Winter of my Discontent*

This is lovely, but nothing like the part of Seoul I live in.

(*With apologies to Will Shakespeare, King Richard III, and anyone who has ever read the quote in context and therefore realizes it has nothing much to do with winter anyway.)

Well, here we are at the end of January, and - if the locals are to be believed - we still have a good 6-8 weeks of winter to go here in Seoul (there are a few unusually cruel people who have assured me that it doesn't really get warm until well into April, but that thought just doesn't bear contemplation at the moment, so I'm focusing on March.)

So far, this winter has not proved to be one of my best, especially since it's the first time in over 11 years that I've had to cope with anything resembling a 'real' winter, and I'm a bit bewildered by the the fact that it got cold and has actually stayed that way, which is not how it is done at all in the Southwest of the US.  There, we enjoy a day or two of 'cold' weather and then return to relative normalcy, light jackets, and year-round cookouts.  Here in Seoul, I am dealing with the doldrums of my first 'real' winter in over a decade in a completely predictable way:  whining, eating too much, feeling sorry for myself, and reading escapist literature, most of it involving small villages populated almost entirely by dear old cardigan-wearing ladies as well as the occasional lovable curmudgeon.  Also featured are cats, cozy fireplaces, and, occasionally, sheep.

Mind you, this grey and frigid weather seems to have no effect whatsoever on the Seoulites, who continue to stride about briskly in starkly chic winter fashions, sidestepping piles of leftover snow and slush and sneaky patches of ice- all while walking into the teeth of a bitter wind - without the slightest indication of discomfort or even a hint of self-pity.  It boggles the mind.

  If you want to know just how desperate I've gotten, you'll appreciate knowing that I searched the Internet for information on average monthly temperatures in Seoul, just to encourage myself that it really would get warmer by March (it does, although not nearly warm enough) and discovered that the reason it's so cold in the winter here is something to do with some sort of air mass that gets here from Siberia by way of China.  That's right, Siberia.  I don't think I really need to say anything else about this, now, do I? 

Needless to say, I'm not really embracing the unique beauty of winter's glories here in Seoul.  When I must go out - traveling as I do by bus, subway, or on foot - I am as well wrapped up as Ralphie's little brother in A Christmas Story, and - sadly - just about as attractive. 

In other winter news:

 I bought myself a Keurig, which has been excellent for keeping my mind off the fact that it's so damn cold outside.  I will be forever indebted to my friend T (you know who you are) for introducing me to hers when I was in Texas in January.  It is true that the cuppa you get from your Keurig does not taste quite as good as what you get when you grind your beans and brew your coffee freshly.  However, if you are like me and find that first 0-15 minutes of consciousness each morning (during which you must survive before the coffee is ground and brewed) to be interminable, then the slight decrease in quality is quite negligible.  For those of you who are trying to follow my convoluted prose, yes, you have understood correctly:  I need like to drink a cup of coffee while I'm waiting for the coffee to brew, and the Keurig (so far) provides a far superior flavor to the jar of emergency Folger's crystals I keep in my cupboard.  I come by this behavior honestly;  I have very fond childhood memories of my mother sitting blearily in pre-dawn winter mornings huddled over her cup of instant while waiting for the percolator to finish brewing her first cup of real coffee.  (It will come as no surprise to any of you who know my mother that she already has a Keurig of her own.)

Skin care:  The cold and dry air here in Seoul have conspired to dessicate my (already-dry) skin to the point that I am constantly slathering a variety of lotions, unguents, and salves about my person in an attempt (clearly vain) to stave off the inevitable itching, cracking, and general disintegration of my skin, hair, and nails.  Of course, the fact that I am now teaching very young children - who, as we all know, are simultaneously virulent and adorable - means that I am  washing my hands every five minutes in an attempt to stave off infection.  Accordingly, any good I might have otherwise gotten from said lotions is almost immediately canceled out.  I have had at least one finger wrapped in a Band-aid at all times in the last two weeks, my fingernails break at the slightest bump, and I have become compulsive very passionate about the care of my heels.  Of course, my skin is flaking off the rest of me at a tremendous rate too, but since I am almost always wearing two or three layers of clothing, it's really not that noticeable.

