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.


  1. Jo replied:

    PLEASE tell me the friend of a friend is Tyler’s friend…meat market.

    • hilary replied:

      you wish.
      good try, though. x

  2. Lindsay replied:

    E-mart sounds magical.

    • hilary replied:

      Oh it is! All that and the most obnoxious Korean pop music blaring in the background… Who needs Disney World when you have E-mart?

  3. AmyKB replied:

    I just wanted to stop by and say I’m LOVING this blog so far. I’ve now known 6 people who have gone overseas to teach and kept blogs about it, and this is by far the most entertaining and informative blog. cheers.

  4. Mary Elizabeth replied:

    So, I’m writing my Bucket List. Polar Bear Swim is off. I’m just going to take your word for it. (I read this while bent over laughing).

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