Health care can look like this: a brief personal tale from South Korea

Estimated reading time 8 mins.

The medical profession doesn’t just sell relief from pain, but peace of mind. And we should certainly be willing to pay a price for that which, in some cases, only it can offer us. But how much? Around this time last year, I heard a story on Facebook of a friend in the US who mistakenly took the inhale plus exhale of his infant child’s breaths as two instead of one breath and, alarmed at the accelerated rate, took her to emergency only to be made aware of his mistake. Here is a case of this hospital delivering peace of mind to a relieved father, and grateful for that he ought to be.

But the story turns less cute and benevolent when it concludes in him being charged over $700, and I can’t quite wrap my head around it. I live in Korea, and stories like that often end in inverse fashion, the punchline being how little I pay for the relief, comfort, or peace of mind I receive from my health care providers. The following is a brief account of one such episode. Continue reading

There’s always someone cooler than you

Estimated reading time 16 mins.

The title may be familiar to some as the 2003 Ben Folds song it is. As a new experiment in my English conversation class this upcoming semester, I’m going to have students discuss these lyrics, while of course highlighting the lessons I take from it myself. As in many Ben Folds songs, the lyrics colorfully present a strong message, and I thought it would be a fun way to introduce a theme for discussion I think will prove relevant to them.

While comparing against others is a personal and social problem in Western countries, expressed (in one aspect) in the idiom “Keeping up with the Joneses,” Korea has its own distinct comparison culture. Korea is a hyper-modern economy that moves at warp speed. The uber-competitive education system centers all around scores and rankings based thereupon. And when they’re done with that, most feel enormous pressure at “getting a good job,” which means—if not a “doctor, lawyer, or judge”—at one of the bigger companies (e.g. Samsung, LG, Hyundai, etc.). Anyone can do the math to see that achieving this measure of “success” is not going to be a reality for almost everyone, so the stress is tremendous.

Continue reading