On the effects of humidity in sub-tropical Korea…

Having grown up in Houston, where it’s so humid you can basically feel the atmosphere on your skin, I thought I would be prepared for the humidity here.  I was wrong.  Well, partly, anyway.  I am fine with the humidity itself, especially since the nights are cooler due to the proximity of the town to the ocean.  However, what I was not prepared for was how the Koreans deal with it.  Or rather, how they don’t.

Koreans, as far as I can tell, are not big fans of air conditioning, and they’re not overly fond of oscillating fans either.  The result is that when you walk into a store or restaurant (or, for that matter, my apartment), the air is virtually the same as it is outside, and, in restaurants, frequently slightly warmer.  It is good that I spent three summers living in Boston, where most people don’t have air conditioning either, or this would be an even bigger shock to my system. 
The other side effect of this seeming lack of concern about the humidity is that the town as a whole is very dingy and moldy.  Thankfully it does not appear to be any of the bad kinds of mold, but I will not be surprised if I return to the US with a mold allergy next summer.  They don’t seem to take too much care of their buildings, letting mold grow not only on the outer walls but sometimes the inner walls as well.
When you combine this with their habit of throwing trash on the street (which I find odd, considering this country is generally obsessed with recycling everything) and of urinating on the walls, it means that the town as a whole has quite a distinct smell.  I wouldn’t quite qualify it as a “stench” just yet (we’ll see if I say that when August rolls around), but it is definitely not something I would prefer to be smelling as I wander around getting food from street markets.  Thankfully, I’d estimate that you can’t walk more than two miles in any given direction without hitting a mountain of some sort, so I’m hoping that in the afternoons after school I can go hiking, or take a bus to the pretty beach I keep seeing in pictures.  That way I’ll be able to minimize the amount of time I end up spending in the town itself.   
I had forgotten that rural Asia is not like rural America.  Well, perhaps it is similar to rural West Virginia, or one of the more depressed central-South states, but it is certainly not like rural New England or even rural Louisiana, for that matter.  I think that this strange combination of neon lights and run-down-buildings is probably the biggest piece of culture shock that I have experienced thus far.

I am considering purchasing a moped of some sort, depending on how much they cost, at some point, provided that I can sell it when I leave.  I need to figure out how far away the beach is, but I think that having a moped would allow me a great deal more freedom in moving around the island.  I don’t think I would use it here in town all that much, but I could certainly see it being useful to get around to the other little villages.  I will have to ask around and determine how much they cost.  I may not get one because it will probably take a couple months for me to have enough money saved for it and to pay for my part of Marc’s trip here to Korea, but we shall see.  I think that being able to go somewhere other than the town on my own schedule, even if it’s just to another dingy village, would probably make me feel less claustrophobic.

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July 2008

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