Friday, November 26, 2010

Nervous?

Well, perhaps my regular readers are anxious to hear news from Korea about the recent attack on the South by the North and the return fire. I'm not a journalist or a politician or military, so my perspective is very limited. Keep that in mind as you read on.

Tuesday afternoon in the midst of searching for my daughter who had been MIA on campus for nearly an hour, a colleague stopped and gave me two pieces of vital information. 1. She knew where my daughter was! 2. She told me that about an hour previously, the North had fired "missiles" on the South and that I should go home right away.

Now that's a bit unsettling. Of course I didn't know what to think of it all, but as far as I could tell the skies were clear of aircraft and all seemed as usual. I decided the best plan was not to panic and wait to see some news for more reliable information, so I proceeded to find my daughter and head home with the kids via public transportation.

Nothing seemed unusual on the ride home. Once there I checked the news, which in fact seemed to be all about the unwarranted attack on a small island that lies on the tense border between North and South Korea. At that time one S. Korean soldier was reported killed, homes on the island on fire and evacuations of the civilians taking place. There were also reports of injured soldiers and civilians on the island.

No air raid sirens, no email from the embassy, no email from the school calling off PD day the next day. Brent was away in India and I was alone for a week with the kids. Still sticking with plan A: Don't Panic. That night I felt a bit nervous, said a special prayer for our safety and slept soundly.

Wednesday staff talked on and off about the attack and how weird it was and how we all hoped there'd be a quick cool down. I heard a few stories of how employers sent their employees home early on Tuesday to be with their families. But life went on as usual and we still had our Thanksgiving Dinner together - all 200 of us! Wonderful "traditional" American Thanksgiving Feast. Yum! So much to be thankful for!

The day proceeded as usual, I watched the news when I could or checked CNN.com for updates. You all probably saw more in-depth news coverage than I did. At night I said a special prayer for our safety and slept peacefully.

Let me digress for a moment and just talk about the USUAL response of the Koreans to living next door to Mr. KJ-Il. Although it may surprise you, the Koreans generally don't worry about the North. They live their daily lives as anyone might expect. They sort of see him as an ornery cousin who "goes off" every now and then, but they don't take him too seriously. The rest of us take our cues from the natives. This time there seems to be some real unease, however. Afterall, the S. Koreans were attacked and homes on fire and people injured and TWO soldiers killed.

Thursday didn't seem much different. I noticed more military helicopter activity overhead than usual. We usually will see a few helicopters each day. This day there were a few more with more frequency; however, I glanced at the Koreans in my vicinity and no one looked up or seemed to take notice. So, again, I took my cue from them. At night I said my special prayer for our safety and slept peacefully.

Today I headed in to Seoul to the American Embassy for some business. Heading off of the subway toward the embassy, we met up with an American soldier on his way with his girlfriend to get married. He told us that while they are on 1-hour alert and he normally wouldn't be able to be in Seoul, his commander let him leave to get married. It seems that if there is a need for evacuation, the girlfriend (Korean) would only be able to leave if they were already married. He also mentioned that one of the first groups to be evacuated (should that ever be necessary) would be teachers. That makes me feel better - sort of. There were several police vehicles and a SWAT vehicle just outside the embassy. Lots of Korean guards outside the embassy. A tad unsettling to see all the police presence. . . but for all I know it is always like that. I imagine it is.

Tonight, the markets seem viable, as far as I know there haven't been further incidents. So, I'll say my special prayer for our safety and hope to sleep peacefully. I hope you all do the same.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Korean Health Care

Dear Readers,

The time has come to write about health care.  Now that Brent and I have both experienced the health care system, I've got a few stories to share.

First of all, a tad bit of research tells me that in Korea participation is compulsory, health coverage is universal, insurance benefits are standardized, the government is primarily responsible for paying, and doctor's fees are standardized.  We have international coverage through our employer.

Having said that, our recent trips to the doctor for various ailments has been quite the education.  First, we both battled some sort of infections for several weeks.  We didn't have time nor an inclination to head to the doctor.  Too much of a pain to coordinate, right?  Yes, but after 3 weeks of illness we finally gave up and went to the doctor to see about getting antibiotics.  We took the family by cab to a place about 20 minutes away.  I saw a doctor, received a diagnosis of sinus infection and a prescription for 4 drugs, and headed to the desk to pay upfront (money will go toward my deductible).  All told, less that $100 total.

Yes.  Less than $100 for my doctor visit and my drugs!  Brent's fees were similar.

Just over a week later I made another visit to an allergy clinic for an allergic reaction to something unknown that resulted in another prescription of 3 days of 3 drugs.  Doctor's visit?  $16.  Drugs? $7

Brent ended up making a quick visit to another doctor for wax in his ear that he needed cleaned out.  Again, the doctor visit and treatment were incredibly cheap - but effective.

We stopped in a mall last week to see about eye exam and new glasses for Brent.  The optometrist was able to see him immediately.  The visit was short; he found some glasses; we were done in 1.5 hours.  The bill was $200 for everything.

So, we're pretty impressed overall.  I've heard that some people are dissatisfied with some of the prescriptions as being too weak to really tackle the problem, so we've heeded the advice of those who have doctor recommendations.   On the other hand, I know that some people make sure they get all their dental work taken care of here as it is so much cheaper.  I see why.

Of course, language can be an issue.  Our school nurse is helpful with calling and setting up appointments.  Taxi drivers are helpful pointing out the right building. 

At any rate, I now understand why our Korean exchange student was so shocked by a $68 prescription for eyedrop treatment!

Here's to your health!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pepero Day

No, not Pepperoni Day. . .
Pepero day. [peh-peh-roh]

See picture Link


We were recently introduced to a "holiday" in Korea called Pepero day. Pepero Day is like a Valentine's Day in Korea where young people exchange pepero and small gifts. It's celebrated every year on 11/11 (Nov. 11) since the 1's resemble the Pepero sticks.  What is Pepero? It's a chocolate on a bread stick. We get chocolate sticks on Pepero day. Alec got chocolate sticks, a chocolate bar and a strawberry top from his teacher. His friend Elka gave him the chocolate sticks, too. All the teachers got Peperos from Elka! You should see how many Peperos they sell every year!

In the high school I hauled in 5 boxes of Pepero from various students as did Brent. Yum. At lunch home made Pepero was on sale (Dixie cup with chocolate sauce and two flaky twisty buttery sticks.) A few students were even providing entertainment with singing telegrams - dressed as Pepero, of course!

Where does this "holiday" come from? There are two rumors. First - Lotte Confectionary company. You've perhaps already read mention of Lotte World and Lotte Mart. It seems this brilliant marketing gimmick has worked wonders. Create Pepero day and, guess what, everyone buys Pepero! (Does this sound familiar? Seems to me Hallmark did the same thing with Sweetest Day. . . and Grandparent's day)

Second - Rumor has it that a group of middle school girls in Busan began it as an exchange of gifts to grow strong and tall like Pepero.

Either way, it's a fairly recent holiday that seems to have taken the young people by storm.  Next year is 11/11/11, so I guess it will be even a bigger blowout!

Viva Pepero!

(Alec and Anna contributed to this article.  If you liked it, please leave a comment on the post!)