Monday, June 29, 2009

26th Birthday in South Korea

My 26th birthday here on June 26 was, as expected, a really great time.

On Friday, the teachers all got me a cake and some of my students got me presents. Mr. No offered to take me out for dinner, but I had to politely decline because I had plans with my friends.

That night, a big group of us (see pictures) went to Guworldong to have a few drinks and relax. It was a really laid-back night and we all had a really good time. The teachers chipped in and bought me some spicy underwear. Everyone was very generous.

They were maybe too generous, as they let me participate in another Korean tradition -- the birthday drink. It's simply a disgusting concoction of anything they want to mix. Mine wasn't too bad.

On Saturday, Vicky, Minji, Jeongha, Chris, Kevin and I rented a hotel room in Seocho, in Seoul. The room was a really nice two-bed place with a loft.

The girls made us dinner and we drank a fair share of alcohol. We also introduced them to a timeless American university game -- flip cup.

The girls went all-out on the party. They even bought balloons, a sign and birthday hats, as well as a cake. I bought everyone a matching pair of socks with some insulting slang on them.

It was so much fun.

The only downside to the weekend was that the water in our ward was shut off due to subway construction. It was supposed to come back on Sunday night. It did not. We had to wait until Monday night. Thanks to Vicky's parents, I got to go shower at her house Monday morning.

Even more annoying is that the water for the rest of our area came back on time. We asked Sunny to call out landlady to ask about our water, but she dragged her feet. My Korean skills paid off because I decided I would just ask her. It lead to a nice conversation.

She had a water truck brought in and sat outside all Monday with a friend of hers, and they handed out big containers of water so we could deal with our toilets. She's a really nice landlady.

But now the weekend is over, the water is back on and all is fairly well in the world. Enjoy the pictures from my weekend birthday fun!

Check the pictures out here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

20-Somethings Unhappy in Korea?

Here's an interesting article from The Korea Times. A Korean woman wrote an autobiography talking about how miserable the 20-somethings in Korea are.

They definitely face a lot of pressure and are looked down upon by the older generations. The older people think younger people are lazy. That's not true at all. They are totally stressed out because they spend their entire lives studying in public schools, academies, then in university.

The unfortunate ones whose parents aren't rich, come out of university with huge debt and, if they can actually find a job (something that is nearly impossible here right now) they either are forced to work essentially for free, or make very little money.

The average 20-something in Korea makes less than half of what an native English speaker makes teaching.

Anyway, it's just a worthwhile read to see how at least one young Korean feels.

Check the article here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

59th Anniversary of the Start of the Korean War

The Korean War started on June 25, 1950, and lasted until 1953. The North Koreans were backed by China, while the United States sent their finest along with many UN nations to fight off the invasion by the North.

There's an interesting story today in The Korea Times about Marguerite Higgins, who spent her time as a journalist covering the front lines of the war. I'd never heard about her before today, but she looks to have an interesting story. I'd love to read her book about it.

Check the article here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Some Closure

Knowing that academies don't follow contracts here, I assumed it would be a long battle to get what I hoped for with my sick days and vacation days. Fortunately, we have come to an agreement.

Even though my contract says, plainly, that I get 10 vacation days and unlimited sick days paid, they refused that.

I was able to negotiate for 7 vacation days and 3 sicks days. It's a little disappointing, but it's a lot better than nothing.

Also, there's a chance for me to get a couple more vacation days, possibly, depending on some plans the other foreign teachers have. Stay tuned. It could get interesting.

For now, I'm just happy to have this out of the way.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Business End of Being Sick

Admittedly, the school officials took good care of me when I was sick. They took me to the doctor numerous times, made sure I got my medicine and got me to the hospital when necessary.

But now that we're trying to come to an agreement on how many sick days and vacation days I can use, their attitudes have changed a bit.

First, they tried to make me feel guilty about even asking for my compensation. They told me how much they cared for me and how concerned they were. Like I said, that is all true. But were they really just going to let me die instead of taking me to the hospital?

My contract says that I should get compensated for my sick days. It doesn't say a number of days. It just says that I will be paid for sick leave. Of course, they're arguing against that. My recruiter had to call them to even get me 3 sick days, which he said is standard. Fine.

So then they offered to let me use my vacation pay. I said fine. That is for 10 days. Well, first they said fine. Then they said it should be 8 days because all teachers have one vacation day in the summer and winter. That doesn't have anything to do with my contract. It says nothing about mandatory days off being taken from my vacation days.

Now, I hear that they want to give me even less than 8 days because they're giving teachers a couple days off this month or next month.

I was supposed to get paid on the June 15. I realize I wouldn't get paid this month because of my hospital bills, but I should've received a pay slip telling me what was taken and how much I'll still owe next month. I still haven't received it.

