Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Trip to Daegu or Korean Charades

On Thursday morning, I had to go to Daegu to get a medical exam, as part of the new requirements for foreign teachers. It turned out to be a thoroughly amusing venture that would have made a great comedic play.

1. Stephanie - A young English-speaking foreign teacher, who speaks no Korean
2. Mark - The director's husband, a Korean-speaker who speaks no English
3. Several Korean-speaking doctors and nurses, who speak no English
4. Cate - A cheerful director of a small school, who speaks both Korean and English

South Korea - A hospital in Daegu, a bus, and a small school in Gyeongju

Scene One:
After a one-hour bus ride and a short, harrowing taxi ride, Stephanie and Mark arrive at the hospital. Stephanie is slightly nervous, but hides it well (she hopes). Mark motions for her to sit, while he talks to one of the receptionists. After getting in two wrong lines, he finds the right one and gets the necessary paperwork. He motions for Stephanie to join him. Using the best hand signals and gestures, he communicates to her what she must fill out (name, birth date, passport number). Then there comes a checklist, which he boldly attempts to fill out on his own. On one question, he glances at Stephanie and bursts out laughing. Stephanie realizes that Mark is probably answering some very personal questions about her, and restrains a giggle (stay tuned to find out what the question was).

Scene Two:
In an examination room, using only hand gestures and Korean phrases that Stephanie does not understand, a nurse manages to test Stephanie's vision and hearing, takes her blood pressure, weighs her, and measures her height. For reasons known only to the nurse, she also decides to measure Stephanie's bust (which both puzzles and amuses Stephanie). The first examination is now complete.

Scene Three:
Stephanie is led by Mark into another room for a chest X-ray (people certainly seem interested in her chest today). A doctor says something to her in Korean, which she responds to with a blank look. The doctor motions to Mark, whose face takes on a classic deer-in-headlights expression. Mark looks frantically at the only woman in the room (besides Stephanie), who takes Stephanie behind a curtain and pantomimes removing her shirt. Stephanie nods in understanding, but has one important question. Using a very creative form of charades, she is able to communicate the word "bra" to the nurse. The nurse nods, and Stephanie's question is answered. The X-ray is taken successfully.

Scene Four:
In yet another examining room, yet another doctor uses more charades to explain to Stephanie what he wants her to do with an empty cup. Later, he draws some of her blood, but neglects to give her a band-aid.

Scene Five:
On the bus back to Gyeongju, Stephanie discovers blood dripping down her arm and hurriedly shoves a tissue up her sleeve.

Scene Six: (several hours later)
In a small school in Gyeongju, just before the last class of the day, Stephanie is startled by the realization that something is up the sleeve of her sweater. Expecting a spider or something equally hideous, she is relieved to discover a very bloody tissue.

Scene Seven:
Stephanie, Mark, and Cate gather around a table in the office of the school to have their dinner, which has just been delivered via motorcycle. While they happily munch the tasty Chinese noodles, Mark relates (in Korean) the events of the day to Cate. Suddenly Cate explodes into laughter, nearly choking on her food. When she recovers, she reveals to Stephanie what the question on the checklist (that Mark had to answer on his own about Stephanie) asked: "How many times have you had sex in the past month?" The scene fades out as Stephanie nearly dies laughing.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"