I was a bit off on my first snow prediction, but at least I got the month right. We had our first snow on Thanksgiving. It started to snow at night, so in the morning I pulled open the window with excitement to see the snow on the ground. And….there was none.
Later that day I got on a train to Jochiwon. Somewhere around Cheonan, I heard people snapping photos with their phones. I looked out the window to see what they were photographing, and saw a smooth blanket of snow dusting the fields and tree tops. The first snow is always the most beautiful.
Yesterday it was snowing when I woke up and little snow piles had began gathering on the roof tops. They didn’t last long, but were fun to look at.
Winter is officially here.
My relationship with the snow has slowly evolved over the 3 1/2 years I’ve been living in Korea. I’m from California, where snow only exists in the mountains. It’s something you head to for a day or weekend- like a snow theme park. It’s not something you actually live in.
My first winter in Korea was the first time I had ever lived in snow. And boy was it a shock. It didn’t help that particular winter was the harshest one of all the winters we’ve had since I’ve been here. I think it started snowing around Thanksgiving. And then proceeded to snow every week for 3 months.
It was cold. Really, really cold. Even other expats who’d grown up in cold places and were used to snow, admitted it seemed colder here. I think it has something to do with the fact that we took public transportation. Instead of jumping between a heated house, to a heated car, to a heated work place, we were always outside walking in it.
Also the wind. People always refer to the “arctic wind,” as if it’s some mystical thing that explains the intense cold. A mystical thing that swirls around you and seeks every exposed piece of skin to freeze all the hair off.
Also the schools weren’t as toasty as we would expect for winter time. I was pretty lucky, my school turned on the heat in the classrooms. But some schools didn’t. And I still don’t quite understand why, but some Koreans like to open the windows, even when it’s pouring snow outside. “For fresh air,” they explain.
The thing about habits is they slowly grow on you. And now I do it too. I am now one of those people who opens their window when it’s snowing outside, “for fresh air.”
I wore layers and layers that winter. The best thing about it was I built up a pretty good winter arsenal. I have “heat-tech” long underwear, wool socks, down liners, down jackets, hats, winter boots, rain boots, sweaters, ear muffs, and special gloves that let me use the touch screen on my phone without taking them off.
But my all time favorite winter accessory is for my bed: the electric blanket mattress pad. A portable ondol, individual-sized, this bed heater has saved my health.
That first winter was also the worst because I was sick for most of it. One day when I had a really terrible cold, the nice nurse teacher at my school gave me a ride home and stopped by Hi Mart to help me pick up an electric blanket. That was the best purchase I made that year. I’ve used it every winter since.
I’m already plotting how I can bring one of these home with me. Can I ship it? Can I order one online? Do they sell these in The States? I hope so.
My friend S and his girlfriend L came to visit last winter. They asked me to send them an ondol floor as a souvenir. They were only half joking. Heated floors really are one of the best things about Korea.
I’ve finally figured out how. If they ever get married, I’m sending them an electrical blanket mattress pad as their wedding present. Portable ondol for two.