Top 5: Ways to Survive Korean Winter

January 14, 2016

Yes, I am Canadian. I  have experienced -40 degree winters and endless snows. While winters in Korea tend not to reach extreme temperatures or have snow anything like Canada does, it can still be a struggle. Here are a few ways to get through it.

1. The first and most obvious: ondol (온돌) heating. Controlled by a wall switch, ondol heating is the most common heating system which is built into the floors of Korean houses. This form of heating makes sense for a culture that traditionally spent/spends a lot of time on the floor whether sitting down for a meal or sleeping on a mat (요; yo). The wall switch controls the ondol heating as well as the temperature of the running water throughout the house. 


The system is usually fueled by gas which can be expensive and leads to the next point: 

2. Electric heaters and bubble wrap. 
Stores in Korea offer a variety of means to create heat and keep that heat in. Keeping warm in your office could be done with a heated mousepad, heated seat cushion, and/or heated blanket. Keeping warm at home can be done with a standard electric heater, an electric mat (전기매트; jeon-gi mat), and/or heated slippers. You can even keep warm on-the-go with disposable and/or cute, microwavable hot packs. 

For whatever reason, Korean buildings are not built to retain heat. With all of that heat created, there are also ways of keeping it in. There are two types of window treatments: one is essentially bubble wrap (보온시트; bo-on sheet, literally "heat insulating sheet") that you can adhere to window panes, and the other is plastic wrap (외풍차단; wae-poong-cha-dan, literally "draft cut-off") that you adhere to the wall/frame around windows. There are also foam or fabric seals (문풍지; moon-poong-ji) you can install in doorways. 

3. With your heaters on and windows sealed up, life seems pretty good. But everyone has to go outside some time. Once you've heated up some hot packs, pair them alongside some (faux) fur-lined clothes. In addition to quirky, fluffy sweaters you can also get fur-lined pants, fur-lined leggings, and fur-lined shoes.

The fuzzy lining is referred to as 밍크/mink (which makes sense to me) or 기모/gi-mo... (which is just a little too close to the pronunciation of 'chemo'). Moving on. 


4. You're outside! You put on clothes! You made it! Now it's time to find warmth in Korea's winter foods. They are cheap, road-side, and delicious:
- roasted sweet potatoes 
(군 고구마; goon go-goo-ma)
- warm fish-shaped breads 
(붕어빵; boong-eo-bbang)
- roasted chestnuts 
(군밤; goon bam)
- fish cake soup 
(오뎅; o-deng)

5. After having braved the cold, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors during Korean winters:

Visit temples or hanok villages - Temples and old traditional buildings aren't too difficult to find in any part of Korea. The one pictured here is a popular Hanok (Traditional Korean House) Village in Jeonju (전주 한옥마을; Jeonju hanok ma-eul). 


Go ice fishing - While I haven't tried this yet myself, it's something that I've been wanting to do. Growing up on the lake where ice fishing was huge, I don't know how I managed to avoid it all this time. There is an ice fishing festival every year in the north-eastern corner of Korea in Hwacheon. Apparently you can try ice fishing the regular way, or with your bare hands... 


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Make a trip to a ski resort - Being 70% mountainous, Korea is great for skiing/snowboarding. I tried snowboarding for the first time in Korea at Muju Deogyu Mountain Resort (무주 덕유산 리조트 스키장; Muju Deo-gyoo-san Resort Ski-jang). The lift and rental rates differ throughout the day but will run you around 100, 000 won (~$100).


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