Monday, September 29, 2008

change in tactics

To those it may concern: I've switched so that anonymous users can't leave comments. It's no biggie, but I've recently gotten a few comments left by people who weren't trolls or anything really nasty, but were a bit belligerent in tone. I'll actually put 'em up, if anon will do it under some kind of name. I'm happy to respond also via this blog or by email, but as it now stands they kind of gripe me. I don't feel like I can "converse" with somebody leaving posts anonymously, so I've decided the anonymous comments are out.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rigor Mortis

Ok, so hospitals don't bring out warm fuzzy feelings in most people - but yesterday's experience really, really got my blood boiling. Not that it needed it - I was already feverish . . .
I've caught a particularly nasty cold that started as a mild sniffle one night but by the wee hours of the next morning had turned into some kind of mutant virus that was attempting to destroy me from within. It was bad, it was ugly, it was not fun. Normally I'm healthy as a horse, and on the rare occasions I am sick I tend to go about my daily life as much as possible. That once backfired and my school actually took me out of class and "kidnapped" me to go to the hospital, and it turned out my "mild cold" that I insisted would go away just fine was actually bronchitis. Oops. My family has always belonged to the "if you're not dying, unconscious, or waving a severed limb then you are GOING TO SCHOOL, YOUNG LADY" train of thought, and I've never gotten used to the idea that anything short of consumption should bring you to the doctor. Experience, as shown above, has softened my views somewhat, and this time I was feeling bad enough to merit a visit to those nice men in their clean white coats.
I retract the nice bit. Since it's on my way to work, I decided to go to the university hospital instead of hunting out a clinic, which would have been less expensive. Besides, they already had a patient history on me from last year, when I was enrolled as a student. The nurse at the info desk has always been especially nice to me, partially, I think, because even though she's technically their designated English-speaker I usually speak to her in Korean. She's patient, nice, and makes sure I muddle through all the necessary paperwork each time. The problem is when she hands me off to the tender mercies of whichever specialty I'm supposed to be seeing.
For the record, those of us used to the American medical divisions of labor will be surprised at how the Korean medical system is divided. For example, if you're having a problem with your foot, there are no podiatrists - you can choose between an orthopedic surgeon, who will assume all your problems are bone problems, or you can chose a dermatologist, who will assume that everything is a skin problem. That's great, unless your problem isn't related to either of those, in which case you will spend the rest of your life on crutches and in medical limbo. The doctor who I saw last year for a muscular problem was virtually no help - other than ordering a bunch of expensive x-rays that told him nothing because my problem wasn't a bone problem . . .in the end I had to tell him what I had, and then he sort-of, kind-of remembered possible treatments.
Near as I can tell, surgeons of various stripes are vastly over-represented. It's almost certainly where the big bucks and prestige are, and few doctors want to bother with the unsexy jobs that don't involve slicing and dicing and their attendant big paychecks. Anyway, I digress.
I spent about thirty minutes waiting (not bad, considering I was a walk-in) to see the doctor for . . .less than a minute. No, I'm not kidding. I came in, sat in the exam chair, and he asked me what my symptoms were. I was just starting to explain when I was interrupted by him jamming a very cold instrument up my nose, then a brusque command to say "ah!" so he could look at my throat . . .for about half a second. He was still circling things on his chart while I was being hustled out of the room. I went up to ask the desk staff a few questions, and the resident behind the desk would not say a word to me. He just gestured rudely that I should slip a piece of my paperwork into a particular box. That was a little less than helpful.
Mind you, I'm doing all the asking and everything in Korean. The staff was answering other people's questions . . . but the mental arithmetic for many Koreans goes something like this:
foreigner = English = difficulty x potential embarrassment = AVOID AT ALL COSTS
So I was ignored. Again.
Did I mention I was also prescribed what is almost certainly too much medication? And some of it clearly unnecessary . . .I told the doctor when I came in that I had been taking tylenol for some of my symptoms, yet lo and behold if he didn't PRESCRIBE IT FOR ME?!? Just more proof that he wasn't listening. I would have gone back and complained if I thought for a second it was worth my time to do so.
Yeah, I know that hospitals are busy places and doctors are overworked. But its things like this that lead to all kinds of dangerous situations. I'm sure if there actually had been a problem, it would have been blamed on me and my lack of communication skills (because obviously, as a foreigner, I couldn't have expressed myself in Korean). I don't expect somebody holding my hand and walking me through the entire process and listening to my every woe and worry. But I do expect a medical professional to act . . .well, professional.
And just to add insult to injury, this morning my cab driver pulled essentially the same stunt. Usually I walk, but sometimes I'm tired or sick or late and the only other alternative is a complex set of bus transfers. My research institute is the very last building bar one, and virtually nobody knows where it is and how to get there. It also doesn't show on any of those GPS Nav units that are steadily ruining the average cabbie's ability to remember how to get places (geez, talk about a technological crutch . . . this is practically its own rant), so I usually have to explain how to get there. That's not a big deal, but every once in a while I get a driver who sees a foreigner get in the cab and just plain stops listening. I'll tell them "head to hospital x, but after the turn go straight and keep on the road for the funeral hall. Keep going on this road until you pass the stadium and see building z on the left." Some taxi drivers, including the one today, stop listening as soon as I say "hospital x" and try to go directly to the hospital instead of taking the road I need and it gripes me to no end. I know this can happen to Korean people, too, but Korea Beat just had an article translated today on cabbies and foreigners.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thank God for Small Favors

