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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Plastic Surgery Reflections

I think this sign says something like "Come on in
so we can make you look better than you do right now."
You may recall that I consulted a dermatologist and a plastic surgeon about my weird eyelid tumors. Here's the story of the plastic surgery experience and some reflections on what in the world I was thinking.

You may also recall that I did not believe in dermatologists: I was raised to believe they were for the very sick (lepers, perhaps) or for wealthy hypochondriacs.  My visit nudged me in the more positive direction, but I'm still a little skeptical.  Now that was for dermatologists.  Not only do I not believe in plastic surgery but I'm completely against it except in cases of horrific disfigurement (bear attack, flaming bear attack, or alien probing). I might be considered a self-righteous plastic surgery opponent.  A veritable bra-burning enemy of the guild who believes plastic surgeons are in the same circle of hell as the designers who make women's bathing suits.  Of course, I'd not really needed plastic surgery (though I considered its benefits during my skinny adolescence when I longed to have curves).  So, yeah, I'm like that friend who judges your parenting skills but has never had her own kids.

I don't know how they selected "Brenda" (my middle name)
for the appointment card, but there you have it.
The astute reader would correctly surmise that after my initial consultation with Plastic Surgeon Dr. Hong. I felt some internal tension. Surely this surgery was necessary because... because...Aha! the bumps would keep growing and eventually drag my eyelids down so I couldn't see at all!  Yeah, OK, that was weak. I finally resolved the tension (psychology students may identify this process for extra credit) by describing the procedure as "tumor removal." And maybe my justification would get me through the next few weeks while I healed.

I had no idea what to expect during or after the surgery: the clinic had provided no forms, paperwork, or information, and Google was unhelpfully silent on particulars.  Maybe, I wondered, my eyes would be swathed in bandages like a Scooby-Doo mummy?  Or I'd get unsightly black eyes requiring me to lie quietly in a dim room reading novels instead of studying Korean or doing laundry?  I wasn't terribly nervous, at least until the drive there when I wondered if I'd ever see the blue ocean again.

A series of giant ads showed new and exciting ways
to look better than you did huffing up the stairs.

We walked up to the 3rd floor office, huffing unattractively up the stairs as we passed numerous larger-than-life ads picturing happy folks who'd had successful surgeries for things I didn't even know were ailments.  By the time we reached the office, I had dozens of new things to worry about: excessive sweat, non-glowing skin, freckles, etc.

After doing the reception desk dance
(where I pretend to know no Korean and they pretend to know no English),
we waited on comfy velour couches.

Before the surgery, the Chief Desk Ajumma (CDA) asked Sara (Nick's amazing TA you may recall from our ill-fated whale watching tour) to tell me to remove my earrings and necklace.  And then to remove my rings: but those haven't come off in at least a decade and I was unwilling to wrench them off and then need both anti-sweaty-armpit surgery and hand-remodeling surgery. The CDA briefly sucked her teeth (Sara wisely saw no need to interpret) and motioned us into Dr. Hong's office. He took several "before" pictures in front of a blue screen, then used a fine-point marker to draw careful lines around my lipid-y bumps. Sara and I were waved next to a small room complete with single bed and cozy quilt. Wait: a bedroom?  I began to worry anew: would I sleep here overnight? For the duration of my healing?  Should I have brought my toothbrush and clean undies? Snacks? Wine?  Oh boy.  We occasionally see hospital patients wandering the streets and I worried that I might join their ranks.

Korea: where hospital patients can  publicly roam with IV in tow.

In the bedroom, the nurse asked Sara to tell me to remove my sandals and put on the cushy plaid slippers sitting by the door.  She then pointed me next door (2 feet away) to the dim operating room, where Sara was not allowed to go as she didn't have the requisite "sterile" slippers.  To sum up thus far: I do not believe in plastic surgery but here I stand with circles on my eyelids, wearing someone else's fuzzy slippers and my regular clothes (American health practitioners, please note that gowns are ridiculous), and now I have NO TRANSLATOR for delicate eyelid surgery by a Korean plastic surgeon.  I rapidly reconsidered the wisdom of this scenario, especially when the nurse recalled Sara to stand in the doorway to instruct me to drop my pants (see more of this particular part of the story here).  Ah...ok, Fine.  It's an adventure, I tell myself.  I got my "hip" shot, restored my pants, and got onto the bed sans slippers, in which I had shuffled a total distance of 6.2 feet.

