Finally, spring is on its way and I can now say that I have survived another winter in Korea! As a Scot, it’s kind of surprising that I’m such a baby about cold weather- I’ve always hated it and much-prefer warmer temperatures.
In comparison to home, winter in Korea is something else! While we don’t have the mental floods, storms and gale force winds that we’re used to on the West coast of Scotland, and the temperature rarely goes below freezing in the Southern provinces, the winter here just seems so much more chilling.
Living away from home isn’t always the walk in the park that Instagram would lead you to believe, and sometimes those feelings are intensified in winter. I’ve addressed the topic of how spending Christmas abroad can be difficult, but actually sometimes just the cold temperature can be enough to leave you feeling a bit down, regardless of whether you’re at home or away! So I’ve come up with some tips to help us get through this blistering season. I’ve noticed over the past 2 years, that the Koreans are actually experts in keeping warm and there is no need for us to freeze in our apartments! Here are some of my favourite ways to thaw out in the cold months.
The first thing you should do when the temperature starts to drop is work out how to use your ondol. In case you don’t know, ondol is the under floor heating system that we use in Korea, and it will keep your apartment nice and toasty! Speak nicely to one of your co-workers or a Korean friend and ask them to translate for you. Just a note- ondol and expensive lipsticks are not friends! Don’t leave your make up box on the floor!
Korean jjimjilbangs are public bath houses, similar to Japanese onsens and are an amazing place to chill out and soak! In the winter, our skin can get so dry and we just become really cold. Most of us don’t have the luxury of having a bath in our apartment, so we need to head to the jjimjilbang for a good soak. A lot of foreigners are quite freaked out by the idea of chilling out naked with a bunch of ajjumas (older Korean women, aka the scariest creatures on the planet) in a bath. I was too at first, but you have to adapt a bit of a “f**k it” attitude- just walk in with your head held high and you won’t even noticing them pointing at your “perfect size for childbirthing” hips! To be honest, they’re not even pointing anyway, they’re usually too busy scrubbing every inch of their mate’s body for them, so you can relax. To ease yourself into the amazing land of jjimjilbanging, I’d recommend going to a really popular place your first time, like Spa Land in Busan, or Dragon Hill in Seoul. People expect to see foreigners there so they don’t completely freak out. The whole “oh my god, there’s a foreigner, is it an alien” thing really does grind my gears a bit but I just remind myself, it’s not personal, I’m just a novelty to them. If you can try to adapt that mind, and I know it’s difficult, you can lie in your ajjuma filled bathtub in completely ignorant bliss!
Eat all the Soups!
Winter food in Korea is amazing and I don’t know why so many people decide to eat samgyeopsal (Korean bbq) 365 days out the year! It just doesn’t cut it in the winter for me. My favourite thing to eat in winter is haejangguk- you might have heard of this before as it’s sometimes referred to as “hangover soup.” I recently told one of my coworkers that this is my favourite Korean food, to which he started laughing and asking me if I drink soju a lot! No, I just like soup, ok! It’s a really rich, slightly spicy soup of pork spine (on the bone) that is boiled for hours, giving the most amazing taste. Aside from haejangguk, I also love gamja tang (감자탕- like haejangguk, but with potatoes added), kimchi jiggae (김치 찌개- kimchi stew, tastes much better than it sounds), galbi tang (갈비탕- beef soup with a clear broth), and sundubu jiggae (순두부 찌개- spicy tofu and seafood soup.) They’ll definitely warm you up!
If you’re a teacher, you’ve probably seen your students shaking these weird bean bags in class- these are hot packs and they are a godsend in winter! You can buy these at the convenience store for about 1000 won (60p/0.80USD) and they keep you so warm! You just pick it up and shake it and it sends out relentless heat for about 12 hours- amazing! I always treat myself to one (big spender!) if I go to Seoul in the Winter since it’s always so bloody cold!
Fleece Lined Everything
I just don’t understand how this hasn’t caught on in Scotland! If you rummage around in the underground shopping malls in Korea you’ll notice that between November and April absolutely all of the clothes are lined with fleece. So cosy and ideal if you’re like me and refuse to wear visible fleece outside the comfort of your own home. If you’re working in public school, chances are they are absolute tight arses and won’t put on the heating unless it’s below 0. This is why we need fleece lined clothing. Don’t forget to stock up on fleece pyjamas and nighties too, but save them for the comfort of your own home!
Electric blankets are pretty cheap and common here. They seem to be much safer than the ones I remember from home too. Just a warning- electric blankets can lead to hibernation and you might end up kissing your social life goodbye!
Korean winter is not kind to skin at all. I have extremely oily skin usually, and even I suffer from dryness in the winter, so I don’t know how those who usually suffer from dryness cope! I’m a big fan of Korean skincare since it’s so cheap and such good quality. I suggest investing in a nice night cream and doing a mask treatment a few times a week. I use Innis Free Green Tea Sleeping Pack every night as a night cream and would recommend it to anyone with oily/acne prone skin. These days I’ve stopped using sheet masks so much as I find the amount of packaging a bit wasteful but I do enjoy a treat once in a while. Sheet masks are so cheap here- around 1,000 won (60p/0.80USD) and they make your skin feel amazing! Definitely good as a pick me up once in a while.
In Glasgow, we have pretty rainy, humid winters- you are guaranteed to look like a drowned rat almost every day. Over here, it’s a completely different ball game. Winter is so dry- this is amazing for keeping your hair poker straight all the time, but like I said before, pretty treacherous for your skin. Humidifiers are so expensive here, and a waste if you’re only staying for a year- trust me, that thing will be gathering a lot of dust in July! So instead of wasting money, why not make your own! I got this idea from my boyfriend, so credit to him, but did you know you can actually use your rice cooker as a humidifier?! Most of us will have a rice cooker that’s been left behind in our apartment and if you didn’t already know, they have a lot more uses than just cooking rice. Using it as a humidifier is my new fave! Just fill it with water and turn it on and it will steam water out. I would really like to try putting some essential oils in there but I’m scared that it won’t wash out properly- I don’t know how I feel about eating lavender flavoured rice in the future. There are also cute mini desktop humidifiers that plug into your USB drive which are pretty cheap and perfect for taking to school.
Netflix is your Best Friend
Did everyone notice that Netflix is in Korea and actually has an even better selection than the UK version?!? We don’t even need a VPN anymore, hurrah! Going outside never really appeals to me during winter so I usually take it as an opportunity to really save some money and some weekends I only leave the house to eat haejangguk! Yes, really! To save yourself going mental in your own one bed apartment, fork out the 6 quid a month and lose days of your life binge watching Making a Murderer. This is also a bit of a saving grace in the long deskwarming months over winter vacation.
Ok, so now you’re clued up and less likely to freeze in your own apartment/ get so miserable that you pull a runner in the middle of the night!
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Let me know, how do you survive winter in Korea?