It seems there is one advantage to having the completely useless foreigner registration number: Google hasn't released it and nobody could use it for anything useful even if somebody got a hold of it.

Google Exposes Thousands of Korean ID Numbers

There's a lot of google-hating going on here in Korea, much of it completely undeserved. The Korean internet is a ghetto where non-Korean search engines are systematically excluded in favor of inferior local search engines (a nightmare for researchers - when I look up stuff online through Google, I'm likely to get pretty similar search results to what I get from yahoo, or ask, or dogpile . . .the rankings or organization might be different, but I'm going to find most of the same stuff. On the other hand, if I'm searching for something in Korean, I'll run it through on Google but then I have to search on Naver or Daum and get totally different results, which is pretty darned annoying to have to do.) The place is littered with active x. But perhaps most vexing, the Korean internet requires your citizen registration number to do anything from set up a blog to shop to make train reservations. All foreigners who are here for more than 90 days have to register and get our own alien registration card and number, but they don't work for anything. I can't make a train reservation (another reason for not making the Chuseok trek to Daegu) or buy movie tickets online or do . . .well, just about anything.
The people to blame for this kind of sensitive personal information getting out and online isn't Google - it's the Korean websites requiring too much information with not enough security. Thank God my information is too worthless to be used for anything.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gomushin Girl is Guilty

or, why the boys'll just have to cook their own damn rice.

I done a bad, bad thing!
I skipped Chuseok with the host family. I feel bad about this, but not bad enough, I think. But the fact remains that my reasons for not going were pretty lame - it just wasn't convenient, and I didn't want to spend eight odd hours on a bus, or get up at five am and wait around Seoul St. to see if I could stand on a train for three hours while other people's luggage fall of the racks and onto my head.
I can't even say that I skipped for anything worthwhile. Sure, I had an out of town guest for Friday and Saturday, but there was nothing to stop me from dragging my lazy self off to 큰아버지's 집 on Sunday - except that daunting trip out to 대구. I might have been a little more motivated if we had our holidays in 안동 but 대구 fails to excite me. I'm probably being unfair to the city, but since the only thing I ever do in Daegu is hang out with the host family . . . can I be blamed? All holidays follow a similar pattern:

Go to 안동 to get in a car and drive umpteen hours through crazy traffic to 대구
Arrive in 대구 too tired to muddle through the 사투리
Men, Women, and Children (aka the unmarried) divide: men to the living room to watch TV and goof off, children to the bedroom to watch TV and goof off, women to the kitchen to slave for the next two days
Intermittent force-feeding

Don't get me wrong. I adore my host family beyond all reason or measure. I think it's a testament to that fact that almost five years after I lived with them I still get calls from my host brother to help him out with homework, from my host mom to make sure I have enough banchan in my fridge, and from my host dad to see when I'm coming "home." I try to go back when I can, but I just didn't have it in me this holiday. Normal visits are fine, but the extended relatives and holiday routine are stressful.
Besides, I've never quite lived down that time I told my 큰아버지 in a fit of pique that the menfolk should, "cook their own damn chesa rice!" Thankfully, he has a good sense of humor and took my comment with hilarity rather than offense.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Public Service Announcement from Tom Lehrer

I feel in light of recent comments I made on the Seoul Podcast that I should also say a few words about the importance of, um, safety. Instead, I'm going to let Tom Lehrer do it for me:

Actually, I really just wanted an excuse to slap up some Tom Lehrer. The fact that I listened to his songs as a child probably goes a long way towards explaining what kind of person I grew up to be . . .

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mea Culpa!

You should always pay attention:
Putting up that last post, I realized that my number 6 pick for things to do is listed as Bomunsa. I'm too afraid of the sound of my own voice to listen, but I suspect I owe listeners a major mea culpa: I meant to talk about Bongamsa instead!

