Surviving the Korean Winter

I’ll never forget leaving the Incheon Airport Terminal.  It was a late Saturday afternoon in August.  I was strapped down with enough weight to empathize with the morbidly obese.  Once I took my first breath of outdoor Korean air, my empathy deepened.

Hot humid air choked my lungs.  Sweat adhered my shirt to my skin in a matter of minutes.

“Oh my goodness,” I thought.  “What have we gotten ourselves into?”   Even my inner monologue started wheezing.

It was no matter.  I sustained a similar shock when I arrived in Kentucky and Costa Rica.  While it never became as cushy as the California dry heat, I acclimated.

For a few brief weeks, the weather turned pleasant.  Fall was amazingly mild and humidity free.  I ran around in sweatshirts and jeans, attire reminiscent of October high school football games.

Then, like a ton of icy bricks, winter arrived.

Or rather, I slowly grew accustomed to temperature changes of less than a half-degree Celsius per week.  While I slowly donned more layers:  jacket, beanie, gloves, the precipitation was nearly non-existent.  This blunted the temperature shock.

Then I awoke on the morning of December 1st, 2017.  The morning started much like any other.  I went through the same morning routine, donned similar clothes, toted my bike down the stairs, approached the door, and froze in my tracks.

A 5-inch blanket of snow covered the streets of Namak.

I’m no stranger to snow.  Lake Tahoe served as a common snowbound getaway for my family.  Moreover, I attended the University of Kentucky during an abnormally cold winter that saw temperatures dipping to three degrees below (Fahrenheit).  I have fond memories of cold beer congealing into a Slurpee on the Two Keys Bar patio.

Regardless, this newfound winter wonderland gave me a shock.  It shattered my belief that the Korean Deep South would prove a reprieve from the much-maligned Korean winter.

“Like yeah, it snows in Seoul, but in Namak?  No way.  Maybe like four or five days, tops.”

To be fair, I could probably count the number of days I’ve seen snow on two hands so far.  However, the surprise snow day gave me the false belief that Namak was at its coldest.

I was wrong.

The temperature continued to dip lower and lower.  Today the temperature fluctuates between -10 and 8 degrees Celsius.  While not unbearably cold, I am also unused to supplying my own heat.

What do I mean?

At my birthday party, I decided to try out my apartment’s floor-heated (ondol) system for the first time.  It didn’t work.  My apartment had no working heat.

I can hear the admonishing questions now.

“Why did you wait this long to check out your heating system?”

“What about hot water?”

“How do you shower?”

Allow me to retort.  Before I arriving in Korea, I read about expats complaining of exorbitant utility bills during the winter.  I later learned at orientation that Korea’s utilities operate off of a progressive billing system for gas and electricity.  In other words, if you limit your use, your per-unit rate remains low and the bill is dirt cheap.  However, as you use more, the per-unit rate (along with units used) rises, causing the total price to accelerate up an exponential curve.

Therefore, as someone who self-describes as hardy, I elected to avoid using my heating for as long as possible.  Robes, slippers, and layers seem to do the trick.  Adding an additional comforter to my bed keeps me toasty at night.

I suppose ignorance is bliss.  I never even considered using my heating system until I knew my friends would be coming over.  I was worried they would be less tolerant of my icebox.  My friends all said I needed to get it fixed.  I told them I would, but kept forgetting.

That and positive reinforcement is a psychological powerhouse.

Having no heat actually provided me with positive reinforcement in a twofold fashion.  One, I now see the gym as a heavenly hot spring.  Want to motivate yourself to work out?  Make the alternative a bone-chillingly cold shower.

Second, when I saw my electric and gas bills for the month, I rushed to pay them.   I assumed the utility companies had made a mistake.  The total came to 3,000 won (~$2.75).  Lavishly low utility bills could be seen as positive or negative reinforcement depending on your perspective.  Regardless, it reinforces my desire not to use my boiler.

I eventually came around to asking my co-teacher for help.  She called the landlord.  To my embarrassment, the heater was never broken.  My lazy fingers simply failed to hold the buttons down long enough to activate the boiler.  I am grateful to dodge that potential expense and to the fact that my family won’t freeze this February.

Regardless, I still don’t use my heater.  I prefer to keep my metabolism burning strong.  While I knew that humans were talented at self-regulating their temperature, I am floored by my body’s amazing capacity to produce heat.  Bundle up.  Stay frosty.

In the back of my mind, I know that six months from now my aircon will blast, my sweat will accumulate, my electric bills will skyrocket, and I will reminisce about winter with a warm and Scroogely fondness.

Photo Corner

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It was fun returning to Haeundae Beach with my friends.  I’m writing a post about Busan now and will likely post next week (or eventually).

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Rub Buddha’s belly if you want a baby boy.

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People wrote shimmery notes on this display.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a permanent marker so we couldn’t contribute.

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The seaside temple was full of awesome statues and buildings.  More photos to come.

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I could never tell if this artwork was intentional, or just the product of failed infrastructure.  Nonetheless, it’s pretty cool.

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“What did he say about my mama?  I have a rock and I’m not afraid to throw it.”

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I am a Year-of-the-Sheep baby.  It’s baa…d.

One thought on “Surviving the Korean Winter

  1. I LOVE THAT I TOOK TOOOO LONG TO SEE ALLL OF THESE AMAZING ITEMS IN YOUR COUNTRY AD NOW YOUR FAMILY HAS SEEN THEM TOO. I AM SOOO HAPPY THAT YOU GOT THEM ALL THERE FOR THE HOLIDAYS. LOVE YA , GRANDIE.
    P.S. I AM DOING WELL FOR 82 AND LOVING MY LIFE IN THE “OLD PEOPLE;S FRATURNATY HOUSE AS YOU CALLED IT. I MISS SEEING YOU HERE FOR SUNDAY BRUNCH AND HOPE IT WILL BE “PRETTY SOON” WHEN YOU ARE HOME AGAIN LOVE IYOU. GRANDIE

    Like

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