Ask MsCaroline: February 2012

As the Winter in Seoul drags on endlessly continues to delight us with arctic winds, occasional snow, and sub-freezing temperatures, MsCaroline realizes that it has been several months since she has answered the fictional questions of her loyal readers.  In this edition of 'Ask MsCaroline' we address your burning - or less passionate - questions about parenting, working, child rearing,  and Expatriate Life in Seoul in general - keeping in mind that MsCaroline's qualifications for answering these questions are based on nothing more than the fact that she is the one who's writing this blog.

Question:  I am finding that winter in Seoul is very hard on my hands and nails - they look absolutely awful! What can I do about this?
Answer:  MsCaroline can relate to your plight, Gentle Reader.  She herself has been  finding that the bitterly cold weather, dry overheated indoor air, and frequent hand-washing (in the attempt to avoid catching the flu from her loving - yet virulent - students) have resulted in her hands looking very much like a Hobbit's.  Dry, cracked skin, brittle nails that seem to disintegrate at the lightest touch, and cuticles so ragged that they look like tree bark are par for the course, regardless of the number of emollients, unguents, salves, lotions, and gloves that are regularly applied.  A trip to the nail salon for a hot paraffin treatment (among other things) was also only temporarily helpful.  MsCaroline most definitely cannot recommend that you try warming 1/4 cup of olive oil in a small bowl and soaking your fingertips and nails in it, since that exercise had no lasting benefits for her and also ended up exposing her to the ridicule of her husband and son.  Also, as she found with the unsuccessful foot peel, it is quite difficult to take any sort of retaliatory action when one's hands (or feet) are submerged in a potentially staining liquid.  Since artificial or gel nails are not an option for MsCaroline, she has resigned herself to working on her sparkling personality and simply stopped worrying about how awful her hands look.  (Ironically, since her feet have been covered by at least one pair of socks 24/7 for the past several months, they have improved considerably.)

Question:  I have a job at a school in Korea and have been told to bring slippers.  Why is this?  
Answer:  Most people are familiar with the Korean custom of removing shoes before entering a home, but some people are not aware that this custom also extends in many cases to the school or workplace. In many Korean (and some international) schools, students and staff follow the traditional Korean custom of taking off their shoes when entering the building and putting on slippers, sandals, or other easy slip-on indoor shoes when entering the classrooms.  This keeps the mud/dirt/pesticides/melting snow out of the classrooms and makes cleanup significantly easier for the janitorial staff.  Naturally, it injects a certain amount of chaos into getting ready to go out for playtime, especially if you are working with very young children who are still mastering the art of getting their own shoes and boots on and off (thank God for Velcro).  The children and staff at MsCaroline's school wear anything from fuzzy slippers to Birkenstocks and everything in between, although (naturally) if you've spent a lot of time putting together just the right outfit to wear to work, adding a pair of slippers to the ensemble may not provide quite the same effect.  Fortunately, this is not a problem for MsCaroline who - while she spends ample time trying to make sure she stays warm - does not worry at all about how her shoes do or do not match the outfit.

Question:  I was walking down the street in Seoul yesterday and noticed that a number of people spit on the sidewalk.  What's up with that? 
Answer:  While spitting in public is not as common in Seoul as it seems to be in other parts of Asia, it certainly doesn't seem to carry the same sort of social taboo that it does in most Western countries.  People seem to have no problem spitting when the spirit moves them, and do so - often.  The equally cavalier attitude toward public urination (for men) is - in MsCaroline's opinion - simply further grounds for justifying the removal of shoes when entering a building.

Question:  My child's class at school in Seoul is having a party and I need to bring something to contribute that the kids will enjoy.  What do you suggest? 
Answer:    MsCaroline cannot speak for your child of course, but, based on what she has observed at her school, the hands-down most popular snack food with the elementary set - be they Western or Korean - seems to be gim (also spelled kim), which is similar to Japanese nori - basically sheets of thinly-pressed roasted seaweed, usually seasoned with sesame oil and/or garlic. Gim - which is often eaten wrapped around rice in the form of gimbap- can also be dipped in a sauce and eaten, but this is not necessary, since the children will gobble it up either way. MsCaroline has been alternately amazed and delighted by the way small children will ignore cookies, muffins, cake, or other sweets, and happily select a lumpy, green, transparent sheet of gim to munch on instead.  In her opinion, if you're looking for a good party food,  you cannot go wrong with gim.  


