Category: Health

Packing Unpacked

By , June 16, 2013 8:37 pm


One of the challenges we all face when moving to Korea for a year (or potentially longer) is figuring out what we need to bring with us. A year is both a really long time to be away from home, and at the same time, a short time to relocate your life. Making the decisions about what to bring and what to leave can be almost as frustrating as collecting the necessary paperwork (and official stamps) for the work visa.

Here is some advice gathered from the Facebook group on what to bring, what to leave, and what to order online once you’re here.

Clothes: Obviously, you’ll need to bring some clothes to start with, as most societies frown upon people walking around in their nudey-pants, particularly if they’re teaching children. To be more specific, however, it can be difficult for people larger than the average Korean (or even just differently shaped) to buy clothes from the general shops here. If you are tall, muscular, heavy, busty, or have large feet, bring plenty of clothing with you, even underwear. Bras over a b-cup can be difficult to find, as are shoes over 250 (UK 6, US 8) for women, or 270 (UK 9, US 11) for men. Even if you’re at the upper range of the available sizes, like a men’s size 10, selection will be limited. The average Korean man is about 170cm (5’8.5″) tall, and the average woman is about 160cm (5’3.5″) according to Wikipedia, and clothes tend to top out around size 8-10 US (10-12UK) for women, waist size 32-34 for men. While it’s not impossible to find some stuff, particularly with the recent introduction of H&M to the town, clothes shopping can be frustrating for anyone considered largey-size.

Personal Products: Over the years, more and more products have become available on the Korean market, so a lot of the old advice (bring a year’s worth of deodorant) isn’t as necessary. You can buy deodorant here, both in shops (Nivea) and online, so check out iherb.com to see if they have your brand before you waste valuable baggage space. Men may want to bring “manly” scented ones, though. Likewise, you can get most hair products, unless you have curly hair, and some tampons brands are available in bigger supermarkets and some pharmacies.

Toothpaste, however, is a different story. Most foreigners I know are not keen on the Korean toothpaste brands, so bring your Colgate or Sensodyne from home, or check iherb to see what’s available to order. Women may also want to stock up on their preferred foundation, skin bronzers, and even eye shadow, blush and lipstick. The affordable makeup brands here, such as Faceshop or Skin Food, tend to suit Asians, and don’t always work well on other skin tones. While the makeup counters in the the department stores generally stock the same colour ranges in lipstick or eyeshadow as back home, the prices can be double or triple what you’d pay.

While most brands of medication here are similar to home, you may want to bring a good supply of birth control pills if you are very particular in your brand. Cold meds here never seem to do the trick, so you may also want to bring Lem sips/Neocitron, cold and flu pills, cough syrup, extra-strength pain killers like Excederin, Vick’s vapo rub, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Alka Seltzer and melotonin – all of these were specifically mentioned by our Facebook members. Female friends have also complained that the yeast infection meds here aren’t very strong, so if you’re prone, you may want to bring a packet or two of Canesten or similar from home.

Talcum powder can help you deal with the humidity induced sweat of summer. And if you have a baby, you may want to bring teething gel, as well as bigger toys, as they can be rather pricey.

Food and Kitchen Supplies:  Again, things have changed a lot recently, with the addition of a Costco to Ulsan, Homeplus bringing in more Tesco products, the Foreign Mart, and a general opening up of the Korean market to foreign products. A lot of the spices, cooking mixes and other items that were impossible to find even a year or two ago are now on the shelves of several stores. But some things are still hard to find. Oxo cubes and vegetable soup stock were both mentioned, as the Korean versions often have MSG in them, and the vegetable ones may not be vegetarian. North Americans may want to bring packets of dry Ranch dressing to add to sour cream, Brits may need Marmite, and Aussies will want to pack Vegemite. The popcorn shaker flavourings work well to turn plain chips to Salt and Vinegar or Ketchup, as those two flavours aren’t available in Korean shops. Mexican seasoning packets are also hard to come by here, as are Mac and Cheese packets (stock up on the  sachets, but ditch the pasta to save space in your bags), and gravy mix.

It can be hard to find sturdy potato mashers and large sized apple slicers, though Daiso and the supermarkets do often carry them. You can also try the more upscale Home Decorating stores, which often have premium products (at premium prices).