Bongamsa is in Mungyeong, and is only open to the public once a year, on Buddha's Birthday. The rest of the time the monks there engage in hard-core study and meditation, and don't want the likes of us coming around and disturbing their practice (note: you can also get in if you're invited for a specific purpose by one of the monks.) When I went on Buddha's Birthday this past year, the monks there seemed to come in two varieties: Those who were annoyed that the place was crawling with hundreds of tourists, and those who seemed to be pleased beyond belief to see and talk with somebody new for a change. One monk would barely answer my questions about the name of a building. I turned around and was accosted by another monk whose fondest wish in life was to show my friend and I every single detail of everything entire temple.
In any case, Bongamsa is absolutely beautiful, and well worth the wait and effort to see it. While you're there, you can check out gads of geeky fun:
  • Stupa of High Priest Jijeung-Daesa (Treasure No. 137),
  • Stele to the Stupa of High Priest Jijeung-Daesa (Treasure No. 138),
  • Three-Story Stone Pagoda of Bongamsa Temple (Treasure No. 169),
  • Stupa to High Priest Jeongjin-Daesa (Treasure No. 171),
  • Stele for the Stupa of High Priest Jeongjin-Daesa (Treasure No. 172),
  • Relief of Seated Buddha (Provincial Tangible Cultural Property No. 121),
  • Bell-Shaped Stone Stupa (Local Tangible Cutural Property No. 135
But why did I mess up and call it Bomunsa? And what about the real Bomunsa?
Well, the slip twixt tounge and lip is probably because I live near and frequently visit Bomun Temple (English link) in Seoul - another temple well worth mentioning because it's not only seperate from the dominant Chogye order, but is the head temple of the only Buddhist order of female monks(Korean link.) The temple itself is on the site of another historic temple, but the current buildings and everything else are all modern construction. Probably the most interesting thing about the temple is their reconstruction of Seokgulam grotto, and a very large 고려 style 답, along with a few significant paintings. They also do temple stays and run some education programs, so go check 'em out.
But when I checked Zen's links, turns out it's not even that Bomunsa! The best known Bomun Temple is on Gangwha-do. I've never been, but here's a photo essay from the English Chosun Ilbo.

Top 10 Lists - from the Seoul Podcast

So, as announced before, a rash of poisonings and death threats kept the normal, important bloggers from joining Joe on the Seoul Podcast, so I ended up as their guest last week. As part of the venture, we all made a top ten list of things to do and of things to see while in Korea, which I'll repost below. Ten was a difficult number to stick to, and some of my ten are so unbelievably facetious I ought to be horsewhipped. I also can't claim to have actually done all of them. I might have been a tad more serious, or a tad more thorough, but this all came at the end of may well go down as one of the most ridiculous days of my life, and my brain was not operating at full capacity. I know I missed being eloquent or enlightening, so let's hope I at least managed to be amusing:

Ten Things to Do in Korea


10. Convince an old man to give you a ride on his motorbike
9. Korean booking club *
8. Innertube down Cheonggyecheon River
7. Ruefully mock a Korean child by refusing to speak in English
6. Ride a yellow bus around Namsan Mountain
5. Eat a live octopus
4. Jjimjilbang (Sauna) and get an exfoliating skin scrub *
3. Check out or
2. Sleep in a nasty yeogwan
1. A Korean


10. Rooms (Jjimjilbang, Noraebang, DVD Bang) *
9. Go shopping at Dongdaemun Market
8. Eat all the food samples at the Lotte Department Store in Myeong-dong
7. Get kicked out of Lotte Department Store
6. Go on the psycho Chucky doll ride at Everland
5. Get into a fight with a drunk ajosshi while eating odeng
4. Climb over the tanks and planes at the Korean War Museum
3. Korean booking club
2. Steal a Korean flag from a lamppost on August 15th
1. Go fishing at the Cheonggyecheon River


10. Sunday at the Seoul Racecourse Park
9. Korean nightclub *
8. Taekwondo

How to Participate in the Taekwondo Experiential Program for Foreigners

The Taekwondo experiential program for foreigners is held three times a day (10:30, 13:30, and 15:30, except Mondays) in Gyeonghuigung Palace until December. Each 90-minute session accommodates up to 40 people.
The sessions each offer a different program: the 10:30 session covers basic taekwondo moves; the 13:30 session, self-defense techniques; and the 15:30 session, breaking techniques. Participants can choose one or more sessions or take part in all three. Everyone receives a taekwondo certificate and badge upon completion of the session.

Visitors wishing to participate can visit the website of Kukkiwon ( to reserve online. The price is 15,000 per program. Gyeonghuigung Palace can be reached via Subway Line 5, Gwanghwamun Station, exit 7. It is a 15-minute walk from the subway station.

