Category Archives: Health

Bloodsucking Shiteaters

Upon arrival to Korea I was introduced to some grody-ass toilets that triggered this epic rantalysis. Little did I know then the true horrors that were in store for me every time I step into a 화장실. At this point bathroom bitching is so yesterday, but you guys, this last week it has a reached a new level of filthy disgusting awfulness.

why hello! sit down on me!

The temperatures are getting higher and the humidity is climbing its ever oppresive way to unbearable and so the bathrooms have mutated from frigid, dirty puddles of horror to damp, malodorous bogs of all that is nasty and vile in this world. There’s an inch of water on the floor, toilet paper strewn about, dirty mops hanging out in the wash basin. Everything is wet; it can be best described as “swampy”. I would be absolutely livid if I were a parent and discovered that my child played unsupervised in Satan’s rectum. I just can’t understand how any part of the school is allowed to exist in such an unsanitary state. I mean, isn’t this how disease is born and spread? Hasn’t Korea heard of the Middle Ages? What is everyone thinking!? Continue reading

On Hydration

There’s a really funny thread on Waygook.org right now that has kept my attention for the past 24 hours. It’s slightly entertaining (and often irritating) to watch strangers bicker over really mundane, though often apropos, observations of life as a Waygook. Things like if it’s cool that Koreans ask you to take pictures with them. Or whether or not this teaching gig will look good on a resume later on.

If you live in Korea, you know that looks fucking delicious

The particular topic I’m interested in today is “Do Koreans drink enough water?” The original poster simply finds it strange that Koreans don’t appear to drink much water at all, a doubt which OP and I share, and which I have long gotten over. But this person’s wondering has incensed many KOREA-CAN-DO-NO-WRONGers. Since I have no interest in arguing with people on an increasingly troll-y and uptight message forum, I have decided pontificate here, on my blog, where I am the ultimate authority.

I will be fair and make my comparisons only to the U.S, since I really don’t know how much water the rest of you English speakers drink. I suspect America overdoes it a little (though, it’s certainly not in our character to be intemperate).

Things that make me feel like Koreans drink significantly less water than Americans (possibly to their detriment): Continue reading

Before Korea, I Never Thought I’d…

…sing in public all of the time.

And I’m not even talking about a norebang. I’m talking about in class. In front of hundreds of kids. And a coteacher. Everyday. It’s not a big deal when I’m singing along with the book CD or with the class. But one of my coteachers had the brilliant idea to turn everything we do into a song. Before my kids tell me what day it is, they must sing “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday” to the tune of “Oh My Darling Clementine” twice. And after we’ve determined the entire date, I must lead them in a rousing verse of “Today is Monday, Today is Monday, April 23rd, April 23rd, 2011, 2011, That’s the date, That’s the date” to the tune of “Frère Jacques”. I have a really hard time not singing off key at the higher parts, and it’s rough to squish “February twenty third” into like three syllables. Awkward. But I do it. Four times a day. Five days a week.

…eat Spam.

Yep.

I made it to the age of 25 without ever seeing a can of Spam in real life, but August 2010 that all changed because Spam is everywhere in this country. Continue reading

Mind Over Manners

Cultural Lesson #2837: Learning What’s Polite in Another Country

In Korea, it’s polite to bow when you meet someone for the first time. Also when you see your principal walk by, when you see your vice principal walk by, when you see someone you know in the hallway, when you complete a monetary transaction anywhere, when someone enters or leaves the room even if it’s for the fiftymillionth time. It’s polite to bow all the of the time in Korea, and it’s a cultural practice I am happy to accept and participate in. The same goes for other very strange feeling habits, like always extending my money to a cashier with both hands and accepting change with both hands. Or pouring drinks for people with both hands. No problem.

But even after seven months living here, there are a handful of common Korean behaviors that I just can’t get behind. Some of them I’m simply not wired to perform and others are so unspeakably gross that even in the name of cultural diplomacy I am flat out unwilling tolerate. Continue reading

Moments in Cultural Assimilation 1 & 2

Multiculturalism

Good news everyone! 5 months into living in Gwangju and I’m finally integrating!

