Where’s Waldo?

This is our instant message service at school. Take a wild guess which one’s me.


April 30, 2010. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

This is where I rid my body of excess fluids.

(Look,  mom! I didn’t use the word “pee”. I’m on my way to becoming a lady.)

Yep, this is the toilet at my school- we’re all squatters here. I’ve found one “Western” toilet but it’s kind of a big deal among the little ones and let’s just say they need a little more target practice…

April 28, 2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.


I’m quickly learning that Koreans live by the mantra “all or nothing”. They bring a certain level of intensity to the table whether it’s in regards to academics, drinking, or in this case, religion.

This week, sixth grade is learning vocabulary pertaining to birthdays and important holidays. My co-teacher asked me to develop a quiz-like “game”  using PowerPoint, requesting that I list a series of clues that would eventually enable students to guess the correct English name and date of a famous day. She kindly provided the clues for me after I discovered the difficulty in describing a holiday I’ve never experienced (Planter’s Day, Children’s Day…). You’ll find the slide for one of our holidays below.

He is the standard for one year.

B.C. means before He was born.

He died to save our sins.

He is God, our Lord.

Answer: Christmas

Bet you didn’t see that one coming. Let’s give it up for separation of church and state.

April 26, 2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Breakfast of Champions

A couple of parents brought in kimbap, or Korean sushi, for breakfast this week. Today’s variety was stuffed with tuna, ham, egg, some type of fish, and picked vegetables, all of which were embraced by a layer of rice and seaweed. I’m sure it’d go down great with coffee.

April 23, 2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

I speak Eng-a-lish

My 5th graders are learning exclamations. The Korean government requests that they master nine sayings including, but not limited to: “What a nice day!”, “What a tall tower!”, “What a beautiful girl!” and “What a big elephant!”. We practice our new sentences chorally as a class and again as individuals. I show a picture of a city.  An overly enthusiastic boy stands up and exclaims, “What a big shit!” Yes, class. Let’s repeat that. Good job, Johnny.

April 21, 2010. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Adventures in the Grocery Store, Installment One: Green Tea Ice Cream

New year, new resolutions. I reigned in 2010 with a lofty goal: to make it a habit to order what appears to be the most disgusting thing on the menu. Consider it the developing optimist in me but I’m truly motivated by the amusing idea that weird ingredients will somehow combine to create the most incredible meals I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to have this experience.

Because I usually have no idea what I’m eating during a Korean meal, I’ve extended this challenge to the grocery store. As a true O’Neil, I enjoy ice cream any time, any place. I’ve also been known to down my fair share of tea. Imagine my surprise when I discovered two of my loves combined into one product: tea ice cream. The fact that it was one of the few commodities with an English title also helped.

The item came neatly packaged in a container of Styrofoam that safely prevented my ice cream from melting at the expense of the environment. Upon arrival at my humble abode, I eagerly prepared to sample my new acquisition by following a fifth grader’s mantra of “dessert first.” It probably would have helped if I had a high affinity for green tea or food dyed the color of pea soup. Sadly, I lack both. I think it’s safe to say that this product is an acquired taste, a taste that I will still be acquiring for many months to come. If anyone’s interested in its flavor, come on over. It’ll be waiting for you in the freezer.

April 19, 2010. Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Baby steps.

Saturday, April 17th

5:44 am I am wide awake. I look at the clock and do the math- four hours of sleep. You have got to be kidding me. Funny joke, deity of your choice. I pull the covers over my head but the deep slumber does not return. I begin to tackle my luggage, rummaging through the mass piles of wrinkled clothing, selecting a couple of shirts to hang up. Suddenly, I am exhausted. I fall back into bed and resume my REM cycle. What a work out.

9:00 am I hop in the shower and turn on the water. [EXPLICATIVE], I forgot the gas. I make a mental note to remove “Polar Bear Swim” from my Bucket List.

10:00 am I meet up with Grace at school, who transports me to the hospital for my health check. I enter an open room on the third floor. Grace translates the standard medical forms. Shortly after, I am whisked from station to station as various personnel administer a general physical, a chest x-ray, and tests for urine, blood, hearing, and vision–all for 55,000 KRW or $49.55. Hey Obama, check out the Koreans!

