Saturday, March 22, 2008

Why you wanna give me a run-around?

For four days now, Justin and I have been attempting to get the results of our annual physical from Yonsei Severance Hospital. We were told last Saturday that we could call the clinic Wednesday morning and our physician there, Dr. Linton, would talk to us about our results on the phone. That would have been great, seeing as we live nearly two hours from the hospital.

But remember - land of the 90% solution. They will give us fantastic service when we go in to get our physical (the blood tests were done within 10 minutes of our entering the hospital). The first time, when the doctor is "unavailable," they apologetically e-mail me the physical results -something you have a lot of trouble getting from US doctors because of confidentiality. But come hell or high water, come phone calls or e-mails, they WILL NOT TELL US WHAT ANYTHING MEANS. I mean, maybe Mike Chan can clue us in, but when I see a result that says "MCH/pg/N/29.4," I'm out to sea. I always just sort of expected that this would be, oh, I don't know, the DOCTOR's job?

So, where were we? Oh, yes, the Wednesday morning phone conference that wasn't. I called back to see how I could get an explanation of the results, and they tell me that everything is normal. As discussed, I am not a doctor, but I can read the column heading "Standard," and I can tell when a number is not in that range, and there are at least a couple of things on these test results that are not normal (Not need-to-panic abnormal, but "hey, let's review this" abnormal. That one was for the moms). I insist that I need more information from a doctor. Finally somebody gives me Dr. Linton's supposed e-mail address and tell me that if he doesn't write me back, I should call on Thursday.

Wild guess - he doesn't write me back? Duh. So I call on Thursday, and they tell me to call on Friday. At this point, Blues Traveler's "Runaround" is going through my head like an evil theme song, and I insist on scheduling a concrete call time. "12:00," they say. "12:00, noon," I repeat. "Yes. 12:00 speak with Dr. Linton." "Okay," I say.

And yesterday I call. And yesterday he is still unavailable. As a last-ditch effort, I leave our Korean cell phone number for a call-back - last ditch because, like everything else, it has a distinct chance of not working. Frequently our phone just decides not to ring, and sometimes when it is ringing, it decides not to let us pick up. And because I am learning to be paranoid, I look up his e-mail in the hospital's online directory. Wonder of wonders, it is NOT the e-mail they gave me. So I send another email and wait.

This morning, having kept the phone on us continually for 24 hours, we magically have five missed calls from the hospital. FIVE! How is this possible??? At this point my will and ability to speak civilly have been drained and broken beyond all hope of repair, so Justin steps in and calls the hospital back.

And Dr. Linton is unavailable.

We do not know who has been calling us or why but the man on the other end, a Mr. Cha, swears up and down that someone WILL call us back on that cell phone number.

Note that pauses indicate the side of the conversation that I can't hear.

Fine, says Justin, but can we please make an appointment with Dr. Linton for Monday just in case? You know, since he won't talk to us on the phone or in e-mail, maybe he'd talk to us in person?


Is Dr. Linton not in on Monday?

I understand that he is supposed to call us back, but I would like to make an appointment anyway. Just in case.

Are you telling me I can't make an appointment?

Insert Nana's head exploding. You're a CLINIC. That's what you DO. You MAKE APPOINTMENTS with PATIENTS.

Evidently not.

We conclude with Justin taking what this man claims is his personal cell phone number, which we are to call if nobody calls us back. I have resisted the urge to type "when" instead of "if."

Anyway, I'm royally cheesed off. If they had talked to me any of the first five times I tried to contact them, we would have had plenty of time to get the information we need and go in if we needed to. Now we only have one business day before we go to Malaysia for a week, and it's going to be a real pain in the backside to get over there and get anything done.

I'm wondering if this is some kind of "Asian no" phenomenon. I've mostly heard about it in Japan (Dave Barry's book Dave Barry Does Japan has a whole gag about it) but I don't know if it's done in Korea. Basically, the idea is that culturally, it's impolite to tell somebody no, so you tell them anything else: "You would like a blue sweater? Oh. Perhaps you would prefer the red sweater?" instead of "We don't sell blue sweaters." Our after-school Korean teacher won't tell us that anything is grammatically wrong - it will usually go something like "X? Hm. I think Y would be more correct." "X is okay, but Y is much better."

So maybe what's been going on is they just don't want to tell me "Doctors don't do telephone consults." Instead they keep saying, "Um, Dr. Linton is unavailable. Perhaps another time would be better."

You know what I say to that? NO.

Off to Malaysia!

Nana and I are on Spring Break this week, and on Tuesday we're headed to Malaysia for a conference. Aside from the fact that our school is apparently putting us up in a super-posh hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur, it looks like we'll have the opportunity to check out some really interesting talks and seminars--and we'll also get a day to explore the town.

Anyway, we may or may not have internet access while we're there (I mean, we'll have access, but we may not take our computers, since I don't think we have the right adapters), but I can promise a pile of posts once we get back.

Easter in Korea

Slate Magazine recently published an insightful analysis of why Easter in the West has avoided the rampant commercialization that swallowed Christmas. The argument boils down to this: the Christmas story is much easier to secularize than the Easter story--the former is Hallmark, while the latter is, well, Mel Gibson.

