Elwood 5566

Bill Bursts Out, May 17th-June 16th, 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Uncategorized by 노강호 on June 16, 2001

Well, it’s now June 16th and I haven’t written a diary entry for just over a month. Everything was going so well and I had just passed when I discovered Bill is an umbilical hernia! I am quite annoyed at my frigging doctor, even though I like him as even with his ultrasound he couldn’t make a proper diagnosis. This was just another medical blunder in my life which serves to reinforce my lack of faith in the profession. I had been telling him for two months that I suspected Bill wasn’t a simple muscle tear. Anyway, I didn’t have any medical insurance. Nana and I had been asking Joe for it ever since I arrived and I have since discovered this is a common ploy amongst bosses of foreign English teachers even though insurance is stipulated in the job adverts. Joe told us we would have to pay six months back money to get the insurance. I am pissed off with Joe as he gambled with my health.

Within three days I was back in the UK where I eventually had the operation done privately at the British Hernia Clinic. The operation cost £1250 and it is outrageous you can only get quick healthcare if you pay for it. Even for this price my treatment was shoddy and indeed I left the Imperial College Hospital, London, where I had the operation, without being given any dressings and only four pain killers. My welcome pack when I entered the hospital clearly said I would get after care and even the phone line number they supplied, claiming it was a 24 hour service, wasn’t! I had to pay for a morning paper and the sandwich I was administered shortly after my operation was bog standard quality and comparable to any supermarket sarny.

In all I spent a month in the UK and stayed at Fiona’s house as the room in my house was being let to Donna. I spent the first few days at Fiona’s in some discomfort as the hernia was stitch repaired as it was right on my belly button. Had it been to the left or right of my navel they would have used a mesh repair on it. Hence the wound feels very tight.

My flight back to Korea was hideous as my seat was so narrow. I had to wedge myself into it and then the seat belt was so tight I could hardly do it up. As always, my thighs pressed so tightly against the inside of the arm rests that I couldn’t operate the remote controls efficiently and the seat kept slipping into a recline position. On several occasions the stewardess asked to return the seat to an upright position. When it came to eating I had to adopt skippy-like mannerisms. Eventually I had to sit on the stairs for a few hours (the plane was a Boeing 747). How ridiculous! After paying £500 for a ticket you are actually more comfortable sitting on the stairs. Of course, children travel half price and babies get on-board for free and this infuriates me. One of the stewardesses made the mistake of telling me I should travel business class! Fucking bitch! I quickly told her that if the airline can fly children free and for half price they should at least provide for taller and, or, fatter passengers. Some kiddies were even flying in business class and had those enormous thrones to sit in.

I arrived in Seoul with a sore back as I had spent several hours sitting in one of the seats normally reserved for crew – a seat that pulled down and was more like a padded bench. I had to feign a bad stomach to get this but it did have a consolation as it had a small curtain you could pull around yourself. At Inch’on I immediately took the transfer bus to Kim’po National Airport. When I first arrived in Korea, Kim’po was the international airport but within a few months of my arrival the ultra modern international airport at Inch’on was opened. Kimp’po, in comparison is a tiny airport and this perhaps reflected Korea’s former insular position in the world. Inch’on is clearly a reflection of Korea’s present status and I have to say it is a massive airport that is very user-friendly. The journey from Inch’on to Kim’po is enjoyable as you cross an enormous expanse of flat marshes with occasional jagged projections of rock. I suspect this area is part of an enormous estuary and I have since read that the land is being reclaimed at the expense its ecological importance as breeding grounds for birds.

The closest hotel to Kim’po National was fully booked so I took a taxi to a nearby hotel called the White Hotel. At first I thought it might be a ‘love hotel’ as there was a selection of pathetic heterosexual porn videos in the lobby. ‘Love hotels’ are a Korean institution and are where businessmen visit for extra-marital sex. They can often be spotted as the car park entrance has a green curtain, consisting of strips of plastic, which helps to conceal the identity of visiting men. The reception was staffed by a rather sexy lad of about 24 who immediately wanted to practice his English on me. We spent over two hours talking and at first I thought he might be gay and had to remind myself I was back in Korea. The hotel cost 35.000W which works out at about £20 a night which was quite cheap given how close I was to Kim’po airport. In the morning, after a good lie in, I took a taxi to the airport. The Kim’po airport departure hall was pervaded by this odd smell which I couldn’t quite identify. At first I thought it was the smell of alcohol, the sort of smell that heavy drinkers exude but suddenly I identified it; it was the smell of garlic. As I hadn’t dosed up on garlic for over a month, the smell was very noticeable. One rarely smells garlic on someone else’s breath if they themselves have eaten it. The whole of Korea is pervaded with this smell as everyone eats garlic, if not raw as a side dish, then in copious amounts within kimchee.

It was just my luck that there was a pilot strike that day and there were no flights out of Seoul. I made a few inquiries and then took a taxi to the central railway station only to discover that the driver was taking me to the central bus terminal. However, the tour of Seoul was interesting as it sprawls on, seemingly endlessly. I saw the Han River and even when into the Itaewon district which is quite famous for the city’s tourists and visitors. Eventually I arrived at the central railway station and bought a ticket to Daegu. My limited Korean, which I seemed to forget quickly in the UK, soon came back to me. I travelled on the Samaul Express in which seats are automatically reserved when you buy your ticket. This procedure is something which still has to arrive in the UK even though there was such a system operating in Germany in 1982. The train was spotless and had regular passenger information in both Korean and English. My journey to Daegu cost £10 which, even if you triple to make the price somewhat equitable with the UK cost of living, works out very much cheaper than in the UK. I had to pay £13 just to travel from Liverpool Street Station to Heathrow but then according to a paper I read a few weeks ago, the UK has one of the most expensive rail networks in Europe. Every ten minutes or so, someone passed selling drinks, ice-cream or food. The trip offered a fantastic oppostunity to see countryside that was new to me. The north-east is much flatter than is Daegu and its environs. I noticed the rice fields have begun to change from drab brown to a vivid green. The weather was more humid than when I left Korea a month ago but this might partly be explained by my being on the coast. Since my return I have noticed how everyone is waiting for the arrival of the monsoon period, which is known as the jang ma (장마) and this is supposed to arrive around Sunday 23rd of June.

When I arrived in Daegu  I took a taxi straight to Letter and Sound in Yon San Dong Yon San Dong as I was anxious to see everyone. Lisa has handed in her notice and Pauline is shortly due to go on holiday to New York. Most of my class were subdued at seeing me and next morning Lee Chi-woo refused to sit on my lap. I suppose a month is a long time in a three year old’s frame of reference. However, Jeong-hoon’s face broke into a wide grin when he saw me and he ran up and hugged my legs. It seems nothing much has changed since I left. On Wednesday I started back teaching though I didn’t see Mr Joe until Thursday afternoon. He came into one of my classes and hugged me in front of the class which was a very un-Korean thing to do. However, he is not in the least embarrassed at not having provided me with health insurance. When I asked about getting paid holiday money he began nit picking about a day off I had had at Christmas and then started to dispute whether my holiday entitlement was ten days or two weeks. My contract said two weeks! Considering I had lost all my savings it was quite pathetic of him and even though there is something I like about him I am still going to pour a cup of coffee into the back of one of his computers before I leave.


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©Amongst Other Things –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.



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