Monday, May 10, 2010

Allergies and Ferries and Caving, OH MY!

As you know, last Friday I was scheduled to go have some allergy testing done at Asan Medical Center.  Well not only did I get an allergy skin prick test, but I also got a head x-ray and chest x-ray, had a series of breathing tests, and had a scope shoved up my nose and down my throat.  It was a full day that was...less than pleasant.  I arrived around 9:00am and checked in at the International Clinic.  One of the nurses lead me upstairs to the allergy department and I was on my way.  They started with the skin prick test, which they did a little differently than the one I had done at home.  First of all, this was across my shoulders and back.  I was really thankful that I wore a tank top because then I didn't have to use the absurdly small scrap of fabric they called a hospital gown.  The women in the allergy department didn't speak a whole lot of English, but we made it work.  I got into the "sleep position" (leaning over a  pillow with my head down) and read my Kindle as she dabbed a variety of liquefied allergens in rows across my back and then proceeded to stab me with a needle in the middle of each liquid drop.  It was tons of fun.  Then I had to just sit and wait for a while.  One of the pricks that they do is of a histamine solution, and since everyone has a negative reaction to straight histamines, this is the negative control reaction.  As I was sitting there, I started to get wheezy and happened to have a VERY STRONG reaction to this histamine- a huge welt on my back.  Lovely.  The only other thing I responded to, out of 72 freaking sticks, was dust.  Again.  This is some bullshit.  But I will say that I am exposed to much more dust on a daily basis in Korea than I was at home.  Schools are really dusty (and of course the kids are in charge of sweeping, meaning it never gets done effectively) and I cannot keep up with all the dust in my apartment...I swear I don't know where it all comes from.  I guess I just need to start vacuuming my apartment nearly every day. After the skin test I spoke with a doctor's assistant who took my history (a bit of a language barrier there) and finally with the allergist himself, whose English was decent.  He sent me off to get a head x-ray and a chest x-ray so that he could take a look.  One of the girls from the International Clinic took me over to the x-ray department, and told me I had to change into one of the hospital tops.  First I just grabbed one, which happened to be a medium and I actually laughed when trying to put it on because it was so absurdly small.  Then she got me a large (note: these are Korean sizes, which basically run a size smaller than western sizes anywhere) which barely covered me.  I had to hold the top together lest I flash some elderly Korean man and cause a heart attack.  It was a mess.  Thankfully the x-rays went quickly and I was shuttled off to the allergy department again to have a breathing test and "sputum analysis".  Can't you just tell from the name that a "sputum analysis" isn't going to be a pleasant thing?  But first the breathing test.  

They hooked me up to this machine where I had to put a mouthpiece (basically a waterproofed toilet paper roll) in my mouth and breathe in and out three times regularly, before taking a deep breath and blowing out as hard and as long as I could.  I did this process two or three times.  Then she pulled out this other machine and about seven little vials.  She used a syringe to extract liquid from the first vial and emptied it into this little canister.  Then an air pump was attached to one end of the canister and I had to inhale from the other for five deep breaths.  Then I did the breathing test again immediately, and again after about a three minute break.  Then she squirted stuff into the canister from another vial and we did it again.  I still don't know what was in the vials, but each one had a different concentration of whatever in it.  By the time we got to the sixth vial I was getting kind of wheezy.  I said to the woman "Are those supposed to make it easier for me to breathe, or harder?"  I don't think she really understood.  Her response was "Chest pains?" I was like "No, just wheezy" while pointing to my throat and audibly wheezing for each breath.    She smiled and had me continue through the last vial before giving me an albuterol inhaler.  It was strange.  Then it was time for the sputum analysis.  Feel free to add "sputum" to the list of words that make me uncomfortable, right along with moist.  They had me use this machine where I breathed in a fine mist that looked like smoke.  Think of a nebulizer.  The goal of this machine was to make me cough, and I was given a little cup that I was supposed to cough into.  Moral of the story, this was super hard for me, I failed the first time, and finally satisfied them on the second round.  Probably the word part of the breathing test was that while I was doing it some Korean teenager was on the sputum machine, hacking and gagging up a lung.  You all know how I feel about spit!  After all this you'd think the fun was done, but oh no!  Next I went into a room where I had a rhinoscopy (stick a metal tube the size of a pencil with a camera attached to the end up my nose...seriously don't know how they didn't poke my brain) and a laryngoscopy (stick a metal tube the size of a pencil down my throat).  As the guy is telling me what he is going to do, he says "When I stick this down your throat, I'll be able to see your vocal chords.  I'm going to grab on to your..." at this point he paused and I had a heart attack because I auto-completed his statement to be "I'm going to grab on to your vocal chords."  I freaked out for an endless second before he said "tongue" because he was really just saying he was going to hold on to my tongue so it wouldn't get in the way.  I seriously almost died at the thought of him grabbing onto my vocal chords with one of those crazy, flexible tweezer things they use during laparoscopic surgery.  Aaaaaaaanyway, it wasn't that terrifying, though I had to close my eyes because I would have freaked out if I watched the monitor.  After one more breathing test I was led into the allergist's office again.  Basically he told me I still have/have another massive sinus infection, and need to be on antibiotics for two weeks.  I am also starting on a new and stronger nose spray, powder inhaler, and antihistamine (replacing my daily Allegra).  Hopefully this new regimen will prevent me from constantly acquiring sinus infections, since I can't very well avoid dust unless I live in a bubble.  Fingers crossed!