10:43 am Apparently the frenzy of the situation has caused a spike in my blood pressure. 136/83. I am told to sit down and think soothing thoughts. Yeah, right. I’m going to get kicked out of this country for high blood pressure and you want me to be calm about it. My heart races faster.

10:53 am 115/72. I am safe. Grace informs me that I must take care of myself because my blood pressure will rise as I age. Her top number used to be 100 but now that she’s 50, it’s 110. I tell her it’s because I’m 25 now. Luckily, it’s lost in translation.

11:00 am I go downstairs to give my paperwork to a doctor. He declares that I’m healthy.

11:03 am I am informed that I committed faux pas #1. I crossed my legs at the doctor’s office, an action that is inappropriate in the presence of an elder or a respected official (ie doctor, principal, vice-principal, high money-maker). Next time, I must keep my legs together with both feet on the ground.

11:15 am There are three main cell phone companies in Korea. We stop off at LG, one that’s supposed to be nice to foreigners. It’s hard to socialize with only an email address and spotty internet. After a good 20 minutes of listening to Korean negotiations, Grace tells me the plan. I tell her I want to wait until Monday. It’s a different system than the US and consequently, I don’t know what questions I should be asking. I need to do a little research.

11:45 am Grace takes me on a tour of the underground markets. It’s like one giant Forever 21. A price of 15,000 won or $13.51 seems to be the average rate (although a bit high) for clothes and shoes, if you can fit into them. Jewelry stands advertise 1000 won earrings (about 90 cents).

1:00 pm I return to my abode for a nap. It’s a sauna in here. I forgot to turn off the gas. Oops. The ondol floors feel amazing on my feet.

4:30 pm Apparently, E-mart’s the place to go for cheap groceries. It’s like a Korean Wal-mart. In fact, some of them are. E-mart bought out all remaining Korean Wal-marts in 2006. I make it my mission to locate this place.

5:30 pm It’s really difficult to find directions to a store when the only landmark you know in your neighborhood is the nice street aquarium next to your apartment that’s probably a fish market. Google maps are in Korean. I spend a good 15 minutes counting bridges and side streets, assuming the directions are correct. I begin to doubt my mission.

5:35 pm I look in the fridge. One yogurt left. I’ve got a few packets of ramen in the cabinet and a bag of the really condensed rice patties I had for lunch a few days ago, both of which were generously left behind by the previous tenant. Game on, Anyang.

5:45 pm Lenn mentioned that I could walk to E-mart by taking a path a long the river. I find this path. It’s full of cyclists and power-walkers. Koreans love their jumpsuits.

5:53 pm It’s day #4 and I’ve yet to see a white person. Lynn’s Filipino and Shannon’s Korean-American. No wonder everyone stares at me.

6:00 pm I pass my 3rd bridge and exit the path, following a busy road to a bustling intersection. If my counting is correct, I should be approaching a fork in the road, where E-mart resides. I look up and there it is: my neon-lighted nirvana. Huge confidence builder #1.

6:05 pm I walk through the entrance and observe my surroundings. There are two employees assigned to greet you at every aisle. Their general uniform consists of a mini-skirt and what can only be described as imitation go-go boots.  I force myself to stifle a laugh but because this is Korea, it only gets better. There are 6 floors in E-mart, each accessible via escalator. At the top and bottom of each escalator waits someone who bows to you as you enter the floor.  I find this oddly comforting. If teaching doesn’t work out, I can always be a bower at E-mart.

7:05 pm I spend a good hour wandering through the store, eventually making my way down to the basement for fresh produce. It is here that I am introduced to a game I’ll dub shopping cart chicken. You’re familiar with the game chicken, where two cars drive towards each other from opposite directions on a single lane, testing to see who will “chicken” out first and pull over. This is the shopping cart version. Koreans are always in a rush and let nothing get in the way of their final destination. They don’t believe in lines and it’s normal for innocent bystanders to take a small jab if they’re in the way. Now give a Korean a shopping cart and stick a bunch of them in a crowded store with small aisles. Let’s just say I’m lucky to be alive.