After laying on the narrow bed of heavenly softness (America: are you listening?)  the kind nurse gently pulled back my hair and washed my face. She crossed my hands over my abdomen (resembling the classic "coffin pose" just a little too much for my comfort), then laid surgical-type sheets over me with just my face (and toes) peeking out.  While another nurse gave me shots next to each eye, the first woman reached under the sheets and held my hand. (America: again, pay attention. When friends here had LASEK eye surgery they were given a stuffed pig for comfort.  I do love this place).

Dr. Hong sat behind my head, snapped on some gloves, did a brief close-up exam under the bright light (I kept my eyes closed - personal space invasion makes me tense), then asked me IN EXCELLENT ENGLISH whether he could remove the little bumps ("milia") next to my left eye.  I offer three, nay four, comments on this:
  1. I don't know why Dr. Hong did the "let's pretend we need a translator" dance during the initial consultation. 
  2. I've had those little bumps for so long I didn't remember having them. Probably something obvious to every person I've met in 20 years.  Kind of embarrassing.  
  3. His offer to take out the milia is what Koreans would call 서비스 (saw-bee-seh) which means "service" or "free."    I like free.  I try not to suspect him of softening up my attitude toward plastic surgery.
  4. Before taking out the milia (and before putting in and removing the stitches over the next few visits), Dr. Hong consistently said in his very serious man voice: "It will a little bit hurt."  It's probably not appropriate that I found it adorable every single time.
Anyway, after that initial exchange, the surgery proceeded in silence: no chatter with me or the nurses, no music, nothing. I nearly fell asleep except for his habit of using my eyeballs as wrist rests and the kind of nasty smell of my eyelids being cauterized.

Getting stitches put in. Do you love the surgical sheet?
When I saw this picture later, I was a wee bit dismayed
 by the stains around the edges...
The surgery was done in 20 minutes.  He showed me all the bits he'd removed, arranged in anatomical order on a piece of gauze.  It was a little creepy to see those finely-inked circles from my eyelids now lying (laying? will I EVER get that rule right?) alongside all those little milia. Eew. Made me wonder if plastic surgeons proudly display the goop that comes from liposuction vacuums.

Post-surgery: at least 10 tiny bandages  (think angel-hair pasta in 1/2" lengths) are above each eye.
We filled my 2-dose prescription for antibiotics in the downstairs pharmacy.
I am still amused by the fact that the bright red word for medicine on the dozens of pharmacies
in town sounds a lot like the English word "yuck."  :)

Here is my post-surgical prescription.
Yeah, I can't read it either, but the pharmacist spoke decent English.
And you just have to trust that no one is slipping you laxatives or viagra.

When I returned a few days later to get the "tapes" off, I learned that I'd had 9 stitches for one eyelid and 5 for the other.  I believe that I am now a contender in Nick's Family Stitches Count, though I think brother Chris is still winning given his unfair head start with open heart surgery as an infant.

Dr. Hong removing my bandages and stitches.  
My eyes are healing well and I get to rub in an ointment 3 times a day for 1 minute.  The only English on the little box says it is "For the Beautification of Unsightly Skin."  Nice.  When Dr. Hong showed me how to use the stuff, rubbing rubbing rubbing it in for over minute on each eyelid's scar, the nurse silently touched the vertical crease I have between my eyes.  Oh.  Not so subtle.  I wonder what other bits of my body she thought could use some transformation.

Overall, I do like Dr. Hong, despite his gruff manner.  I would recommend him to others.  Even the Chief Desk Ajumma has grown on me as she tries out her English and the nurses giggle at her behind their hands. But over several visits it became clear that my thin justification for having plastic surgery has put me on a very greasy slope indeed. Each time I'm in the waiting room, the large TV screen showed animations of  how one's various parts can be (bloodlessly) made larger or smaller or less sweaty or otherwise enhanced.  