The rest of Friday was spent doing some cleaning and listlessly laying in my bed, wishing I was allergic to something easier to avoid.  I had planned on going out to the Dasi Hamkke Center fundraiser on Friday night, and really wanted to attend, but I felt like crap, so I figured it would be best if I stayed home.

Saturday morning I had to wake up ASS EARLY (I needed to be on the 6:42am train) to head over to the Express Bus Terminal where we were meeting a bus full of Adventure Korea people for a day trip out of Seoul.  Ayzia and Laura had gone to the other stop (in the north-western part of the city) so they saved us seats and Erich and I hopped on one of two buses heading out to the Chungcheongbuk Province.  I slept for about an hour of the two and a half hour ride out, and woke up with a stiff back and neck.  Ah bus sleep.  Thankfully that went away fairly quickly.  We arrived at the Chungju dam and boarded a ferry.  It was so beautiful and relaxing.  The lake appears to have been created when the dam ended a river and flooded a valley travelling through some mountains.  We floated along for about two hours and twenty minutes, talking, laughing, and soaking up the sun.  The weather was absolutely perfect- warm and sunny.  There was a large group of drunk Koreans on the boat with us, who did awkward things, such as jumping into people's pictures, striking up random conversations, etc.  In the beginning it was cute...then it got old.  An hour or so into the trip, Erich and Ayzia decided to lay out on an open area near the front of the ferry.  Both put their backpacks under their heads and settled in to get a tan.  After a few minutes, one of the drunk guys comes over, lays down, and stars SPOONING with Erich.  It was so horrifically awkward.  Erich basically jumped up and the guy continued to lay on his backpack and motion for Erich to join him.  After a while he finally got the message and left.  The rest of us were able to laugh about it immediately, but Erich was really pissed (understandably) that the guy felt he could do that just because we're foreigners.  It prompted a discussion about how  can't really understand how any Westerner could get married and stay here and live the rest of their lives in a culture that reminds you (EVERY SINGLE DAY) that you're a foreigner and you'll NEVER fit in to their culture.  I mean, I guess its just because an American or Canadian or whatever can look like...anything.  But you stand out so much when you're different in Korea.  The guy did eventually come sort of apologize, but it was pretty crazy and his friends didn't do anything to stop it so we consider them to kind of be at fault as well.

Our ferry was on the right.

Pretty views.

Erich and Laura are kings (king and queen?) of the world!

Just the ladies, soaking up the sun.

Cruising along with our flag flying.

Windy day makes for awkward hair in group pictures.

Erich using Ayzia's flip flops to reenact the violation that occurred.

"Floating rest stop" and bridge on the journey down the lake.

More pretty scenery.