My new job:  As I only just started last week, I'm still in a bit of a honeymoon period, but so far, so good.  I am teaching English in a German kindergarten, which means (a bit schizophrenically) that all of my interactions with colleagues and parents are in German, and all of my interactions with the children are in English, although (obviously) I know what they're saying to me and each other in German.  As I mentioned in a previous post, even though I have always taught older students, I had a good reason for wanting this particular job, namely, for the opportunity to work in a German school with German colleagues and students (since I have spent most of my career teaching German, although I am also a qualified English/ESL teacher.) As I suspected it would be, it has already proved to be extremely rewarding on both a personal and professional level.  The school follows a Montessori model, so the interactions are very much child-led and fairly unstructured.  On any given day, I may find myself reading a storybook, playing a board game, or helping to make a pirate hat, depending on what interests the children.  The planned-to-the-minute lessons I was used to doing when I taught high school and university simply don't work here, so I find myself simply interacting with the kids like I did with my own boys,  keeping up a running commentary (what we language teachers refer to as 'comprehensible input') on whatever we're doing.  On Friday, the group I had was passionate about 'The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,' so we sang it a dozen times.  The group I had yesterday could not have cared less about spiders and instead wanted to read Good Dog, Carl - over and over and over.  I am learning to go with the flow.  For my part, I have already learned at least four new rhymes used to teach the children to politely wish one another 'Guten Appetit' before eating their noon meal -as it is a German school, is always a hot one with soup, salad, main course, and pudding - as well as a catchy little tune about a sleepy rabbit who can't (or, perhaps, won't) hop.

Cultural opportunities:  Besides going out to the occasional dinner, work, and shopping, I have been quite the homebody lately, preferring to stay home and knit, curled up in my slanket  (yes, we've sunk that low.  It's very sad, but I refuse to be ashamed.)  However, last weekend, I dragged MrL and Son#2 out into the cold to the Gwachon National Science Museum to see the King Tut Exhibition.  As it turned out, this was, apparently, the same plan that about 2 million other parents in Seoul had that Saturday, and, as a result, the whole thing was unpleasantly crowded-even by Seoul standards.  Strangely, despite the fact that it was Saturday afternoon, there was an enormous number of (what looked like) school groups (they surely couldn't all have been scouts) running excitedly around defying the herding efforts of  their harassed-looking caregivers.  Due to both the crush of people and the need for constant vigilance (for purposes of avoiding the running children), I was not able to get more than a general impression of the whole thing, which was disappointing, since I am the sort of museum-goer who likes to read everything - and everything was in English this time, although I could only rarely get close enough to the exhibits to actually do any reading.  I was very impressed with those artifacts I did see, especially the golden finger and toenail covers, which were apparently put there to reaffirm Tut's immortality - although I cannot be sure since I couldn't read the comments next to the exhibit.  Since the rest of it passed in something of a blur of the backs of people's heads and scampering children, I cannot give you a much more detailed description.  While I am not exactly a misanthrope, I can say that, in the case of museums, I prefer them empty rather than full, and I plan to return to see the exhibit on a weekday - and I also plan to be first in line.

Sending you all the warmest of thoughts from snowy Seoul!


Trish said…
You mention the indigenous population wearing thin jackets in the cold. This sounds like my home town, Newcastle upon Tyne, where both sexes go out at weekends with barely a stitch on. A sign of weakness to wear a coat!

I like the look of your coffee machine. Not seen that make before. I have a Nespresso machine which I love but I always have a cup of tea first thing - British through and through.
MsCaroline said…
Trish- this is how I know I'm (getting) old: I do not care what people think as long as I'm comfortable! I would undoubtedly be scorned in Newcastle-upon-Tyne...