Moment 1 – Kimchi Binge

I don’t know if I made this really clear or not, but things have been pretty tedious with no friends around and no (pressing) work to do.This has resulted in boredom trips to the marts in my neighborhood. All of these excursions lately have ended with me buying ungodly amounts of kimchi. There are just so many varieties, people! I feel compelled to collect them all. And it’s so very good for you!  Pardon me for being a girl for a minute, but if someone is all, “Hey try this food! It’s delicious, you can eat as much as you want, and your butt will STILL get smaller!” YOU DON’T WALK AWAY FROM THAT – YOU’VE BEEN WAITING YOUR ENTIRE LIFE TO HEAR THOSE WORDS.

Then there’s this, which makes me real Koreanish…it started out innocently. I just didn’t have any other food in my house. But now the habit has formed…I really like eating kimchi for breakfast. It’s so incredibly bitter it does almost as good a job of waking me up as my coffee.

Breakfast du Jour. Someone on the internet, care about this.

Moment 2 – Open A Window

We’ve made a few references (cryptic haikus and all) here to the curious habit of the Korean people to leave windows wide open in the middle of winter. Like seriously. Wide open. I watched this behavior unfold as we cleaned up my classroom from winter camp. Task 1 – open the windows. Real wide. Wider. Pay no attention to Erin Teacher squawking at you in English to cut it out.

You may also recall that my house is the smaller than your typical American hotel room.(Just scroll down two posts for picture proof.)

So, minifridge loaded to the gills with kimchi, you can imagine what might follow. Opening the refrigerator released a creeping, sneaky perfume of fermented vegetables. At first I wouldn’t notice it, as the odor crept along the floor. But then it rose – rose and diffused until my little room was filled with the rather rude smell of kimchi. I would get used to it; I would leave; I would return, and recoil. The smell lingered. Something had to be done.

Today, as I left my house, despite the low temperature and threat of snow, you better believe I left the window all the hell wide open. You don’t understand exactly how bad the smell of kimchi in an enclosed space can be. I can only assume this was the genesis of the Korean open-window practice: home + kimchi = rank, inhumane odors. Similarly, once your entire family consumes a katrillion pounds of cabbage, you’re going to want to crack a window too*. Just sayin.

Methinks a Korean doth live here

*We’ve been up as a blog for a whole year and I think that was our first fart joke. Megan, this is what happens when you leave blog content up to  me.

This Post Is About Birth Control

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).

See?!? No one wants this.

 

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?

Them: Tyrenor?

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.

 

Yeah it's got wonky Korean directions, but still

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.

 

Black Tar

In retrospect, Korea may not have been the best choice for me and my addiction problems.

I have this student and he yearns for my attention. He yearns so freaking hard I can see the tendons in his neck straining. I imagine he waits all week for the moment on Wednesday when he gets to march into my classroom, bypass his seat, place himself approximately two feet from my face (Me? I’m always doing something harmless like sitting and looking cheerful*), points at the cup gripped in my hand and begins to recite what he has been waiting to say since last we saw each other: 커피!  커피! 커피! 커피! 커피! 커피! 커피! 커피! 커피! 커피! 커피! 커피!  커피! 커피!!!!!

You can see that this is irritating even in Korean. But what is he saying? What single word could drive an 11 year old boy into a rabid frenzy every goddamn week?

“coffee”

horrors!

Because, it seems, this is a habit that only I have cultivated in Korea. Now, you and I know I’m given to bouts of hyperbole (the best hyperbole in the history of human events), but I say this in all seriousness: I cannot live without coffee. In the event that I forget/run out/am robbed of my caffeine, my consciousness retreats below the most unholy of headaches and series of physical spasms that makes this scene from “Trainspotting” look tame. On those hellish days, I run on nothing more than brain stem power. Though my heart beats and my lungs fill, Erin doesn’t live here anymore. The mind recoils at the very thought of this.

So why is Korea less than ideal for the caffeine freak? Continue reading