Friday, May 08, 2009

A penny for your...eye infection?

Apparently in Korean schools, few things cause more concern than contagious eye infections. A cold or respiratory infection will usually just prompt the wearing of a protective mask to avoid spreading the disease to others. But a child with an eye infection won't be allowed to come to school. Koreans are so touchy-feely that it would quickly spread throughout the entire student population. Because kids KNOW that it will get them out of school, they will often go out of their way to consciously contract an eye infection. If a boy with an incipient infection comes to school, other kids will wipe his eye and then their own, willing to trade their comfort for a few days of guaranteed vacation. 

So when I called my co-teacher Wednesday morning to tell her that my eyes were red, blurry, and crusty, she told me not to come into school. I went to see an eye doctor instead. 

None of the secretaries at the doctor's office spoke more than a few words of English - luckily, their limited vocab included the words "discharge" and "infection" and ten minutes and 4,000 won ($4) later I was walking out the door with a diagnosis (allergic conjunctivitis) and a prescription. The doctor was very nice and professional, and he spoke a surprising amount of English. Within 2 or 3 days, he said, it should clear up.

I stopped by the pharmacy on the ground floor of the building to pick up my prescription - 2 bottles of eye drops, another 4,000 won (that's 8k total, or about $6 for a doctor's visit and prescription).

Unfortunately, my particular brand of eye infection was not contagious (whoever heard of non-contagious conjunctivitis?), and I returned to school the next day. I say "unfortunately" not because I necessarily wanted to skip school, but because it could have made me some money. I've been told that some enterprising, eye-infected kids, realizing the street value of their illness, will use their "gift" for profit. They charge other students 500 won for the privilege of touching their eyes.


  1. Man, that is just one of oddest things I have heard. I would think there could be easier ways to get excused out of school than infecting yourself. OH well. Glad to hear yours should heal quickly!

  2. lol! that was so funny I agree to the first commenter. Anyway, if you feel some thing wrong on your eyes is better to go to a doctor for a check up to make it sure if your eye is infected.



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