7. All-nighter in Hongdae
6. Temple stay
Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism
5. Hike a mountain (Seoraksan) *
4. Noraebang *
3. Experience Chuseok
2. Jjimjilbang (especially charcoal sauna) *
1. Go to a country restaurant/see the countryside

Ten Things to See in Korea


10. Watch someone else eat live octopus
9. Watch a pansori
8. Dinosaur footprints in Goseong *
7. Crash a wedding at a wedding hall
6. Bomunsa Temple and Seokguram Grotto on Buddha’s Birthday *
5. Namsan Mountain in Gyeongju
4. Byeongsan Seowon Confucian Academy in Andong
3. All the national museums
2. Anapji Pond at night
1. Watch a shaman ceremony


10. Suwon’s Hwaseong Fortress
9. Seoraksan Mountain
8. The Island of Uido
7. Anywhere in Jeollanam-do
6. Bulguksa and Seokguram Grotto *
5. The DMZ
4. Seven Luck Casino
3. Dinosaur footprints *
2. Submarines at Seoguipo
1. Woljeongsa Temple


10. Yongsan Electronics Market
9. Myeong-dong on Christmas Eve or Apgujeong’s Rodeo Street
8. The DMZ *
7. Seoul from any high place (Namsan Tower, mountain)
6. Folk Village in Suji
5. Changdeokgung Palace
4. Insa-dong’s hidden alleys
3. Korea National Museum *
2. Cheonggyecheon River at night
1. The city of Gyeongju *

* Some overlap with other lists

I should also say that none of us knew the content of the others' lists until we recorded, and had I known Gyeongju was going to come up so often, I would have given my love elsewhere. S I've traveled pretty extensively around the country, so I'm kind of ashamed for not getting some other sites out there . . . but if you're a tourist coming for just a few weeks, I'd still have to say that your time is probably best served in Seoul and Gyeongju and Andong, simply because they pack the most sites and the most historically significant sites together. But for those of us who are lucky enough to have time to really get out there and explore:

Heinsa (this should have been on my top ten list!), Ulleung-do, Sogwangsa, Gangwha-do, Sogni-san, Gongju, Gimhae, Chuncheon (the best 팥빙수 I've ever had is from a little place outside the front gate of 강원대), Damyang, Namwon . . .

dang, this is starting to get out of hand.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Surving Singly in Seoul II

I am the last person on earth who should be giving this kind of advice but what the heck! It's my blog and I'll advise if I want to^^

Gomushin Girl's Guide to Surviving Singles Seoul

Tip Number 2:
Always carry reading material.

Korean society isn't one that has yet really embraced the idea of doing stuff on your own. You don't go to the movies alone, you don't sit in a cafe alone, and you certainly don't eat alone. But if you're an expat gal, there are times when you don't have the choice but to strike out on your own* and brave the theater or 식당 on your own.
When you do, always have something in your pocket to read.
Seoul cafe's have gotten better at stocking magazines, but you're likely to be left with last months' Luxury magazine or if you're really lucky, a six month old copy of Cici (in cases of foreigner-frequented areas, replace Luxury with last months' Eloquence, and have fun snickering at the bad writing.) But bring your own book along as you ride the subway or wait for the bus, and you've killed two birds with one stone.
First, you have brought your own entertainment.
Second, you have a conversation starter.
I don't know how many times I've been stopped and asked about the books I'm reading by random people. These conversations have been everything from short, pleasant exchanges to long winding conversations that culminate in exchanges of phone numbers and later meetings.
Books give people an opening to talk to you, while also giving you an excuse to bow out of conversations you don't want. Just as it can bring people to you, you can also use it to shut them out and retreat to a private world within a public space without seeming really rude. This is great when you're being pestered by some random 아저씨.
The next question is: what kind of book should I bring?
Korean books are sometimes just the ticket. Besides advertising your language skills and making it easier for non-English speakers to strike up a conversation, they're also a great way to keep those same language skills in peak condition. Practice makes perfect, right? No need to rack your brain too much to find the perfect book - just pick up anything that looks interesting from the bestseller table at Kyobo. One note: this makes it pretty impossible to pretend you don't speak Korean when you're trying to ignore somebody.
But what about non-Korean books? What you read reveals something about you at that moment. Mind you, it might merely reveal that your book club has artsy-fartsy tastes or it might say that you've read everything you brought with you from home and are now chomping through the used book piles at the 아름다운가게 for anything that looks like it won't melt brain cells.**

*what? you like being alone? perish the thought! what's wrong with you? You must be lonely and need a man! ^^V
** there's some mighty fine reading there though . . . where else will you find "99 Steps to Becoming a Ninja"?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Seoul Podcast

I was the guest of (dis)honor this week on the Seoul Podcast. May God preserve us!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Earning my geek credentials

OMG! Dude, there's going to be a showing of the oldest existent (complete) Korean film, Turning Point of Youngsters. And as if that weren't already mind-blowingly wonderful enough, it's going to be accompanied by live, not canned music. But what's really going to push this over the edge for me is that they've hired a "film talker" to do the narration! I'm so happy I almost can't stand it! AND IT'S FREE?!?!?! God must love me.