Cold has a new definition, and it’s in Korean

Technically the Korean word for “cold” is ch’an. Realistically, they don’ t know the meaning of the word. How else can the indoor temperatures of the school be explained. Sub Zero is a refrigerator brand, not a suitable classroom temperature!

Jeju is rigorously promoted by the tourism department as the “Hawaii of South Korea.” They should be sued for false advertising. It’s freezing here!!! But frigid outdoor temperatures I can live with. What is getting me down is the fact that indoor heating is viewed as an obscene luxury, a decadent desire of the weak, lazy and stupid, aka foreigners. REAL Koreans suck it up and shiver in solidarity. Like somehow, if we are ALL cold it’s alright.

Winter came quickly to this island in the middle of the Sea of Japan. Unfortunately the temperatures plummeted in mid-November, but the schools are not scheduled to turn on any heat until December, weather whims be damned. OK, so no heat, plummeting temperatures, insane enough, right? No. They, and by they I mean all Koreans, can’t live without fresh air. So no matter what the weather, they open doors and windows. Snow literally blows into the school building and scuds across the bare floors. In my apartment building the windows at either end of the hall are left open, creating a wind tunnel.

Oh yes – I forget to mention the wind, and commensurate wind chill factor. Between the cold coming down from Mt. Hallasan and the wind coming off the water, Jeju-si is one chilly place.

But back to the indoor situation. The teachers cope by huddling around propane- or kerosene-fired heaters (really safe), and using electric seat pads on their chairs. Everyone wears their coats and hats indoors. The schools recently installed ceiling-mounted (um,ever heard of heat rising?) heaters, but they are loathe to use them. “Too expensive.”

As I write this I am in the English lab, where I have cranked up the ceiling heater and am basking in the 68 degree room temperature. My co-teacher isn’t here today or I’m sure she would have made me turn it off and opened a window. I asked her why Koreans put up with the cold, and even open windows, but the question was so far beyond her ken that she couldn’t formulate a response. Like I said, cold is not in their vocabulary.

The schools are all built with a long hallway running the length of the building, with sliding windows on one side and classrooms on the other. All the classrooms have two sliding doors, one at the front of the room, one at the back. My students learned a new English phrase this morning: “Shut the door!” I finally had to lock one door – the one that blew frigid air onto my desk – so they all had to come in the back door. I assigned one kid to be the door monitor. Boy was he popular. I could use it as a punishment…

To make matters worse, it’s winter break so there is even less heat than usual. Korean students don’t go to school from September to June, then take a three month break. They start in March, go non-stop till mid-July, then break till September 1. Then they go till mid-December, and break for five weeks of Winter Break. Then they come back Feb. 1 for TWO WEEKS, and then it’s two weeks off for Spring Break. Yes, in February. March 1 is the start of the new school year. Still with me?

But, over these “breaks” the schools offer special classes they call “camps,” such as winter English camp. We Native English Speakers are still on the clock, and are expected to show up at school every day, whether we have English camp or not, and we are expected to stay for the full day even if our classes only run a few hours. The Korean teachers get the time off.
So, since it’s not “real” school, there seems to be no need to use “real” heat. I’ll leave the bathroom situation to your imagination. Let’s just say the schools do not offer heated toilet seats.

Later the same day
OK, I have to confess, after writing the above, I snuck out of school and went home. On the way out I strolled past the downstairs office to see if the Vice Principal was in (she wasn’t), and this one woman started excitedly gesturing at the ceiling heater, which, surprisingly, was on. I gestured that I had been in the English room (pointing to the ceiling, as it is on the 4th floor). She pointed at the heater again. I nodded, “yes, heat was on.” I don’t know if she was trying to tell me I could have turned the heat on, or was excited that I may have left it on, or was suggesting I join them in their heated space. I just smiled, nodded and left. I am now sitting in bed with the floor heat cranked up and a sleeping cat vying for lap space. And I don’t have the window open!

3 responses to “Cold has a new definition, and it’s in Korean

  1. OK, you got me…. I won’t complain any more about cold weather in P.A. At least I’ll try not to. I’ll have a cozy fire in the fireplace when you come over for dinner, how’s that? 🙂

  2. Great! And don’t expect me to hang around outside at the BBQ.

  3. This was EXACTLY my experience this winter! Exactly- it’s uncanny. It’s kind of nice to know I was not the only one sitting in an empty classroom wearing scarf and gloves and wondering ‘Why?’

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