Home: Most people coming to Korea to work are here for at least one year, so you want to make your apartment comfortable and homey for that time. While there are some bedsheets available here now, the selection is limited and they can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to bring some sheets and pillow cases from home. Also, doing small things like printing out photos from home, or bringing a few special knick knacks to put up can help you feel more settled in.

To do before you leave:

Set up a Skype account with auto-recharge, to prevent any problems with topping up your account from abroad. You can also set up a home-country Skype number, and set it to call-forward to your mobile phone. That way people can just call a local number and it rings through to your cell here. Viber and Kakao-talk are great for keeping in touch with friends with smartphones, as they offer both free messaging and calls.

It’s easy enough these days to get a Korean phone plan, so it’s an option to get a phone here, but if you’re bringing one from home, make sure it’s unlocked before you get here, so you can just switch SIM cards.

Another good idea is to pick up an International Driver’s License before you leave home, regardless of whether or not you think you’ll be driving when you get here. While many people just stick to the buses and taxis, which are cheap and plentiful, cars, motorcycles and scooters can add an element of freedom to your experience, allowing you to explore the countryside more fully. You’ll also need an International License to rent a car or scooter while traveling, either within or outside of Korea. If you stay in Korea for more than a year, you can also trade in your home license for a Korean one – this advice is for Canadians, but it’s similar for many other nationalities, though some countries do need to do some testing.

If you have any questions, or if you’re curious about the availability of a certain product, check out iherb or gmarket, or feel free to ask questions on the UlsanOnline Facebook group.

News update 05-12-2013

By , May 13, 2013 12:13 am


news update

In Korean news, this week:

Convenience Store market oversaturated

Is the world ending, or are people just making dire predictions about the Korean Economy?

Gord Sellar made that MBC Parody last year

Study of 1.5 million teenagers in 75 countries finds that girls are better at reading and boys are better at math

Is coverage of foreign teachers’ crimes really so much more? Yes, it turns out.

Yoon Chang-joong situation spirals out of control

“It wasn’t me”, says construction magnate accused of sex party bribes

And like a half dozen other things

CONVENIENCE STORE MARKET OVERSATURATED – ONLY HALF OF CONVENIENCE STORES ARE BREAKING EVEN

As reported in the Hankoryeh last week, over half of South Korean convenience stores average under one million won in sales a day. One-quarter of all stores have sales under 100,000 won for overnight shifts.

The data is helpfully broken down by zoning. That family-run convenience store on the corner near where you live? They’re probably losing money, if they hire staff and don’t run it themselves. Convenience stores are the most popular type of franchise for new small business owners. The government has ordered that new stores should not be allowed to open within 250 metres of each other.

Fun fact: did you know that convenience stores are required to be open 24/7? And did you know that “marts” do not have this requirement?

——

BLOG POST CATALOGUES CELEBRITIES IN ADVERTISEMENTS IN MYEONGDONG. NEWS UPDATE EDITOR VOMITS.

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like Myeongdong. It was one of the first places I was told about when I came to Korea – “oh, you should go to Myeongdong in Seoul. Many foreigners go there to enjoy shopping.”

Well, I did. But I hated it. Even Itaewon is better for the soul than Myeongdong’s overpriced faux-Korean style.

Well, Maze28 (aka 한국에 가자, or “let’s go to korea”) has been collecting photos of K-Pop idols in Myeongdong, and around Seoul and businesses like Tony Moly and outside of Seoul in Busan, for some unknown reason. I presume he collects these photos to atone for some past wrongdoing, or purely as an exercise in masochism.

If you’re one of the strange people who enjoy seeing advertisements with K-Pop Idols in them, then click the link above. Otherwise, consider it a warning not to go to Myeongdong.

Aside, if you’re interested in seeing the people that middle-school girls talk about, click on through and you can pair faces with names really easily.

——

ALWAYS POPULAR TO PREDICT ARMAGEDDON

For the Huffington Post, the Korean economy has a few problems – he’s predicting Korea may fall into the same trap of Japan’s “lost decades”.

He cites this as evidence:

1. an aging population and lowest fertility rate in the world.
2. too many university graduates
3. high youth unemployment
4. high private debt load
5. persistent social inequality

I have nothing meaningful to add, except that solving any of these problems may help solve the others – solving recent-graduate unemployment would create more revenue for the pension program and lower privately-held debt.

