Letter from Korea, July 2010

Yongin, South Korea
26/7/2010
Dear Ireland
I forget about every July I have spent in Korea and I still complain about the weather when it comes around. I don’t bother to compare it as it’s just one of those things that seems to never change and remains insufferable. Meteorology always adds to the drama of life for any Irishman, and I still find it in my heart to turn to discussing the weather when I encounter a fellow countryman.

 

Of course the weather is always something to chat about because it’s always there, much like I am always here, so maybe I should just talk about myself or what I plan to do, as opposed to a combination of the two; me and the weather. Oscar Wilde always comes to mind as soon as I strike up a conversation about the weather and sends a few shivers up my spine at the thought that I can be labelled as an unimaginative conversationalist, but in fairness, imagination or no imagination, some people are better suited to being talked to about the weather, regardless of whether they are imaginative or not.

 

Believe it or not, it's hot, really hot - Andong South Korea

Korea and Ireland are very similar on this subject. Not the actual weather itself, or people who deserve to be only spoken to about the weather, or the climate for that matter, but the effect the weather has on the population. I think it’s easy to compare Korea and Ireland in this regard because they are both quite small in terms of landmass and the same weather tends to affect the whole country at the same time. Both countries are also quite modern and have a similar population distribution, whereby the majority live in the vicinity of the capital city with a few decent sized cities and towns spread out as regional centres of commerce, education and industry, and outside of these towns, agriculture dominates.

 

Korean summers have always been a very perspiring time of year, especially for me. The humidity feels like it comes in through the walls and sits waiting to creep out as soon as the fan or air conditioning is powered off. A drop of rain and the clouds that come with it keep the heat trapped in, and the lack of wind turns the temperature even higher. That being said, it’s not the hottest climate I’ve ever been in, nor is it the most humid. I’ve a number of friends who are from The South, or southern states of the United States, places like Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and as far as they’re concerned Korea isn’t that hot. I know for a fact that the night time in Korea is nowhere near as hot as it can get in some of the towns I’ve been to in Spain.

 

Maybe it’s just me, but when you’re here, all that you can think of is the heat. The sun gets really strong and it feels like it is sucking energy from you, it’s not like a Mediterranean sun which makes you want to lie in the sun and do nothing all day. For starters, people generally don’t sit in the sun in Korea; part of this is because the perception of beauty is different (try to buy some fake tan here) and pale skin is a sign of beauty. Also, the sun does physically drain you. Maybe the country just needs to introduce a temporary siesta during the summer to make the effects of it less negative.

 

A lot of people in Korea don’t look forward to the summer because of the heat and humidity, and they prefer winter and its snow sports and hot soups. I don’t like winter because, well firstly I don’t care for throwing myself down a mountain on a pair of flat planks, and also, especially in Korea, it gets so dry and the sun shines for days on end right in your eyes. Maybe a good deal of my dislike is to do with the way that the weather is managed; when it is hot the air conditioning is blazing, when it is cold the heat blows out of the same air conditioner and it feels, I don’t know, recycled or polluted or germ ridden. Makes you wonder what people did before air conditioning.

 

Ireland of course, isn’t as lucky to have such a hot summer. In fact, we Irish, and we’re not alone in this, tend to spend most of our time wondering if the sun will ever shine in the summer. But, I suppose, most of us have given up wondering if the weather will ever get better (incidentally this summer was a ‘summer’ as opposed to the usual warmer extension of the winter we’ve gotten used to recently) and just enjoy complaining that it’s shite all the time. I’d wager that Scottish people share this opinion, while in England I think they like to think that the weather is crap but they’re lucky enough to be in the rain shadow of, well, Ireland and Scotland.

Some would call weather like this a rare occasion in Ireland - Waterville, Co. Kerry

 

In terms of taking over the national consciousness, the weather in Ireland is the national conversation topic of choice; sports, business, socialising, the weekend, are all preceded by a brief or sometimes long dialogue on the sun’s presence or lack of, and usually how much rain came with it.

 

Both countries display different national attitudes; when something is always the same people are prone to complain about the monotony of it, when it changes, we’re prone to favouritism or giving preferential treatment. I’ve always focused on the weather whenever I go to another country, my wife couldn’t understand it, she moved to Ireland and her attitude changed. After three years in Korea I moved back to Ireland briefly for a holiday at first, then later for over a year, I completely forgot what to expect and ‘froze’, in an over-exaggerated Irish sense, for the whole two weeks in the month of May.

 

 

The more I live in places where the weather dominates the more you see how much the weather not only makes the location, it makes the people, and it’s the people that make the location. The rain is in our veins!

 

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