Let's just say this is not the most explicit picture
to appear on the waiting room TV screen.
On my latest follow-up visit, I was again sucked into the TV but was glad to see a cartoon instead of the usual surgical animations.  The first one was about two girls trying on clothes in a dressing room.  One faced away from us and the other was so happy about her new appearance and image in the mirror.  Until, that is, the other girl turned around with a large breasts (and, this being Korean TV, they sparkled and danced).  The first girl was immediately sad and went to a clinic to have implants.  Of course, the story ends when the girl was happy and had sparkly/dancing breasts, too.  I was horrified by couldn't look away (Nick had more willpower than I).  Another cartoon came on but I knew now this wasn't just some cute entertainment. An elderly couple sat glumly on a couch, both with thought bubbles of how happy they'd both be if the woman had a facelift.  Which she then did and of course great happiness descended on both of them. Yet another cartoon showed two Korean girls holding hands while they walked; the one with big wide sparkly (Western) eyes was happy, while the one with tiny (Asian single-crease) eyelids was miserable.  And, predictably, after having double-crease eyelid surgery, both girls were very happy.

Ok, maybe that's just advertising.  Maybe my surgeon, my nice Dr. Hong, would have different standards.  He surely focuses on restoring damage and repairing the results of sin and evil on human flesh.  But then I noticed that all the women in the waiting room were holding pink plastic ice packs to their jaws just below their ears; the nurse would regularly come out and give them new ones. Strange that they would all have the same injury to be fixed.  So as Dr. Hong examined my healing eyelids, I couldn't resist asking about the women. The nurse (who had never indicated any knowledge of English before this point) started giggling. After a long, awkward moment, Dr. Hong explained in his serious voice that the women had gotten botox shots in the jaw muscle (the masseter) to make their chins appear slimmer and more Caucasian/pointed instead of Asian/square (see here for details and photos).  Wow.  Still clinging to my hope that Dr. Hong wasn't one of "those" kinds of plastic surgeons, I reasoned that this was probably just a group of friends and he did this unusual favor for them.  Feeling chatty, I asked him what kind of surgery he does most often.  And I wished that I hadn't.  His most common surgery isn't for repairing burn scars or restoring post-mastectomy breasts. No.  His most common surgery is the double-eyelid surgery for Korean women, followed by the botox injections to create more Western chins.

My Dr. Hong is one of those surgeons after all.  And there is no getting around that what I had done to make my eyes less "unsightly" was about the same as the double-crease and botox ladies.  I'm grateful to have the bumps gone, but the fading scars will remind me of my foolish judgments.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Skin Conditions

The kids and I have been accumulating various skin conditions so I finally decided to consult a dermatologist.  Now, I don't actually believe in dermatologists, and I shall point the finger in my mother's general direction on this one.  When I was a kid in rural Michigan, decent folks had a family doctor who did everything - the rash, the cough, the straw-in-the-eye injury, the annual lady-bits exam, broken toes, I cut-my-fingertip-off-again stitches, etc.  Only uppity folks went to specialists like pediatricians or ob/gyns. And only the rich, spoiled kids went to dermatologists for acne - except for that one poor kid who had mortal acne that reminded one that of hellfire.   We didn't go to the doctor much unless our situation involved significant screaming or unstoppable blood flow.  Zits involved neither, so tubes of Clearasil were good enough for us.

But I've learned a few things over the years.  Zits run in our family like stripes on zebras.  I shall never forget my very first one, thanks to a 5th grade social studies teacher who had long since forgotten what it was like to be a shy 11-year-old.   "Oh," she said to the entire class, "It looks like Sherri has her first pimple!"  (It's possible that my memory has magnified this incident, but when I need a good German swear, her last name comes all-too-quickly to mind.)  I still get the occasional pimple, even after 35+ years of skin despair.  Nick's family's puberty-skin was not much better.  So when David and Elisabeth both decided to join the puberty club this year, I was ready to swoop into action on behalf of their faces.

To be fair, I didn't actually swoop until we had other complaints to add to the Burgeoning Acne list. David had a seriously persistent wart on his knee (he does not shirk from OTC treatments or self-inflicted scissors action), Elisabeth had some itchy bumps, and I had some creeping growth on my eyelids that started distracting me from my horror show of a mid-life abdomen.  It was time to find a specialist.

