Oh, chu-wa! Oh, chu-wa! Oh, chu-wa! Oh, chu-wa!

I swear, Ann, I can’t take it any more.

I looked at my colleague in anguish, stomping my foot a little as an outlet for my frustration. She nodded understandingly as I continued.

If I hear one more person going “Oh, chu-wa!”…

I let my sentence trail off and made a little growling noise as I stomped both my feet now, practically hopping with rage.

You’ll what, Hayley? asked Ann in wry amusement. Be very careful with this, because I will be watching to see if you follow through with it, and I guarantee it will happen within the next 10 minutes. 

She was right, and I was forced to abandon my passionate but unrealistic threat, as murder is wrong.

“Chu-wa!” means “Cold!” in Korean. I have learned, over the past few years, that Koreans really do not like being cold. Not only do they not like it, but they feel the need to exclaim about their dislike of it to anyone within earshot, approximately twenty times a day. One year I kept a tally of how many times I heard “Oh, chu-wa!” in a week, and while I can’t remember exactly the end total, I do remember that none of my friends believed it when I showed it to them. It was astronomical.

It’s one of those things that shouldn’t really be a big deal, but which becomes a mild annoyance and then gets right under your skin, until every time you encounter it, it triggers an immediate and involuntary twitch – like when someone says “should of”, for example, only worse. I feel like I need to be physically restrained, or at least be gagged to prevent an outburst. Why? WHY?! Why must they declare that it’s cold, over and over and over? Wouldn’t once be enough? Honestly, I have never experienced anything like this in my life before. Never mind the fact that it starts when the weather isn’t even cold (September, this year) and goes on until the sweaty start of summer. Even if you are permanently cold, why must you announce it all the fecking time?! What do you want? Sympathy? Magical temperature adjustment? Agreement? A lollipop?

My colleagues basically walk around hugging themselves over their 17 layers of woolly clothing, exclaiming “Oh, chu-wa!” every 10 seconds or so. It’s the surprised tone that really gets me. Every time, they gasp “Oh, chu-wa!” in utter astonishment, as if they were fine until just this very second and are completely amazed and baffled by the sudden drop in temperature. I want to shake them, I swear. I know I’m sounding like I have rage problems, but you have no idea how f***ing ridiculous and childish the whole exaggerated pantomime is to me.

The other day, I was standing at the refrigerated dairy shelves in the shop, contemplating yogurts, when I was joined by a girl around my age, dressed as if she was heading off on an Arctic adventure. Please note that it was at LEAST 14 or 15°C (which is still t-shirt weather as far as I’m concerned), but whatever. In she comes in her sweaters and furry coat and two hundred scarves, rubbing her hands together to get all the imaginary snow off. We stood together in mutual yogurt-related contemplation, until suddenly she leapt back from the fridges like she’d been shot. “Oh, chu-wa!” she exclaimed in horror, as if utterly amazed that the dairy section would be chilled. Of all the places! A fridge!! Oh, the unthinkable horror!!! I looked at her in barely concealed annoyance, but with admirable restraint turned back to the yogurts. Just as I was reaching for one, she did it again, making ridiculous arm-rubbing movements and hopping from foot to foot. “Oh, chu-wa!”

I gazed openly at her, no longer able to hide my contempt. “Chu-wa!” she whined again, apparently just to piss me off beyond all control.

Are you serious?! I asked in a breathless whisper, genuinely tempted to tip a pint of milk over her head and see how cold she was then. She was literally jumping around like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum, and I was the only one there to administer a much-needed slap (or violent shaking). I settled for grabbing my yogurt and backing away while still openly staring at her with incredulity and disgust painted all over my face. I mean, WT actual F?!!

And while we’re on the subject, “Oh, chu-wa!”‘s favourite cousin, “Aren’t you cold?” made its first appearance of the season last week. That’s another delight. They know that I’m warm-blooded and able to withstand extremely cold temperatures. They know that even early spring is too hot for my comfort. They know that I hate those damned underfloor heating systems and the stifling, stuffy, intolerable heat they create. They know that I will happily sit in an air-conditioned room that would have anyone else reaching for a blanket. They know that I only show up in a warm sweater and scarf on the very coldest and snowiest of winter days, and that for the rest of the year I am perfectly content to be at work in short sleeves.

And yet STILL they ask me: “Aren’t you cold?”. Repeatedly. Every day from late October to early April. Why?! Do they really think I am secretly freezing to death and just haven’t the brains to work out that I could wear warmer clothes?!!

Every foreign colleague I’ve worked with has come to enjoy the look of barely suppressed rage, confusion, and irritation that comes to my face every time the words “Aren’t you cold?” are directed at me. They understand my feelings, but admit that it’s hilarious because it’s not happening to them. Once, after weeks of biting my tongue and answering “No, I’m fine, thanks!”, there came a day when I just couldn’t take it any more. “Aren’t you cold?” asked one of the Korean English teachers. I gazed at her in mock surprise. “Thank goodness you said something!” I exclaimed, suddenly aghast. “I didn’t notice. Yes, I am cold! What will I do?!”

My foreign colleague, sitting next to me, almost choked on her soup, and went into a fit of giggles that she had to pretend was caused by a funny text message on her phone.

My Korean colleague went and brought me a coat.

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5 thoughts on “Oh, chu-wa! Oh, chu-wa! Oh, chu-wa! Oh, chu-wa!

  1. Bahahahah….that would make me crazy, too! My students whine about being cold, but I’ve not heard too many colleagues whine about it – yet. The Germans seem to be much like the Koreans in that they get cold easily and think that room is perfectly fine without air conditioning as long as it isn’t over, say, 29-30 degrees C. I spent the first 2 months of this school year sweating in rooms with no AC. I made the mistake of wearing a sweater today and ended up sweating in every overheated room I taught in. Don’t know how the kids stand it either – they all showed up in leggings and tights and 3 layers of sweaters with thermal underthings. I can’t even imagine what they’ll be wearing to school in January! We, of course, do not even have the heat turned on in our apartment, although I did make the concession of closing the windows last night when I went to bed…keep your chin up – only about 5 months to go until Spring!

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