The nurse had telephoned the night before. Pusan National University Hospital had a monthly house magazine, and as a rare captive foreigner they thought a front page spread of yours truly being saved from some deadly disease would be a great publicity angle. Well, what the hell. Anyone who wanted to photograph me had to be desperate. Besides, the nurse had been especially nice.
I had actually gone to see a dentist, but Kim Dong-hee coaxed me up to the sixth floor, where various people were milling around expectantly. The sixth floor is a kind of family advice centre, which is trying to make a quid on the side by doubling up as an "international clinic", meaning that somebody might be there who speaks English, more or less. (That's why I first stumbled into the place, though it is a long haul from home --Bansong Dong -- to Tosong Dong just for a toothache). No white tile floors and scrubbed walls in this section. It is all carpets, varnished reception desks, paintings on the wall -- for which classiness no doubt you pay some premium.
In the reception area two characters in vinyl imitation leather jackets were busy with a whole panalopy of silver flash umbrellas, backlighting, weighty plate cameras on tripods .. On a serious professional mission however, the doctor and I had to make them wait for a bit.
I was hustled into a consulting room, the door was closed, and I was alone with a medico. This occasion was weighing on him somewhat, and the patient posed certain difficulties. The patient, after all, was not known to have an ailment. For several minutes he studied a computer screen. You can only look soulfully at a computer screen for so long, and the silence was becoming a little tense. At last he looked up haggardly. "Tell me about ANY problems you have," he pleaded.
Well for a couple of weeks I'd been trying to get a prescription out of this outfit for a typhoid booster shot (the request, legitimized by an expiry date in my international vaccination booklet, had caused some puzzlement and consternation at first). Now, joyfully, useful after all, he instructed the computer to manufacture a prescription. Then it was possible, without cringing, to usher the patient out to the waiting paparazzi.
We were tastefully seated in a corner, with a backdrop diagram of some gentleman's intestines to convey the proper atmosphere. The looming cultural question though was "what's the angle guys?". Should we go for the Asian portrait style of the stiff neck, the severe mouth and glazed eye glaring at the camera? Nah, this was an International Clinic. We had to be worldly and hold diplomatic consultations. This was Korea talking to Australia. But what to say?
By now I had learned to recognize the signs of mild panic twitching in the corners of the good doctor's eyes. A mischievous old grandmother would have left him dangling, but here was a fellow man in need of help. OK, let's play hypotheticals. Just suppose, doc', I'm a hack from the gutter press, and you've just performed the world's first brain transplant. I'm going to interview you about your brilliant career..... So that's what I did. Anyone can become animated about their brilliant career ...
But guess who had the last laugh? I was billed W8000 for the prescription paper, W7000 in a chemist shop for the typhoid vaccine itself, and another W5000 to stick the damned stuff in my arm,.. not counting an earlier "consultation", W8000, about the booster shot where folks wondered aloud if it was actually possible to get such a thing in Korea. I'm working on my fee for the publicity shot...[smile, wail..] and pondering just what the W25000 monthly salary deduction for "health insurance" actually buys. Ah well, easy come, easy go..