After consulting various astrological planets and tea leaves for an auspicious moment (can you tell the Korean culture is rubbing off on me?), I finally found a time when the recommended clinic was open (thank you, OICA office!), I wasn't in class, the kids wouldn't miss too much school, and Nick's English-speaking TA (Sara) could join us for translation assistance.  I (still not having a GPS or smartphone or a Pohang road atlas because printed maps are not for sale here) studied the city maps on Google beforehand and knew which landmarks had to be passed to arrive at said office before closing time (remember - appointments not needed here): Yeongdeok bus station, Hwanho park, Bukbu beach, Jukdo market, 2nd bridge over river, and take a right to find a brick building with a small green tree on the door).  Let's just say that we did great until the "take a right" led us to a million brick buildings covered in signs and labels, but Sara's phone maps provided wonderful assistance and got us there.

Beautiful Skin Care (NE corner of o-goeri, if local folks are wondering), on the 2nd floor, was decorated in typical Korean waiting-room style (plushy couches, glass display cases, giant long reception desk) and the four women at the desk were also decorated in typical Korean medical-waiting-room style: mostly unflattering uniforms that took last place in a "Make-a-1980s-Flight-Attendant-Uniform-Look-Cute-Today Design Challenge." After selecting the least intimidating woman (I'm sure that one or more of the many signs indicated which person I was supposed to approach, but hey - I'm a way-gook and get away with a whole lot here), I handed over our alien registration cards.  One of the pitfalls of bringing along a translator is that no one even tries to talk to you.  So, Sara was asked to write out our names in Korean on a tiny scrap of paper. And then, as usual, I needed to provide my "hahn-deh po-neh" (mobile phone number) and, as usual, I gave them Nick's number as I STILL don't have a phone after living here nigh unto 16 months.  (And sensitive readers might correctly detect a tiny twinge of irritation.) The four of us crowded onto a couch, sneaking peeks at the other women waiting, one of whom was sneaking pictures of us on her "hahn-deh po-neh."  My children, characteristically American in their boundless energy and heedless of Korean public decorum, commenced to wiggling and teasing and making me terrifically benauwt (a great Dutch word for "a feeling of oppressive closeness that could result in some ugly butt-kicking"). Sara, already worth her weight in won, started taking group selfies on her phone to distract the kids so I could breathe.

Isn't Sara lovely?  I don't know why David was making that horrible face.
No wonder the other patients were sneaking pictures of us. 
Finally, we got to see the doctor in his cozy little office (not an exam room - no gowns, gloves, crinkly white paper or stainless steel).  The doctor (I don't know his name - I can't read Korean smock embroidery font yet) was in his 30s (?) and spoke surprisingly good English, making Sara momentarily purposeless.  The doctor looked first at David's giant knee wart, not seeming shocked or upset by its size or David's attempts to obliterate it (I gave myself points for bringing the OTC drops to show the doctor).  He recommended a stronger, prescription solution before moving to cryo-therapy (freezing).  Then he looked at David and Elisabeth's respective faces and recommended a few options for acne: (a) cleanser and medicated cream twice a day at home and some antibiotics; (b) a chemical peel (does it seem strange to you that he used his laser pointer to indicate the chemical peel treatment room on the closed circuit tv hanging over his office door?  As if that bit of visual info would affect our decision. "Oh - that decor is horrible!  We'd never stoop to a peel in that tacky room!"); and/or (c) having one of his staff ladies pop each pimple every week (a painful process at just $50 per kid per session).  It was hard enough for me to consult a specialist for zits, let alone pay a stranger to have someone else pop the kids' zits or wash their little faces in acid.  Home treatment option wins.

Then it was my turn.  About a year ago, I noticed an odd yellow spot above my left eye that has slowly gotten bigger; three months ago, one started growing above my right eye.  I had no idea if this was a dermatology issue or not, but what the heck, here we were.

Happily, Doctor Dermo knew immediately what it was, and again whipped out his laser pointer to indicate on a leaning-against-the-wall diagram of the skin's many layers and parts.  Apparently, normal clumps of lipids (fat) well beneath the skin can creep up to the surface and form these common benign tumors.  He looked up the condition in a big dusty Book of Weird Skin Stuff (resting right next to a Bible on his shelf).  After flipping through the index, he found a picture that looked just like my lipidy bumps, called xanthelasma palpebrarum (see here for more info). The good doctor considered doing laser surgery, poked at my eyelids some more, and then concluded that these were too big; plastic surgery would have better results.

