m a r k a n d e y a

Mapo-gu Office Adventures

Posted by Brian on December 12, 2003

WARNING: The following post contains some medical stuff that some may find disgusting. Please stop here if you don’t want to hear about it.

I wasn’t sure if I should post about this, as it is pretty gross – not to mention personal – but because it is, in my ever so humble opinion, fairly funny, I’ve decided to recount the events of the other day. Besides, it could be considered a warning for any other foreigners looking to start a business in Seoul.

It all started on Wednesday in the afternoon when my girlfriend and I needed to go the Mapo-gu office one more time (again) to finalize some paperwork. We took care of some financial records at the bank, as I had expected, but then my girlfriend told me we had to drop by the Health Office there. So we head that way, and, upon entering the lobby, I sit down while my girlfriend goes to the front desk to ask some questions. After a few minutes, she comes back and tells me we need to go upstairs.

“Why?” I ask her.

“Because we need a quick health exam,” she tells me, and explains that all workers need to be checked for communicable diseases.

At this point, I start to worry a bit, but imagine that they might take a blood sample and check my lungs with a stethoscope – all fairly harmless stuff. A bit ticked about having this thrown at me at the last minute (seriously, I had no idea), I trudge upstairs (again) to a small exam wing they have on the second floor.

The first stop is a chest x-ray, which both my girlfriend and I take in a quick and efficient manner, no muss, no fuss. We’re then told to go to room 10, and that’s where the fun starts (or is that where it stops?).

Walking into room 10, I see a guy sitting at a desk in the back of the room, with a row of seats along the left side. At this point, I figure it might be a blood test, so I made mental efforts to psyche myself up for the needle.

How wrong I was.

My girlfriend goes to the desk and speaks with the guy for a moment, who then gives her two small items that look like small glass vials. So now I’m thinking it must be a piss test… no problem. Right?

My girlfriend approaches me with a strange look on her face, and hands me my vial. After a closer look, it is a glass vial, but far too small for a urine test. And now I can see a large q-tip with the soft side down inside the vial, which I notice has a sticker on the side with my name prominently displayed.

“What’s this?” I ask.

My girlfriend blushes and says, “You have to put it in your anus.”

“Excuse me?” I say, deathly afraid of where this is going (both the conversation and the q-tip).

Even more embarrassed, she tells me, “Didn’t you hear him? You have to put it in your… asshole.”

Her “Didn’t you hear him?” line strikes me as strange… as if there is a practice dialog in most Korean language books on getting a rectal swab at the doctor’s office that I have memorized for such an occasion.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” I tell her, as I contemplate jumping out the window to avoid such an indignity.

“No, I’m not,” she confirms.

I grimace, then roll my eyes and sigh as the next few moments fast-forward through my mind. I’m to take this vial, walk down the hall to the bathroom, go into a stall, jam this overgrown q-tip up my ass, put it back in the vial, then walk back to the office and put it in a little storage tray on the guy’s desk.

Resigned to my fate, I head out the door and down the hall to the bathroom. Two young guys follow me in with the same vials, except they’re laughing about the whole thing. I get some privacy, do what I need to do, and leave. My girlfriend is standing there by the door, waiting for me. She points out where I need to drop the vial off, then we leave.

My girlfriend found the experience to be funny (well, my reaction anyway), while I found it to be an entirely unnecessary violation of my, well… something. My girlfriend tried her best to explain to me why such a test was needed, but neither of us are doctors so I was still finding it difficult to make sense of the whole thing.

My best guess is that, considering Korea’s high population density and shortcomings when it comes to hygiene, such tests are needed to prevent any outbreaks. But still, a q-tip up the ass? Not cool at all…

Perhaps there’s someone out there who can clue me in to what exactly they were looking for.

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