Tips and Tidbits: The Korean Winter

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Korean Winter is unforgiving demon. When they came up with euphemism, colder than a witch’s…glance…yeah…glance; what they should have said was, “It’s as cold as a Korean winter.”

In Korea the winters get cold. I don’t know why but it must be something about this side of the world. I met a woman the other day and she was from Dubai. She had never experienced a winter before and I gave her a laundry list of tips for getting through the season. I talked to her on a Sunday and warned her, repeatedly, that the first really cold day was going to come soon, but she seemed to brush it off as the crazed rants of a lunatic.

Sure enough the next time I saw her, she looked like that kid from the movie the Christmas story. She had a big floppy hat with earmuffs, a huge jacket that looked like fur or something lining it, fuzzy boots, mittens, and a scarf that was easily a meter and a half long. This woman was petite and slim but now she looked like an oompa loompa.

She told me that she wished she took my warning before she experienced her first winter frost.

So I don’t know where you all come from but I wanted to give you a heads up about what you can expect this winter in Seoul. And don’t you be thinking you’ll be all right because you see a girl outside in a miniskirt. She’s cold. She’s really cold; she’s just Spartan.

Here are my top ten tips for surviving the Korean winters.

Tip #10
Long Underwear is your friend. Get several pairs because they’ll get you through the time you must spend waiting for the bus. Make sure they are thick. I recommend BYC.

Tip #9
Winter proof those windows. If those pesky mosquitoes can get into your house in summer, just imagine how much cold air gets in during the winter. Get 3M Winterizing tape at your local supermarket.

Tip #8
Pay your gas bill. Don’t put it off any longer, because they will shut it off. ‘nuff said.

Tip #7
Learn how to work your ondol! That little wall thing heats up your floor as well as your water. I don’t know if you have the same heating panel, but mine is a Rinnai. The dial to the left says “cha-on 저”온 and “go-on 고온.” The left side is low temperature and the right is high temperature. The center dial controls the heat. Here’s a poem for those that still can’t convert Fahrenheit to Celsius. “Zero is freezing 10 is not 20 is warm and 30 is hot.”
I find that 24 is good enough. NOW, very important on the right dial it will say “nanbang oansu 난방온수 and oansu chan young 온수전용.” Just remember that bang “방” is room, so it will heat the floor if the switch is to the left and just the room if the switch is to “oansu chan young 온수전용.”

Ondols will maintain their temperature for a long time. When it gets really cold, it is better to sleep on the floor instead of the bed.

Tip #6
When the weather gets extremely cold-below -5-, be sure to let your faucet drip a little. The dripping will keep your pipes from freezing. If they freeze you’re looking at a bill that will be at least a couple million won, so just let it drip a bit.

Tip #5
Get a Polar Bear hat with mitten paw like attachment. They are so cute. I’ve even seen these in other animals like pigs, rabbits, and even Disney characters. You can find these all over the place and they make great gifts for people overseas. Buy one for yourself and buy another for a niece or cousin and mail them for Christmas. They’ll love it.

Tip #4
Eat a lot of Chiggae, Juk, and Guk! Korean stews and soups come boiling hot to the table and they are the best thing to warm you up from the inside. You’ll basically make your stomach a hot water heater. You know what they say, a Korean stew a day keeps the doctor away. (Actually, they don’t say that, but they should.) Kimchi Chiggae, Pumpkin Juk, and Kalguksu are my favorites.

Tip #3
Get a hand warmer. There are a variety of kinds. There are those that have the powdery things inside that get hot when they are exposed to the air. If you want something with a bit more use, you can get an electronic hand warmer/phone charger from your local electronic mart. I saw them going for about 40,000 won.


Tip #2
Make a girlfriend or boyfriend. Koreans hate to spend the winters alone. This might be the perfect opportunity to cash in on the winter blues to catch your that hottie you’ve had your eyes on.

Tip #1
And the Number 1 tip for surviving the Korean Winters is: Go eat Korean barbecue and wash it down with a bottle of soju. A Korean barbecue, with the charcoal burning in the center, is like having a campfire and a fireplace at the same time. Plus the liquor will cover you with a nice soju blanket. And be sure to get rice because then you’ll get complementary tengjang chiggae.

So those are your Korean tidbits for today if you follow these tips, I promise you’ll get through the fierce winters in one piece.

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