|This is lovely, but nothing like the part of Seoul I live in.|
Well, here we are at the end of January, and - if the locals are to be believed - we still have a good 6-8 weeks of winter to go here in Seoul (there are a few
So far, this winter has not proved to be one of my best, especially since it's the first time in over 11 years that I've had to cope with anything resembling a 'real' winter, and I'm a bit bewildered by the the fact that it got cold and has actually stayed that way, which is not how it is done at all in the Southwest of the US. There, we enjoy a day or two of 'cold' weather and then return to relative normalcy, light jackets, and year-round cookouts. Here in Seoul, I am dealing with the doldrums of my first 'real' winter in over a decade in a completely predictable way: whining, eating too much, feeling sorry for myself, and reading escapist literature, most of it involving small villages populated almost entirely by dear old cardigan-wearing ladies as well as the occasional lovable curmudgeon. Also featured are cats, cozy fireplaces, and, occasionally, sheep.
Mind you, this grey and frigid weather seems to have no effect whatsoever on the Seoulites, who continue to stride about briskly in starkly chic winter fashions, sidestepping piles of leftover snow and slush and sneaky patches of ice- all while walking into the teeth of a bitter wind - without the slightest indication of discomfort or even a hint of self-pity. It boggles the mind.
If you want to know just how desperate I've gotten, you'll appreciate knowing that I searched the Internet for information on average monthly temperatures in Seoul, just to encourage myself that it really would get warmer by March (it does, although not nearly warm enough) and discovered that the reason it's so cold in the winter here is something to do with some sort of air mass that gets here from Siberia by way of China. That's right, Siberia. I don't think I really need to say anything else about this, now, do I?
Needless to say, I'm not really embracing the unique beauty of winter's glories here in Seoul. When I must go out - traveling as I do by bus, subway, or on foot - I am as well wrapped up as Ralphie's little brother in A Christmas Story, and - sadly - just about as attractive.
In other winter news:
I bought myself a Keurig, which has been excellent for keeping my mind off the fact that it's so damn cold outside. I will be forever indebted to my friend T (you know who you are) for introducing me to hers when I was in Texas in January. It is true that the cuppa you get from your Keurig does not taste quite as good as what you get when you grind your beans and brew your coffee freshly. However, if you are like me and find that first 0-15 minutes of consciousness each morning (during which you must survive before the coffee is ground and brewed) to be interminable, then the slight decrease in quality is quite negligible. For those of you who are trying to follow my convoluted prose, yes, you have understood correctly: I
Skin care: The cold and dry air here in Seoul have conspired to dessicate my (already-dry) skin to the point that I am constantly slathering a variety of lotions, unguents, and salves about my person in an attempt (clearly vain) to stave off the inevitable itching, cracking, and general disintegration of my skin, hair, and nails. Of course, the fact that I am now teaching very young children - who, as we all know, are simultaneously virulent and adorable - means that I am washing my hands every five minutes in an attempt to stave off infection. Accordingly, any good I might have otherwise gotten from said lotions is almost immediately canceled out. I have had at least one finger wrapped in a Band-aid at all times in the last two weeks, my fingernails break at the slightest bump, and I have become
My new job: As I only just started last week, I'm still in a bit of a honeymoon period, but so far, so good. I am teaching English in a German kindergarten, which means (a bit schizophrenically) that all of my interactions with colleagues and parents are in German, and all of my interactions with the children are in English, although (obviously) I know what they're saying to me and each other in German. As I mentioned in a previous post, even though I have always taught older students, I had a good reason for wanting this particular job, namely, for the opportunity to work in a German school with German colleagues and students (since I have spent most of my career teaching German, although I am also a qualified English/ESL teacher.) As I suspected it would be, it has already proved to be extremely rewarding on both a personal and professional level. The school follows a Montessori model, so the interactions are very much child-led and fairly unstructured. On any given day, I may find myself reading a storybook, playing a board game, or helping to make a pirate hat, depending on what interests the children. The planned-to-the-minute lessons I was used to doing when I taught high school and university simply don't work here, so I find myself simply interacting with the kids like I did with my own boys, keeping up a running commentary (what we language teachers refer to as 'comprehensible input') on whatever we're doing. On Friday, the group I had was passionate about 'The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,' so we sang it a dozen times. The group I had yesterday could not have cared less about spiders and instead wanted to read Good Dog, Carl - over and over and over. I am learning to go with the flow. For my part, I have already learned at least four new rhymes used to teach the children to politely wish one another 'Guten Appetit' before eating their noon meal -as it is a German school, is always a hot one with soup, salad, main course, and pudding - as well as a catchy little tune about a sleepy rabbit who can't (or, perhaps, won't) hop.
Cultural opportunities: Besides going out to the occasional dinner, work, and shopping, I have been quite the homebody lately, preferring to stay home and knit, curled up in my slanket (yes, we've sunk that low. It's very sad, but I refuse to be ashamed.) However, last weekend, I dragged MrL and Son#2 out into the cold to the Gwachon National Science Museum to see the King Tut Exhibition. As it turned out, this was, apparently, the same plan that about 2 million other parents in Seoul had that Saturday, and, as a result, the whole thing was unpleasantly crowded-even by Seoul standards. Strangely, despite the fact that it was Saturday afternoon, there was an enormous number of (what looked like) school groups (they surely couldn't all have been scouts) running excitedly around defying the herding efforts of their harassed-looking caregivers. Due to both the crush of people and the need for constant vigilance (for purposes of avoiding the running children), I was not able to get more than a general impression of the whole thing, which was disappointing, since I am the sort of museum-goer who likes to read everything - and everything was in English this time, although I could only rarely get close enough to the exhibits to actually do any reading. I was very impressed with those artifacts I did see, especially the golden finger and toenail covers, which were apparently put there to reaffirm Tut's immortality - although I cannot be sure since I couldn't read the comments next to the exhibit. Since the rest of it passed in something of a blur of the backs of people's heads and scampering children, I cannot give you a much more detailed description. While I am not exactly a misanthrope, I can say that, in the case of museums, I prefer them empty rather than full, and I plan to return to see the exhibit on a weekday - and I also plan to be first in line.
Sending you all the warmest of thoughts from snowy Seoul!