Friday, February 7, 2014

How-To: Survive Winter in Korea, Part Two

Here in Korea, we're in the throes of (a rather mild) winter, but since I despise the cold, I've been doing everything I can to make sure I make it through my least favorite season with my spirit in tact. Part One of my "How-To: Survive the Winter in Korea" guide focused on five bits of advice that I've learned in my past two winters in Korea. Now I'll round it out to an even ten with the other half of the advice... 

snow korea winter

Crank up the humidifier.

While your ondol has some wonderful benefits, it unfortunately also contributes to the dryness that's in the air during wintertime in Korea. After waking up with a sore throat day after day, I realized that I needed to put some humidity back into the air.

Humidifiers can be found at any supermarket chain in Korea, often for as cheap as $20-30.  

Indulge in Korean soups and stews!

One thing (of many) that Korea does really, really well is hot soups. And what better time to eat all the soups and stews than when it's below freezing outside. 

Some of my favorites include tteokguk (rice cake soup), sundubu jjigae (tofu soup), and haejangguk ("hangover" soup, which is also just delicious anytime). I recommend heading to a neighborhood spot and seeing what they have to offer -- most traditional Korean restaurants will have at least some of these, as well as a wide selection of other soups and stews.

Find some strap-on ice cleats. 

My first winter in Korea, I was dismayed to find that they don't really clear the sidewalks. This definitely varies depending on the city or even the amount of foot traffic a particular stretch of sidewalk receives, but my walk to work is basically the equivalent of ice skating. But without ice skates. 

Enter strap-on ice cleats. They look ridiculous, yes, but I for one will not be risking wiping out on the icy sidewalks. I have yet to fall on the ice in Korea, and I am not about to start now. 

My cleats came from home -- my parents had them from a previous ice storm, so they were passed on to me. You can buy you own on sites like Amazon and Gmarket, or you can look around in the sporting goods stores in Korea. If you're into hiking, these are a good investment anyway as the paths and stairs up the mountains are somewhat treacherous this time of year.

Settle in with Netflix and/or Hulu.

It's sure taken me long enough to figure out how to make Netflix and Hulu work in this country, but I have finally done it. Hibernation this winter has suddenly become a lot more convenient. 

Setting up Netflix is easy: install Google Chrome as the browser on your computer and then download the extenstion called Media Hint. Then you're good to go! Thank me later when you're marathoning TV shows instead of going out into the cold. 

Make a checklist of indoor activities for the weekends. 

Korea is full of indoor activities to keep you busy this winter. Here's a quick run down of popular and fun things to check out, with links to those previously covered by Aclipse bloggers, when you're exploring and want to stay out of the weather: 
  • Theme cafes - Mustoy, board games, dogscatsHello Kitty... Korea loves its cafe culture and hopping from cafe to cafe wouldn't be a bad way to spend a weekend day. 
  • Museums - War Memorial, National Museum of Korea, the Trick Art Museum, or even the new National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul. There's plenty to keep you busy, indoors, and warm, while also getting you out of the house and checking off some of your "Korea To-Do" items. 
That's all I have for my winter survival tips! Leave a comment below if you've got any additional advice for powering through the last weeks of winter. Good luck with staying warm! 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How-To: Survive Winter in Korea, Part One

I come from a place with a respectable amount of snowfall and below-freezing temperatures. While I know people from more northern climates would still scoff at my own experience with winter, I think most of us can still agree that sometimes, it's just the worst. Winters in Korea, while brutally cold, are also quite icy and grey. As I face my third Korean winter, here's the first part of my tried and true tips for surviving the cold months.

surviving winter in koreaNooooooo, thank you.

Get to know your apartment's ondol. 

Ondol, which is the Korean word for the floor heating, is one of the greatest things. Ever. There's something amazing about getting out of bed on a cold morning and feeling warmth under your feet. 
The controls are likely to be in Korean (and temperatures in Celcius), but some quick translating and converting should help you figure out the basics. The ondol control in my apartment is fairly standard, so you can expect something like that. 

Buy yourself some fleece-lined clothes.

I've been hearing that this trend is catching on elsewhere in the world, to which I say, It's about time. Fleece-lined leggings, tights, sweaters -- everything -- have been popular in Korea for as long as I've lived here, and probably even longer. It's amazing how much a layer of fuzz makes a difference, especially when you want to keep the biting wind off of your legs. 

Invest in gigantic scarves.

Giant, chunky, face-eating scarves are all the rage both in Korea and the rest of the wintery world. Guys or gals wear huge scarves without shame, largely because while also stylish, they're absurdly practical. Not only can you thoroughly wrap your neck, but you probably have enough scarf leftover to make a hood or pull it over your mouth and nose. 

Possibly the best part of these scarves, however, is that they're cheap. Really, really cheap. 

Embrace the hand warmers. 

Hand warmers were revolutionary for me. I'd never encountered them before Korea, so I was amazed when I was first handed these little warm pouches. 

Hand warmers are typically pocket-sized and you can find them in any convenience store this time of year. Some even have adorable little characters on them. 

Take your D vitamins!

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is very much a real thing, and Korean winters can be especially gray and gloomy. Last winter, the entire foreign staff at my branch got particularly mopey during the winter because we were so deficient in vitamin D. 

Finding vitamins in Korea isn't difficult, but I've found them to be somewhat overpriced. Luckily, this is where iHerb comes in to save the day. iHerb is a(n amazing) online heath food store with great shipping options to Korea. This year, to preemptively head off my seasonal depression, I stocked up on vitamin D and have been trying to take it regularly. It's been sunny so far, but the cold, dark winter months are far from over. 
That's all for Part One, but be on the lookout for the second installment, with five more bits of advice for making it through winter in Korea!