There was a noraebang on the boat.  Who would take a cruise just to noraebang it up?  Further proof that drunk Koreans will sing anywhere.

This picture does not accurately capture how steep the second part of that walkway actually was.

Our ferry from above (we sat in that front section on the first floor).

Mom, I want you to know that I purposely REtook this picture without a peace sign, just for you.

Looking down the other side of the lake.  Such beautiful weather!

After the ferry ride, we walked up this absurdly steep ramp (killed the calves), took some group pictures, boarded the bus and headed over to Gosu Caves.  While not the biggest or the best caves I've ever been to, these caves were definitely unique.  I should start by reminding you that this trip was described as a good one for lazy people because there was little walking and climbing.  I have no freaking idea who wrote that, but they should be slapped.  Unlike caves at home, where you are mostly walking on flat ground, with only minor inclines, these caves had a huge system of metal stairs and walkways throughout.  I would say that, without exaggeration, we probably climbed the equivalent of eight stories of stairs, all underground in the caves.  You would go up and down long, slippery, metal staircases- sometimes regular ones, sometimes spiral.  There were little Korean sized spaces you had to squeeze through, and I do not love tight, claustrophobic areas.  At one point there was finally a sign saying "Way Out" and I got excited, thinking we were finally done.  But I quickly found out that the sign SHOULD have said "Way out not imminent.  You still have to go up three flights of stairs and walk for about 100 meters".  At one point I had to take my inhaler because the humidity (more than 94%, according to a sign inside the cave), steps and claustrophobia were really getting to me.  It was pretty, don't get me wrong, but I don't ever need to go there again, haha.  It did make me want to go back to Luray Caverns, though! After finally making it out of the caves, we had some time to relax and got these AMAZING purple slushies.  Almost as good as a Slurpee, but not quite. However, as it was only 80cents, I am not one to complain.  On our way back to the bus we walked through a little shopping area where they were selling all sorts of things.  We were walking along with a South African guy, when we stumbled upon something that I swear to god, we still have not been able to identify.  It was a large pot with a smaller pot in the middle, basically looking like a giant bundt pan.   The back half was filled with whole frogs that had been stewed in something.  The front half was the legs/feet of SOME kind of furry animal.  It looked like a super creepy witches brew.  We stood there a few minutes, looking at it and discussing it, before pulling out our cameras.  The South African guy had a big SLR camera, and I just had my little point-and-shoot digital camera.  Seeing the camera come out, the ajumma selling this concoction LEAPS up and puts her hands in front of the South African guy's camera, shouting "American Idiot!"  We were stunned.  He was pissed not only to be called an idiot, but also that she assumed he was American.  I was just confused by this seeming over reaction.  Laura and Erich are convinced what she was selling was illegal, but I have no idea the cause for such a crazy response.  In all the commotion I was able to snap a single picture, but it isn't very good.  On the way back to the bus I stopped to ask one of the bilingual guides what he thought it was and he had no idea.  The legs looked kind of like beaver feet, so I asked him if they even have beavers in Korea.  Apparently not.  The world may never know what was in that giant pot of disgusting.

Entrance to the caves.  Please note the IDIOT who didn't wear shoes the entire time.  Seriously man?  It drove me crazy the entire trip.
(Photo stolen from Ayzia's Facebook album.)

Baby stalactites.  It is like a little stalactite nursery!

Cool view deeper into the cave.

My travelling companions: Ayzia, Laura and Erich.

Looking straight up.  You can see how high that walkway/staircase is.


Thank god those stalactites of death didn't fall on Laura, Erich and I!
(Photo stolen from Ayzia's Facebook album.)

More steps?  How Korean.

Ayzia was much more okay with the wet, slippery, metal spiral staircase than I was.

Awesome slimy looking formation.


Witches brew.  For real, can anyone identify this?

