God forbid you come to South Korea and require general health maintenance while you are in Korea. While the care is inexspensive to say the least, communication can be difficult if not impossible at times. No fault to the Koreans mind you because it's my responsibly to learn the native tongue, though I'm not sure I'd be comfortable making dental decisions, let alone major medical decisions, with any less than 10 years language mastery. "Oh, I can't remember if the doctor said take 10 pills each day or five." They, the doctors, disperse pills out here with reckless abandon. I have a desk drawer full of medication to substantiate these claims following my week long hospital bender to usher in the western new year. So when another foreigner says that they had a good experience with a doctor that speaks passable English, you tend to take note.
Annilee, my upstairs neighbor from London, pointed me to the direction of a doctor that met the aforementioned bill. "Third floor," she said confidently, "can't miss it." She went on further to explain that I didn't need an appointment. This suited me well as its been a while since I've been to the dentist and I tend not be much for the advance planning. So yesterday after a nice little workout session, I waltzed in there midway through a busy little Thursday. Since Korean architecture tends to be quite bland and homogeneous, I walked into an office, literally the first one I saw, on the third floor of the instructed building, I was met with blank stairs by the girls at reception.
Here is how I found the dentist yesterday. This is pretty much an action by action recount of how my wandering Korean adventures transpire.
Me: Ahn yung hay say o! (Korean "hello")
Reception girl: Ahn yung hay say o!
Me: (hand cell phone to girl with Korean word for "dentist" displayed"
Reception girl: "Aneo ... (insert more Korean I can't understand)"
Me: (shurgs shoulders and smile until reception girl smile backs)
Reception girl: (walks me like the small child I am to my correct destination)
I've noticed that the women around here take special pity on me. It could be their motherly instinct or perhaps my radiant blue eyes, but they are more then always willing to help. Even though it's nice to always have that ace up my sleeve, at the same time, it's severely limiting the amount of Korean I have, want or need to learn.
As the one receptionist hands me off to the next one, I made the charades gesture that I would like a teeth cleaning (it's the one where you are picking at your teeth while making a scraping noise). The women asks with a single word, "pain?" I reply, "No miss (in Korean)" and pull up the cell phone dictionary English-to-Korean entry for "cleaning." Some what puzzled she walks to the back of the office, grabs a dentist and returns to the counter. I then give the same pitch to the dentist and she replies in English, "oh, do you want a scraping?" "Yes, a scraping!" I said with a certain amount of relief. Sampsonite, I was way off!
As I was reaching into my pocket to produce my insurance card, the dentist asked, "Is your name Garrett?" I replied quickly and a bit on the surprised side none the less, "Yes, it is. How did you know that?" "Both my son and my friend Mr. Kim said they had a teacher that had blue eyes, was tall and very handsome. So I guess you." she said as if it were common Korean tradition to effortlessly pluck needles from half-million straw hay stacks.
The "scraping" was pretty uneventful save for the fact that they hygienist that cleaned my teeth did so sans gloves. To her credit, she washed the hell out of her hands both before and after the session. Back at the reception area I spoke to the dentist at mild length about Korea, the United States and So Jun middle school. I then asked her, "well, how much money for the scraping." She started to speak, then paused and said, "you teach my son English, you do not pay me. free scraping for you." I of course offered to pay again, and when she held her ground, I thanked her profusely. The whole exchange left me laughing on the inside and shaking my head a little bit. I think the following quote sums up the exchange far better then I ever could.
"No Mary. I couldn't possibly accept that. Not after all we've been through"
- Lloyd Christmas, Dumb and Dumber
- Lloyd Christmas, Dumb and Dumber