I’ve been living in Korea for 430 days and I’m not suggesting that my hometown of Boston massively sucks at existing during the winter, but there’s always room for improvement.
1. Nore Bang
Inside the tall, brightly lit buildings of Seoul, there’s a guy sitting at a front desk, which is sitting next to a cooler packed with 2 dollar beers, which is sitting just ahead of some dimly lit rooms lined with couches, each containing two microphones, two tambourines, two thick books listing song titles, one complicated remote, a screen hanging from the wall, and a table in the center. Like almost everything in Korea that is not coffee, a karaoke room for all your friends is superbly cheap and open ‘til it’s light outside. We Nore to Beyoncé, Little Mermaid, and I’ve noticed we Nore a lot to a song about doing it “my way.”
We adore Nore, but especially during the months when your breath makes a little cloud that you always take a second to watch get bigger then fade away. Korea’s got a whole lot of nifty tidbits when it comes to those special iPhone fingertip-equipped-glove months, I’ll have you know, like for the times you’re left with an icy feeling because it’s too frigid to chill at the cool park in Hongdae, and for the times when all the wetness soaks up even a slight drizzle of joy from every second until you’re drowning in boredom.
2. Umbrella Holders
Every so often your eyes flicker in the morning because there’s a pattering on the roof or passing car tires are making that watery sound and before you even grab your phone by only moving an arm and no other part of your body, you’ve realized that today you will need to carry around a mobile steel rod. In some places, I guess this sucks more than in others.
It’s been 430 days since I’ve had to endure the rain in a city where umbrella holders do not exist, but I remember like it was yesterday. Soaked, patterned material mushroomed over me. Reaching a square of sidewalk just adjacent to the door I was meant to be entering in a few seconds. Clicking a button and shaking out aforementioned material, while both myself and previously stated material are being poured on, because that is the umbrella routine, and really you cannot stray from the routine without being scorned at. I mean, imagine if I had just simply turned that doorknob and trotted on inside without performing the umbrella routine, how rude I would look for not having attempted to jiggle off the water from abovementioned material.
And what about all the times you’re riding the train, focusing on keeping your moveable metallic stick pointed down to the one square inch of non-occupied floor space, as to not piss everyone off, and then you go to switch your song and accidentally drip on a bystander, or even worse your portable platinum bar’s water lands on an empty seat and then people are grunting because you broke, shattered, annihilated the very first, most important, most basic rule of riding the train on a rainy day.
Thank heavens Korea has abolished these means of social suicide with the use of a dazzling appliance, strategically placed at every doorway. The umbrella holder uses a fan for precise placement, plastic bags for covers, and is dually operated to fit any size. It means I don’t need to concern my genius mind with gravity’s pull of drops from aforesaid material. That’s because it’s covered in a perfectly fitted holder for the time I spend indoors. Unless I’m in my own apartment, then I’m probably alone and cozy on the floor.
3. Heated floors
I was thrilled to move into my little Korean studio apartment, but after about six months, my flat lost all its flatness when one portion of my floor began to rise into an elevated bubble, while the rest experienced some ugly discoloration. From time to time I’d poke at this paneled capsule of air and stare curiously, floored by all the changes happening below me. Then eventually our building’s maintenance guy came to cut away the mound and level it with a mismatched surface, leaving the base of my abode looking foul to the naked or lensed eye.
Nevertheless, I am arguably the most easy-going being that’s ever transformed oxygen to carbon dioxide and certainly I would not allow myself to dwell on the mere appearance of my dwelling. You see, I’ve just been super grateful that when I wake up in the morning, my floor is still warm as Hell.
Life on the Korean peninsula has meant a different sort of heating system. And in a world where warm change is the best kind of change, my quarters are now heated by high temperatures seeping through every floorboard. I exist atop some hot, inviting strips of linoleum every morning while outside my window, hostile sheets of cold stack up from the ground to the white, fluffy gigantic Q-tip-ends in the air. At night, I arrive home from work, after sliding over ice patches and being beaten by frigidness, to this type of thawing, snug, happiness-triggering foundation that I never before knew was even a thing. Now it’s a thing I look forward to reuniting with every day, similar to the way I am, at all times, looking forward to anything that has something to do with food or eating or taste buds in any way.
In a land 6,795 miles away from here, inhabitants are still served ice water during all 8,765.81 hours of the year, which is perhaps a bit bogus. In the East, I shake my head at this sham. For, when the weather is glacial enough that your mouth breeze creates a tiny transparent sphere of miniature pillow fillings at eye level, maybe only a moron would agree to consume something even chillier. These days, I know all about warm liquids at the dinner table. We’re supplied hot water or tea while waiting for the divine nourishment that is Korean food.
Here, servers cover your entire table with food. I mean this literally. Honestly, you can hardly see anything that is not food because there are plates of tasty Korean side dishes on top of every single piece of matter that is part of the table in front of you.
You must move your wallet because it cannot fit due to all the food. Also, you must stretch your hand and chopsticks really far to reach the edible yumminess that lies just ahead on the other side of the table and finally, you must help the servers by squishing all the side dishes together so the edges of the plates are touching to make room for everyone’s rice. And if you want to capture this, you must stand on your cushion to even just fit most of it into the picture, which is fine because your shoes are already off and in a designated shoe area with everyone else’s from the restaurant, anyway.
Some of the most delicious foods are found in Korean restaurants, but on the other hand, some are found when you’re just prancing adorably down chaotic, brightly lit streets after doing some Tuesday night grocery shopping, and are paid for with just one sky-blue bill called a chun won.
5. Red Beans
Red beans are the way Koreans do dessert. They come heated inside some sort of pastry. The best times, it’s inside bread shaped as a fish. Mediocre but still delightful times, it’s inside a big puffy, soft, white ball. Also, they put this mixture on top of their iced green teas in the summer at Starbucks. I guess it’s just really good everywhere.
Red bean snacks are sold up and down the street all winter. A guy sits off to the side in his cart with ear muffs, gloves, a mini restaurant and a tent all around him. That’s when you pop over with some colorful paper for the switcheroo. A chun won gets you three, warm red bean fish breads.
I love Korea. I love it. I love it. I love it.
Featured image via ShutterStock