At ten on Friday, my second day at Reading Town, Mr. Kim picked me up for the requisite hospital visit—basically a checkup to make sure we foreigners are not dragging any of our nasty venereal diseases or nefarious drug habits into Korea. Because I cracked my crack habit long ago, I wasn’t too terribly nervous, that is, until Mr. Kim and I pulled onto the busy main street in front of Reading Town. The drivers are crazy here—I’m talking cars driving through red lights as often as green, or pulling U-turns while three cars deep in the turning lane.
Mr. Kim and I didn’t chat too much all the way from the Reading Town lobby to the hospital lobby, as he speaks little English and I no Korean. For some reason, when I am alone with another person, silence makes me wildly uncomfortable (the cause of my infuriating banal-comment tick), and so I sought some way to communicate. I tried to ask him what the word for “car” is in Korean, but he only smiled and nodded furiously and repeated “car”. A little later he pointed to one of the mountains and actually said “mountain,” and then “running training,” and I remembered that I had told him the day before that I had gone running.
We made it to the hospital and parked in one of numerous parking lots where cars are angled haphazardly into tiny space. We pulled a ticket to secure a spot in the check-in line and then sat facing the counter, silent. Mr. Kim asked for my passport. I handed it over, and my extra passport photo fell out. Angele had asked me to bring it along, although I didn’t know what it was for, and Mr. Kim took the photo now and looked at it, and then all the pages in my passport, even the empty ones. He opened his wallet and slipped my photo into one of the plastic picture displays and said, “I keep.” I admit that I was rather confused and thought he might be pocketing my passport photo, but didn’t ask any questions, mostly because they couldn’t have been answered. (I asked Angele about it later that day and she told me that Mr. Kim needed the photo to make my school ID—so he’s not a salacious old man, after all.)
Our ticket number was finally called. The receptionist looked at me and smiled, rambled off to Mr. Kim, and then looked back at me again. I simply smiled, wondering what they were saying. After the paperwork was sorted out and we walked away, Mr. Kim turned to me and said, “She say you very—”, and then a word I couldn’t quite understand, but that sounded so much like “freaky,” and I thought this wasn’t very nice of her at all, so I repeated it to Mr. Kim. “Freaky?” I asked with a laugh. “No, no,” he said, and thought for a moment, and then said, “Boo-tee-full.” Ahhh. Pretty.
We walked to another section of the hospital, and Mr. Kim showed my passport and paperwork to a young man sitting behind a counter. Before long I was escorted into the back by a relatively tall, confident-looking doctor. He said something to me in English, but besides being able to recognize that these were indeed English words, I couldn’t understand him at all. I said, “Pardon me?” several times before he finally gave up and walked me to the changing room. I opened the door, and was surprised to find two rows of lockers and two teenaged-looking girls swapping their clothes for blue hospital shirts. I opened one of the lockers and found my own pair of shirt and pants, and wondered how many people had already worn them today. I was only required to undress from the waist up, and shrouded my torso with the blue shirt before removing my bra so as not to embarrass the two girls. Instantly, one of the girls was tapping on my shoulder, and I turned to face her, startled, and she pointed to my bras strap and said, “Brassiere—you must take off!” I laughed, and said “thankyou,” and she and her friend laughed. Such a helpful society, I was quickly learning.
One little stomach scan and that was done and I was able to change back into my clothes. Next, Mr. Kim and I headed down the hall to a busy room with a friendly receptionist and horde of screaming children. This, I knew, must be where my blood was to be taken. Mr. Kim once again handed over my passport and papers, and the woman smiled and handed him a paper cup and test tube. He turned to me, directed me back into the hall, and handed the cup and tube to me. We walked about twenty feet before reaching the public restroom. He pointed to the two items in my hand, signaled to the half-full point of the cup, and the very-nearly-full point of the test tube, and then toward the bathroom. I repeat: the public bathroom.
I jumped inside, and there were a few people milling, but one stall door slightly ajar. I opened it to find a hole-in-the-ground toilet, which look very much like a horizontal urinal, and which I used for the first time in Japan some days ago, and already dislike very, very much. I was wearing a skirt, and wasn’t quite sure how I was going to maneuver through this, because I didn’t want to accidentally stab a leg into the hole, or dip my skirt into it, and my hands were absolutely full because I had cup in one hand and cylinder in the other. I almost lost my balance and fell a couple times, and peed on my hand before the cup was halfway full, and somehow managed to grab a few sheets of toilet paper. I retrospect, I suppose the skirt was a good thing—would have been more difficult with pants.
I poured the pee into the test tube, and then emptied the paper cup into the ceramic and threw it away in the trash can. As I prepared to open the door, I became acutely conscious—and rather embarrassed—of the fact that everybody between here and that receptionist’s desk was going to see my pee. But there was no hiding it. I exited to the hallway, cradling the test tube in my hand so as to cover as much of it as possible. Mr. Kim was a ways down the hallway, and when I reached him I smiled and breathed, “Okay.” He looked at my hands and asked, “Cup?” Shit, shit, I thought. I was supposed to have saved the cup? Was the test tube for blood, and the cup only for pee? But then why would he have sent the test tube with me to the bathroom. I made the “oops” expression, pulling the corners of my mouth toward my ears, and he turned to the receptionist and spoke to her very quickly. She gave him another cup, but I was already shaking my head. I wouldn’t be able to do it again, I thought. No more pee coming out of this chica for awhile.
But Mr. Kim didn’t hand me the cup. He pointed to my pee tube and motioned for me to hand it over. You’re going to touch it? I wanted to ask. I gave it to him, and he removed the plastic lid, right in the middle of the waiting room. I was mortified, mostly for him and of the risk he ran of splattering Kristen pee on himself. He poured half of the liquid waste into the cup, resealed the tube, and walked them both over to a little cooler in the corner of the room.
I was then asked to replace a screaming toddler in a chair opposite the receptionist. She smiled at me, grabbed my arm and extended it toward her, and pricked a needle into my vein. I’m not scared of needles or blood by themselves, or even together, in a tangible sense—it’s the thought of somebody taking my blood out of my body that gets me. Of course, she didn’t need too much, and it was over quickly. I was ready for my Band-Aid, but she only pressed a tiny piece of gauze to the inside of my arm. Mr. Kim directed me back toward the hallway, and halfway to the bathroom, he pointed to a little trashcan set against the wall. I looked at him, and then the trashcan, and then the gauze on my arm, and finally threw the little bit into the garbage. A trickle of blood immediately streamed down my elbow, and Mr. Kim jumped, and we practically ran back to the receptionist’s desk. I laughed the entire way, but by this point, I don’t think he thought I was very amusing.