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Because, Hey, it’s March 1st!

Haven’t done much writing lately, though a trip to the doctor’s office did afford me some time to read mor eof the book I’m mainly into right now, which is Adam Roberts’ Stone. I’ll have more to say about that later.

Those who want to know which hospital it was can trawl through my archives for posts about recent hospital visits, but since my experiences have been mostly positive, and I’m not out to trash the hoint, I’ll just say that I went to a well-known hospital in Seoul. I was supposed to have a test that would help explain some of the weird symptoms I’ve had over the last few months, a very odd test called a “Head Up Tilt Table” test. As one doctor explained, “It’s horrible. It’s really not nice… they try to make you faint. But… it’s a good test, it can show a lot.”

Now, the test involves you getting an intravenous drip, and then some stuff added to it that accelerates your heartbeat. You’re strapped to a table and then they tilt it, angle it so, yeah, the blood runs to your head. Between having your heartbeat accelerated and your blood rushing to your head, you feel dizzy and nauseous — I was actually told not to eat the day of my test until afterwards, to minimized the risk of throwing up in the testing site. But it simulates the experience of high stress or hard exercise, and is supposed to confirm vasovagal syncope.

Which, by the name of it, sounds like a condition that should be downright fun…

Except that it’s nothing much at all. It’s just that in certain situations, like under stress or physical exertion, the nerves that work together cooperatively controlling your heart rate — one pushing it higher, the other lowering it, working at inverse relation depending on what’s needed — suddenly get all out of whack. Is this dangerous? Well, not directly. Not at all, directly. The main risk is trauma (head and other) due to fainting, which is a nice prognosis, because it just means that if one feels dizzy or weird, one should make sure to sit down. (Or stop driving, but I don’t drive.) You can reduce the occurrence of symptoms by always having a run-down time — never stop running, but slow down to a jog and a walk before stopping completely — and by sleeping properly.

Now, this is my diagnosis, but we couldn’t confirm it via the standard test, the Head Up Tilt Table test. You see, when I was strapped down to the table, with the IV jabbed into my arm, the teenaged translation volunteer sent along with me sitting beside me translating unnecessarily as I understood everything going on, then suddenly I didn’t understand what was going on at all. Gank-gank-gank, said the machine. Gank-gan-gan-gan-gank.

The table wouldn’t tilt. The intern asked me my weight in English, and I told him, in English, “I don’t know, maybe 105 kilos, maybe 107 now.” He said, in Korean, “150 kilos! No wonder!” until the translator pointed out how silly that was and that I was obviously saying 105 kilos. He suddenly looked more confused.

Now, yeah, I’m a big guy. I’m not small. But I have Korean-blooded friends who are my height, or my weight. At the weight I was at when I first arrived in Korea, I’d totally understand the machine not working. But now? It’s a bit ridiculous. Lime said it was downright “humiliating… for the hospital!” And as my friend John said later that day, the problem wasn’t me, it was that the machine was designed for little people. Not that I was overly offended or worried or hurt… I just thought it bizarre, a strange example of “enh, good-enough” engineering, of which I see a lot here.

Anyway, the doctor told me he was pretty sure that this was the condition and the test was just to confirm, told me all the stuff I mentioned above about how to handle the almost-not-a-condition condition, and then sent me on my way.

I decided to go get the test procedure refunded since it hadnt’t been cheap. After about 40 minutes of waiting, I wa told I’d have to wait a long time, and by that time I was starving, so I went at got something to eat. When I got back, I got my refund from the friendly staff and went on my way.

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Had a great dinner with John, mentioned above. We had doenjang jjigae, but with beef in it, something I’ve long thought a good idea but never heard of until John mentioned it. It was just as good as I’d imagined. It was great talking to John, and not just because it’s nice to be around a bright, thoughtful, and anti-establishment type of person like him, or because it’s enlivening to be around someone who’s got plans and ideas and is thinking of things in a way that appeals to me.

No, it’s also because it’s reassuring to me to hear his views on this place I live in. His complaints are comparable to mine, and to those of the people I know who know this place well. As a foreigner living here, sometimes one gets an earful of complaints from people who don’t know enough to deserve the right to an opinion here, foreigners who can’t speak or understand the language at all, who think they understand the culture by the power of their brilliant foreign-eyed observation, who haven’t even pick their way through one book on the country’s history or current situation. That kind of ranting and bitching turns me off.

However, talking to someone like John, into whose heart a part of the culture is braided, and hearing his observations on the direction that Korean society has taken, it rings like a bell for me. The Korea he imagined, growing up abroad, and the real place, they differ, and the reality is disappointing in many ways. Likewise, I see a place with a lot of potential, that is somehow frustratingly dragged down by, well, I’m not sure I can even say what, but all the Koreans around me seem to blame some variation of “the system”. It’s always interested me that Edward Said and Michel Foucault are well-known here, but I do wonder what a Foucauldian analysis of Korean culture would look like.

Such are the things that pass through one’s mind when, say, moving a fridge down the hallway.