We were supposed to have a meeting to sort all this out, but one of my bosses won't answer my phone calls and has avoided all the scheduled meetings so far.

I read on many websites how employers will try to screw you, so I half knew this would happen. It just sucks to be going through it.

An Article in Defense of Native Speakers

Most reporters and newspapers run sensationalist stories on a regular basis about how terrible native speaking teachers are. They claim we're all unqualified and unprofessional. They go as far as to pick out the handful of eye-opening cases, and run them with big, bold headlines about how we are all ruining their children.

Well, for once, there was an article defending the native speaking teacher. Jason Lim, of The Korea Times, wrote a column saying that this isn't just poor journalism, but a form of racism.

Lim writes:
"This article is not a search for the truth but a list of disparate episodes that have been connected in such a way as to create a narrative that is unjustified, inaccurate and dishonest. It's alarmist. Worse, it's outright racist because it attributes certain failings ― in this case, nothing less than a failure of character ― to a whole group of people based on the actions of a few individuals because they bear superficial physical resemblance, come from comparable cultural backgrounds, or share a similar language skill set."

He's absolutely right. I haven't written much on this topic, because much of my first year has been focused on my adventures. The more time I spend here, the more our focus on the society and what I feel they do right and wrong.

Check the full story here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Hotbed of Fashion???

A New York Times article says South Korea is becoming one of the world's fashion centers. Really? Did the reporter ever visit here? This country would be on the cutting edge of fashion if the whole world got in a phone booth and traveled back to 1981.

Check the article here.

Hospital Diary 5 and 6


  • The doctor came in today and said, "One more day. Maybe two. I don't know." Those were his exact words.
  • My one week bill was bad enough. I'm sure another week is killing me. At least my room cost will be significantly less.
  • I talked to the shaving doctor today. She speaks fluent English because she lived in Canada. She's also hot.
  • I've developed a pretty good relationship with my roommates, the doctors and nurses. The Korean studying has paid off.
  • The boredom here continues, though phone calls from Colin and Chris have helped a lot.
  • Vicky has been priceless. She came in last night with a bag full of three hot dogs and a bunch of mini tuna sandwiches and homemade apple sauce. It lasted me for three meals.

  • Today is two weeks and one day in the hospital.
  • Chelsea came to visit yesterday. I have a pretty big list of friends who came by. I'm grateful for it.
  • The doctor told me the ball comes out today, and I get discharged tomorrow. I've heard this story before, but it seems more likely this time.
  • My bill must be adding up. I'm worried about my paycheck for the month. Let's hope this all works out.
  • I chatted with my favorite nurse last night. It was fun to talk to her. I need something to do since my roommates sleep at 9 p.m.
  • My new roommate must have had some respiratory surgery because he sounds like Golem when he talks. My other new roommate looks like an old, Korean Adrian Brody.
  • Interesting to note, while I was at the urinal, using it, the cleaning lady came right in and went about her business. It was a little weird, but that's Korea for you.
  • About an hour after the news of the ball removal, it came out. It was very weird. I watched the doctor cut the stitch and then pull about 15 cm of tube out. It was like a clown pulling out a rainbow scarf from his pants. The feeling is just indescribable.
  • If I'm discharged tomorrow, I wonder if I go into work immediately. I would like to lounge around my apartment, but I wouldn't mind some activity. (edit -- I requested to go in on Wednesday, when I was discharged, but Sunny and Mr. No said no.)
  • Vicky brought me a pizza for my last day. It was awesome.

The end. That's it for my running diary. I was discharged on June 10, 2009. I went home and rested for the day. I had to organize a lot in my room and get some fruit, milk and other foods, considering I hadn't shopped in a month.

I went back to work on Thursday, and I'm currently in the middle of figuring out my total bill and how many days for which I'll get paid. It's a nightmare negotiation, but I'm hoping we can come to some cordial agreement.

Thanks again for the thoughts and prayers. They were a huge help to me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hospital Running Diary 4


  • The doctor came in yesterday an hour after giving me the all clear and did the "push on my abdomen" test. I failed. There's still pretty intense pain when someone shoves on my surgery area. So I'm still here.
  • All we need is the pain and inflammation to go away. How does that happen?
  • Sunny came in very confused, as usual, and asked me why I told the nurses I want to stay in the hospital. She wasn't very pleasant about it either. I certainly didn't tell anyone I want to stay. I'm pretty sure I don't make the decisions on whether I stay or go. That's up to the doctors. Sunny speaks normal conversational English pretty well. As far as actually understanding it, that's a different matter.
  • Dinner time and I still can't stomach the thought of Korean food.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hospital Running Diary 3


