Bundled Up

8 Dec

So December is now upon us, and along with an annoying expat Christmas spirit, it has also brought the cold.  For  some, this has meant going on a shopping sprees to secure whatever warm clothing they can find, and for others it has meant pulling out whatever winter gear they were smart enough to bring from home. Either way, Koreans and foreigners alike are layering up in however they see fit.

Not that I’m any different.

True, I’m from one of the coldest places in America (where there are times during the winter when it’s not wise to leave skin exposed for more than 3o seconds) and quite used to dealing with below freezing temps, but even with Busan’s winter being nothing like the tundra back in Minneapolis, I still make sure to wrap up before leaving the house. The problem here in Korea, however, is keeping warm while indoors.

Last month I finally figured out how to work the ondol heating system in my apartment. I’ve managed to turn it on, but have no clue as to how to regulate the temperature. There seems to be only two settings: off and balls scorching inferno. Sure, it’s nice to step out of the shower onto a heated floor, but this quickly turns into discomfort once I’ve dried off gotten dressed. I damn near have to wait until I leave my apartment to put my jacket on, least I develop pit stains on my t-shirt before making it to work in the morning.

The heating situation at my school is just the opposite. There, the administration makes it seem as if warmth is a divine gift from the kimchi gods, only to be dealt out in dire circumstances. I’ve been reminded several times not to leave the heat on in my room and not to keep it cranked too high, thus saving the school money on utility expenses.

Apparently this type of thing is common.

Recently a friend in another city told me her school wasn’t planning to turn on the heat until the temperature dropped to zero degrees celsius. Another friend told me his school was waiting for it to snow first. It almost never snows in Busan!

In many of the classrooms at my school (as well as in the hallways) many of  the windows are left open, often making it colder inside the building than it is outside. The students carry around pocket warmers all day and oftenattend classes dressed in full winter garb. All this, I’m guessing, in an effort to stay warm being that they have to sit in conditions equal to that of a walk-in cooler for 40 minutes at a time. I can’t imagine the other teachers don’t notice. It’s as if some study  has found that children are more conducive to learning when they’re taught in environments similar to the Arctic Circle

Even worse, this shit has put a serious dent in my daily fashion. Whereas I once carefully selected (rather joyously) my outfit each morning, now it doesn’t matter what I wear because no one will even see it. The building is so cold, my clothing arsenal had been dwindled down to a few hoodies and sweaters–long sleeves don’t even cut it anymore. I try to maintain some type of fashion sovereignty by changing up my scarfs, but even this does little to help. It’s fucked up the whole notion of dressing for success.

More annoying still, you walk into the teachers lounge (where the vice principals desk is) and it’s nice and toasty. You can’t even tell that the windows are open because the heat is on full blast. Clearly this doesn’t impede on budgetary concerns. I actually broke out in a sweat the other day while eating lunch there. This is crazy considering I could clearly see my breath while walking back to my classroom.

To help my students (and myself) deal with the cold, I’ve decided to turn my room into an anti-chill safe zone. I’ll leave the heat on as much as possible (until the school administration either makes foot the bill or fires me) and tell the students they can gather in my room in between classes to warm up.

If anyone asks what’s going on, I tell them I’m conducting 7 min. mini english camps in an effort bolster retention. It may not work but at least the kids will understand that while I may not be able to feel my own fingers or toes, I do feel their pain.


Kimchi Dreadlocks


2 Responses to “Bundled Up”

  1. 3gyupsal December 8, 2010 at 3:43 PM #

    You make some pretty great points here. I kind of hated my job the first year I worked there, and the fact that they didn’t turn on the heater until half way through December didn’t make things any better. When they did start to turn on the heat, I started to notice how they would open the windows when they started to clean at the end of the day. That was a clear waste of energy, but I suppose that getting fresh air into the classroom is much more important than maintaining a comfortable temperature.

  2. blackchild December 8, 2010 at 4:12 PM #

    They do that because they believe they will suffocate. Apparently oxygen is at a premium here. I had to tell one school to either give me a space heater or I’m holding class in the principal’s office.

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