7:10 pm The unfamiliarity becomes overwhelming and I feel myself shutting down. I grab some antibiotic-free eggs, checkout, and walk home.

7:38 pm I realize that I never bought any dinner items, per say. Looks like it’s ramen and spicy chili sauce for me. I made it four years in college without ramen, arguing that raw noodles should not float. I feel like a part of my soul just died. Also, if anyone has any advice on how to daintily eat noodles with chopsticks, please send them my way.

8:30 pm Phone call home to fill mom in on all of the details I leave out on this blog. I also discover that I have Ethernet which is much more reliable than the sketchball wi-fi I’ve been stealing.

11:30 pm Make plans to explore Seoul tomorrow with a friend of a friend of a friend (that’s 3 degrees of separation for those of you who are counting). Back up plan is to have dinner with an environmental lawyer from West Palm who should be in town this weekend. I met her on the plane to LA.

April 18, 2010. Uncategorized. 6 comments.

Hilary makes a friend.

Friday, April 16th

6:30 am Good morning. 11 hours of sleep feels refreshing. Dreading the inevitable sleeping disease that is jetlag.

7:00 am Checked my email. Jo had an interview with Center Stage!! Immediately called her for details. It’s 6 pm EST. I say hello. Her- “Is this Hilary?” Me- “Who the [explicative] do you think this is?” And we proceed.

9 am Second day of teacher observations. This time, 5th grade.

10:39 am Realized I have the same haircut as my 5th and 6th grade boys. No wonder my co-teacher is always fixing it.

10:48 am Introductions to my 7th class are now complete. Each follows the same format. I tell them my name, my country, a little about Florida, and then allow a short Q &A. Without fail, someone asks me my age or if I’m married. Grace chastises, reminding the students that it is inappropriate to ask a foreigner their height, weight, or age. Instead, they ask for my religion. I’m learning that in Korea, no questions are off limits.

12:05 pm Lunch: dumpling soup, rice and beans, kimchi, pork bits, some type of greens that remind me of a healthier version of collards

12:26 pm My chopstick skills are improving. Grace notices and tells me that it is scientifically proven that Koreans are the most skillful people in the world because they are the only ones that use flat, metal chopsticks. I question this, but nod my head in agreement anyways.

12:31 pm On Fridays, students clean the school. A couple of 6th grade boys are vacuuming, dusting, and washing the windows to my classroom. No janitors in this school- child labor at its finest.

12:54 pm I check my gmail. Thelma AH sent me a message with our code in all capital letters. My heart temporarily stops beating. She’s engaged.

1:03 pm Grace tells me to fix my hair for the 5th time today. Apparently all of the teachers in the lunchroom commented on it with disapproval. I look in the mirror. It’s fluffy. Some strands flip out at the end. I try to explain that white people don’t have perfectly straight hair like Koreans. I wonder how long it’ll take before she deems me hopeless.

1:43 pm Grace and Julia have christened me with a Korean name. It sounds something like Hil-soon-ee, I think.

2:34 pm My first lesson is an hour and a half long. It begins in exactly 26 minutes. Grace hands me a book with pictures. I feel like I’m being set up for failure.

4:57 pm Oh yeah, I was definitely fed to the wolves, vultures, mountain lions… but I survived. Of course, I’m exaggerating but there’s always room for improvement and in this case, there’s a lot of room.

5:15 pm Return to my apartment. Not quite sure what to do with myself. Sleep sounds really good right about now. Go away, jetlag.

5:30 pm Rescued by Lenn, the English teacher from dinner on Wednesday. We go out to eat for spicy noodles with her friend, Shannon.

7:00 pm Lenn takes me on a small night tour of Anyang, my new city. We find a place for coffee and dessert and chat away until I am obviously struggling to keep my eyes open.

10:45 pm I purchase a T-card for discounts on public transportation in Seoul and its suburbs. Lenn patiently answers my thousands of questions. On the way home, we pass a place that advertises dog soup. I still kind of want to try it.