In Korea, though, both holidays have managed to escape commercialization, at least for the time being. Gift-giving at Christmas here is modest and far from universal, and while store displays do "go tinsel" for the season, the change doesn't happen until after Chuseok. In fact, the Christmas lights didn't come out this year until the end of November, and the only major change in merchandise at the local Homever was a small seasonal section with cards, miniature artificial trees, and paper decorations.

But Easter, so far, has lacked even the most basic level of commercialization in Korea: the Homever gift pack. Most major Korean holidays, with the addition of Christmas, see the sprouting of huge displays of foodstuffs and cosmetics plastic-wrapped into ornate boxes to be used as gifts for friends, hosts, in-laws, and superiors. For Easter, though, there has been nothing so far.

I have several theories. First, Koreans seem to buy a lot more for the "small" holidays, like Valentine's Day and White Day, or Pepero Day, so maybe there isn't as much marketing pressure for the likes of Christmas and Easter. Second, most Korean holidays, even adopted ones like Christmas, seem to revolve around food--specifically, around huge family meals prepared by hapless daughters-in-law. Food-based giving is less obvious: there's food out all the time, and it's not like the daughters-in-law won't cook their holiday dinners if they don't see appropriate Homever displays. Third, Christmas and Easter are still relatively new holidays in Korea. At the risk of sounding like an old man, even I remember a time when the Christmas decorations didn't come out until Thanksgiving. Finally, there aren't a lot of "secular Christians" in Korea. There's no such thing as "culturally Christian:" either you're a practicing Lutheran, Calvinist, or Evangelical, and deadly serious at that, or you're a Buddhist. (For the most part.) In other words, the people who notice and care about Christian holidays tend to be pretty serious about them, and view them in a purely religious light.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Justin Drinks Weird Stuff For Your Pleasure: Shikhye

"Nostalgia Drink Since 1993"

The Verdict: Not as good as it used to be.

Seriously, though--shikhye is a kind of chunky rice-milk concoction that I'd had fresh(er) at the Korean restaurant we used to go to in DC. The drink itself was decent, but the rice bits had a distinctly canned taste.

Won't You Wear a Sweater Day: In KOREA!

A rare family photo in honor of Mr. Rogers. Did you wear your sweater today?

Won't You Wear a Sweater?

March 20th (which it already is, here) would have been Mr. Rogers's 80th birthday. Won't you join in the celebration of this totally awesome man by wearing a sweater today (/tomorrow, on your time zone?)

Horrifyingly, I lost track of days and didn't realize that that was today. But fabulously, I happened to wear a sweater anyway! Mr. Rogers is watching over me! Justin and I will post pictures of us in our sweaters if and when our apartment internet goes back up.

For more info on Won't You Wear a Sweater day, (

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Happy White Day!

Technically, American Valentine's Day is a two-way street - both the guys and the girls are supposed to buy something for each other. But if I had to choose, I would say that in the U.S., the onus of Valentine's Day falls much more heavily on the male of the species than on the female. Overall, the sentiment seems to be, "Lord have mercy, boys, would it kill you to be romantic one day out of the whole dang year?"

For Korean, men, however, February is a breeze. Valentine's Day here consists of women buying chocolates and gifts for the men. The men just kick back and enjoy.

Before you start booking your flights, though, realize that what goes around comes around. February 14 is for the men, so March 14, White Day, is for the ladies. Originating, apparently, with a Japanese candy consortium in 1978, White Day has since spread to Korea and Taiwan. Being a good wife, I did not blame Justin for forgetting White Day and even gave him all the dark chocolate in the candy sets that my students gave me. Waste not, want not.

At APIS, Valentine's Day was more heavily celebrated than White Day, although both resulted in copious amounts of candy given to teachers. (Koreans cannot resist the chance to give things to teachers - see Pepero Day). Maybe this is because the culture at APIS is more international/Western. It may also be a sign that as much as manufacturers would like to multiply candy sales by setting up a second holiday, it hasn't completely taken hold here. It will be interesting to see, over the next decade or so, who wins out in the cultural-influence arena: the U.S./West with a mutual or male-heavy Valentine's Day, or Japan with Valentine's Day and White Day. (Note: PLEASE settle this in the Thunderdome. Please?)

But the fun doesn't stop here! If you're a woman in a relationship, you know what to do, and if you're a man in a relationship, you know what to do. But what about those rocking the single life?

Let's look at the pattern: Feb 14, Valentine's Day, women. March 14, White Day, men. April 14 is next - and it's Black Day.

For Black Day, single people get together and eat Jajang Noodles, or noodles in a black bean sauce. (Yes, they're as gross as they look.) Now, it's possible that this is a wacky, fun-filled occasion, with people playing MASH and laughing at us lame married folk, but I picture it more like those old Peanuts strips where Lucy would invite all the neighborhood girls for a crab-in. A black day, indeed.

This is made even better by the fact that April 14 is my sister's birthday, and I always used to make fun of her for the various horrible things that have happened on that day in history (Lincoln was shot, the Titanic sank, etc. Look it up if you don't believe me.) So this one's for you, Jackie. Don't you wish you had a happy day like me?

Non-Korea addendum: According to intrepid college pal Leslie, there are two Russian holidays in February and March set out for men and women as well - Protectors of the Homeland day for men on the 23rd of February, and International Women's Day on March 8. See her blog here for more info. Leslie, if you're reading - what about Valentine's? I saw that you went to a Valentine's party, but was that more of an international thing? What does the average Russian couple do on Feb 14?