Winter in Seoul: Of Socks and Boots and Crampons
|Not exactly like my walk to the bus stop these days, but close. via|
Ah, Gentle Reader, how little I knew! (cue maniacal laughter here.)
As it turns out, last winter was, in fact, a mild one. We had a few episodes of snow and it got down to about freezing, but otherwise, it wasn't too bad, as far as winters in Seoul go.
I know this only because this year has turned out to be one of the coldest on record.
We had snow in late November - or maybe it was early December (it all runs together in a blur, you see)- and the temperatures have never risen enough for the snow to melt completely. We've had several more significant snowstorms since then. Oh, there have been a few balmy days where the highs hovered slightly above freezing (35F/2C), but for the most part, our daily highs have been in single digits (Fahrenheit) or the negative teens (Celsius.) What this means is that the existing snow will begin to melt into a cold, wet slush for a few hours during the day and then freeze back up as soon as the sun goes down at 5:30 or so, providing fun and games on the ice when you (meaning 'I') head out to work the next morning.
For those of you (like me) who have never experienced this kind of cold before, let me tell you what walking around outside -say, to catch a bus or to walk a mere 5 minutes to the subway station -in -18C (that's zero to those of us who measure in F) feels like:
- Any part of your body that is not covered by a hat or a scarf (so, basically, the area between your eyebrows and your cheekbones) begins to hurt almost immediately; the rest of you doesn't start to hurt until a few minutes go by
- Your eyes tear (even worse if it's windy)
- Your extremities begin to ache within five minutes, starting with fingers and toes, regardless of the number of socks/gloves you are wearing
- If you are stupid enough to wear jeans, no long underwear, and a shortish jacket*, your legs will begin to sting and itch with the cold within two minutes
In short: it's really unpleasant. Especially when one depends on public transportation to get around town most of the time.
Probably the best way to sum up my experience with the cold this winter, though, would be a quick glance at the evolution of my footwear as the winter has progressed.
(Let me point out before we get started, that a high-fashion wardrobe has never been a high priority of mine. I'm more of a jeans-and-t-shirt type, which is a good thing, given the type of life I lead. Give me something comfortable and practical to wear, and I'll be prepared for whatever the day may bring, whether it be cleaning up the results of the dog's having eaten an entire pound of butter, standing on the desk in my classroom to try and get the overhead projector to go on, or helping MrLogical install a new ceiling fan.)
Last year - when it snowed only a couple times - I got around town most of the time pretty comfortably with my standard light hikers and a couple of pairs of socks:
This year, after our first snowstorm, I ascertained quickly that I would need something waterproof, with a rubber sole. I came up with these:
These kept my feet dry and sort of warm on the way to and from work, which was what interested me, and they worked fairly well through the beginning of December.
What happened next was this: the temperatures plummeted, and I found myself longing for some boots that would actually keep my feet warm. This meant something fur-lined, so I moved on to the ubiquitous Ugg:
The Uggs were effective at keeping my toes from freezing, but Ugg soles don't provide much traction, and our trek up Namsan in the ice and snow on New Year's Morning made me realize that I probably also needed something a little stouter to add to my wardrobe: waterproof, warm, and with a sole that would allow me to navigate deadly ice patches on Seoul's many hilly sidewalks with the sure confidence of a mountain goat.
So, off we went to a local outdoors store, where I got myself some waterproof cold-weather hiking boots, all Gore-tex and padded interiors, and really much better for navigating the ice than the Uggs, although the fact that they have to be laced up is a definite drawback:
MrL (an avid outdoorsman) is delighted that I've gotten myself some 'serious' cold-weather hiking boots, but feels that I am missing one last component in my winter wardrobe that will help me make it to spring without incurring a closed-head injury:
It may yet come to that. Spring's still a long way away.