——

IT TURNS OUT GORD SELLAR MADE THAT MBC PARODY LAST YEAR

The title says it all, folks. Your friend and mine Gord Sellar was the one who made the parody video last year, after MBC decided to broadcast a hit piece vilifying interracial couples.

He had distanced himself from it until he had left Korea, which has a bad reputation when it comes to understanding western humour (i.e. satire).

In fact, Saturday Night Live Korea’s Weekend Update segment is being sued by Byun Hee-jae, the Korea Communications Standards commission reprimanded Gag Concert for not using honorifics when talking about the president, and depending on how these issues play out, we could start seeing either much better comedy in Korea or much worse.

I’m no Picasso posted something a month ago on international couples, and if you’re interested in a blog about such a thing, check hers out.

——

GIRLS BETTER AT READING, BOYS BETTER AT MATH

Well, not exactly. Don’t worry, it’s more nuanced than that. What they found is quoted here, at length. You can find the executive summary of the study too.

When it comes to reading, sex difference is smaller at the high end of the performance continuum. That means among those who are best at reading, or best at math, there’s a smaller difference between boys and girls. But at the bottom of the scale, quote: “in 2009, the bottom 5% of boys scored 50 points lower than the bottom 5% of girls”.

But the opposite is true in math. For those who do poorly in math, there is little difference between boys and girls. But at the high end, the difference is much greater.

From the study:

“Interventions that focus on high-achieving girls in mathematics and on low-achieving boys in reading are likely to yield the strongest educational benefits.”

——

FOREIGN TEACHERS’ CRIMES GET REPORTED MORE THAN SIX TIMES KOREANS FOR THE SAME OFFENCE

Popular Gusts of Feeling has a really interesting article for those of us who wonder if the media really has it in for Foreign teachers.

Long story short, in terms of number of articles on national news, that American teacher who was wanted on a warrant he fled 8 years ago when he came to Korea got more media attention than a middle school teacher who attempted to rape one of his students, a high school teacher who repeatedly molested a student, an elementary school vice principal who molested nine children, a law school professor who was dismissed for touching a law student, and an elementary school teacher who broke into someone’s apartment and tried to rape them – the single foreign teacher who was wanted for (alleged) rape got more news coverage than all of them put together.

If you’re interested in reading more, check out Popular Gusts’ articles here, connecting the news with North Korean propaganda, and here, for his translation of a Kukmin Ilbo editorial.

——

SO MUCH DRAMA IN THE CHEONGWADAE

According to the victim, immediately after the Park Geun-hye’s first meeting with Barack Obama, on May 7th Spokesman Yoon Chang-joong was drinking alone with the female intern for the Korean embassy. After drinking, he groped her. She brought a friend, which defused the situation. But later that night, Yoon summoned her to his room. She refused and he screamed insults at her over the phone. When she did finally go to his room, Yoon answered the door in his underwear. She left and called the police after talking with her friends at the embassy. Yoon packed his bags and took the first flight to Seoul. Upon hearing about all of this, the Blue House decided to fire him on the spot.

But like any of these stories, there’s two sides. Of course, Yoon claims innocence in the whole matter.

The Presidential Chief of Staff, even, has apologized deeply for these allegations, calling it very shameful and unacceptable.

I have this to say.

MichealJacksonPopcorn

——

CONTRACTOR ACCUSED OF SEX PARTIES AS BRIBES SAYS “IT WASN’T ME”

Note: the English Dong-a Ilbo uses the word “Contractor”, which carries connotations of manual work. Rather, he was a business-owner who bid on government construction contracts.

Construction magnate Yoon, accused of a sex-bribery scandal involving high-ranking officials and who’s who types, predictably denied everything.

Police also have testimonies from ten women who said they went to Yoon’s vacation home to provide sex for patrons.

——

IN OTHER NEWS…

One-woman anti-multiculturalism protest actually stirs thoughtful debate.

New York Korean-American rapper Awkwafina raps about her vag in a new music video

Life is still not super great for gays in Korea

An article about the bittersweet, romantic story of a full passport

Sixth North American Workshop on Korean Literature deadline is July 31st

Analysts say Japan isn’t trying to devalue its currency

Popular Gusts thinks noses look like dicks

News Update 2013-03-24: Sex Sex Sex edition

By , March 24, 2013 4:21 pm


Incoming President Park Geun-Hye finds her administration already reeling from a major scandal – as multiple high-ranking officials were caught having orgy sex at a country villa.

