my new t-shirt

Sunday, December 7, 2008

It was a birthday present from my friend, Kelsey. For those of you who don't read Hangul (Korean), it says "Mul ba?!" As I mentioned before, that's the gangsta way of saying, "What are you looking at?"

I don't know if I'll have the nerve to wear it in public, but it totally cracks me up. (She bought it from Babo Shirts.)

Liam is 2...or 4...or maybe 3

Friday, December 5, 2008

Liam celebrated his 2nd birthday on Wednesday...or did he?

This is a paraphrased version of a conversation I had with YeonSoo, the owner/director of the school where Matthew is employed. (Technically, so am I.)

YS: How old is Liam?
me: Two, U.S. age. But four Korean age, I think.
YS: Four?
me: Well, he was one when he was born...
YS: Yes.
me: And he turned two on his first lunar new year, in January or February...
YS: Yes.
me: So then, he turned three last year and four this year. Right?
YS: Well, yes, but we would call that three.
me: Okay... (but thinking, HUH?)

Liam doesn't really care how old he is. He just likes blowing out candles as you can see in the picture of him blowing out the candles on the cakes that YeonSoo bought for Liam and me, since my birthday was Thursday. I haven't been able to get him to hold up two fingers in answer to the "How old are you?" question. But then I haven't really invested much time in the matter. Most people who ask him here are expecting to see three or four fingers, anyway, not to mention they ask in Korean.

I, on the other hand, am a bit traumatized by the fact that in the past five years (with three birthday in the U.S. and two in Korea), I have celebrated my 27th, then 30th, then 29th, then 30th again, and now 33rd birthdays.

Bring on the national health care!

Monday, December 1, 2008

One of the things that South Korea does well is national health care -- at least in my experience. Matthew pays 2.2% of his paycheck, his employer matches that, and all three of us have coverage.

Here is my standard OB/GYN visit:
I walk in (no appointment necessary) and hand my little pregnancy booklet to a nurse at the front counter. She gives me a little strip on which to urinate (testing for excess protein in my urine). After I get back from the restroom, I check my own blood pressure on the automatic machine, then weigh myself. The nurse records both.
I take a seat. After about 10 minutes (20 on a busy day), the ultrasound technician calls me in to her room. She checks out the baby's vitals and measurements. About half the time she prints out a picture for me.
I return to the waiting area. After another 5-10 minutes, I'm called into the doctor's office. We discuss any test results, symptoms, etc.
Finally, I return to the front counter to pay. My usual bill is W20,000, which used to be about $20 before the exchange rate went to hell. Currently, it's closer to $14. My most expensive visits, with various blood and urine tests, have been W60,000.

That's impressive, but the truly impressive part is yet to come.

Liam is sick. He has a bad cough and now a slight ear infection. There's a pediatrician's office in the same building as my OB/GYN. We've now taken him in three times, as the doctor wants to check his recovery frequently.

Here's Liam's visit:
Parent gives child's insurance booklet to counter nurse. Another nurse is simultaneously checking his temperature via an instant ear thermometer while he plays on the slide or rocking horse in the waiting area. Within 5 minutes, parent and child are ushered into the doctor's office. While Liam screams and (at least when accompanied by me) pulls parent's hair, the doctor and nurse work together to listen to his lungs and heart, check his throat and ears. The doctor then gives directions to the parent (or the other parent if both are there and Liam is still screaming in first parent's ear). The bill and prescription are all on the same paper. Today we were in and out in about 10 minutes total.

Total cost per visit: W1,800 to 2,800 per visit. Yup, that's about $2.00.

We take the prescription to the pharmacy across the street from our apartment building. (There is an on-site pharmacy, but we like our local pharmacist and prefer to give her our business.) She gives us the medicine in small bottles (just the right amount for the two or three days until the next doctor's visit) labeled with the amounts and times per day to be administered. She also throws in free vitamin C tablets.

Total cost for 2-3 days worth of medicine: about W3,000. That's the same price I paid for a little toy train at the discount shop down the street after Liam's second doctor visit.

I will point out that something like 92% of medical facilities in South Korea are privately owned. It's a very different system than many countries with universal health care. But it certainly seems to work, at least from my vantage point.
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