Saturday, March 6, 2010

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

Written on March 6, 2010

Today was my visit to the doctor. First I went to school and met one of my fellow teacher’s whose English name is Sue, her Korean name is Seo, so either way it is fairly easy to say. I got to the school around 8:10 am and found all the kids arriving at school around the same time. I discovered that the first and third Saturdays of each month are also school days. Yeah for the Korean work ethic. I mean not only am I American I also have a California mind set so it is really hard from me to imagine school on Saturdays. And the older the kids get the longer their school hours become. It really is quite amazing. I guess I am lucky I like school.

So just before 9 am Seo and I headed off to the hospital to get my medical check-up. I needed this health check-up in order to register and obtain my Alien Registration Card (ARC). It is only after I have obtained this card that I am able to open a bank account and to purchase certain things like cell phones and internet service.

The hospital was just down the street so Seo and I walked. Once inside the hospital we went through various lines and to different floors to get my check-up. Overall it was not that different than a normal physical in America except that I had a dental check-up as well. They tested my eye sights and hearing; they weighed and measured me; they took blood and urine samples and basically that was it. Seo was with me every step of the way helping interpret the various questions being asked to me. After about half and hour we were finished and I was told that on Monday I was to return between 3 and 5pm to get the results. If there were no problems then I would be able to register from my ARC right away but if there were problems I would have to take more tests. As we were leaving I was told I would also need to bring a photo of myself for the card. I told Seo that I did not have a photograph of myself and wasn't really sure how to get one here. She told me it was no problem that we could just find a photo store and they could take my picture and develop it for me fairly easily. So off we went to find a photo store. When we left I thought she knew where one was but I soon found out that she did not. Seo was also new to the area and to this school so she did not know much about what was around us but she was certain that it would be easy to find a photo store. She told me that in her last neighborhood they were everywhere. She checked to see if I was okay with walking and I told her that was no problem. In fact I admit I have kind of been missing my longer walks from Pasadena while living in Colorado for the past 5 months, though I have a feeling that my first trip to the grocery store and carrying back everything I bought to my apartment may make me miss those nice cars of my parents.

During our search Seo showed me various stores including a grocery store, which was not too far from my apartment and other stores like bakeries and mini marts. At the grocery store she bought me a couple of donuts to eat. Due to the physical I had been asked not to eat since 9pm the night before. I wasn’t too hungry but I didn’t want to refuse her generosity so I took my free donuts and off we went once again looking for the photo store. We ended up walking for a good 45 minutes and I had little hope that we would find anything but Seo, unlike myself, had no problem walking up to strangers and asking for help. We got various tips from people all of them pointing us in the same general direction though none of them knew for sure. Part of the difficulty for me was of course that I could not read any of the store signs we were passing and had no idea what we were looking for so I spent most of my time trying to get my bearings. I was trying to figure out where were we were in relation to my apartment and the school. The further out we went and the more zig zagging we did the harder it became. Since I couldn’t read most of the street signs I began looking at various land marks and trying to use them to gauge our position. I honestly hate using land marks for my directions. I have a fairly good sense of direction so for the most part I was able to use the land marks on corners to show myself where we had turned and could then follow the trail back to the road my apartment was on. In the long run the zig zagging probably helped in that I got to see many different streets and angles of the city that I would not have explored if Seo wasn’t there with me to make sure I didn’t get lost. This allowed me to get a better picture in my head of the layout of the town.

