Hospital Hopping Around Asia

I’m not going to say that I always had to go to the hospital, but there were times when shall we say fortune hath shown ill favor. Thanks to a new diet or falling into the trap of playing tourist.

The thing to kind of keep in mind is that, in Asia, going to the hospital frequently just isn’t really done that much when compared to people in the United States. Many people in Asia just make do without the hospital. I mean, there is the occasional medical tourism. Many people go to Seoul, for example, to get some kind of plastic surgery. But on the whole, I would say that many people in Asia, from Thailand to Korea to Laos to Vietnam, just aren’t that much concerned about their health to the point where they need to go to the doctor’s office at the hospital. “Going for an annual,” is just kind of a foreign concept.

Now, there are always exceptions. In Chiangmai, Thailand, for example, I went into the Ram Hospital, which is one of the more prominent in hospitals in Thailand and it was always packed to the hilt, with foreigners and locals. And you can just tell their doing really well because their facilities are so modern. The examination tables are the color of burgundy and you practically provide urine samples in shot glasses. It’s the Four Seasons of hospitals, check them out on Yelp.

Hospitals are definitely a “thing,” in Thailand, if you know what I’m saying.

When I was in South Korea, I usually had to wait like anybody else would have to wait in the United States. I also had to work with some language barriers that I didn’t always have to deal with in Thailand. In Thailand, you could get a fluent English speaker and you know what they’re saying, you know what they’re communicating. There’s no issue with knowing what’s going on and you won’t accidentally get a breast implant when you were supposed to get a phlebotomy. But who knows, a good nip and tuck might be just what you needed.

Now, in Vietnam, on the other hand, at least in Da Nang, there are some times when doctors don’t always speak fluent English. So, they’ll have a nurse or an assistant assist them with translating what I’m saying into Vietnamese (and vice versa), so that they’ll be able to help both parties figure out what’s going on.

In South Korea, there was neither a translator nor anyone who spoke fluent English. However, you have to understand that I was not teaching in Seoul, Busan or Jinju. These are major cities and they have major facilities that are world class and you’re likely to encounter medical staff that do speak fluent English. However, where I was in Samcheonpo, there wasn’t really that kind of institutionalized English the way you would find in the major cities.

When I was teaching, and I had to go to the hospital, normally what would have to happen is my co-teachers and colleagues would have to come with me to the hospital. Which is never fun because who wants to share such personal details with co-workers?

So, it would be like if you had your closest colleague in the cubicle next to you, assist you with going to the hospital to translate what your symptoms were. “My colleague here has “explosive diarrhea, herpes or hemorrhoids.” That was tough to write let alone ask someone to translate.

So, naturally this posed a little bit of a dilemma because I’m a very private person and sometimes I don’t like to always openly divulge all my medical conditions and quirks that are going on with me. And so, having the whole staff in the Korean high school know that I have a blister on my head is not something you really want to talk about. Or a blister on your butT or genitals. TMI?

Now, again, I want to stress that I didn’t always have to go to the hospital. It wasn’t as frequent as you would think. I didn’t have like IBS, thank goodness, but there were times when I did not know what was going on with me and I had to figure it out.

And sometimes the only way for me to do that was to describe my symptoms to medical people, and invariably this would cause a rift in the school day because there’s not always a chance for my colleagues to stop teaching so they can take teacher-Todd to the hospital to handle his sciatica. No, that’s not some kind of STD so get your mind out of the gutter.

So we would go together to the hospital where I would then describe my symptoms to the medical staff. And then my colleague would translate and invariably go through a process of first being amazed, gasp, and then tell me what was going on. Which can be entertaining, as long as it’s not for or about you.

So, going to the hospital was quite a very interesting experience. I think, the only time I was able to go on my own was when I was visiting Seoul or Busan. Seoul was roughly 4 hours away by bus. So I couldn’t just go to Seoul every weekend or something like that because I had obligations in my hometown to assist with the high school and to be a pillar in the community. So my body broke down to lift others up. I’m a saint, right?

That’s the thing with teaching in a rural area as a guest English teacher. You’re not just taking on the position of the teacher in the school, but actually it’s a full time job. And when they say full time, they’re not kidding. It’s like being a parent except even school doesn’t give you time away from your kids.

It becomes an all-encompassing profession for you. It becomes your life, and you become the teacher no matter where you are in the community. It’s more like a full-time job on steroids, a super-duper-full-time job. Kind of like being Superman without any of the powers or the awe.

Anyway, if you take nothing else away from this article, know this: if you’re going to go to hospitals in Asia, without so much as a lick of the native language in your repertoire, and whether as an English teacher or not, it might be helpful for you to go to big city hospitals because that’s where the world class facilities and institutions are that can take care of whatever illnesses or medical conditions you have, and do it in fluent English. So you can leave the native teachers far away so they can’t share your ailments with everyone else, like it’s supposed to be.

Because in the big cities, a breast implant is a breast implant is a breast implant. And those look great on you. Congrats!


Authors Bio:

Todd Squitieri

Todd Squitieri holds a BFA from New School University and an MA in Applied Sociology from William Paterson University. He has taught in over 5 countries, and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam where he is writing a book about his experiences. He may be reached on his website at