Today is my first full day of school even though I won’t be teaching for the next week due to the students’ mid-term exams. I arrive, greet the Korean staff with a few annyeong-haseyos and have barely sat down at my desk when my co-teacher greets me with the news that another English teacher is waiting to take me to the hospital for my medical exam. We arrive at the smallest hospital I’ve ever seen – apart, perhaps, from what I would expect to find on a battlefield – and I’m told that this is the best hospital in Gunsan.
I enter with fake bravado and ask for a medical exam. The pressure seems to mount as I’m subjected to a series of tests that seem to have ‘correct’ answers assigned to them in the typical Korean fashion. First, I’m told to read numbers of varying degrees of legibility in a patterned book – apparently, this is my eye test. I get the nod that I’ve done well and we proceed to a strange looking contraption that has a tunnel-like thing which seems to be where I am to place my head. I’m dubiously lowering my head to the tunnel, wondering what unexpected creature is going to jump out at me, when the nurse grabs my hand and pulls it through until my upper arm is encased by the tunnel: it’s a blood pressure machine. I know the answer to this test won’t be good so I smile sheepishly knowing that I’m about to fail this section of the test.
A cool sweat slowly breaks across my brow as I’m hurried to the X-ray room. There, I’m told to change into the prescribed gown in a dressing room that is literally a curtain covering a steel locker in which only a contortionist could successfully change. I think my colleague is starting to wonder what is taking me so long when I emerge feeling very naked; after all, the gown is designed for Korean women half my size and I don’t have any safety pins on me to alter the dress a la Liz Hurley in the 90s.
I smile through two chest x-rays, get dressed and rush off for a blood test. Instead, I have another eye test. This one is similar to those back home except for the fact that the letters are all written in Hangeul which I can neither read nor understand. The administrator points to a character and I shrug my shoulders in response. I feel slightly put out when he asks my colleague if I can actually read – she delicately points out that I can’t read Hangeul. Ah…okay. Numbers are written identically in English and Hangeul so he points to these instead. We don’t get very far before he says that I need glasses, which I already have. I think he’s wondering if I’m an idiot or just illiterate at this point. With glasses in place, I fly through the test and pass. Next, it’s the hearing test: identify whether the ‘beep’ is in the left ear or the right and indicate this by raising the corresponding arm. One beep per ear and I’m done. I sit down, ready for the dreaded blood test, and feel deceived when my colleague explains that a urine test is now required.
More mortifying moments
I’m all but dragged down a flight of stairs to the nearest loo where, for the second time in less than a week, I find myself squatting over a cup to provide a urine sample in my bid to become a Guest English Teacher in
. I wonder if an overdose of mortification will show up in the almost non-existent sample my suddenly shy bladder reluctantly provides. Back in the lab, I hand over my arm as my veins sprint for cover at the sight of the needle. The tests have only taken about 20 minutes in total. I have my blood pressure taken one more time, hand over another 25 000 won and force myself not to run screaming from the building. Back at school, I’m just in time for some ‘cheesy cake’ to celebrate the birthday of a Korean colleague in my office whose name I still can’t pronounce. Korea
Most of the day passes in a blur and suddenly my colleague is at my side telling me that I need to go back to the hospital urgently to provide further samples for testing. Do I really look so suspicious? 17:00 arrives and I wearily return home. A short nap turns into a mini coma.