the ass instead of anesthetic before a shot?!**  How delighted you'd feel to see a used syringe in a nurse's mouth?!** God, the freedom!

Obama, you can thank me later.  (I've always wanted to say that...)

Back to my sickness.  ENT Specialist squirted some mystery substance up my nose, took a few X-rays and with great authority, announced that I had a sinus infection.  Now, I've never actually HAD a sinus infection, but I HAVE had many colds.  I'm pretty sure I do not have a sinus infection and I'm pretty sure some part of the diagnosis was lost in translation.  I'm also pretty sure most Korean medicine relies heavily on the placebo effect, as most of it looks like brightly colored candy. As a result, I rarely take it.  Seriously.

Anyway, I'm feeling loads better this evening, obviously.  However, I am still annoyed that in Korea my employer is such a huge part of my personal life.  They pay my rent, own my visa, and dictate when it's appropriate for me to see a doctor.  Because I would NEVER see a doctor for a head cold.  Duh.

*My opinions are based solely on first world conditions.  I'm sure Seoul's hospitals are better than Kabul's.  Maybe.

**Yes, this happened to me.  Too bad the nurse was a chick.



This is certainly starting to FEEL true.


Land of the Morning Calm

I take it all back. I stand behind my original assessment of the city. A man was peeing outside my door this morning. Cheers.

Back to Business

My blogging mojo has been waning.  Prolly because the shiny newness of my first Korean experience has worn off and now I see the city for what it is: a mass of dark suited men downing Cass after Cass like it's five o'clock somewhere; pushy ajummas elbowing for MY space on the subway; Krazy Korean mothers critiquing every move I make and every ratty pair of shoes I own.

But sitting in yet another overpriced cafe in swanky-ass Apgujeong reminds me of why I love Korea -- kindness.

I have three stories.  Each made me fall in love a little bit more.

My first day of work was pretty much a bust.  I arrived late, met a new batch of seemingly normal coworkers and then headed out for my health check.  You know, the part where they check me for dirty foreigner diseases like swine flu, AIDS and marijuana use.  Wait, that's not a disease.  But I digress.  So I trekked all the way up to Dongdaemun, dutifully peed in some cups, scarfed down my usual Korean lunch of a Coke and some chips and headed back to Seocho. Only the subways have changed.  Where once a kind old man issued tickets there now stood a cold machine.  And I could not, for the life of me, remember my stop.  In English or Korean.  I stood staring at the machine.  God, why didn't I write this down?  

And then I saw the kindest looking ajjoshi.  Now this is not to say they are always kind.  Or sober, for that matter. But this one was.  I showed him my map and pointed to my destination. He nodded, smiled and did his damnedest to get the machine to issue me a ticket.  But he, too, was having trouble.  So he enlisted THREE more ajummas.  Yes, three. And apparently that's how many people it takes to figure out the Seoul Subway Ticket Issuing Machine.  With ticket in hand, I bowed, said my kamsahamnida's and made to get on my way.  After all, YBM wasn't paying my 30,000 won to chit chat with the locals.  Ajjoshi had something else in mind, though. He grabbed my arm, pointed, and escorted me all the way to the subway platform, just to make sure I was headed in the right direction.  How freakin' nice is that?  I cannot, in my wildest dreams, imagine an elderly American extending such a helping hand for a foreigner.  I was grateful.

Kindness abounds.  

The night I arrived in Korea also happened to be the last for my good friend Erica. Needless to say I dumped my luggage, showered, rifled through my bags to find something suitable to wear and headed to the bar.  My apartment was already a mess.  Swell.  And it stayed that way.  I had more pressing social matters to attend to.  

Anyway, Saturday night Amanda and I were marveling at how spacious my new apartment was when there was a knock at the door.  WTF?!  I answered it to find the Building Ajumma.  In broken English she introduced herself, told me where she lived and offered me some grapes. Double swell.  And that was the end of our exchange.  Amanda and went back to marveling and I *assumed* Building Ajumma went back to mopping and separating trash.  Nope.  Twenty minutes later Building Ajumma returned with two boxes of toothpaste and soap, some hand towels and a hot pink hand-knitted potholder.  This was when she discovered the Shoe Travesty: a pile of shoes, three deep, all stacked in the walkway.  She gasped, I laughed nervously and Amanda just smiled.  Then Building Ajumma got down on her hands and knees and artfully arranged my Shoe Travesty.  Oh god.  But she wasn't done there.  She invited herself in and gave Amanda and I the full Korean Shower rundown, demonstration included.  Yep.

Kindness abounds.

I got an apple from my neighbor.  It's nothing special, but I was sitting on his stoop at 2 AM, chatting to America, watching a man take a nap in the street.  My neighbor winked at me, made to walk past me, then thought better of it.  He stopped, apparently to reconsider me.  Then he tore open his bag of red delicious apples and offered me one.  A tasty late night snack.  Thanks, neighbor.

I feel better already.


Heaven is a place in Seoul

Isn't it weird how the strangest things can seem oddly comforting? Like finding a salsa studio around the corner or a Kimbap Nara down the street or, *gasp*, an E-Mart Everyday (think WalMart lite) across the street.  
I am a dichotomy of wants and needs -- I crave excitement and variety, but deep down I need the mundane. I need order and stability and routine. In the strangest ways, Seoul serves up both. 

Thanks, Korea.