12:30 am Caught up on the blog. Slightly proud of myself for staying up this late, although I have a feeling I will regret this decision in the morning. Tomorrow, I go to the hospital for my full body foreigner check up that ensures I entered Korea disease free. My appointment’s at 10 am. I think there will be a nap in my future.

Korean phrase count: +2. mee-ahn-hahm-nee-da (I’m sorry). chec-a-dee-it-saw-yo (Where is the book?)

April 17, 2010. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Do you come from a land down under?

Thursday, April 15th

6:45 am The sun greets me. Good morning, Korea. It’s hard to believe I slept for 10 hours. Already, I need a nap.

7:00 am ET phones home. Parents figured out the webcam. Jake and Uncle Billy make a special appearance before the free wi-fi I’m bumming prematurely ends our conversation. (Sorry, mom and dad)

7:30 am Shower…with hot water. Small-but-important-victory #1

9:00 am First day of school. I will teach four, 40 minute classes on Thursdays- all 6th grade. Today, I observe.

10:20 am Today’s lesson: What is your favorite season? My favorite season is _____ because _______. One kid says he likes the spring because it brings yellow dust. Now that’s my kind of humor. I like him already.

11:15 am Grace tries to fix my hair. Again.

12:05 pm Lunch time: rice, dumpling soup, squid and vegetables in a spicy red sauce, chicken bits, and…. kimchi. At last, I meet the make or break you food item all Koreans swear by. It’s not as bad as the rumors but it’s certainly not something I could ever see myself craving. Verdict? Stomach-able… with a smiling face. Small-but-important-victory #2.

12:18 pm It’s vaguely explained to me that my Korean age is 25. Somehow, I’ve magically aged two years. I’m still getting used to that number. At least the grey hairs are more appropriate.

1:00 pm Done with all classes for the day. Proceed to waste four hours of time catching up on email, Google chat, reading the latest news on Lady Gaga, and planning games to accompany next week’s lessons until our 5 pm release.

4:45 pm The head teacher invites all of the English teachers out for dinner (Grace, Julia, and myself). Grace and Julia want Western food. They ask me if I like Australian food. I say I’ll eat anything. They decide on Outback Steakhouse. I try to explain that Outback is actually an American restaurant. I feel like I just told a small kid that there’s no Santa Clause. Some things are better left unsaid.

5:53 pm Arrive at Outback. The head teacher has invited her 23 year old daughter (Korean age—probably a young 21 to the rest of the world) so that she could practice English with me. She introduces herself as Sunny but asks for help in choosing a new English name. Apparently Sunny and Sally are common over here. I begin my quest to name a Korean after my friends listing Ali, Courtney, Jennie, Mary…. Instead, she mulls over Claire. Sorry guys.

6:11 pm Outback Korean-style. Mushroom soup, fried shrimp, mango chicken salad, fruity sodas, grilled chicken and ribs, Cajun pasta, raspberry butter… Communal style, a lot of reaching but Western utensils- a welcomed reprieve from Korean chopsticks.

6:50 pm Part ways after our “Australian” cuisine. Julia gives me a ride home. I have yet to venture outside of my apartment- to- school – and home- again route.

7:15 pm I try really hard to stay awake and perhaps figure out a way to watch LOST overseas.The lure of sleep draws me under my covers. I rest my eyes for a moment, still in my work clothes. Six hours later, I wake up to turn off the lights. I am exhausted.

Korean phrase count: +3. ahn-nyung-hee-ka-say-yo (goodbye), ma-she-ta (delicious), yep-pu-dah (pretty)

April 17, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

In the beginning… Or, my first day in Korea.

Wednesday, April 14th

5:17 am. Touchdown (and not the football type). Plane’s late. It’s 37 degrees outside. The driver isn’t scheduled to arrive until 8am. He’s picking me up in front of the McDonalds—irony at its finest.