So, ok, what I have looks weird, sounds exotic and scary, and needs a skilled scalpel.  Do you know how many plastic surgeons there are in Korea?  A LOT.  Like freckles on an Irish kid.  So I asked Ye Good Doctor who he would recommend for plastic surgery.  He playfully (!) pointed out his window: you could go there or there or there or (he pointed to the ceiling) to him.  What--upstairs?  Yes - he would be good.

Well, ok then.  Back to the waiting room, where an "operator" (the doctor's term for the ladies) took us to a virtual closet with stools and a bright red plastic tabletop to explain, in very rapid Korean, how the kids needed to care for their skin twice a day.  First a cleanser, then a light lotion, then the anti-acne medicine we'd get downstairs at the "medicine store," then a heavier moisturizer, and sunscreen in the mornings.  Sunscreen?  Ah, yes.  The Korean terror of freckles.  (Sara later mentioned that she had had laser treatments for some facial freckles just a few months ago. )

Ok, off to pay the be-uniformed ladies at the desk and collect our prescription (in unreadable Korean handwriting) and get a parking validation and pay for today's services.  I held my breath waiting for Sara to translate the charge: 3 of us seeing a dermatologist was not covered under the national health plan and I had never been to a derma...$13. Yup.  Korea is good.

No time like the present to visit the plastic surgeon.  Upstairs we trooped, with me threatening the kids' well-being if they continued being so touchy/feely/wiggly/noisy/weird.  Again with the alien registration card, translation of my name, mobile phone number, and waiting on (jarringly green velour) cushy couches.  After about 10 minutes of watching the large screen TV demonstrate bloodless, animated abdominal liposuctions, buttocks implants, calf reductions, and breast enhancements, Sara and I were waved back to the consultation room.  Apparently the desk ajummas didn't want the kids to feel neglected, so they ushered them in a few minutes later.  Into the crowded office with the doctor, me, and Sara.

This doctor was maybe in his 40s and spoke no English.  He, too, examined my eyelids at a personal distance normally reserved for my husband. To reduce the intimate closeness, I naturally closed my eyes, but he wanted them open. Yeah, that's awkward. He handed me a hand mirror and he took some tweezers to lightly pinch and pull at my bumps while talking to poor Sara who seemed torn between amusement and distress. Dr. Hong (I couldn't read his embroidery either, but I took his business card from the reception desk) explained and sketched how he could approach this surgery a few different ways and how the scars might look.  It finally occurred to me that he was giving me a choice, depending on my eyelid scarring hysteria level.  Um, I don't actually care much about whether the scar is more horizontal or vertical or whether it will change the line of my double-crease (only in Asia do you hear much about double creases or "crease surgery."  Have I mentioned seeing eyelid glue at the store for folks who aren't up for the surgery? Here's how to use it ).  So I picked the one-shot deal rather than the 2-3 session option.

This surgery in the US starts at around $700 per eyelid.  At Hong's office the total cost for both eyes was $400 with a debit/credit card or $300 in cash.  Un. Be. Liev. Able. And for $10 toward that cost today, I could make a "reservation" for the surgery early next week.  What a wonderful world this is.

We then went to the drug store, which is on the first floor (is that a handy Korean practice or what)? While waiting in the tiny space for the kids' prescriptions to be filled, Elisabeth's curious eyes roved about and stopped suddenly.  "Mama," she asked, "what are cherry-flavored--" and I emphatically shushed her as I read the packaging she indicated.  This was no place to have The Birth Control Talk. She got the message, but she still did not stop talking, apparently not aware or not caring about all the other people in the tiny shop who might know English.  "Oh no... is this about sex?"  Ah, yes, my dear.  "Ewww!  But...why would they be flavored...?"  Nope.  Even with my loose filter, this conversation was not happening with a 12-year-old girl in a very full Korean drugstore.  If ever. Sara appeared to be deeply amused.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Whale Watching Tour (Ulsan, South Korea)

I could write an insightful, sensitive essay about the challenges and joys of going on a whale-watching boat tour in a foreign country.  Or I could just show you a whole bunch of pictures with snarky captions to let you know what happened.

Well THAT'S a no-brainer.  Here goes.

David finds a cozy spot to watch for whales.

Nick finds a windy spot to watch for whales (his allergic reactions are slightly decreased in the breeze).

Elisabeth finds a place to... well, get her picture taken.

And Nick's TA, Sara, also looks for whales.

