Being the perfect mix of anxious and lazy, I tend to worry about things but never quite follow through on the actions that would ease my concerns. This means that I will spend a lot of time fretting over how much work I have to do for this week’s English Camp, for instance, but I won’t actually DO the work in a timely manner so as to ease my own distress.
I found myself in a similar situation coming to Korea. I knew I’d need to find THE birth control pill while here, and so I scoured the internet to determine how feasible this task would be before I actually set out in search of it. I read it’s available sans doctor visit, and that it’s criminally cheap, so I decided not to stock up before I left the U.S. Then that was all I did until the last minute when I finally really needed it.
When I lived in Argentina, getting birth control pills was as simple as going to the pharmacy and requesting the “pastilla (pill) de no bebe” or “embarazo (pregnancy) no”. At least that’s how I did it when I first arrived and my Spanish was less…civilized.
The language barrier here is considerably more daunting, and while I had eight years of Spanish under my belt to help me in Buenos Aires (I could understand most questions asked to me and mime in response), these days it’s all I can do to get out a gamsahamnida (thank you) and anyeongikaeseyo (goodbye) to the cab driver. The thought of rolling into a pharmacy with something scribbled in my “Korean” and hoping to end up with oral contraceptives seemed way out of my league. Also, remember that I’m lazy.
So I turned to my female coteachers. While researching, I had read that Koreans might be kind of judgy and weird about the pill. I didn’t know if this was true or not, but I didn’t want to push my luck in the first few weeks I was here and so I took the advice of Random Internet Person, who suggested saying that I need the pill to ease PMS symptoms and/or make my skin clearer (two other fucking awesome things that the pill does besides ensuring that there aren’t mini-Megans terrorizing the world yet).
This is how that conversation went:
Me (to my three young female coteachers): So I have a weird question…about birth control pills…
Them: Whaaa?!? Birth?!?
Me: Not birth, birth control, you know, like contraception. Prevent babies pills. Pills. That you swallow. And no baby.
Them: *staring at me and shifting uncomfortably, afraid to look one another in the eye*
Me: You know like, a pill that you take everyday so that you don’t GET pregnant?
Them: Mmmmm *more shifting*
Me (cue appeal to sympathies): I used to take them but I don’t here and I’m in a lot of pain because of my period and I need to get back on them, but I don’t know how to ask at the pharmacy. What do I say?
Them: Ah! Tyrenor. You need Tyrenor. No birth control. Tyrenor.
Me: Okay, yes, Tylenol now would be good. But also, what word do I use at the pharmacy for contraceptive pills?
Me: Could someone write it down maybe please?
Them: Tyrenor? “T” “Y” “R”
Me: Nooo, no. Birth control pill.
Them: Let’s go. Let’s go school nurse, ask now.
Me: The nurse has birth control???
Them: Tyrenor. You need Tyrenor.
And then I was physically led downstairs to the nurse where I was given a box of Tyrenor. Mission: Failed.
I can’t say for sure why three women were unwilling to accept that I was asking for how to say ‘birth control pill’ (though this might explain a little bit, and maybe this). It was obvious that at least one of them knew what I was talking about and could tell that I was not satisfied with just Tylenol, but wouldn’t help me with the info I wanted. I don’t think it was malicious or mean, it was just terribly awkward and a complete failure in both getting the pill or feeling comfortable trying to ask someone else to help me.
I got pretty psyched out about the whole thing and then suffered my own ‘worried meets lazy’ fate. I fretted over how I would get my hands on some damn birth control, but let months pass before I grew the balls to ask someone again.
The only person I could still ask was my female coteacher at my other school, the one who, by way of another lady’s maternity leave, has been pretty much solely responsible for babysitting me since September. She is kind and sweet and probably the only Korean who I can say knows me in any real sense. She is also very religious and it is for that reason I had not wanted to broach this particular topic with her. The Christiany-religious stuff here really
scares confuses and I don’t have a good grasp on just how devout my colleagues are and what it means (I’ve seen people pray before using the computer?). I wanted this coteacher to continue being my friend and I just wasn’t sure how my barbarian need for the pill would be received yet again.
This week, though, post-English Camp, I went out to lunch with her, just the two of us, a block away from a pharmacy. I waited until we were finished eating and then pretended like I had just then, there, on the spot!, remembered that I wanted to ask her something. Like I hadn’t been planning for days that I would make this conversation happen this week when we’d have a lot of “alone” time.
My question came out at super speed, a mumbly nervous mess of “and I used to be on it and I don’t know how to say and I know it might be weird and I’m sorry but maybe could you help me and you take it every day for a month and no babies and I’m sorry are you confused it’s everyday no babies”.
She stared at me for a moment and I couldn’t read whether it was disgust or confusion or a combination of the two. But then she said, “Hmm. I am not familiar with that. I don’t know what it’s called, but we can go to a pharmacy right now and see.”
SCORE. We marched into the pharmacy, she asked one question, and in less than two minutes I had paid for my $7 box of oral contraception, ala Korea.
For anyone who needs to know, the brand is Mercilon (마시른) and it comes in a pink box. Bonus!: It’s really low hormone, so I win again.