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We’ve been busy. It’s sad that moving down the hall is a long, slow, and busy process, but I’ve found it just as time-consuming as moving to another city. More, even, because one has the chance to take one’s time with the cleaning up and the unpacking, as well as of course doing the real cleaning up. Some ajummas were hired to clean up the place for us, but, well, that means a little sweeping and a slammed door. Seriously, when I mopped the bare floors, the bucket of water was black after every room. (Not because the previous tenant was messy, but the way the aircon was set up, the balcony door has been open for at least six months now.)

Our new place is quite comfortable, with enough room for us to settle in happily. It’s been a flurry of new, but not-so-expensive, furniture coming in from online orders, plus shopping for smaller stuff in nearby shops. I convinced Lime that an old-fashioned floor table is a nice touch in the living room, or at least I convinced her to let me buy one. Our living room is a mini-library, with tons of books on the shelves of the newly-installed bookcases. We each have an office-bedroom as well, which means we have the option of a place to crash and sleep — or to study, or to work — when the other is on a different schedule, or ill, or whatever, as well as the proximity of living the same place.

However, there’s always the fact that this space is not really ours. When Lime noticed on Wednesday evening that the place was getting cold, she went and checked and discovered that the floor-heating system was not working. I had her fiddle with the pipes, but to no avail. It took me until I got home — to a freezing home, in which we had to sleep, and shall again have to sleep tonight — that it’s quite possible some dolt actually turned off the gas supply to the heating system.

After all, it’s March 1st! Any foreigner who’s lived in Korea for any length of time has experiences to share about people looking at him or her funny for dressing according to the weather, not the calendar. If it’s bloody hot in May and you’re wearing a T-shirt, people will look at you funny. Some will even comment. “How can you wear short sleeves? It’s not summer!” they ask, sweat on their foreheads. Likewise, those dressed for warm weather on cold days. Apparently not so very long ago there were dress codes for work, and most people had to dress by the calendar, not the weather. It seems a funny thing to ingrain in people — a penchant for ignoring what’s going on outside because of a number on a piece of paper. Then again, I suppose it’s an incredibly useful thing for certain kinds of governments to ingrain in people.

I don’t know that the gas was purposefully shut off on the evening of February 28th out of unthinking obeisance to a calendar — though I’m sure that if it was actually shut off, whoever did it didn’t go home and shut off his own heat in the same way. However, it could just be a mechanical breakdown or something. But I do know that unlike in an apartment building off campus, we apparently have nobody to call when things like this happens — there might be someone, but nobody seems to know his phone number, anyway. As far as I know, anyway, we’re supposed to simply hope that all mishaps happen during office hours on weekdays, or wait till such a time to have them fixed.

Last week, on Friday evening, I arrived home to find a fuse had blown — for no apparent reason, since power consumption in my own flat hadn’t increased while I was out — and by pure chance someone had been working late in the Housing Office. I explained the situation and after half an hour they realized that the control for the blown fuse was in an apartment next to mine, which has been unoccupied for six months. (How in the hell can I fix a problem like that? It’s extremely odd that the fuse box for my apartment is in someone else’s room. More of than “Enh, good enough,” engineering, methinks. The answer is that I can’t, and that with a weekend ahead of me and a fridge full of food and no electricity, it sucks not to have a phone number to call on evenings and weekends, when things go wrong.

Or holidays, like today. March 1st is, after all, a holiday. And since I checked and found the heat was likewise not working in the old flat, to which I still have a key,I think it’s realistic to assume that the heat was shut off for the whole building without any warning the day before a national holiday. (Though it wasn’t last year on March 1st.)

I’m taking the message from this that tomorrow, not only should I call the office to ask that heating be restored to us for a month or so more — until it’s actually not cold anymore — and that I should also ask for a phone number anyone in the Foreigners’ Residence can call outside of office hours so that someone can take care of things like this. While we’re not paying much in rent, and I do very much appreciate the housing we now have, we also do have to live here, and doing without electricity or heat (or, a few weeks ago, hot water) without any forewarning and sometimes without any way of having the problem fixed for days at a time is just frustrating. And when you’re already feeling sick, as Lime is and as I have been lately, with pain in my throat, it sucks to sleep in the cold.

But you deal with things. We picked up a tiny little heater — 40% discounted because, hey, it’s March 1st! — and anyway, soon enough it will be warmer. Even if Der Hausing Bureau refuses to let us heat our homes, the weather will sometime come around and make it unnecessary. And we are after all still happy in this place we’re now living in. The home wifi network is even working, since I set it up this morning, and as soon as I can get wireless internet working on my damned Ubuntu installation, I’ll be good to go.

UPDATE: The secretary sounded shocked when I nicely, calmly told her the heat had been off for two nights, and promised to call right away. And a few minutes later, the sounds of water flushing through the heating system began, so maybe repairs were already under way. Oh, and I meant to post this privately. Hm.

UPDATE 2: This guy showed up and flushed about two gallons of rusty water out of the pipes and told me that in about an hour it would start working again, and the left. He said this is all I need to do if the problem recurs. I’m hoping it works.

Meanwhile, I discovered that I actually have three classes today, not one, and that the last one begins at 8pm. Friday evening classes. I wonder how many people are registered? When I was a student, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted a class on Friday night. But then, the department can’t cancel all its near-empty classes, since that would constitute permission for the Uni to cancel them next time around. We shall see, I suppose.

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