And here they are!!!  Invisible whales.  Transparent whales.  Microscopic whales. And the very popular None Whale.  You might think the tour company would have mentioned not sighting  whales in THREE WEEKS when we bought the tickets..  But the show must go on.

But just in case you forget we're in Korea, Elisabeth pointed out the Cartoon Whale.
Woo hoo!
So as to not leave folks feeling they'd wasted 4 hours and a good chunk of money
 to look for non-existent marine mammals, the company broke out the entertainment: singing and kareoke (called nori-bang in Korea so as to avoid the Japanese term).

And, yes, he has a mullet. For which hairstyle I'd like to blame Canada or some other country not well known for fashion, but no, it comes from the US.  *sigh"
And again, working the crowd.

Elisabeth and Sara can hardly bear the entertainment.
We survived to tell the tale. and each got a free pass to the adjacent whaling museum - but not valid for today.  Of course.  If nothing else, Sara probably gained a lot of new insights into American family dynamics.  For which I shall check to see if she has her own blog....

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Things that made me laugh this week...

Three things that made me laugh this week (so far!), in no particular order:

(1) I agreed to meet Tracey and Sandy (both ex-pat friends) for a one-hour weeding party at 8am on Tuesday (we were trying to beat the mosquitoes).  Tracey arrived about 15 minutes late, and I teasingly suggested her almost-habitually relaxed sense of punctuality may be due to her being Australian.  She chose to ignore this comment and launched into a story of her morning.  You should know that Tracey is the most deliberate, methodical, patient person I have ever met (including Nick's dad, which is saying something), and she does not tell stories quickly, so imagine her story unfolding over many minutes.

A few days ago, her husband Alex ad discovered an evil red-headed centipede in their shower.  They live on the 4th floor (Tracey's family, that is), so this poisonous monster and its family members don't just wander in on a regular basis.  Alex dutifully killed it, but apparently left a leg on the bathroom floor, which was a rather horrible shock for Tracey to find when she got up, but she bravely washed it down the floor drain with the shower hose.
A giant red-headed centipede from my garden in April (pictured with my sunglasses for scale)
That is background.  Now this morning, Tracey's high-school-senior-son was wiping the kitchen table when out popped ANOTHER evil red-headed centipede from the dishrag.  It slipped to the floor (the centipede, dear reader, not the son nor the dishrag) and the son backed well away. Tracey's husband was already at work so she was forced to choose a course of action.  She pinned the armored creature with a chair leg to give her time for further consideration.  The horror show continued to writhe about as she finally settled on getting a hammer to deliver the death blow.  After fetching the tool and settling near the beast, about to swing, she hesitated at the thought of splattered centipedian brains in her kitchen. So she instead decided to use the hammer a different way.  To tap the centipede. On the head. Gently, but again and again and again, until it finally and quietly succumbed to the drumbeat. Just picturing her on the kitchen floor, hammer in hand, tapping the bug to death, made me cry with helpless laughter.

(2) We see many, many signs for English programs (private cram schools called "hagwon" in Korean), and some of them have unusual names or awkward English phrases that makes one wonder about the quality of said program.  This week we noticed a new school name that really stood out with its bright yellow banner and bold title: "Butter English."  What? WHAT?  Did they mean "Better" (suggesting a not-top-flight English training program)? Did they mean "butter" as in "cheerful and sunny" like the yellow of their sign?  Maybe - cute, but still kind of a weird name for a school.  Nick and I chuckled every time we drove past (Butter English!).

{P. S. Yesterday I asked Grace, a Korean-American friend who has lived here about 12 years, about the possible meaning of this ridiculous sign.  Oh, she said,  that's easy.  They mean "smooth as butter," so students will be able to speak English very well.  It's from Psalm 55: "His talk is smooth as butter...."  Oh. Yes. There is that.}