Suddenly Seo pointed across the street and said look there is a photo store. I looked and squeezed among a long row of small stores there was a yellow sign written in Korean that had a Kodak symbol on it. So we walked into the store and it was a small portrait studio. She spoke with the clerk and told me I could get my picture taken and be given prints in about 20 minutes. The price was fairly cheap and I was going to get 10 wallet size photos. Seo told me I should probably get extras because there will likely be other things I will need pictures for. The photographer didn’t speak English but thankfully math is the universal language and someone counting to three remains an easy way to know when a photo is going to be taken. Now being myself I was self-conscious about how I was going to look. I knew it wouldn’t be great. The weather was fairly cold and I have been battling a sore throat and running nose since yesterday so after walking outside for an hour my face was pale white while my nose was a nice bright red. I know this because they gave me a mirror to look in before they took the pictures and there was simply nothing I could do to fix the coloring of my face and my hair was sadly flat. The photographer took about 6 or 7 different shots and I tried to smile in them all but he went very quickly so half of the photos were me starting to smile or with no smile at all. The photographer then went to his machine and began working. Sue explained to me that he would pick the best photograph and develop it. I asked her if I could choose the photo I wanted and she said not to worry about it the photographer would know which one was the best. I wish I could say I wasn’t worried. I told her I tried to smile and she laughed a little and told me that for official photos like drivers licenses and such Koreans do not smile. Sure enough the photographer picked one of the photos I did not smile in and then he began working on it. I cringed as I saw my face I truly looked like an albino Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer or some kind of abdominal snow man who had been crying over the fact that he never looks good in pictures. I told Sue this and she laughed and said something to the photographer who also laughed. I didn’t know whether to feel proud because I got them to laugh or embarrassed because well…I got them to laugh. She told me to watch what the photographer was doing and he began adding color to my forehead which was so shinning I think you could see the reflection of the camera in it and taking color away from my nose. By the end when he printed the picture I really did look pretty good considering what the photograph actually looked like at the beginning. He had successfully reduced the shine on my forehead and rid me of my bright red nose. I was so happy. During this time Seo and the photographer were taking a lot. Sue is very friendly so I just assumed that they were making polite conversation. As I came to pay the photographer gave me more pictures than I had ordered and charged me less then I had been told. I found out that Seo knew this photographer personally and that he had a store in her previous neighborhood. She told me that because of that the photographer decided to give me some extra prints for free and give me a discount on the photographs I bought. I guess it really is a small world…but don’t quote me on that because even though it sounds good I’m not sure I actually feel that way right now.

As we walked home Seo invited me to her house tonight for dinner. So at 6:30pm I am going to go over to her house to meet her family and have a meal. During the walk she also told me that yesterday at lunch in the cafeteria one of the cafeteria workers talked to her about what I was able to eat. The teacher before me was a vegetarian which was very hard for the cafeteria to accommodate I told her not to worry I was no vegetarian. She then said that many foreigners cannot handle or do not like the spiciness of Korean food. But the day before I ate what they had given me and I told them that I really liked one of the dishes and they told me that was one of the spicy dishes that most people did not like. Seo told me that the cafeteria workers and many of the teachers were surprised and impressed that I liked the food. It was spicy but not in the normal way I tend to think of spicy like Mexican food. It really was good. More than anything it has been the textures of the foods not the flavors that have been odd to me. Anyway I laughed and told her that so far I really like Korean food. She warned me that she was not a great cook but still would like to have me over. I was not about to turn down a free meal and a chance to get to meet some new people even though I am still a bit tired and my apartment is a wreak.

When I got home I snaked a little on another item that Seo had bought for me at a bakery. It was a piece of bread with a small sausage or hot dog baked into it with cheese on top. The second I saw the cheese I was sold. It was fairly good though the bread seemed to be sweetened and that was a little odd. I also had my first diet coke since the airplane. The night before at the store I bought some diet coke cans. Compared to so many other things in the store they were quite expensive and very small. The cans look like Red Bull cans and here it is called “Light Coke” not diet coke. Besides that the color and the text look exactly the same as normal diet coke cans. I held off till the very end of lunch to have my 6 or 7 ounces and it was nice. It did taste different but it was still good. I already know that soda is pretty much going to be a luxury from now on and while I made jokes about it before I came it really is going to be something I miss. At the mini marts around my house they carry coke and coke zero but not diet coke. I may end up getting back into coke zero just to have my fix every now and then. Then I crashed on my bed and watched Die Had with a Vengeance (Die Hard 3). Yippie kye yay mother fucker. Yes potential offensive but still just a great quote from the wonderful John McClane. I finally got up and started writing and that has been my day. I really have no idea when I am going to get to post these things but I hope it is soon.

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