5:30 am Head away from customs to find an empty bathroom. I change my clothes, brush my teeth, put on a carefully selected outfit that says “I –just- got- no- sleep- on- a- 13- hour- airplane- ride –but- am- really- excited- to- meet- you-even- though- I- will- continually- butcher- your -name.” No amount of make up can hide those bags under my eyes.

6:15 am Waltz through customs, play hide and seek with my luggage, begin the search for McDonalds, instead find a Korean man holding a sign for Hilary O’Neil. He grabs my cart and heads towards the car. I run after him… in heels (vintage red and white polka dots- necessary to complete the look.) What long legs he has…

7:30 am He takes me up to my room and leaves me a note with a name and number. In broken English, he tells me to call a Mr. Park Kyung Ai, then leaves.

7:32 am. Panic sets in. I am alone. I have no oven– not even a toaster oven! I can’t find a phone. It could be this intercom looking thing but all of the buttons are in Korean. I search Google for directions. No such luck. I finally start pushing buttons, hoping something will pop up on the screen. I push the only button with red writing. OH SHIT* WHAT IF I JUST CALLED KOREAN 911?!?! I Google Translate “I’m so sorry I pushed the button by accident. Can you teach me how to use the phone?” and wait for firemen to show up.

7:55 am They never do.

8:45 am My Korean co-teacher (Grace) knocks on my door and says she’ll be back to pick me up at 10:40 am to take me to school, meet people, eat a Korean lunch, etc. Finally, someone tells me what’s going on.

8:53 am Realize it’s probably a good idea to take a shower. Run the water for a good five minutes. It’s frigid. Re-evaluate the shower idea. After all, they all died on the Titanic.

11 am Enter school. Forced to wear the most ridiculous pair of house slippers known to man. No street shoes allowed in the building.

11:30 am Meet Principal and Vice-Principal, neither of which speak English. A lot of nodding and smiling take place, along with translations from Grace. Orientation begins.

12:15 pm First Korean meal… ever. Lunch: egg soup that tastes remarkably like fish, fried rice with beef bits, some type of pickled radish, really condensed rice patties, and an apple. At least that’s familiar. Fail miserably at attempts to use Korean chopsticks.

1:45 pm It’s becoming increasingly evident that Grace disapproves of my carefully thought out “look.” She’s asked that I wear my pea coat although the heat is on and attempts to fix my hair every five minutes, or so it seems. Everyone comments on how tired I look. Go easy on me-I got two hours of sleep on the plane.

3:30 pm Nearly fall asleep lesson planning for Monday. Grace finally realizes that I could be tired and sends me home to rest until she picks me up for dinner at 5:15.

3:45 pm Find my way home. Meet the maintenance man who’s hanging my newly cleaned curtains along with another Korean English teacher (Julia) who works at the school. Afterwards, we have tea.

4:35 pm Pass out for 30 minutes. I feel like a zombie. Dead.

5:30 pm Have a pleasant dinner with Grace and Lenn, a foreign English teacher like me from NJ who was somehow named “Mickey” by the Koreans. This is her second year teaching. Beef stirfry with about 15 small side dishes. Still struggling with the chopsticks. I blame it on my hatred towards sushi.

7:45 pm Stop off at the grocery store for breakfast supplies. Yogurt and grapes- safe and familiar. Too tired to look at strange food sights with anything but indifference but I’m sure it’s a pot of gold. Emotions require energy.

7:53 pm Lenn teaches me how to cook rice, that the intercom is not a phone, that my water was cold because I didn’t turn on the gas, and that a wash cycle takes an hour and a half. No dryers. Oh joy.

8:30 pm Bed time. Finally.

Korean phrase count: 4. ahn-nyung-ha-say-yo (hello), kap-she-da (let’s go), kahm-sah-hahm-ni-da (thank you), chal-mo-go-sim-knee-da (I have eaten well./Thank you for the food.)

*Note: Sorry. Normally, I try to keep my blogs family friendly but there really is no other way to adequately describe the sheer terror I felt at the thought of a bunch of non-English speaking Korean EMTs showing up at my door less than three hours after my arrival.

April 16, 2010. Uncategorized. 1 comment.