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.