These orgies were arranged by a top construction magnate – trying to seduce government officials into giving him exclusive contracts. Only six days into his term of office as Vice Minister, Kim Hak-eui (김학의) has been implicated and promptly resigned, continuing to claim innocence.

The chief of national police has also been implicated, and more will likely follow.

——

In a step forward for sexual identity rights, Transsexuals can amend the gender on official documents WITHOUT needing genital reassignment surgery.

——

A talent manager, identified only as “Mr. Gu”, was arrested and jailed for blackmail after he videotaped one of his actor clients having sex with another manager, Mr. Baek. They sent a CD with these videos to the actor’s parents, saying they would release the files unless they paid 500 million won.

——

a new law, approved by the administration of Lee Myung-bak and coming into effect just last week, puts new misdemeanor laws on the books including the much-maligned miniskirt law – girls (or boys) wearing skirts higher than four inches above the knee can be fined on the spot by police for indecent exposure.

On top of this, there are new fines against stalking, begging on the street in public, refusing to provide immediate help to any government employee, and verbally abusing police officers (who are trying to give you a ticket for these, I guess).

선대인 @kennedian3:

[Indecent exposure, ₩50,000. Stalking, ₩80,000. Scalping tickets, ₩160,000] So this is what Park Geun-hye was talking about when she mentioned a society ‘ruled by laws’. She focuses on petty crimes to arrest ordinary citizens and ignores the tax evasion practiced by chaebol chairmen and bureaucrats.

——

Popular actor Park Si-hoo is under police investigation after being accused of rape by a fellow actor identified only as “A”. The story is more complicated than it would first seem – as police investigation revealed that Miss “A” and her friend “B” were discussing how to get the most settlement money out of Park. Quote:

“And let’s try to negotiate some good settlement money. Park Si-hoo is gonna plead on his knees…. If he doesn’t pay, let’s sue him. He’s dead.”

I’m sure more details will come out about this later – let’s withhold judgment on either Park or Miss A/B until all the facts are available.

——

Abortion remains illegal in South Korea, and a new book published by 25 Korean women who have had abortions has spurred a national debate on the topic – at least online. Many, many hospitals provide these illegal services, and charge extortionary amounts of money to do so.

News Tidbits for 2/25/2013

By , March 1, 2013 11:09 am


News Update for the week of February 25th
The top headline these days – across Domestic foreigners’ blogs, foreign affairs news in other countries, and korean news: Park Geun-hye, the winner of the December elections, was finally inaugurated. The incoming president faces serious concerns about the North’s recent nuclear test, a slower economy than usual, and pressure to repair unfair economic practices. In the run-up to the election, she promised a more level business environment where small and medium-sized businesses can compete with the Chaebols that currently drive the economy.
—–
Three sisters were found in the basement of an apartment building in Goyang. Due to their parents divorce, they were living with their father. As a part-time labourer, he was forced to be out of town for long periods of time – and sent back 800,000 won each month for his daughters. However, the stepmother kept most of it for herself. She paid the rent, and sublet the apartment, forcing the three sisters to live in the basement and eat nothing but rice and kimchi. The sisters were never enrolled in school, they never had gas or electricity, and they were only ever allowed to go out of the house once. A criminal charge of a violation of the Child Welfare Act has been levied by police against both the stepmother and the father. Korean Link
—–
A Japanese-American teacher in Japan who did a lecture on Racism in Japan is being threatened by that country’s equivalent of Ilbe bugs – hypernationalist conservative netizens who like to make trouble.
—–
More posturing on this side of the 38th Parallel as Korean military officials say, “yeah, we don’t have nuclear weapons now – but if we wanted them we could totally have them – no problem.” As Korea has had commercial nuclear power since 2000, and there are currently 23 reactors in the country, there is little doubt.
In other news, two-thirds of South Koreans support developing nuclear weapons.
—–
Prior reports of our being bloodthirsty animals were incorrect – Gusts of Popular Feeling has provided the statistics to correct a previous report that crime rates among foreigners has risen 44% since 2007. The previous report claimed, for some nationalities, a sixfold higher number than in reality. This use of incorrect statistics wouldn’t be a problem except that it comes from a government-sponsored research institute – one that the National Assembly uses to make decisions.
—–
A legal NGO is sending a letter of allegation to the UN over the HIV testing that all us E2 visa holders had to undertake.
As of the time of writing, the Korean Government has not explained any link between classroom teaching and HIV infection. Nor have they provided any official data to support a link between sex crimes and E2 visa holders. Nor do they require the same HIV test of Korean nationals who want to be teachers.
Apologies, but the deadline for giving testimony was February 23rd. NGO link here.

