Winter in Korea

See what I did there? I left the “South” out, for a very good reason, I might add. No, it’s not because commonly people only use Korea when referring to South Korea. It’s also not because I’m lumping the weathers of North and South Korea together; after all, they are on the same peninsula so this might be logical to assume. Nor have I defected to North Korea either. No, my dear readers, the reason is much simpler.

I want you to know that there is nothing “South” about the winter here. At least not in the sense of a Finn saying: “I’m going South for the winter”, nor in the sense of swallows migrating South for the winter. That’s European swallows, mind you; as we all well know, African swallows, despite their ability to carry a coconut, are non-migratory.

So, how does it compare against Finnish weather? It gets cold, not in the same extremes as in Finland, but we’ve been below -15C on several occasions and for the most of last 8 weeks, around 0 or below it. There’s also snow, although again not as much as in Finland. The locals have told me that this winter is colder than usual and there is less snow than usual, so normally it would be more pleasant. SNU campus and Nakseongdae area don’t have much wind, but one cold day I was near the Han river and the wind made it feel seriously cold.

Below are some photos of the snowing and snowy landscapes here. All in all a very nice winter, and after some reflection, I figured out why the winter felt so nice here.

Snowing on SNU

Winter SNU

Winter SNU

The one big, positive difference to Finnish winter is the amount of light. The shortest day in Seoul (on the solstice) is about 9 hours 30 minutes. In Helsinki, you get a day that long in late February. Now that I think about it, the winter in Finland is actually quite nice when you get to late February, since there is snow, lot of light, and temperatures usually are milder. Here, there is no depressing darkness that makes Finnish winter so difficult (for me at least). Sure, there are people in Finland who claim that they don’t mind, or even like the darkness, because it’s peaceful, calm, or whatnot. I have only one thing to say to you: “De Nile is not just a river in Egypt”. You need to get out more and try a bright winter. Sure, the brightness in Finnish summer is nice, but you lose a good chunk of it between 4 and 8 in the morning when you’re sleeping.

Although weather outside is cold, inside is quite warm. This is because Koreans have traditionally used floor heating (called ondol in Korean) and this still persists in most places. In the old days, you burned wood under the floor and warmed it up that way; in modern concrete buildings the floors have water pipes running in them and the hot water runs in the pipes. Basically it’s the same as the Finnish central heating system, but on the floor and not on a radiator on the wall below the window.

Overall, I quite like the heating system here, except for one little thing. This little thing relates to controlling how much heat you want. Sure, there are thermostats on the walls, but pretty much any place I’ve seen using ondol seems to have only two settings: off and well done. Those little cushions in restaurants where you sit on the floor? They are not to make the floor more comfortable to sit on. Their purpose is to prevent your ass from frying. Or at least, given the temperature of the floor, that is the most logical explanation for them.

Obviously, given all the health problems and issues, I haven’t been able to go outside much, nor do much, but this is definitely a kind of winter that I could enjoy. Kids also seem to like it and there has been enough snow for them to play in. Koreans are very proud that their country has 4 distinct seasons, much like Finland, and climate-wise I have to confess that I mostly enjoy it here, with the caveat that summer is a bit too hot and humid for me. Fall is excellent, winter is very nice, and spring I’ve never experienced, nor will I this time. I’ve heard spring is also very nice, so hopefully one day I will get to experience it as well.

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