It is with feelings of despair that I have been contemplating the fact that winter is over and summer will soon unleash itself upon me in all its scorching, humid glory. However, I have managed to think of one fairly major reason why summer might be preferable to winter, even for a cold-dweller like me.
Yes, outside might be unbearable. But inside, in summer, becomes a large and wonderful refrigerator.
You see, Koreans have a rather odd outlook on the temperature. I’d have thought that the miracle of modern heating and cooling technology would mean that we could keep the interior of buildings at the same comfortable temperature all year long, regardless of the temperature outside. I don’t know exactly what this comfortable temperature is, but it wouldn’t make you sweat or shiver.
But for some reason, people in Korea like to make the indoor climate feel like the exact opposite of the outdoor one. It’s like they’re over-compensating. It’s freezing cold outside – but inside, it feels like a hot summer’s day! It’s swelteringly hot outside – but inside, it feels like the coldest day in January!
It’s altogether bizarre. And in winter, it kills me. I’m not much for socialising as it is, but in winter I want to leave almost as soon as I’ve arrived in a bar or restaurant, because the heat is suffocating. Last night, I went for drinks for a friend’s birthday at Ethnic Bar, where you sit on the floor at low tables amidst candles and flowers and lanterns and suchlike. All very charming, except that the underfloor heating was turned up so high that I felt like I was about to burst into flames as I sat there. I could feel the heat spreading up through my feet and legs as I sat there squirming miserably, until soon my face was bright red and all I could think about was getting outside into the cold air. When I got home, I stripped off and switched on the fan in an effort to cool myself down – a common occurrence in summer after I’ve walked home, but not what I’d expect to be doing when you can still see your breath on the air outside!
At school, it can get almost as bad, except that I do have some control over the temperature in my classroom (in that I can open the window). That doesn’t stop the burning of the underfloor heating, mind you. Last term, I actually refused to teach my last kindergarten class of the day because the classroom had heated up to a temperature that was utterly unbearable to me, even dressed in the single light layer that gets me shocked and disapproving stares from all the Korean teachers in their sweaters and scarves. I literally could not bear to stand on that hot floor. It felt like it was burning right through my feet (remember we don’t wear shoes indoors).
And so – in a weird twist – summer, when it arrives with its searing outdoor heat and oppressive humidity, will mean that I can once again feel comfortable indoors. The floor will be cool on my feet. The aircon will be blasting icy air. Fans will be circulating the coldness. And I will be one happy Hails. Because yes, they really do take it to the other extreme in summer, chilling rooms to the freezing temperatures they’re so desperate to eliminate in winter. Outside is horribly hot, but when you walk into a bar or restaurant and the cold air hits you, it’s almost worth the walk in the heat to get there. One of my South African friends sat in her coat as we watched a football match in a bar last summer. I, on the other hand, basked in the coldness wearing only a strappy top, shorts, and a big smile.
Oh, Korea… I love your culture, your people, your beautiful scenery, your cities, your quirks, and your children. If only your climate could be just a little bit Irish!