Korea ‘good for health’

“Oh my god, what happened? You look terrible”

This was how I was greeted today upon my presentation to the school nurse during my break this morning. FYI I don’t ‘look terrible’. I do however have a bad cold, bordering on a nasty case of man flu, but I have to say I was slightly offended at this suggestion.

So she patched me up and sent me off with several drugs and assurances that my condition would improve (cheers). When I got back to the office I asked the Korean teachers what she had given me. One pack of  brightly coloured pills with variation on dose depending on whether it is daytime or night, and three bottles of ‘쌍화탕’. I was then informed by my teachers that it was an ‘ancient oriental medicine, like tea’. So a placebo then? Well that is my assumption, and I have to tell you that for a placebo is tasted pretty awful, it seemed a strange cross between a christmas pudding and anti septic.

I can only speak from my experience, but in my school, being sick is a big thing. Firstly because Koreans NEVER take a days sick leave. Therefore when you are sick and in work they presume it is worse than it actually is because far short of being laid up in a hospital bed on a drip with an arm missing they would expect you to get to work at some point in the day. Therefore it is safe to assume that even though you are in work you are really quite unwell.  “Are you sick”, “Did you take medication?”, “Did you see the nurse?”, “Did you visit the hospital?”, “Do you need to visit the hospital?”…these are just a few of the usual questions that follow a sneeze. Not that I feel I live in a nation of hypochondriacs, but seriously maybe they are a bit over the top with potential illness.

There are two types of food and drink in Korea. One that is ‘good for health’ and one that is ‘not good for heath’ and you can guarantee that everything has been scrutinised as some point “Tim, why do you put milk in your tea? It is not good for health” or “Eat this squid it is good for health”. Well just about everything seems to be affecting my health in one way or another.

On the rare occasion that you do visit the doctor or pharmacist you can guarantee one thing. Regardless of what it is you think you may have, you will come away with a selection of pills and medication. This usually consists of a bag of three or more different pills, god knows what they do, but they look kind of crazy. Even something as simple as a hangover has its own dedicated recipe called something like ‘morning rescue’ and is available at every corner shop. Which is about the only thing you can get outside of a pharmacy. This can be very frustrating if it is out of hours and you’ve got a little headache.
Visiting the hospital as a foreigner is a dangerous game too. Miscommunication nearly landed my flatmate on the operating table when he went up there with food poisoning . What exactly did they want to operate on? Knee jerk reactions. Cut now think later? Maybe.

On the other side of the coin, if I am ill and I want to see a doctor, I do. The same day. The same hour even if I go straight there. No messing around, no NHS esq “Oh you want an appointment today? Well in that case you have to be dying or dead already, otherwise come back on Friday morning when you’re all healed up”. All in all I think the Korean health system is good and efficient, not to mention dirt cheap…if not ever so slightly paranoid.

Maybe it is the kimchi, maybe it is the fact that I’m constantly eating things stuffed under my nose by Koreans claiming they are ‘good for health’, or that I am knocking back a bottle of god knows what medicine every time I have a slight sniffle, but I really do feel far healthier in Korea. I think a large part of this has to do with their lack of carpets and as a result less dust and allergies. It may be the clear coastal air, given the fact that I am used to living in a big city and I now live in a small town by the sea. The fact is though that I have not had a really had a bad cold since I’ve been here, or anything else for that matter. Cheers to that.

My placebo of the day


Disclaimer: I am a big fan of the NHS, just not the waiting time for a doctor’s appointment…


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