For all the complaining we do about the Northern Irish weather, it’s always gone fairly easy on us. OK, so the sun might not get his hat on very often, and it might rain more than we’d prefer, but you never really get the sort of weather that actually seems to threaten you in a menacing, bullying kind of way. It rarely gets hot enough for it to be uncomfortable. It’s never cold enough to cause you any danger. Rain is excessive, and yet flooding is not so extensive that entire towns are left without homes or food or clean drinking water. There’s the occasional rumble of thunder and flash of lightning, and sometimes it’s a bit blustery, but trees are rarely uprooted and hurled through someone’s front window.
I suppose I never really thought about what the weather was capable of doing until I came here and saw greater extremes – from the freezing, bitter cold of winter to the steamy, burning heat of summer. And with that oppressive summer heat come the storms. I’ve never seen storms like them. The rolling thunder wakes me up at night, crashing and slamming like furniture being thrown down the stairs as someone with a shotgun fires repeatedly at the thrower. The lightning is so frequent that at times my apartment seems almost permanently lit by a flickering but dazzling white light. And the rain…
Carrying an umbrella makes no difference at all, as my colleagues and I discovered on our short walk home from work one day last week. After only 30 seconds or so, we were drenched, with wet patches on our clothes and rain running down our bare arms and legs (because don’t forget that it’s still painfully hot throughout all this).
And then we get hit by typhoons. For possibly the first time in my life I felt a little (only a little!) scared of the weather when I woke up very early in the morning last Thursday and heard the wind howling outside. No, not howling – screaming. Roaring, perhaps. Thunder and lightning were doing their thing most impressively, and to my alarm I realised that my kitchen window was open. I slid open the kitchen partition door to close it, and was actually flung backwards by the force of the wind. Every loose and light object in my apartment was tossed up into the air, and I struggled to get to the window and drag it shut. When I did, I surveyed my little kitchenette and discovered that it was now a swimming pool for all my pet insects.
The typhoon hit Seoul worse than Daejeon, killing some people and destroying buildings. I arrived for my second teacher training session on Friday to find that the huge tower block had been hit, windows blown in, and furniture hurled around. They’d worked around the clock to get things fixed up for the start of business on Friday, and you could see the rough lines on the ceiling of our room, where they’d re-plastered (or whatever it is they do – I don’t concern myself with such details, and anyway, I’d been up since 5.30am and was still on my first coffee when this was all explained).
To my absolute joy, however, the current interlude between storms has done something strange to the weather. I wouldn’t say it’s cool, exactly, but I will say that I got home from the supermarket last night and hauled heavy bags and a 5kg sack of rice up the hill and up the stairs, unpacked and put away all my shopping, sat down, and realised to my genuine surprise and joy that I hadn’t broken a sweat. (For months now, I’ve only had to step outside my door for my forehead to become damp.) This is a truly wonderful development. It’s probably only temporary, as the sky is very grey and cloudy, and I distinctly remember it being clear and warm when I first got here in October, but I’m enjoying the respite while it lasts!
Typhoon season has also been a contributing factor in me spending so long hmm-ing and ha-ing about where to go for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving, the week after next). I really fancied just lazing on a palm-lined beach somewhere, and had almost decided on one in the south of Taiwan, but the likelihood of being stuck in a hotel room due to storms was just too great. I don’t want to spend all of my precious holiday time cooped up in a tiny room.
So I’m going to stay with the nomadic people of Mongolia, and trek through the Gobi desert on a camel, instead.