News Bytes – 1/17/2012

By , January 17, 2013 5:41 pm


Some newsworthy items from around Korea this week:

  • Last year, it was suspected that North Korea was behind the cyber attacks on South Korean newspapers. This week, Korea’s National Police Agency confirms it. Earlier this week, CNN reported on South Korea’s efforts to combat such cyber warfare with a team of hackers.  However, late breaking news today from Seoul is that the “transition team” of incoming president Park Geun Hye, reversed that announcement. They told reporters to simply

    run antivirus programs and change passwords more often.

    That should keep the commies at bay. Presumably, the new president wants to keep things nice and easy between the two countries and not anger the north with the findings.

  •  After a couple of attempts last year at getting into the space age, South Korea is ready to try again. Sometimes between January 30 and February 8, Korea will once again try to get something into orbit.  Last year two failed attempts (no launch) followed two previous failures with disastrous launches.  Here’s hoping Korea finally gets into the limited club of nations in space.  North Korea made the list with a surprise launch in December 2012.
  • Flu season, which has hit hard in the USA this year, is expected to hit Japan and South Korea shortly.
  • No more beatings and no more sexual abuse. At least for athletes in Korea.  The government is cracking down on abusive coaches after the learning that physical abuse is rampant.  30% of athletes said they’d been beaten by their coaches. 9.5% said they weer sexually abused. 47% of parents knew their children had been hit but refused to say anything. And 23% of athletes believed that physical abuse was a necessary motivating tool.  And you thought it was all fun and games!
  • And finally, my new hero in Korean society is actress Kim JeongNan. She is instituting a program to improve the bad driving in Korea.

Suicide in Korea – a National Problem

By , January 11, 2013 10:17 am


After baseball player Cho Sung Min committed suicide earlier this month, a few professionals are beginning to raise some flags about the national problem. President of Seoul National Hospital, Ha Kyoo Seob, jumped in front of cameras at a press conference said the media should tone down their sensationalism after a famous suicide. Korean media, he says, has a tendency to lay out the detailed methods of how a person conducts their own suicide thereby influencing others, particularly those who are teens or in their early 20s.

The director of the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, Professor Paul Yip, also made news this week on the subject. He said that the media should play a part of helping this problem in that they fail to discuss the issues surrounding the mental illness.

“I think there’s a lot of people who commit suicide, they do suffer mental illness, they do suffer from depression, [but] this information is not usually reported in the media,” he said.

“They always say that it’s because of a failure of an exam, or illness.

“And just to simplify the cause of suicide is it not a very useful way to promote this correct awareness of the mental wellness.”

Suicide rates rise dramatically after a famous person kills himself.  When Cho Sung Min’s actress wife killed herself a few years back the suicide rates rose an astonishing 70%. Koreans dramas that portray suicides often romanticize about it. Ha says he’d like to see more TV shows that portray someone actually getting mental health help and dealing with the problem rather than killing themselves.

Late last year, UlsanOnline reported on how Korea currently deals with the notion of suicide – happy little statues on Mapo bridge from which people jump. If you’re about to jump, the happy little statues will make you feel better and you’ll go back to your nightmare of 20 hour days of high school, your 100 hour work week of work, the endless competition to be the best or other depressing issues.

Korean society plays down most of mental illness and stress that one should just be strong and pick oneself up and carry on. Those that can’t just aren’t strong enough.

Korea has the highest suicide rate in the developed world with 32 per 100,000 taking their own life.

It’s way past time to start acting like a developed nation and understand, as a society,  what mental health is and isn’t and deal with this problem. It’s an illness, not a weakness.

