When I arrived in Korea on my one-year working visa, there were a few strings attached. Aside from shipping away my diploma and a medley of notarized documents to Seoul prior to my arrival, there were a few things that needed to be taken care of upon touching down fourteen time zones into the future.
Lest they allow any impure mudblood foreigner taint their aseptic culture, immigration requires a thorough physical of all foreign visa holders (or “body check” in creepy Konglish). Fail this, and they send you packing. For visiting foreigners (who from most countries are granted a 90-day tourist visa), HIV disclosure is not mandatory. If, however, positive HIV status is revealed, you’ll be given the boot. For all foreigners on working visas, blood work is done ASAP to confirm negative HIV status. While this is a questionable human rights issue that makes me feel a bit uneasy, countries do have the right to make their own immigration laws, and S. Korea is not alone in requiring HIV testing for prolonged stays. In fact, until 2010, positive HIV status could restrict entry to the United States (though immigration did not test for it, failing to disclose positive status could be considered “immigration fraud”). While it is still considered a “communicable disease of public health significance,” HIV no longer bars individuals from entering and residing in the United States, which is a considerable step forward as we increase our understanding of the disease and aim to reduce the stigma surrounding it.
In addition to HIV tests, they require a few gallons of urine for, among other things, extensive drug testing. In reality, it is more like a pint, but it sure feels like gallons when you are nervous, dehydrated, and trying to aim to fill a cup and several test tubes while straddling a squat toilet. As I was particularly inept when it came to squat toilets (oh what a difference a year would make), this also required partial undressing as to avoid reeking of urine throughout the rest of the day with three hours of class left to teach. My heart went out to the friend with the childhood fear of soiling his clothes that to this day requires him to completely undress to take a shit, a task made particularly difficult in business attire. I would undress, squeeze out a few drops, get dressed, wash the cup of urine that I was about to stow in my pocket, and hit the vending machine for yet another cup of coffee. The staff member that brought me to the hospital would call to wonder if I had left without her, and I would inform her that I regrettably had yet to produce an ample enough urine supply. My so-called “diuretic” would fail me once more, and I’d be left to contemplate my performance anxiety and start the process all over again.
And I haven’t even gotten to the good part.
Immigration also wants to make sure that you don’t have TB. Instead of doing a tuberculin test, they run a chest X-ray. I was led down to radiology by an English speaking aspiring med student volunteer who instructed me to take off all my clothes, including underwear, and slip into hospital attire. No problem… except that they only are providing shirts. Now I know there are a lot of 4’10” adjummas running around, but this thing really seems to short to be intended for use as a gown. So I asked for pants. “No pants.” Wait, whattt? This girl definitely understands English. But I ask again. “No pants.” I peek outside the curtain I am changing behind. In addition to the technicians and my volunteer, there is a room full of old Korean male patients. All wearing pants. Now I’ve only been in this country for a week, and I am pretty sure that modesty, particularly between men and women, is a pretty big deal. But maybe there is a different standard that applies in a medical setting, kind of like how people casually talk about having diarrhea as if it were a headache. So I brace myself to bravely Pooh Bear a room full of strangers. I’ll never see them again, right? For those of you who don’t know what I mean when I use “Pooh Bear” as a verb, let me remind you of what Pooh Bear looks like. More importantly, what he wears:
I mumbled a lot of incoherent words about seeing a lot of my ass and nervously penguin waddled out from behind the curtain. Volunteer stares at me awkwardly and tells me I can keep my pants on. But you just told me several times not to wear pants, you sadistic fuck. Oh, I technically was never wearing “pants” because I was wearing a skirt. Kill me now, I just Pooh Beared a room full of strangers.