  • I got moved yesterday to the 6-person room. It's me and five older Korean men. Their wives and families are usually with them as well. It can be a little intimidating because they all want to talk. But it's good Korean speaking practice. They don't speak any English.
  • Eli and Cindy came to visit last night. Cindy has been in three times now. Other visitors include, Jess and Elly from Songdo, Minji and Seonguk (Vicky's cousin and cousin's boyfriend), Jeung Hwa, Won Kyung, Vicky's parents, Sunny and Mr. No, all the Onyun-dong teachers (Judy, Kathy, Wendy, Cindy and Vicky), two of my middle school students from Jungchul, Chelsea and two of my college students (Jess and Smith). It's nice having so many friends here.
  • I met a Korean man who goes by Paul who lived in America for 20 years. He was a Reverend at a Korean church in Philadelphia for 15 years. He's a really fun guy to talk to. He's 72 years old.
  • I got my first week bill today and it's not so pretty. It's cheaper than America, and the insurance cuts it in half. But as I sit here, I'm adding onto it. That's not a fun thought. I can only hope I'm getting paid for the days I miss at work.
  • I'm pretty much bored out of my mind here. I'd like to just get home to recover.
  • Eli said work has gone well. While everyone has picked up an extra class, Eli's gotten the lion's share of the work. But to make it a bit easier, they combined a lot of classes. So he's done a bit less teaching and a bit more game playing. He said he's fine with that.
  • I feel bad that the teachers have an extra class or two, but I'd rather be there with them than in the hospital.
  • Sunny made me a lunch box with chicken nuggets, rice balls, fruit and little bean-filled treats. Besides the bean-filled guys, it's pretty good.
  • NEWS! The doctor just cleaned my ball hole out with some solution. He said it's clean and the ball will be removed today. He also said I'd go home tomorrow! The cleaning out was very weird. He shot some solution into the tube and sucked it back out. It didn't hurt but it wasn't a pleasant feeling. (edit -- Obviously i didn't go home the next day. "One more day" becomes the theme quote of my stay at the hospital.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hospital Running Diary 2


  • Vicky made me great sandwiches today and yesterday. My stomach is not ready for Korean hospital food, which is essentially just Korean food. So there's a lot of kimchi. Instead, Vicky made me a chicken, ham and cheese sandwich today. Yesterday it was tuna fish, ham and cheese. She's been priceless with the visits and the meals.
  • I'm getting a special breakfast now that is bread heavy. It's some kind of bread, jam, butter fruit and a cream soup (which is not very good). But the bread and jam is nice. Vicky brought me strawberry Philadelphia Cream Cheese for a spread.
  • All we're waiting for now is this ball to clear and I'm good to go. I have to kick this infection.
  • The pay computer is only 1,000 won for 50 minutes. That's not a bad price and it kills an hour of my day. (edit -- That dumb pay computer gave my yahoo email a virus. Sorry everyone!)
  • Sunny is upset because one of my roommates moved to a 6-person room today, and I'm still here in the 3-person room. It's a reasonable complaint. I was here before the guy who moved. If I'm here for two or three more days, I wouldn't mind saving some money. The 6-person room is only 15,000 won a day. The 3-person room is 75,000 won a day.

Incheon International Airport voted #1

A British consulting group surveyed 8.6 million people to find out the world's best airport. Incheon was the winner.

Check the CNN story here.

Hospital Photos

Here are the pics from my hospital stay. There aren't many, but there wasn't much to take pictures of, really.

Check them out here.

Hospital Running Diary 1

*My running diary includes notes on my stay as well as things I may have forgotten to write about previously.


  • Vicky and her cousin Minji came to visit yesterday. We got to go outside for a little bit. There are park benches and a nice shaded area that patients can go to to escape the hospital. It was really nice to get out. (edit - Minji's boyfriend came with Minji on Sunday. Vicky's friend, Jeung Hwa also came Sunday.)
  • On Monday, a female doctor shaved my man area for my surgery. Vicky was in the room but promptly left when she realized what was going to take place. It was definitely interesting. Also of importance is that the doctor was hot and spoke English really well.
  • I had a 5 a.m. x-ray yesterday and another one today. It was interesting because no one took me to the x-ray. The nurse just told me to go to a certain room at 5 a.m., and I got to find it myself. Fortunately, she put me on the elevator and hit the floor number for me.
  • I get no sleep at night here. The beds are uncomfortable, it's hot and my roommates are two old men. One of them snores like a Mack truck and is constantly coughing up something. Plus, the nurses come in every two hours to check blood pressure and temperature. Also, because of the IV fluid, I have to pee every two hours. It's not so pleasant.
  • My roommates also get up every morning at about 6 or 6:30. They like to put the TV on at a high volume. The one guy's wife is trying to be nice and encourage me to exercise, but repeatedly tapping on my foot at 6:30 a.m. is not the right way to do that.
  • They weighed me today. I was 63.5 kilograms with my hospital outfit on. That's about 139 pounds. Now, I was definitely around 160 pounds (72 kilos) when I came to Korea. I'm sure I lost a little weight since then. But the sickness definitely contributed to my 9 absent kilos. I am lighter than the weight I wrestled senior year in high school.
  • My rubber cyborg ball still hasn't cleared up. The rubber ball is attached to my body through a hose that goes into the surgery area. It's really a hassle, but is used to indicate infection.

