After one too many late nights and busy days, I allow myself to sleep in until 10:00. When I finally do get up, I’m still thinking about the confusing conversation that took place on Wednesday morning. I’m tired of feeling confused about everything so I’m determined to ask the translator to clarify a few things for me when I see her this afternoon for my acupuncture appointment. In the meantime, I try to learn a few essential Korean phrases that I should probably have learnt months ago. KiwiKat has suggested that being able to use a few Korean words or phrases might also make the cute doctor feel a bit more relaxed with me as a patient since clearly having to try to speak English is stressful.
The taxi ride to the Medical Centre is yet another bizarre one. Finding a taxi when it’s slightly colder than usual or snowing is almost impossible. When a taxi finally stops for me, I notice that there is already (presumably) a passenger in the front seat. It’s fairly common for drivers to take more than one passenger if they’re both going in the same direction so I assume that this is what’s happening as I get in. On the way to the Medical Centre, I’m asked the usual five questions: Age, nationality, am I an English teacher, how long have I been in Korea, do I have a husband / boyfriend. I feel very proud of myself as I manage to answer most of these questions in Korean and my study time this morning seems to have paid off. It also boosts my confidence in speaking Korean and I’m certain that this confidence will carry me through my acupuncture appointment.
On My Own
As we round the last corner to the Medical Centre, my phone rings: It’s the translator; she’s ill and isn’t at work today so I’ll be alone with the cute doctor. Gulp! If Sunny had phoned me before I left my apartment, I would probably have just re-scheduled the appointment but I’m already here so I step forward purposefully and with false bravado. I’m not feeling quite as confident as I enter the Medical Centre and head to the Oriental Medicine Department. Clearly this news has already reached the department because the nurse looks at, grins and says, “This is going to be fun!” as she ushers me to a cubicle and sets up the initial part of the treatment. I take out my phrase book that I’ve thankfully brought with me and start frantically attempting to memorize vocabulary and phrases that I think I might need to use today.
By the time Dr Kim arrives, I’m feeling a little more confident and smile encouragingly when he greets me: I can do this! He then tells me that the translator is not in today which I already know and half-jokingly follows this with a rather stressed yet comical, “Oh my god” and I can feel my confidence waiver slightly. I’d like to think that I’m fairly perceptive and good at reading people but I don’t know what to make of this particular doctor. He seems a little unnerved too at the prospect of having to deal with me by himself and keeps excusing himself to fetch things he’s left in his office. This makes me feel even more self-conscious and I wish I had re-scheduled the appointment because I really feel sorry for the guy. I wish I knew enough Korean to be able to communicate with him so that he wouldn’t have to use only English with me.
Somehow we manage to get through the appointment with me writing down a lot of things and using lots of gestures accompanied by very simple sentences. As I move to the chiropractic bench for the final part of the treatment, I’m actually relieved that the appointment is almost over and I conclude that I’ve seriously misunderstood Wednesday’s conversation. I’m relieved that I didn’t embarrass myself on Wednesday on clarifying what I thought (and hoped) might be happening. There’s a mutual silence as Dr Kim starts the final part of the treatment which is my favourite part because it’s relaxing.
The slightly awkward silence is broken by him asking me if I’m satisfied with the treatment I’ve received. He seems slightly bashful when I confirm that I am and that I think he is a very kind and nice doctor. He seems to be thinking very hard about something and I’m trying my best to understand why he’s suddenly talking to me; is he relieved to have survived this appointment without a translator? He then asks me if I’ve had a particular Korean dish; I’ve never even heard of this dish much less know what it is. He tries to explain and then stands up to face me and tells me that he had this dish for lunch so he hopes his breath doesn’t smell. I can’t help laughing at this unexpected conversation and his expression which seems to ease some of the tension – apparently he wants to chat!
I ask if he’s from Gunsan and he tells me that he’s originally from Seoul but has been in Gunsan for nearly two years. I then tell him that Seoul is too busy for me and that I like Gunsan because it’s quiet. He agrees that it’s quiet and tells me that, now, he likes Gunsan. We chat about a few inconsequential things and the appointment is soon over. We seem to have got into a routine of thanking each other at the end of each appointment and he waits a few moments while I say thank you and goodbye. I then surprise him by wishing him a good weekend in Korean and he matches this in English before finally bidding me farewell. As he leaves the room, he murmurs something to the nurse who looks at me and smiles. She asks me to take a seat while she quickly assists another patient before turning to me with a broad smile and saying that she has to try to get me back here on Monday. We schedule a time and I ask her to write down the code that I need in order to pay for the appointment on the second floor.
As I leave the Medical Centre, I’m elated that I’ve managed to get through the entire appointment without a translator and realise that things aren’t quite as hard as they may have seemed at the time. I’m in a good mood and lost in my own thoughts. As I start walking towards Catfish’s apartment, I hear a very enthusiastic English “Hello” and turn to see three high school, or possibly university students, sitting on a flight of stairs and waving at me. I return their greeting thinking that this is probably the extent of their repertoire when they surprise me by asking me where I’m going. Unsure as to how to answer this question, I grin and tell them I’m visiting a friend at which they express their disappointment and ask me to sit and chat to them for a while. I decline with the excuse that I’m late and wave goodbye – if they only knew just how much older than them I actually am!
Catfish and I have finally managed to secure an appointment to have our nails done and we’re looking forward to some girly salon time. I can’t help but feel ashamed of the condition of my nails and hands in general as the manicurist gets to work on my cuticles and all of the grooming things that need to happen before the actual paint job. I’m relieved that Catfish’s nails seem to take just as long and relax to enjoy being pampered. It’s a lot of fun choosing different colours to try out and I can’t resist admiring my nails as they visibly improve with each step of the manicure.
Our salon experience runs into dinner time and we merrily make our way back to Lotte mart and Hoa Binh, the Vietnamese restaurant that I’ve come to love. Instead of our usual platter and rice wraps, however, we choose individual dishes that come with some complications for me. The fried rice on pineapple looks mouth-wateringly delicious but contains shrimp to which I’m allergic. I’m not in the mood for a possibly allergic reaction even if we are just down the road from the local hospital so I ask if I can order the dish without the shrimp – our server is familiar with us by now, automatically understands my request and assures me that this won’t be a problem. Catfish decides on a seafood pho and we sit back to chat while we wait for dinner.
Under the Sea
When the food arrives, I’m touched to discover that they’ve substituted the shrimp in my meal with chicken; we’d ask for something like this to be done in our own countries but trying to make such a request in Korean is just too difficult so it’s impressive to see that this has automatically been done at this restaurant and I really appreciate it. Catfish’s dinner is a little too ‘under the sea’ with whole shrimp that stare accusingly from the plate, and she seems less than impressed to discover what she calls “an alien” (baby octopus) on her plate. The staff probably think she’s crazy for not eating most of the seafood in this dish!
As is customary, dinner is followed by coffee at Doctor’s Coffee which serves the most amazing white hot chocolate. We can’t help but laugh at the decorative topping that Catfish’s coffee receives and immediately reach for cameras to document this amusing sight. We’re not at Doctor’s Coffee for long, talking about JH, when Catfish decides to text him to confirm their meeting place tonight. It’s nearly 21:00 and she suddenly recalls arranging to meet him at Angel-in-us coffee which is further down the road so we say a quick goodbye, promise not to meet over the weekend so that we can have a break from each other before she runs to the next coffee shop where JH is already waiting, and I head home for the weekend.