Sunday, July 06, 2008


Korea: Not Known for Good Weather

The list of things one might find enjoyable about Korea would probably include the industriousness of the people, the family-centered structure of society, and the natural beauty of the country, provided one can accomplish the not-so-easy task of getting away from its urban areas.

The list would probably not, however, include Korean weather. At least from a superficial standpoint, Korea’s weather is similar to my home state of Tennessee, in that it four seasons, at least technically speaking. However, by the time a Tennessean has spent his or her second year here, a few differences in Korea’s and Tennessee’s respective climate patterns begin to emerge.

Let’s compare the two places, season by season.

In Tennessee – The Fall:
Near the end of September, the weather begins to cool, driving residents to wear shirts with longer sleeves, particularly in the evenings. The leaves on the trees begin changing colors, residents of all ages and lifestyles start sporting their favorite football team’s jerseys, and the agricultural industry kicks into high gear to collect its ripening crop between outpourings of rain.

In Korea – The Fleeting Period of All-Around Pleasantness:

Also around late September, it becomes possible to walk outside or leave one’s air conditioner off while inside and not acquire noticeable sweat spots on the front of one’s shirt. It rain periodically, but not in oppressive downpours. While the common cold may afflict certain people, especially foreigners, it is possible to sneeze into a tissue without seeing tiny grey evidence of Chinese industrialization. Then October passes, and so do the enjoyable conditions.

In Tennessee – The Winter:
By the start of December, the temperature will have dipped considerably, requiring not only long sleeves but heavy clothing designed to keep one insulated from the cold. The weather will occasionally fluctuate, however, bringing relief in the form of autumn-like (or perhaps spring-like) conditions. There will be the occasional snowstorm, sometimes heavy enough to keep children out of schools and significantly restrict traffic. This is a rare occasion, though, and snow passes within a week or so. The pattern will hold until March, at which point the temperature will become consistently warmer.

In Korea – The Four Months of Darkness:
Bring out your long johns early, because the Korean air has teeth that it begins to bare come November. Coats which cost north of $100 are not a luxury here; any outer garment not insulated with some selfless animal’s former hirsuteness will be insufficient. Let those in more temperate climates develop cases of acute empathy with other, hairier species’; those who’ve lived through the Korean winters will assume that more-externally adorned animals gladly give up their lives to help poor mostly bare-skinned creatures such as ourselves survive in these conditions.

More sleep is generally required at this time due to the psychological effects of only experiencing daylight between the hours of 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Koreans also sell vast quantities of the humidifier appliance, something I’d never so much as heard of in Tennessee. Apparently, during the summer months Mother Nature uses up all the humidity she had budgeted for Korea during the year. Humidifiers in Korea cost between $40-$200, all of which are prices generally preferable to waking up with a nosebleed every morning.

Winter months in Korea are a kind of initiation, making the typical foreigner wonder if March will ever come again. During this time, the foreigner will find his or herself doing things he/she never imagined before leaving his/her home country, such as wearing a scarf, wearing a stocking cap everyday, and employing Korean gojujeong (red pepper paste) as a daily anti-cold-and-flu remedy.

In Tennessee – The Spring:
The cold weather subsides, the flowers begin to bloom, and the young people begin wearing short pants. Rain comes in April, foreshadowing the lush vegetation to come. Farmers begin preparing the crops they will harvest for the fall, and moods begin to rise in parallel with the temperature.

In Korea – The Time of Even Worse Than Average Quality:
Korea is never known as a particularly great place to breathe. This is especially true in the spring, when residents, especially foreigners, their confidence soaring alongside the rising temperatures, step outside to enjoy weather they can experience without wearing the remnants of a furry animal, and promptly inhale untold amounts of microscopic metals picked up at Chinese factories and carried thousands of miles away by gusting winds. The Koreans’ entrepreneurial instincts were prepared for this occurrence when they developed cotton face masks that locals are often seen wearing at this time of year. Foreigners sometimes do also, after having swallowed a considerable amount of those small metals, and no small amount of pride.

In Tennessee – The Summer:
The temperatures here hover at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity rises, making it uncomfortable to remain outside for long periods of time. Rain is infrequent, a major stumbling block for the state’s agricultural backbone, but the evenings usually strike a temperature just nice enough for all to enjoy.

In Korea – The Seasons of Endless Rain/Almost Unbearable Humidity:

What virtually all Americans regard as the summer season is actually broken down into two distinct events in Korea. First of all, at the start of June and continuing through July is the rainy season. It may not rain everyday, but it rains often enough that a foreigner who is unfamiliar with the season may be trapped in his place of employment and have to borrow an umbrella from a female coworker. Her umbrella is likely to provide head-and-torso coverage, but leave the arms and legs soaked until he can find another one more befitting his size.

Before the coming of fall, however, the rains will eventually pass, leaving the Season of Almost Unbearable Humidity in its wake. The Korean umbrella industry manages to turn a considerable profit at this time, as these instruments are employed as a sun shield. Korean women, having been born with the kind of skin tone that your average American woman spends hours inducing cancer upon herself in the hopes of achieving, wants nothing less than to get darker through the sun’s rays.

Sports drink products such as Gatorade, Powerade and the Japanese Pocari Sweat also do very well at this time, since it is very difficult to walk from one place to another during the day without needing electrolyte replenishment. If you’re ever in Korea, feel free to strike up a conversation with a local whenever possible while buying sports drinks.

“Where are you from?” they might ask.

“Tennessee,” you might reply.

“What is it like there?”

“The weather’s great,” you might say. “I’d love to take you there sometime.

“All of you.”

Hi Rob,

Your blog is hilarious and I've read everything you've posted! I found it looking for info on the SDA Language Institute in Korea.

Any tips for success at the SDALI?

Bring warm clothes, and be prepared to work long hours. It's certainly worth it, though.

Whatever you do, though, don't buy any pocket Korean language books. They're an utter waste of time.
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