I gulp some ibuprofen (about the hardest painkillers you can get in Korea) and search the plaza where allegedly shitloads of places will stab your skin.
I ask an adjashi (old Korean dude) where one is. He points. I walk that way. In Korean, I still don’t understand left or right or numbers. Ah shit, who am I kidding? I can pretty much order soup and say "thank you" and that’s about it.
I fudge around and finally find a spot. It’s Dr. Kim’s Chim Sule (acupuncture) office. I walk in and the secretary and I started playing charades, trying to give each other hints in our native tongues.
I heard the painful part of acupuncture isn’t the needles, but the suction cups. So I grow a little nervous as he starts popping half-dollar sized plungers onto my back.
"Hi, my neck hurts."
"No, my neck hurts."
"No, it’s pretty fucking serious." (I broke my neck two years ago and have eight pins and two metal plates holding me together.)
I fill out a sheet of paperwork, play with the foot massager, and wonder how bad this will actually hurt. The doctor calls me in and I sit in his office trying to explain my problems. More charades, but with more awesome sound effects and better visual aids. He seems like he understands. I think, "What the hell? How badly could he fuck me up?" I might have said that out loud thinking he can’t understand me. Which might have not been smart.
I shake his hand, which is like one of those green foam Incredible Hulk fists for kids. "How the hell is he going to find my tiny little nerves with these giant fingers?"
He leads me to a table and a cute, young Korean nurse. "Clothes. Gone," he says. If he was a she, I’d be kind of turned on by that. Instead, I remove my shirt and he shuts the curtain as he and the nurse leave. Then the nurse and he crack up. Was it about my pale white skin? Hairy chest? Tattoos? Chiseled abs? The world may never know.
I sit mostly naked for about two minutes until Dr. Kim reenters the room. He pulls out some needles, which didn’t look that big. Then he pulls up the leg of my pants. "Pop!" Without warning, a needle sticks in the front of my calf. It feels like, well, a needle. But not like an injection or a safety pin. Maybe just a little prick. A matching needle in my other leg, one in each hand, two in my stomach, and a few in my shoulders and a couple in my face for good measure.
After sticking me (without anesthesia, rubber gloves, or alcohol swabs) the doc says, "Twenty minutes." Then he puts an infra-red light over me and a hot stone on my tum-tum.
It doesn’t really hurt, and to tell the truth, I’m kind of disappointed. I thought I could tell my friends how hilariously awful acupuncture feels. Then I try to move my hand to scratch my nose and that’s when the needles cause everything to ache. I twitch my feet and my calves kill. In order to avoid that pain again, I decide to stay still.
In twenty, the doc returns, smiles, and pulls the needles out. Again, he doesn’t tell me anything. Nothing much for pain there either.
"Roar," he orders.
"Um, like a tiger?"
He makes some circles and points to his back.
"Oh. Roll. I get it." I growl like a tiger anyway. "Rawr!"
I heard the painful part of acupuncture isn’t the needles, but the suction cups (or the bill if you’re in the States). So I grow a little nervous as he starts popping half-dollar sized plungers onto my back from my butt to my neck. "Fifteen minutes."
I hum a tune as I sit there alone. Then lightning strikes me. Or maybe it was just a little electrical stimulation. The fact is, there’s a giant titanium conductor surrounding my spinal cord. So zapping me does wacky shit to my body. Which I think is kind of cool. But hey, I’m weird. I’ve got a bullseye tattooed on my back.
A thunderstorm of lightning bolts later and the suction cups come off. I feel very relaxed and already a little better. I grab for my shirt. "More," the doc orders. Again, if he was a girl, I’d be turned on. Instead, I lay face down.
Some glass teacups start lining the entirety of my spinal cord. I can’t even guess what’s happening. Then the life starts getting sucked out of me. The teacups hate me. These are the real suction cups, and I feel really uncomfortable. I can’t focus on the pain in my neck, because all I feel is pain everywhere.
"One, ah, two minutes." The torturer smiles and leaves.
"Wait. Two minutes or twelve?" I try to say. Instead I focus on breathing and not crying. I really want it to be two minutes, but I know something is lost in translation.
But it’s not.
One hundred and twenty seconds later he takes his S&M stuff off me and lets me get dressed. I see that he’s collected some of my bad blood in a few containers.
I walk to the secretary. "Now for the real pain," I ponder as I pat my wallet.
The secretary says something. I recognize the number "87." I shrug my shoulders and hand her 90,000 won, which is about $80. I knew this was going to cost me. Then the secretary hands me 82,300 won back. My acupuncture, consultation, and the doc’s time added up to just 8,700 won. About seven bucks. I feel even better about the ordeal I just went through.
Then the doc hands me some little envelopes. "Korean medicine. Make you good."
I smile, shake some hands, bow, and go home happily. Then I smell the herbs which remind me less of marijuana and more of an Asian girl I used to know with glorious smelling hair. She used to call to tell me how sexy she thought my newspaper stories were. Later I’d come over and we’d… nevermind. You don’t want to hear that part.
And that’s my first experience with acupuncture.
Here are my bruises: