My second, and final, school semester in Korea is coming to an end and I think it’s only fitting that I end it as I did the first – in true British style – complaining about the weather. The sultry days of frantic fanning and saturated blotting paper feel like a lifetime ago. It is now very, very cold.
These days there are two manners in which I wake up – either I’m stiff and aching from sleeping balled up in the foetal position for warmth all night long, or dying of dehydration because I cranked the ondol (underfloor heating) up to the max again. Each morning I conduct the sniff test to determine whether or not it is absolutely necessary to expose my body to the elements for the 30 agonising seconds that it takes to undress and dive into the shower. Sadly for my students and colleagues nine times out of ten the conclusion I come to is, no.
The walk to school can be described, at best, as ‘bracing’. Until recently I didn’t realise that one’s entire face, and not just their lips, are susceptible to chapping. It’s been a painful and unattractive realisation and I’m now seriously considering purchasing a Korean balaclava.
It’s absolutely critical that every acre of flesh is swaddled. Last week I neglected to wear sensible socks one morning and so exposed a slither of skin on each ankle. As penance for my folly I spent the rest of the morning squatting beneath my desk miserably applying heat packs, willing feeling to return.
In respect of my school I think I’m more fortunate than some – the teachers’ office is reliably warm each morning when I arrive, meaning only a single coat and blanket are required to ward off frostbite. In the classrooms I can remove my coat even, due to the 40 bodies crammed into each one. Sadly there is a flipside – unable to escape out of the windows, the dubious odours steadily issuing from my teenage human heaters are amplified tenfold. So while my resemblance to the abominable snowman is temporarily reduced I will die if I breath through my nose.
The school corridors are another story. Here the windows are flung wide open to welcome winter’s wrath inside. I imagine that emerging from the warmth of the teachers’ office into the grey, icy wastes of the corridor feels something like being born. I want to cry every time.
The only place more miserable than the corridors is the toilet. Some days I feel like I would rather rupture my bladder than voluntarily make contact with those ice blocks that are toilet seats.
I will never complain about British weather again (that is lie).