Sunday, August 22, 2010

Medical Exam

I get a crap-ton of emails at work. At least 90% of them don't really concern me. Or at least, I assume they don't concern me since they're not written in a language I can readily comprehend.

I've long suspected that this may be one of the reasons that I have very little clue what's going on around me beyond a day-to-day basis. In an attempt to remedy this, I try to go through the emails once a day. The short ones I'll try to figure out, adding to the pile of flash cards next to my monitor. The long ones, I generally ignore.

Translating takes a long time. I'll have to remember to post some of the nonsense that Google Translate spits out, but to really understand, you usually have to work one word at a time. It also doesn't help that there seems to be a special form of Korean for formal written documents. I learned this after being laughed at by my Korean teacher for using what must have been some bizarre business-ish jargon from my flashcards.

Usually, this isn't a real problem. If people want me to know something, they send it in English. But occasionally something slips through the cracks.

Case in point, last Thursday. Coworker A, "Did you go get your medical examination? You were on the list"

Brandon (blank stare), " What medical examination? What list?"

Coworker A, "Didn't you read the email?"

I also learned that I could not go that day since I had eaten too late the night before. I did not learn why that mattered or what the medical exam was for. It was just a "yearly checkup" that "everyone does". Awesome.

First thing the next morning, I head to the company hospital (the company complex is pretty much a town. It has it's own Domino's delivery guys and everything). I found a receptionist who cunningly determined I was a confused foreigner, not a dying foreigner and directed to the temporary station for the yearly check-ups.

I hand my badge to be swiped and am given a Korean form in return to fill out. I stare at the guy who handed it to me and he directs me to the form area where another foreigner and I share the English form key while filling out our Korean forms. The forms seem to match up, so I'm reasonably sure that I'm not requesting a lobotomy or something, but it's hard to say for sure.

My favorite part was the question regarding my exercise habits.
1. How many days a week to you engage in 30 min + of strenuous exercise (such as running, swimming, etc.)?
2. How many days a week to you engage in 30 min + of moderate exercise (such as jogging, normal bike riding, rubbing your knees on the floor, etc.)?

I really have no idea what kind of exercise they were talking about, but I figure I probably don't do it. I hate sitting on the floor, can't imagine rubbing my knees on it being more pleasant.

Formed filled out, I am allowed to proceed to station 1. The stations are not in any sensible order, so it's kinda like some sort of scavenger hunt. Only not a fun scavenger hunt. But one where you get to pee on a stick and wander around with it to find the person who wants a urine soaked stick (answer: no one really wants it. They just look at it and then you're supposed to throw it away).

There was an x-ray room. The doctor didn't really speak english so much as yell single words which you had to interpret as instructions. As I enter the room he points at me and says, "badge" then turns and hugs a machine. Apparently I am to remove the badge and then hug said machine in a similar fashion. I do so. "Mandible! Mandible!" WTF? oh, chin rest thing, gotcha. I will put my mandible there. "Blorshermer!!! Blorshermer!!!" I have no clue what he was trying to say, but presumably my embrace of the machine was not to his liking. I needed to bend my knees a bit or hug it in a more comforting manner. After a bit of awkward groping of the metal frame, he seemed satisfied, took the xray and sent me on to the next fun room.

Most were pretty uneventful. Eye chart, height, weight, ear test thing. The shuffling around and waiting in lines for minor medical tests reminded me a lot of getting physicals when they offered free physicals at the school for anyone wanting to play sports. Fortunately there was no hernia test here.

They did take blood, however. Stole 3 vials from me. I did not pass out. I did note that the needle they stabbed me with was new. I was vaguely reassured by that. Then somewhat disturbed that my only criteria for judging the medical care was that they have higher sanitary conditions than the worst heroine addicts. Then I decided not to care anymore.