Adventures in Korean Medical Malpractice

By , December 21, 2012 2:36 pm


What follows is  one woman’s story of medical malpractice. Specifically, the medical procedure is Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis or what is commonly known as LASIK – the correction of nearsighted vision by laser surgery. We are not publishing this story to warn people away from LASIK, nor are we attacking the Korean medical system. Most people that have had the procedure performed have been thrilled with the results, and there are excellent doctors here who provide excellent care to their patients. The reason we’re publishing this story is to inform people of the differences in medical malpractice laws between Korea and many western countries.  This is Jen’s story, and we’ll allow her to tell it in her own words (the final paragraphs were added later, from information Jen provided after her return to the US). In order to avoid legal troubles (the slander/defamation laws here are different than home, too) we will not name the doctor, but we do have the doctor’s name and clinic on file.

Jen’s LASIK [horror] story:

On June 25, 2012 my boyfriend and I, together with 2 Korean friends (KF1 and KF2), went to an eye clinic in Jung-gu, which had been recommended to us by KF1. At that time, my boyfriend and I both had a pre-LASIK eye exam. Dr. M told my boyfriend that he is not a good candidate for LASIK, because his cornea does not hold a perfectly round shape. I was told that I was an ideal candidate for LASIK. I had slight near-sightedness (Left: -1.75, Right: -1.50) and thick, round corneas. The doctor said that with my type of eyes, I would have the best possible result from LASIK. So, I scheduled the procedure for July 14, 2012. Dr. M said that I couldn’t wear contacts before the surgery; I had to wear my glasses.

Driving home from work before the surgery, I noticed that I had some difficulty seeing with my glasses (as they are a weaker prescription than my contacts), so I asked KF1 to call Dr. M to ask some specific questions about what my eyesight would be like after LASIK. These are the questions I asked, and the answers I was given:

Q1. Will I have vision like I have with my glasses (OK, but not great; blurry vision at night and when looking afar), or will I have vision like I have with my contacts (great vision up close and far away, no problems at night)?

A1. The doctor will use a computer to measure your prescription and to measure the LASIK cuts. The computer will shape your cornea like your contacts, so you will have vision like your contacts.

Q2. I am worried about driving. Will I have any problems driving and seeing road signs after LASIK?

A2. You will be able to drive without any problem as soon as one day after your procedure.

Since these answers seemed good to me, I had the LASIK as scheduled, on Saturday, July 14. And after the surgery, I had my first follow-up appointment on Monday, July 16. I could read the eye chart well with my left eye, but I couldn’t read well with my right eye. Dr. M examined my right eye and said, “No problem. Come back in one week.”

I went back to the clinic on Monday, July 23 with KF1. At that time (10 days after my LASIK), the doctor said that the cornea in my right eye had healed with a wrinkle. He said that he needed to do another procedure to smooth out my cornea and that after it was smoothed, I would be able to see out of my right eye with no problem. That afternoon I had the cornea smoothing procedure. At my next follow-up appointment, I could see a little better out of my right eye, but I still could not read much of the eye chart. He said that my eyes would need one month to heal, so there was nothing he can do to improve my vision until after the month had passed.

On August 21, I visited the doctor with KF1 for my 1-month follow-up appointment. I still could not read much of the eye chart with my right eye. There had been no improvement over the past month. Dr. M was satisfied with his work and told me I should be satisfied too.

I explained that not only was my vision significantly worse than it was with my contacts (it is even worse than it was with my glasses), but I also have difficulty reading road signs while driving, both during the day and at night. At this point Dr. M said, “You must be lying, because according to your sight test, you can see with no problem.” Then, my Korean friend said, “I have the same sight test result as you and I can see road signs. I don’t believe that you have a problem driving.” At that point, I referred to the questions I asked before the LASIK (Q1 and Q2) and the answers the doctor had given me (A1 and A2). Both the doctor and my friend replied with, “I don’t remember that conversation.”

The doctor finally said that he was satisfied with his work and that if I had a problem, I needed to go to another eye clinic. If another eye doctor said there was a problem with his work, and I brought him a medical report saying there was a problem with my eyes, he would give me a refund. OK, so, time to get a second opinion…

In the meantime, I asked him to write a prescription for some glasses to wear while driving. His response was, “You do not need glasses. You have no problem with your eyes.”

On August 31, I went to a new eye clinic with a new Korean friend (KF3). The new doctor said that there was a problem with my right eye. He took photos of my eyes and showed me white dots on the photo of my right eye that are absent on the photo of my left eye. He said that these white dots appeared because there is still a wrinkle in my right eye. I asked him to write a medical report stating that I have a problem with my right eye so I can get a refund from Dr. M, and become a regular patient of the new doctor.

