Today is my third day in Suwon and I am still yet to spend any of the won I exchanged for at the airport. Don’t worry Mom, I have been eating, I just mean to say that people have been very hospitable and buying me things. My first night, upon arrival at the apartment, Patrick presented me with a bag containing a liter of water, Mott’s grape-juice, and a sandwich. I’m guessing that these foods were meant to remind me of home and ease the transition. I don’t think I’ve ever actually eaten a ham and egg sandwich or drank Mott’s grape-juice, but they weren’t bad. Jess bought my beer the first night, a Cass, the cheap beer of Korea.
I was taken to the hospital by what some of the other teachers referred to as a “monkey butler.” Patrick came to my door a little before ten in the morning, brought me downstairs and drove me the three blocks to school where I got in the monkey butler’s (I know it’s totally wrong to call him that but I was never told his real name…I’ll just refer to him as MB) car.
Patrick explained to me on the way to EOS that this man did not speak any English but not to worry, there would be someone at the hospital that did. After we parked at the hospital, MB guided me to the elevator and then to the appropriate part of the hospital. He seemed very gentle and attentive, beckoning for me to go first through doorways even though I was following him. He glanced at me every few steps to make sure I was still there.
The hospital was very clean and I didn’t see any other foreigners. I felt very tall. The Koreans didn’t stare though, which I was grateful for. Sometimes when I would look around, in the elevator or the waiting room, I would catch one of them looking at me, but they would quickly avert their gaze. Etiquette is a very strong part of the Korean culture, from what I’ve read. The do indeed seem to be incredibly polite.
When we reached the area of the hospital where I was to receive my health check, a medium-sized room with various chairs and tables, a front-desk, and several adjacent rooms, I was taken to a nurse at the front desk who spoke English. She exchanged some words with MB, which I understood none of except for a few mentions of “E2 visa.” She then addressed me; “breakfast?” which I didn’t understand the first couple of times. I handed her my passport in confusion, then realized she was asking me if I’d eaten breakfast, and told her no (I had been instructed by Patrick not to consume anything except water from 10 pm the night before until my health check had been complete).
I filled out a form, then was given an article of pink hospital clothing and a numbered locker-key and told to go into room 5 and “take off…*something jumbled* your bra.” I would have been very confused and a bit perturbed, but had been told by some of the other teachers the night before the basic steps of the health-check, which included changing into a hospital shirt for the chest x-ray.
I took off the necessary clothing, put on the heavy cloth shirt, and went back out into the waiting room. MB beckoned me to a seat and we sat with the other people in the room watching the television, which showed a Korea girl crying dramatically and ripping off her sweater while a panel of displeased-looking people (who I imagined to be judges in some sort of Korean-idol) talked to her via microphones (critiquing her prior performance?).
After a couple of minutes I recognized my name being called: “Austin Lucy Clark,” and I was led through a series of health-check stations. The rooms were located around the perimeter of the waiting room, each numbered. In the different stations they checked my vision, hearing “press the button when it makes the beeeepppp sound”, urine (awkward), blood (ouch), teeth, chest/lungs (the man nicely asked, “may I touch your hair?” before moving my hair out of the way of the x-ray machine), and a woman asked me if I had any diseases (no). It was all very quick and efficient.
When we got back to the car, which was parked in the parking garage, I noticed that we were blocked in by a line of cars parked perpendicularly in front of the EOS van. MB seemed unbothered however, and opened the door for me to get in. He then proceeded to calmly push the cars lined up in front of ours out of the way (apparently they had been left in neutral), in order to make space for us to get out. I’m assuming this is a common practice in Korea, which I suppose makes sense in terms of space efficiency. Very efficient indeed, the Koreans.
After the health check, I was driven back to EOS. EOS, which stands for “English Only System,” is a prestigious-looking private school, with large columns at the front and a rotating glass door. You are required to take off your shoes and put on slippers when entering. There is a front-reception area with a large desk and couches, similar to a hotel. An elevator takes you between floors. I haven’t seen inside the classrooms but there is a computer lab and pool.
I was taken to meet the EOS director, Mr. Kim, who runs the school with his wife. His office contained a large table and chairs, an official-looking desk, a well-stocked bookcase, and a flat-screen TV projecting the feed from security cameras located around school. Although his office was a bit intimidating, and the lurky cameras made me a bit nervous, Mr. Kim was nice and gentle seeming. We motioned for me to sit at the table and sat next to me, then asked me some polite questions about my hometown (“Santa Barbara is very expensive, yes?”), my schooling, etc. After about 10 minutes he dismissed me in an inoffensive, Korean manner, by saying “I am very sorry, I have another meeting.”
Patrick let me use his computer until lunchtime, and then led me to the kitchen, where I was fed a very typical Korean meal (rice, seaweed soup, meat/vegetable dish, kimchee). Patrick explained that often times the teachers cannot eat the food at first, and that it takes some getting used to. I really didn’t mind it (I like spice) but Patrick bought me coffee and a granola bar from 7-11 afterwards (so that my palette didn’t go into shock?). As a manager of the school, a large part of Patrick’s job appears to be to try to make the new teachers feel comfortable, which he does quite attentively, it’s nice.