The last stop was some sort of general medical discussion. "Do you speak Korean". "We haven't covered detailed medical terminology yet". "Are you on medication?" "No" "Any operations?" "No" "Medical history?" "Does breaking my arm when I was a kid count?" "Did you have operations?" "No, just wore a cast" (the doctor then changes the answer to the operations question to a yes. Tricky).

My favorite question, though, was:
"Do you have Tuberculosis?"

I like that it was just a self-diagnosis thing. I mean, I watched Tombstone and I'm definitely not acting like Doc Holiday and I'm pretty sure he had TB, so I went w/ no. Just seemed like the kinda think that doctors would tell me rather than ask.

I was just a little disappointed that they didn't recommend eating more kimchi to me. It is good for the health, after all.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


My family recently came and visited me for about a week. Parents, sibling, sibling-in-law, sibling's unborn tumor-spawn. All but the pets. (insert 개고기 comment here).

I'm not going to talk about that. Partly b/c most people reading this who are interested in my family probably already read about it via the sibling's much more frequently updated blog and partly b/c I don't like talking about identifiable people here. I like to maintain a bit of abstraction. I probably haven't been 100% consistent with that, but it's part of the reason my posts have become so rare. The more my stories involve other people, the less inclined I am to share them. I believe my sibling would refer to this as being 'super sneaky' or some other such alliteration to that effect.

But enough rambling about my vaguely defined view on privacy and the internet and social media and all that nonsense. I will instead ramble about my vaguely coherent thoughts on my progress towards learning Korean.

I've been in Korea for almost 1 year now. Upon first arrival, I knew nothing about the language. I took lessons most mornings during my internship and by the end of the summer could 'read' (more or less make the correct noise associated w/ words) and spout off a few key phrase. "I'm from America", "Beer is good", "No I don't have a girlfriend", "I don't know why not", "Stop asking weird questions, every weird Korean person in a bar"...the basics.

Since then, I've taken 3 rounds of classes. 2 hours a day, 3 days a week for 8 weeks per class. Since the 2nd round of classes, I've been pretty good about going over flashcards during my commute and studying a bit. I'm not as dedicated as I could be, but I haven't exactly been slacking.

This has gotten me to the point that I am now capable of having a relatively dumb conversation w/ someone patient enough to decipher my terrible accent (It's weird that I don't really grasp how my accent sounds. Like to me most Koreans sounds like they're just talking fast and slurring things a lot. I recognize I don't sound like that, I sound like I'm saying weird jibberish slowly. It just doesn't have an accent to me. I guess that's what an American accent is like to an American. This probably doesn't a lot of sense, but trying speaking w/ a French accent. Maybe it's bad, but you can probably do it. Try speaking w/ a Korean accent. Now you probably sound like you're making fun of Chinese people at best. The problem lies in there somewhere)

Sometimes it's really frustrating to see how slowly I progress. Day to day I don't feel like I'm making progress. This does not sit well with me. I've been out for 2 years, but I'm still very much in a school mentality. All things should be learned in 4 months. I should excel at learning them and be validated w/ an A. This is how it worked for years. It is how it should be.

However, my family's visited clued me in that while I may not be particularly proficient at speaking Korean, I've become quite good at Konglish. While it may not seem like a huge feat to learn a bastardized version of one's own language, it is at least useful. Requesting a 'lemon' will get you a blank stare. However, getting a 'leh-mone' is doable. All the times of feeling like a retard when ordering an 'egguh mic mah pin' at McDonald's paid off.

Showing off my Konglish skills for the family is only part of it though. I've also applied the skill during a conference call to translate between my coworkers' English and American English. The weirdest part is that both sides of the conversation made perfect sense to me, but neither understood the other. Again, maybe that sounds like nonsense, but I think it really just underscores the difficulty of really mastering a language. The grammar and words only get you so far.

So here in another couple weeks I'll be starting up another round of Korean classes. I will try to remember that the finer points of the language really are secondary to the purpose of communicating. Forget the tests, all I ever really wanted was to be able to make a phone call and have someone deliver fried chicken and beer to my house.