Do You Remember The Sun


Forecast: sucky.

A few weeks ago, summer had thoroughly arrived in Korea. The days were getting hotter, but more than anything, the humidity made just exiting my apartment feel like wading deeply into Swamp of Sadness. In this time of year, you wake up and start sweating, and basically don’t stop until the sun sets. I slumped through those days, damp from my own heat, sleepy from the haze, ready at every moment to curl up and nap.

The air seemed to be soup. Walking felt like wading, and standing under open sunlight meant drying yourself. Describing the feeling of the ambient moisture became a Jabberwockian effort, and I tried to invent new texture adjectives to properly detail the  ever-present water vapor. My students would whine from the moment they entered the classroom until the moment they left for relief, believing, apparently, that I was simply withholding the A/C, enjoying their and my increasing discomfort, rather than not allowed to actually bestow it upon them. People other than me began to carry around water, to regularly hydrate themselves against the water-loss.

I yearned for relief from the heat. I was slick with sweat by the time I started working, and would teach every class in the dark with the lights off and the windows open. When I finally staggered home, I would turn on the AC, strip off my wretched work clothes, and lie face down in the foyer. Gathering with friends, we would simply request whatever was likely to be served coldest, and we avoided the restaurants with open table grills which would only compound our suffering. Where once we would be active and seek adventure, now our gatherings saw mainly sitting quietly and trying not to suffocate on our own swollen tongues.

I suddenly began to think of Korea as Arrakis. The Koreans were hardened Fremen, used to simply not-sweating and somehow containing their water within. They look upon me and see water-fat, they see my thermos of fluids and see the marks of luxury, of pompous upper-class waste. If one of our students were to die, we would simply take them to a melting chamber, and devote their water to our school. Around every corner, I expected sandworms to burst past, and I daily began to hunt for a stillsuit. Cold and refreshment were treasured. Sangria must flow.

So then the rain began. I thought of this with glee: finally, the humidity will break! Water will pour from the sky! We’ll enter the latter Dune books where the story gets convoluted and of questionably quality, but at least the landscape is not so desolate! Celebrate!

Living back home, when I read about “the rainy season,” I don’t think I really got it. I imagined a season where it rained more frequently, where people just bought rain boots and got on with life. People would wear multi-coloured slickers and dance around with tarps, doing choreographed moves with their open, hue-synced umbrellas. Things were occasionally wet. Everyone sang “Singin’ in the Rain” near constantly, and were happy about it.

That is not what the rainy season is.

The rainy season is raining for over a whole week, the only respite being approximately twelve hours of bizarro-heat to remind you of the other prevailing weather alternatives. When it’s not raining, the sky above looms with ominous nimbus, seemingly caving in and falling towards the earth with every passing moment. This is not “rain” as I know it, either. This is the kind of rain that we would gather at the window for at home, to stare out at nature’s glory, to wonder at how we suddenly live in a giant aquarium. This is rain that laughs at gravity and a vertical, or even diagonal, path. This is rain that buoys around on its own telekinetic force and will find a way to soak you.

Summer in Korea. It’s ice cream bags and sangria glasses, sitting in the shade and feeling beads of sweat collect in crevices. And when it’s not that, it’s a giant canopy of umbrellas bracing against and ocean pouring through a shoddily made sieve of sky. Shoes are soaked. The uneven pavement collects and surges with new cartography, lakes and rivers flowing across streets, down gutters, and all along the sides of buildings. People stand at their windows and wonder whether to bother going out, or whether to just stay in with a nice book. Happy 장마, everyone.

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15 thoughts on “Do You Remember The Sun

    • I’m a big baby when it comes to heat, to be honest. I lose all sense of taste and ability to like food variety in this kind of weather, and thus I avoid the spicy things that I usually enjoy.

      Basically, as soon as May hit, I started seeing how much watermelon I could fit into my stupid, tiny dorm fridge.

      And no matter what I eat, I always follow it by asking if everyone else around me would be into some variety of bingsu.

  1. Michael, I like how you’ve once again managed to compare living in South Korea to the world of Dune. However, I’d also like it if you switched it up every now and then. Tell me, how does life in Incheon compare to, say, Harry Potterian England? Or in keeping with the sci-fi angle, a Vogon Constructor ship?

    • I haven’t yet been subjected to Vogon-level poetry, but I’m sure comparisons to Hogwarts are in the mix. Also, apparently we actually get Harry Potter a day before the rest of the world for once! Yeah!

  2. I have a pretty nifty air conditioner in my apartment, but apparently it costs 30 million dollars (not won) to upkeep. Sometimes I just stick my head out of the wind, mindlessly pray for a passing wind, and let the moisture of my slightly-colder-than-a-fiery-inferno tears cool me down.

    Also, the current 10-day forecast for Incheon on Weather.com makes me LOL hardcore.

    • I try to keep myself from looking at the weather forecast, because from now until mid-September it will just say either “HOT AS BALLS” or “RAIN UNTIL YOU’RE SAD” or, occasionally, both.

  3. How do you feel about the other end of the temperature spectrum: so cold that the snow creaks beneath your feet, and the pliable, petroleum-based fabric of your down-coat hardens into something like a shell? You can always pile on more clothes and blankets–you may look like Santa Claus’ homeless relation but so does everyone else at that point; going the other way, there’s only so much that can be taken off before–well, before there’s nothing left to take off.

    • I have a deep, Canadian-ingrained hatred, but also a willowing, benign acceptance of the season. I know it will be cold, and that this is the weight of my people, and thus I adapt (that said, Koreans don’t do indoor heating in any sensible way, and thus winter here manages to suck in a different way than back home).

  4. Michael, I have been falling behind in my reading but catching up now that Gwen and I are in England where (by the way Zack) the weather is quite pleasant – about 22-23 today with no humidity. We will see how things are when we head to Scotland on Wednesday. A little rain I am sure but generally high teens with some sun. At least you can put on a sweater and enjoy the fresh breezes. Cheers, Glenn

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