The Keurig is a lot like the Nespresso, and in fact I thought you had one, because I remembered the wall holder you have in your kitchen for your espresso pods (or capsules or whatever they are)...dug back through your posts until I found your kitchen video to see if it was K-cups or not (sadly, not).
I'm 100% sure that the tea vs coffee issue is entirely a cultural matter. I drink tea, but coffee must come first in the morning!
Karen said…
Thoroughly enjoyed your comments on winters that arrive and stay as opposed to southwestern winter! Have been wondering why so much talk about the cold!! The Siberia thing explained a lot, too. Here in NE, so far this is the winter that wasn't. Not very cold, not much snow. I told my kids that the groundhog will pop up tomorrow to the surprising news that winter hasn't even started yet!
As for coffee...we set up the night before and the timer starts our coffee. We do sacrifice a tiny bit of freshness, but the immediacy is very important. We have a Keurig at work and it is nice when I remember to bring my cup down when putting the kids on the bus. Then I can get a cup (sadly decaf) and drink it while attending meetings or completing neverending paperwork.
Your job sounds perfect, especially the part about little to no planning! I love the Montessori model but have never had the opportunity to actually practice it. And you get to keep using your German! Except for the germ factor and the cracking hands, it sounds perfect.
All is well here, again. College has been applied for and we wait with bated breath. At least, I do!
MsCaroline said…
Karen - I am still stunned by how cold it is here: it was 4 degrees Fahrenheit on the way to work; my feet were numb by the time I got there.
Montessori's very interesting; sort of ideal teaching. We had one little boy come to school on Monday with a 'pirate ship' he'd made out of a cardboard box, a broomstick, and a bandanna. The kids spent the morning making pirate hats and then playing pirates and talking about boats/ships/the ocean (which I did in English.) The only thing I don't like is that I don't always have the chance to prepare materials in advance - had I known it was going to be a pirate theme, I could have brought a book or planned a thematic game or a song (all I could think of was '15 men on a dead man's chest" which seemed inappropriate for such young kids - I replaced with 'one little two little three little pirates;) However, I'm sure I'll get better at thinking on my feet as I get used to it.
BavarianSojourn said…
But you know the Seoulites don't need to wear much because a bit like the readybrek effect, they are kept warm from the inner glow given to them by kimchi!!

Sounds like the job is going really well though, that's great news! Get some hand-sanitiser gel stuff though, that will dry your hands out less...

I am quite tempted to get a slanket now as well, the temperature is only -10 here today, but surely that warrants one for hibernating?!?

Sorry you didn't get to see the exhibition properly, that sounds really interesting, good luck for the next attempt!

Emma :)

PS. thanks for the comment on my blog!
MsCaroline said…
BS: I wish I liked kimchi more, I'd eat just about anything to feel warmer!
Lois Thorpe said…
I had two winters in Korea, one of those in Seoul, and they were my first real winters, being from southern California. Now in Ukraine, those winters seemed mild, but it's all relative, eh? Dry skin is never pleasant, whatever the temperature. Lather on those creams and dream of the end of March!
MsCaroline said…
Lois - thanks for stopping by! I can imagine winter in the Ukraine is quite something compared to Seoul! We were warned to bring humidifiers with us, but have just realized how important it is to actually turn them on and use them...March can't come soon enough!
Trish said…
I know you might think I am out in left field, but I can't wait to get back to WINTER in Seoul! I had 3 cashmere coats made while living in Seoul (complete with my name stitched on the inside) and I have only put them on a handful of times since living here in TX. I can't wait to wear them again... Snow days with the chocolate, coffee, snuggled up on the couch with my loves, reading, building snow igloos....
Call me crazy...
MsCaroline said…
Trish - Yes, it does sound a little bit out in left field to me, although I will admit it's been fun being able to wear my sweaters and shop for coats for the first time in years (we lived in Phoenix before moving to TX.) We haven't had anything close to a snow day yet - Son#2 goes to SFS and they never shut down; neither does the German school where I teach. So we still have to brave the elements - far less fun than cuddling inside with hot chocolate!

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