Korean Winter

When you first meet people here, one of the first questions is almost always “where are you from?” Depending on the situation, I’ll say USA, Korea, New Jersey, or Florida.

I spent most of my years – 18 – in the Garden State. My memories of the land consist of long bike rides to and from friends’ houses, malls, shows, the “shore”, and diners. Lots of diners. Believe it or not, most of my high school friends smoked, so we’d park ourselves in the smoker’s section for hours into the night being stupid teenagers. I myself never smoked, but I might as well have with all of the second hand that I consumed.

There was a point when I enjoyed the winter. As an elementary school student, nothing is more satisfying than waking up to a blanket of snow in your yard, staying cozy under your covers while listening to the list of school cancellations on the radio. When the news is confirmed, you’re free to snooze a bit more before sledding at the high school or making snowmen. My fondness for the snow quickly changed in junior high school. I distinctly remember having an unplanned fire drill in 8th grade. Our school had a sensible rule (sarcasm): we were not allowed to wear winter jackets in school. So, imagine 1,600 underdressed pubescent students standing outside in blizzard-like snow for almost an hour. I think my battle with the cold began there

My mom made fun of me for wearing hats and gloves to sleep, even in a heated house. I was always cold. My hands even felt too cold in the summertime. People say it’s because I have a warm heart. I say it’s because my body hates me.

During senior year, I decided to only apply to two schools in the sunny state of Florida. I’m not exactly sure what led me to this decision. I was too lazy to apply to more schools and I knew I wanted to leave Joisey.

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Jersey Shore Winter

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Florida Winter. Florida Spring. Florida Summer. Florida Fall.

 My six years in the sunshine state had its ups and downs. I really enjoyed the warm and sunny climate as well as the warm and sunny people. There is a period of about two weeks when it does get cold, maybe freezing at the lowest point of the night, but that’s about it. I considered 60 degrees cold. I couldn’t even think about how I survived living through winters in the past. When looking into graduate school, the climate was almost as important as the mentor. I did not want to deal with the cold again.

So you get it. I hate the cold. I feel like my soul is being taken away. You know what else is cold? Dead people.

After first returning to the motherland in 2010, I knew I wanted to live and teach in Korea. I made the decision to toughen up and just deal with the bitter and harsh winters everyone seemed to warn me about. All of the tiny Korean girls here have to deal with it. So can I.

I packed two suitcases for Korea; one consisted of only winter attire, thermals, hand warmers. My first few months – August, September, and October – were glorious. Florida also lacks the most wonderful time of the year that is autumn, so I basked in the orange and red mountains. The weather kept rapidly changing. I was constantly dreading the arrival of winter. I was prepared for expensive heating bills and many lonesome nights with books and movies. Going out in the cold when unnecessary was not something I ever thought about doing.

Well, obviously, winter has come and it is still here. Actually, it really isn’t so bad. I thought I would cry about how cold it was and then my tears would freeze. The secret lies in thermals, layering, and not letting it go to your head. In fact, I am enjoying it. I don’t sweat and my hair isn’t a ball of grease. My underarms can remain unshaven if I wanted to and I can enjoy all of the hot tea and coffee as I please. Nothing feels better than the hot soups and stews that Korea has to offer as well as the seasonal street foods, 호떡 (cinnamon filled fried pancakes) and 잉어 빵 (fish shaped waffles with red bean filling).

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I will miss these cakes.

I even enjoyed my favorite activity during this season: hiking. The mountains are certainly different when the trees have lost their leaves and the trails are disgustingly muddy from the melted snow. Portions of some trails were exclusively ice. That was certainly an experience. Everyone must have fallen at least once.

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Part of a slippery hiking trail

 In the summer and fall, Koreans are ridiculously fashionable and colorful. In the winter, most people wear all black. Puffy jackets don’t even seem optional; everyone and their little dogs have puffy jackets. My sister gave me a puffy jacket, so I look more Korean than ever. Actually, it is quite warm and light weight.

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Expensive puffy jackets are in.

 Something else that irks me is the lack of pants-wearing the girls enjoy here. I’m walking around wearing thermals, leggings, and jeans, while most girls wear a skirt and some stockings. Maybe they’ll wear thicker leggings if they feel like it. Also, not all boots are suitable for winter, especially pointy toed boots in the ice. I’ve seen it too many times.

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Some examples. I’ve even seen girls wearing shorts in winter here.

I got so used to the stagnant weather in Florida. Maybe it is more humid and rainy in the summer and delightful in the “winter”, but there isn’t a real apparent change in season. Korea’s seasons are so distinct. Every day is a gradual change. It makes the passage of time more existent and in-your-face. While I don’t want to grow up, I think I enjoy it.

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Cold, but I’m happy!

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It has been almost six months in Korea. It feels like I just got here, yet it feels like I’ve been here for a lifetime.

I look forward to the cherry blossoms, flowers, vegetation and festivals that spring has to offer.

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