Friday, August 24, 2012

Redefining Dentistry

Don’t judge me but it may have taken me this long being in Seoul to get myself to the dentist. For whatever reason, finding a new medical care provider is intimidating to me. Especially when it comes to dentists, my anxiety increases each day as I move further and further away from the last time I was scolded for not flossing. A few weeks ago, however, I was able to muster the courage I needed to overcome my anxiety and I made appointments for Chris and me at a dental office that was recommended to us by some hygienically superior friends.  One of the things that I love about Korea is that appointments, be they at the hair salon or the hospital, rarely need to be made more than a day or two in advance. So, the next morning, Chris and I did a double brushing to make up for the past three years (please refer to the opening sentence about judging) and we headed out to the dentist.

On the way there, Chris and I were placing bets on how many cavities we had and just how severe our tongue lashing would be about our hygiene hiatus. We showed up at the office, filled out the necessary paperwork, and awaited the judgment. We were called back almost simultaneously and were led to different rooms. I was fitted with the familiar slobber bib as the dentist introduced himself and told me to lay back and open wide. This was it. The past three years of anxiety culminated in this one moment. I was prepared to face my sentencing. I had barely girded my gums when I heard the dentist announce, “Okay, no cavities.” And like that, he was gone. No poking, no prodding, and frankly, hardly even any looking. I could feel my brows knit with skepticism when I looked at the hygienist, “No cavities?” I have never before wanted to ask a dentist to come back for a second run-through. But, he was gone to check Chris’ teeth with his telepathic cavity searching powers.

But, this check-up was not over. We had also requested a cleaning. So, with her memorized English phrases, the hygienist instructed me, “When want to remove water, raise left hand.” I deduced that “remove water” was a euphemism for spitting and I settled in ready for anything, or so I thought. As I adjusted my head in the headrest, the hygienist put something over my face that felt terrifyingly like an execution mask. Maybe my oral sins were worse than I thought. Maybe there were no cavities but there were root canals to be performed or waterboarding to undergo. With only my mouth peeking out from underneath the mask, she pulled out what I like to call the water pick of doom. With it, she made up for all the poking and prodding that I was expecting from the dentist.  When it finally came time for a break from the water pick of doom to “remove water” I quickly glanced around the room for a mirror to check my gums for tattoos. When there was none to be found, I resigned to coming back to the chair to endure the rest of my punishment.
After it was over, Chris and I met up in the waiting room with a look that said, “Did you just go through what I went through?” We silently agreed to swap stories later and we paid the bill. With the promise to return in six months, we walked out to our car. Still worried that the telepathic dentist could read our thoughts, we waited until we got home to share our experiences. Hopefully his range isn’t this far…

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Oh yeah....

We are back! After another whirlwind summer, we are back in our apartment in Seoul as if we never left… except for a few of those pesky “American pounds” we picked up along the way. Once again we find ourselves in the position of readjusting to our current home. This process has to happen wherever we lay our heads, whether in Seoul, Taipei, Birmingham, or Denver. Each time we unpack our suitcases, we must take a deep breath, look at our surroundings, and remind ourselves what life is like in each of our homes. Happily, we are becoming more accustomed to making this adjustment and so it has turned from a sort of whiplash experience to more of a soft “oh yeah…” as in “oh yeah, THAT’S how they do that here.” reminder in the back of our heads. 

Here are a few of the “oh yeah…” moments I experienced as we transitioned Stateside and then back again:

1) America: The grocery store. Are you sure that every grocery store we go to in America is not remodeled while we are gone to become even bigger than last year? I swear, every time we go back to the States, I stand amazed as I enter a grocery store. They are HUGE! And the aisles are so wide! Not only that, but there are so many things to choose from when you go. I was doing a simple produce run to pick up some apples and I found myself paralyzed by the options. Do you know that this particular grocer was selling seven, seven, different kinds of apples? How are there seven different kinds of apples? And how do I know which one I want? Next to the milk there was an entire section of the refrigerator reserved for specialty coffee creamers. I don’t think even Starbucks has as many options to make your coffee taste like something other than coffee. And, let’s not even talk about the ENTIRE aisle devoted to breakfast cereal. 

2) Korea: Labeling. Somehow, it always seems to catch me off-guard. Perhaps it has to do with the jetlagged haze that clouds my brain for the first few days, or maybe I am just a hopeful amnesiac. Whatever the case, the first time I go to make the frozen chicken bites or mix the powdered lemonade, I check the label expecting it to give me some sort of a clue as to the oven temperature or powder to water ratio. I am sure that the label actually does provide sufficient information to allow consumers to enjoy their product without sending them to the hospital with either salmonella or diabetes. However, ignorant as I still am in the language, I am left to try my hand at trial and error. Wish my family luck that I don’t poison them.

3)America: Garbage. Korea, along with many other Asian countries, is quite specific about their trash. Recycling is obligatory. There is no optional green bin you can request from Waste Management or the hope of earning a few coins from a local aluminum depository. You recycle, period. Not only that, but we organize our recycling. We have paper, cardboard, plastics (which have sub-categories), metal, Styrofoam (yep!), and glass. Additionally, we have compost waste where we put all of our food trash. Anything that doesn’t fall into one of those categories (which isn’t that much) is put in the regular trash. This trash must be thrown out in a specialized city trash bag that must be purchased for a fee that supports our local rubbish services. Having to pay for trash bags encourages people to recycle as much as possible, as recycling is free. The system may sound complicated but we have grown accustomed to it. Coming back to America always throws me for a loop when I remember that everything: food, plastic, glass, goes into the same bin at the same time. And, you can use whatever you want as a trash bag! This practically cuts the cost of throwing out diapers in half. 

4) Korea: coffee shops. Tell me, when do you prefer to enjoy a cup of coffee? Is it with breakfast or with lunch? And what time do you like to have breakfast? Is it before or after you go to work for the day? Call me crazy, but I like to have coffee with breakfast and that usually means around 7:00. When we are up at 5:00 AM with jetlag, even 7:00 seems a little late to be enjoying the first cup of joe. However, the Koreans do not see eye to eye with us on the subject. Most coffee shops (Starbucks included) state clearly on their doors that business hours are 9:30 to 11:00. One blessed little shop opens its doors at 7:00 AM but I literally made one of the employees scream and almost jump out of her skin when she walked past me waiting for my order at 7:10. There is a delicious little waffle and coffee shop that is about a five minute walk from our apartment that we crave many a weekend morning. Our craving is left sadly unfulfilled most Saturdays, however, as it does not open until 11:00 and we usually can’t hold out for breakfast that long. So, cringe as you may at the thought of Waffle House at 6:00 AM, its greasy hashbrowns and stale coffee are nothing but a sweet memory to us as we try to trudge through the wee hours of jetlag.  

So, once again, we must learn the ways of our Korean home and remember the “normals” that we have put in place. It’s great to be home… in this home, that is.