Here is where Korean culture and law come into play…

The second doctor explained that in Korea, no doctor will ever make an official statement about another doctor’s work. He said that this is for political reasons. Korean doctors will never speak poorly of other Korean doctors’ work, even if a mistake is evident. He said that all Korean doctors know about this political “courtesy,” so Dr. M told me to get a report he knew I never could get. The new doctor told KF3 and myself, in a very politically correct way, that at his clinic, when LASIK patients visit for their next-day follow-up appointment, if the cornea is wrinkled, they do a cornea smoothing procedure right away. He explained that the longer the cornea stays wrinkled, the less chance there is that it will heal smoothly. In some cases, corneas never heal smoothly, so, in his clinic, they smooth the cornea ASAP. The new doctor said he didn’t understand why Dr. M waited 10 days to smooth my cornea, as waiting so long left some wrinkles in it. But, this doctor will never put that diagnosis in writing.

The second doctor said that there was a 40% chance that my cornea would continue to smooth and heal itself in the next 2 months. He said that he would not do any procedure until after 2 more months (3 months after my original LASIK). By this time, I will be back in the USA, so he suggested I see an eye doctor there in October, to see if there is anything that can be done to improve my vision at that time.

The second doctor also gladly wrote me a prescription for driving. My left eye is 0.0 and my right eye is -0.75. That’s only a 0.75 improvement from my pre-LASIK prescription of -1.50! And yet Dr. M said I have no problem.

Following this, I booked an appointment with a top eye doctor in Seoul. He basically said the same thing as the second doctor; there was clearly a problem with my right eye, and a cornea smoothing procedure should have been performed earlier in order to fix the wrinkling. He also added that, in his opinion,  I wasn’t a great candidate for LASIK. He said because my eye sight was not poor enough he would never have performed the procedure at his office and the risks outweighed the benefits. Unfortunately, he also refused to put anything down on paper that would officially state that Dr. M had made mistakes in treating me.

Since I had no official statement that I had a problem with my eye, Dr. M refused to give any refund or admit any fault. Through friends, I contacted a lawyer in Busan, who sent a letter requesting a settlement, but the doctor ignored it. The lawyer explained that it would cost more to bring a case against Dr. M than I would receive back, even if I won the best case scenario. Generally, Korean malpractice suits are only awarded the cost of the procedure. It would be very difficult to win the best case scenario as the doctor didn’t impair my vision to the point of disability. Also, the lawyer said if I wanted to bring a case, I’d have to return to Korea in 6 months (or possibly longer) to have a “certified” Korean doctor examine my eyes, which would postpone any possible treatment in the USA.

After returning to the USA, I had a cornea re-float procedure on my right eye. It’s the same corrective procedure that Dr. M did, but the doctor here did it more effectively. At my five-day checkup, my vision had improved beyond what it ever was in the Korean clinic – it was 20/20. After the one-month check-up, I’ll know if that quality of vision will remain, but things are hopeful at last.

News Odds and Ends – 11/06/12

By , November 6, 2012 12:02 pm


While we’re all waiting on the outcome of the American election, a few news items from around Korea are worth reading.

  • Two nuclear reactors were shut down at the Yeonggwang nuclear power plant on Monday. Authorities claim that parts had been supplied using falsified quality certifications.  Shutting the reactors down will mean a loss of 5% of Korea electric capacity. That may not sound like much, but the country is already on the knife-edge of capacity and the coming winter will likely mean shortages.  Economy Minister Hong SukWoo warns of “unprecedented shortages” and says that authorities must now create a “super intense power management plan.”
  • With the Korean won fluttering about 1090 to the US dollar, investors are holding back, waiting for America’s election results and waiting to see what Seoul will due to shore up the exchange rate. Expect big changes after the election so exporting companies can reap bigger profits on higher exchange rates. Players in forex have long suspected Bank of Korea intervention to keep the won at at a locally acceptable level rather than let market forces drive the value.
  • Google CEO Eric Schmidt fawns all over Korea with love.
  • Koreans may not like American beef because of mad cow disease fears (yes, still. Ask a few Koreans) but they’re getting a small taste of that from Taiwan.  Imports of South Korean noodles have been halted due to fears that some Korean  noodles contain carcinogens.
  • And finally, MSNBC has a happy article on the joys of studying for Korea’s university entrance exams. Oh, how wondrous it must be to exist as a Korean teenager where a single test on a single day can affect the entire remainder of your sad, little life.