We got back on the bus and headed over to Dodansanbong Peak, which is basically just three large rocks/small islands sticking out of a river.  One has a pagoda on it.  It was not that exciting, but we weren't there very long.  After taking some group pictures, most of the group went up a million steps to this stone gateway at the top of a big hill.  I chose to sit down on ground level and delighted in the terrible singing of some Koreans at a fountain side noraebang (singing room).  They basically had a karaoke machine hooked up to huge loudspeakers on this stage.  In front of the stage was a huge fountain that was choreographed to match the song.  Another one for the bizarre category!  After everyone made it back down the mini-mountain we boarded the bus for the ride home.  Everyone voted to watch a Korean movie called Kim's Island (a semi-comedic, love story version of Cast Away...) but I slept for much of the middle of it so it didn't make a lot of sense.  We got back to Seoul and ended up on the east side of the city, so we decided to get food in the Kongkuk University area of Seoul, which is 2 stops away from Jamsil, where I work.

"Three strange rocks in the river."

From this view you can see the pavilion.  Nooooo idea how you get there.


Outdoor noraebang stage with coordinating fountains, of COURSE.

We could not have asked for better weather.

I lead the way on to the train and my normal imperative to get home kicked in, leading me to board the train going in the wrong direction.  We got tot he platform just as the train was leaving, and Laura and I jumped on.  Erich got crushed in the closing doors and we ended up leaving Ayzia and Erich standing on the platform.  I quickly realized we were going the wrong way and we switched directions at the next station, meeting Erich and Ayzia on the other train.  We walked around the University area for a bit (lamenting the return to gross smelling city air after a day of unparalleled fresh air) and found a DELICIOUS galbi place where we ate our fill out grilled beef.  It was so good.  Then we headed home, where I crashed right after video chatting with my mom.  It was a great, but totally exhausting day.

Mmmm, so delicious.

Ayzia and Laura

Grillmaster Erich and I

Sunday I alternated between cleaning and watching Lost and movies (Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day was decent, and Leap Year was super cute).  The good news is that by the end of the day my apartment was spic and span.  Aside from two loads of laundry and cleaning the bathroom I am completely ready for Carl and Monica.  Wooo!
Teaching today was pretty uneventful, classes went fine even on the first day with the new sub.  She's nice, but really quiet.  I also got my renewal paperwork today and went through it with So Young.  That takes a load off my shoulders.  Living up to the Korean ideal of both last minute and vague, the paperwork must be turned in my Thursday, and they can only tell me that my open class will be sometime between May 17 and June 4...a span of 5 weeks, 12 lessons, and 57 classes.  Thanks guys.  That is helpful.  So Young said she'd call and see if she could get more specific information, so I hope she is able to do that.  A lot of work goes into preparing an open class and I'd like them to narrow it down at least a little.  

Speaking of last minute Koreans, today I got my invitation to my coworker Yeon Ah's wedding, which is on June 12th.  And mine was not an afterthought, all of her invitations went in the MAIL today.  The invitation itself is totally awesome.  In Korea most people don't buy wedding dresses, they rent them.  This gives the flexibility to get and wear a couple of different dresses.  A few months before the wedding, you and your fianc√© go and have a big, lavish, beautiful photo shoot all dressed up in your wedding gear.  Yeon Ah took two pictures from that photo shoot and had her friend make custom invitations.   It is absolutely beautiful.  I want them for my (far off) wedding, haha.   Yeon Ah told me to bring friends, which would have been weirder had I not just had a conversation about this with Changhye during our Dasi Hamkke meeting last week.  She said that lots of Koreans hire foreign "extras" to attend their weddings, as foreign "friends" are kind of a status symbol.  Bizarrely people will hire people they DON'T EVEN KNOW to come to their wedding.  They will sometimes even PAY these people.  How crazytown is that?!  Not only are you paying for them to eat, etc, but you're paying them to attend.  (Sidenote: Forget the makkolli business in the states, I am going to start a waegook wedding attendee business in Korea!)  Anyway, I am looking forward to the wedding and I'm planning to take Brigid and Ayzia with me since they are both leaving in August and have never experienced a Korean wedding.  It is sure to be an experience.  

Front.  Are they not adorable?  I love this photo.

Inside: Info at the top, super cute fancy picture at the bottom.

Close up of the picture.

Back.  A map even a foreigner can understand, haha.

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