(3) I had minor surgery this week to remove some weird bumps from my upper eyelids (called xanthelasma; harmless lipid tumors, but ugly as blazes and fast-growing).  I may write more about the whole plastic-surgery-in-Korea experience in a separate blog, but here's the part that I just can't stop laughing about.  Of course, I couldn't understand what the nurses were saying to me or each other, and they couldn't understand English, so we used a whole lot of gesturing in the outpatient operating room (I had to leave my translator in the waiting room).  Now, I have received no informed consent, no statement of risks, and no explanation of the procedure (Google was strangely silent on this matter), so I really didn't know what to expect.  Well, I did expect to get shots of local anesthetic near my eyes (after all, it is eye surgery), but beyond that, I didn't know what would happen.  Right after entering the operating room, one nurse insisted that I lower my pants and lay face-down on the operating table. Um, well, THAT seemed pretty strange, but ok, what option do I have?. She proceeded to rub and then repeatedly spank my bare right hip before finally indicating that I could turn over and pull up my pants.  What was THAT about?  Some sort of traditional pre-surgery religious ritual?  A test of my pain tolerance?  A test of my gullibility?  Ah, no.  None of the above.  Apparently she'd given me a shot during the spanking; the shot would help with pain from the surgery, and the spanking was intended to distract me from the pain.  My intellectual side was satisfied with this tidy answer, but my emotional side was torn between being mortified at my over-sized bum rippling with each of her rhythmic slaps and being delighted at this apparently very normal Korean technique for giving shots.   In the end, I decided just to laugh and stop being surprised by this adventure.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The power of pretty nails

A local (gigantic) Korean church has a ministry to teach disadvantaged foreign women a skill and allow them to make a little money.  Joyful Church reaches out to women from China, Vietnam, and other eastern countries who are in Korea, often brought here as brides for farmers and other men at the manual labor end of the status pool.  Some of these women are neglected or abused; most struggle to learn the language (Korean or English), to find a source of income, etc.  One aspect of this ministry is nail polish.  What a cool idea.

Reneea, a beloved ex-pat from Alabama, invited me to get my nails done with her: for just $7 each, we could get our toes painted and some fancy bling-y things put on.  This sounded like a fun trip with a sweet woman for a very good cause.

By the time Friday arrived, Reneea had also asked several other women to come along, so off we went: Reneea, Susan (California), Jeanine (Wisconsin), Grace (Pennsylvania), me (Michigan) and a 5-month-old Korean baby that Susan was babysitting.  Amber met us there a little later.

First we had lunch in the church's cafeteria, which is apparently open to the public. The $3.50 buffet (buy a ticket in one line, then give it up a meter away in the buffet food line) offered a variety of Korean foods plus rice and bean sprout soup.  I took spoonfuls of items depending on how well I thought I could manage them with chopsticks (I ruled out the soup given my previous pathetic experiences). I did pretty well in eating the spicy veggies and rice and enjoyed the food more than I expected (Korean food always, always, always tastes better than it looks). About halfway to feeling full, though, I noticed something unusual about one veggie mix on my plate.  My reading glasses, which I casually donned during the table talk and cooing over the baby, confirmed what I had feared: there were feet in my food.  Specifically, baby octopus tentacles.  On my plate.   And.. that's a wrap. All done eating.

Then to the nail ministry room, where we chose colors and sat chatting together while the young women painted our nails.  Reneea's deep southern accent makes her Korean sound particularly funny to Koreans; when a man stopped by the room, her drawl drew out the polite term for hello so far that the young workers and the man burst out with delighted laughter.  I learned later that Reneea had been having a very hard week, with a loved one dying quickly in the US, so far away.  She later commented about the joy of our group's time together: the healing powers of  women's laughter, the roar of a baby's cry, and bright nail polish.  This is a great ministry indeed.

Reneea overseeing helping Jeanine choose polish colors;
the shy Chinese-Korean woman avoided the camera.

A Vietnamese woman (married to a Korean man) became impatient with my indecisive color selection and chose a vibrant blue for me.  Well, why not.
Nothing fancy about this place--our feet rested on vinyl, backless seats like you might find at an airport.
And the white toe-between-foam things?  They had 2.  So when your toes were done, the foam
thing was whisked away to the next person's food. I mean feet. I tried hard to trust my friends and all the women who'd been here before us to have clean feet. 

Susan keeping baby Selah happy while chatting with Grace.
Drinking tea and eating cookies (Susan, Reneea, Grace, Jeanine).

Isn't Reneea lovely?
You'd hardly believe how opinionated she is about nail colors - hers and others'.
Grace's bronze was too boring.  :)

Amber joined us later (and Reneea ever-so-nicely vetoed her selected colors).

Happy toes: Reneea, Sherri, Grace

New ministry coming soon to Joyful Church: foot massages.  Count me IN.  :)