Question:  I  live in Seoul and get around via public transportation.  How can I keep warm in Seoul's sub-zero winter temperatures while still making a fashion statement? 
Answer:  MsCaroline has absolutely no idea, darling.  Her own winter ensemble is chosen entirely for warmth and comfort and the statement it makes is more 'Former Weekend Outdoorswoman Who Has Let Herself Go" and less 'Fashionable Expat Matron.'  MsCaroline's typical outdoorwear used for winter travel (say, to and from work) is as follows:  long underwear (tops and bottoms); t-shirt; turtleneck; fleece jacket; gore-tex outer shell;  jeans/trousers; two pairs of socks (one liner, one thick); winter-weight light hikers; glove liners and gloves; scarf; hat or earmuffs.  She finds that this prevents her fingers, toes, and core from freezing while waiting at bus stops or walking to her destinations, but also provides the convenience of layers that can be easily shed - either indoors at work or en route if one is doing a lot of sustained uphill walking.  Of course, if you are a young, fashionable Korean woman,  none of the above applies.  You are required (possibly by law) to wear a thigh-length, figure-skimming black coat, black miniskirt,black tights, black stiletto heels, close-fitting black leather gloves, an expensive  handbag the size of a small Latin American country, and an artfully-draped cashmere scarf, none of which will keep you particularly warm, but which will look absolutely fabulous as you shiver at the bus stop.


Trish said…
I have a pair of huge fluffy sheepskin slippers but heavens I'd hate anyone outside the family to see me in them. I think the idea is a good one though, particularly if, as you say, pavements are spittle-dappled.

The temperature here today is a balmy 18 degrees. It's gorgeous. It won't last.
MsCaroline said…
Trish - my home slippers are pretty fluffy, too, so I invested in a more businesslike pair that I keep at school - they're navy and very unobtrusive, although they won't win any fashion prizes!
Karen said…
Warmth and comfort are king!!! Or queen, as the case may be. I sympathize with your plight there in cold, snowy Seoul, but can't really empathize as we are struggling to maintain the illusion of winter here in NE. No snow and plenty of 30, 40 and 50 (!) degree days this winter. The funny thing is that when the temp gets to 50's I experience that spring fever feeling! How is that possible when there has been no winter?
The spitting sounds nasty, I really do hate spitting. Don't understand why the (mostly)guys feel compelled. Hubby (who seldom if ever spits) does defend the habit...."What else are we supposed to do?" Ummmm....swallow?
As a reformed barefoot person, the stories of being able to change into slippers everywhere one goes make me drool (but not spit) with envy. I never used to wear shoes in the house and now do all the time because the old arches can't handle it otherwise. However, back pain and leg pain is considerably less since the advent of shoes at all time. Sucks, though.
Friday tomorrow...enjoy your weekend!
Hello! Fascinating, as always, especially the kids eating something green as a snack! My DH was meant to fly to Seoul last week, but coz of the wing cracks on the A380, they switched the airplane so he didn't get to go. I was talking to a friend, whose husband did do a Seoul flight and she said he didn't leave the hotel it was so cold! It must be nearly over? Hang in there!
MsCaroline said…
Karen - NE has been weird this year -maybe it's making up for last year's craziness (wasn't it an awful winter last year?) I think you're probably right, shoes in the house would help with back problems; I could probably do that, would just need to remember which ones were 'indoors' shoes and be consistent about it!
MsCaroline said…
Circles - I was shocked watching the kids myself - one of the best influences in Korea on the Western kiddos by their Korean peers seems to be the popularity of veggies - a few of the kids ate muffins or cookies, but most of them were left over - the plate of cucumbers, though, was decimated, as were the bell peppers/bean dip and - of course - the gim. I'm afraid it would have been exactly opposite at a Western kindergarten, although maybe I'm mistaken.

I pity your friend's husband - what a shock to come from the warm UAE to freezing Seoul! I really hope spring's on the way - we had 3 days around 12-14 C which really seemed balmy to me. It can't come soon enough!

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