Friday, June 12, 2009

2009 Stanley Cup Champions!

The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals today to win their third Stanley Cup.

For Penguins fans in South Korea, the game (as well as most of the playoffs) was shown live on one of the national sports networks. It's not the same as being at home, but it was still sweet.

Anyway, the running diary from my hospital visit will be up on the blog this weekend. Check back later!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Appendix Explosion: Part One

Hello everyone! I'm back, and lighter than ever thanks to the removal of a useless internal organ. First, thank you everyone for your thoughts, prayers and e-mails. I admit it's pretty hard to keep morale up when the doctor tells you, "One more day," every single day for two weeks.

Anyway, since my surgery/hospitalization story is a long and winding one, I'm going to post it in a few different parts. This post will be the initial surgery and the story of how I got to the hospital. After that, I'll write everything I put in my journal while I was in the hospital. I kept a running diary of sorts.

So onto the main story. Enjoy!

Where we last left off in my medical drama, I had visited a digestive clinic, gotten the enteritis diagnosis and gotten some medicine. The pain subsided some and I felt like I was on my way to recovery.

Well, after the pain sort of went away, it came rushing back in a big way.

So I went to the clinic again on Thursday and Friday for more ultrasound work. Again, they found nothing. they suspected my appendix was to blame, but the ultrasound showed nothing to be out of sorts.

The doctor, unable to find the cause, recommended I get a CT scan and x-rays. Well, I had to wait through the weekend for that. On Sunday, I actually had enough strength to go shopping for a bit. But by Sunday evening, my energy had waned and I was in severe pain again.

On the morning of Monday. May 25, we went to the scan clinic and got the work done. We found something I did not expect at all. The doctors there found a mass. He called it a cystic calcified mass. He didn't know what it was and said it probably wasn't cancer. But he recommended surgery immediately to get it removed.

Sunny and Mr. No then took me to InHa University Hospital, just a few kilometers from my house, to see a specialist. He took x-rays as well. It was at that time that some light was shone on the issue.

It turns out my appendix had already ruptured and was to blame for my severe pain. But why didn't it show up on the ultrasound? That's where it gets interesting.

I just happen to be a unique individual whose appendix was out of place. The doctor described it as hiding behind my stomach. It was because of that placement that my illness was misdiagnosed in the first place.

But that also saved my life. Most times, when an appendix ruptures, people require immediate emergency surgery. However, due to the fact that my appendix was nestled behind my stomach, the ruptured poisons couldn't spread, thereby saving my life. However, it also may be why the mass grew there.

Because of all this, the doctor still had grim news. He expected a full sternum to groin scar and 2-3 months of hospital recovery.

The surgery took place the morning of Tuesday, May 26. Because of the uniqueness off my situation, there were apparently 20-some odd doctors observing, and the surgery took close to 3 hours.

The doctor worked his magic, fortunately, and got the mass and appendix out with only about a three-inch scar on my lower right abdomen. He said he found a lot of stones in the appendix, which he said was pretty uncommon. A doctor friend of the family said these "stones" can develop from partially digested food getting trapped in the appendix.

Well, the surgery was a success. On Wednesday, the doctor came in and said I'd be out in two days. On Thursday, the countdown was one day. But then we hit a snag.

I had a rubber drainage ball attached to my body with a tube inserted into the surgery area. Apparently, whatever comes out, would tell the doctors how the healing was going. On Friday, they weren't happy with it and said there was an infection in there.

They even took away my eating privileges for the day. I had already gone Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with no food OR water. Thursday was a relief to get something in my system. But Friday it was snatched away.

Fortunately, I got mt food and water back again on Saturday.

I had a lot of friends come visit the first week. That list includes Vicky, all the teachers, Vicky's friends and cousin and even Vicky's parents. Except for Vicky's parents, it was nice to have those visitors because I got to speak some English.

Except for the head surgeon, the doctors and nurses spoke VERY little English. All my communicating in the hospital was done in Korean. I guess all my studying paid off.

Little did I know at that point that I still had more than a week left to go. Like I said, the doctor continually came in and said, "One more day."

I have a lot of notes and observations. So keep checking back over the next couple days for updates and the running diary I kept.

It's good to to be home. Thank you, everyone.