News Bytes – 10/19/2012

By , October 19, 2012 8:41 am


A few tidbits of news of and in Korea:

  • Samsung and Apple are still embroiled in patent lawsuits regarding the iPhone, iPad and Samsung’s devices. The latest fun news is that Apple has lost it’s appeal in the UK of the iPad vs the Galaxy 10.1 Tab.  The judge in the case rules the Galaxy Tab wasn’t “cool enough” to be considered a copy.  Even better, Apple is required to run six months worth of apology ads on it’s website claiming  Samsung did not infringe on Apple’s patents.
  • Samsung is also making headlines regarding health and safety at its semiconductor plants. Some workers want Samsung to acknowledge that workers who died of leukemia were the result of an “industrial accident.”  Admitting fault  might cause serious problems for Samsung reputation as well have repercussions for industry in general.    Not admitting fault allows the company to sweep the problems under the rug.  Dialogue and court proceedings have been ongoing for over five  years on the issue.
  • South Korean President Lee MyungBak made a surprise visit to Yeonpyeong island yesterday. Yeonpyeong was shelled by North Korean artillery in 2010. Expect North Korean rhetoric to follow.
  • South Korea and China are angry that Japan’s Liberal Democratic party president visited a controversial war memorials shrine. The shrine holds remains of convicted war criminals from WWII.

Happy Shiny People

By , October 5, 2012 10:35 am


We’re all so happy!  Everything is Gangnam Style:  money flows like water, grades are easily attained and great jobs abound. But not everyone feels that way.  An 18 year old man who was  depressed (a word Koreans still do not associate as a medical issue as much a character issue) attacked a 10 year old boy in an affluent neighborhood of Seoul.  The man was upset and told police that

“I hated the rich. I cannot be rich however hard I try because I am socially marginalized.” When he committed the crime, he carried a note saying, “There are things I can never change even if I work hard and succeed someday.”

The man wanted to kill a famous lawmaker, but decided security was too tight and switched instead to killing school children. He scoped out a school where affluent families live after reading up it on the internet and then canvassed the playground and walked the halls. (Schools don’t need security because there are no deviants in Korea to attack or kidnap kids) He eventually attacked a boy at random with a shovel breaking his elbow.

Police said the man was anxious and depressed and had tried to kill himself three times over the past year.  Of course,  mental illness doesn’t occur in Korea because Koreans have pure blood, are mentally strong  and are above those sorts of things. Therefore, the man was not properly diagnosed or treated. The tail-end of this article has a law professor (not a doctor)  blaming the problems on materialism.

The country does, however, recognize it has a problem with suicide. So they are trying to fix that problem by putting happy messages on the Mapo Bridge in Seoul where suicides have taken a leap (pardon the pun) upwards over the past several years. Authorities will post friendly, happy messages on the bridge such as

“Did you know gorillas all have blood type B?”

or something that might actually be helpful to a suicidal person such as

“Have you eaten yet?”

I’m no psychiatrist, but phrases like these simply have to work – I’m happier already just reading them. They also plan to place photographs of cheerful members of someone’s family to remind these despondent, suicidal folks that their family just isn’t as cool as the one in the picture. That can’t fail. The tail end of the Reuters article spells out one of the biggest problems with mental health in Korea – the fear of being stigmatized because of a mental illness.  Apparently, death is a more attractive option than dealing with friends and family who believe you don’t have a strong enough character to pull yourself up and out of depression.

Public Radio International has another take on this and kindly offers that while this “solution” to the suicide problem is a good step, if people really are determined to kill themselves there are plenty of bridges.

Stress levels in Seoul might improve with the divesting of a few thousand souls with the opening of the new “Happy City”, Sejong.  The new city was built over the past five years to offload the overcrowded city of Seoul by placing civil servants in a city of their own. Not everyone is happy about being in happy city. Some residents say that

“There is nothing in Sejong at the moment, especially in the area where I am about to live,” … “I will have no friends, no acquaintances, and nothing to do. I’m going to feel lonely.”

Better add some more happy messages to the bridges in Sejong as well.