Friday, April 15, 2011

Anecdote and a lot of rubbing alcohol.

Sometimes at the point in time of incident, some stories seem a little so strange to share.

However, now that there's been enough time, I thought it would be fun for all the readers out there to hear about the time I got my ears pierced in Korea.

Now, a bit of background information: ear piercing is semi-illegal in South Korea. By that I mean that the lines between it being taboo and it being illegal are somewhat ambiguous. Those who do desire to get their ears pierced are supposed to go to a doctor, so little piercing parlors like Claire's just don't exist here, because they are thought to be an unsterile environment and are therefore outlawed.

Much like the social issues of marajuana and (in some ways) abortion in the States, when something is only partially enforced, and  its accessibility is taken away, regulation and safety can go out the window.

Maybe some of you see where I'm going here.

A couple months ago, I thought it would be a grand idea to get my ears pierced with a friend one girls' weekend in Busan. Through online forums I found some potential places we could visit to get 'em pierced (because it was pretty obvious we weren't going to try to explain to a doctor what we wanted!).

We went to an underground market so common among the subway lines in Asia, and after puttering around for a while, decided that we wouldn't be able to find the piercing place without some help. It's not exactly like illegal operations are handing out business cards or posting neon signs in their windows advertizing their services.

I found a man with one ear piercing and pointed to his ear. Then I pointed to mine and asked him in broken Korean if there was a shop I could get a piercing at (which, let's be honest-- was more like me pointing and saying something like, "Where is it? Does it exist?"). Even though he was supposed to be watching his shop, he stood up and took off speedwalking, motioning for me and my friend ot come along. Suddenly we were following him at what felt like breakneck pace through crowds of Korean families (and if the little ones aren't getting underfoot, the elders are body-checking you as they walk by). After the mini-Olympics of Korean Speed Racing, we made it to a jewelry shop. Once in side, the guy asked the shop owner if she did ear piercings. She nodded and he left, gone back to his shop. This is so Korea... the man left his shop just to help us, and didn't leave our side until we were okay.

The shop was small and unfrequented, as the jewelry racks were a little dusty. And as I suspected, there was no sign advertising the piercing. Sketchy. Adventurous. So cool.

We picked out some earrings and showed her where we wanted them on our ears. Just like Claire's.
She sat us down and marked our earlobes with pen. Just like Claire's.
She let us check the placement out in a mirror. Just like Claire's.

Then she took the earring out of the package and stabbed them through our ears in one skin-popping motion.
Not like Claire's not like Claire's not like Claire's!!!

Before we really could process the event, it was over. We paid and left, and as we walked back to the subway, a million little facts began to trickle in. No piercing tools. No hand-washing. That lady had just eaten lunch. It was now crystal clear to me why people are required to go to the doctor for peircings. Otherwise, they get a grandma running the underground market to stab dusty old earring posts through their ears using her un-gloved, kimchi-coated hands.

Needless to say, we took an immediate field trip to the pharmacy and got a bottle of rubbing alcohol to douse our ears in. Over 2 months later, my ears have not fallen off, so I now felt it safe to release this story to the general public.

Moral learned: don't get piercings in underground markets. Or is it, "While traveling, always have sterilizing agents on hand"?

Either way, no more piercings in Korea for me.
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