Yes, Virginia, there is a Christmas

I get a lot of questions about South Korea, particularly in light of all of the bad press that’s been flying around recently.

Questions like, “Do they celebrate Christmas there?”  are valid.  Questions like, “Do they celebrate the fourth of July?”  are not.

I decided to return to my blog and address some of these valid questions.  Also, there is one Ferrero Rocher left in the fruit bowl and I needed a distraction.

Q:  Do they ‘do’ Christmas in Korea?

A:  Yes.  But not in the way that you might think.  There are some lights up in town, and I hear Seoul puts on a mean show in the way of decorations.  There is a Korean version of the song ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,’ though when I showed clips from the time-honored claymation classic of the same name, the students almost peed themselves laughing.  I get it.  Santa’s movements are kind of awkward, and what does an abominable snowman have to do with Christmas anyway?  But I will always hold a special place in my heart for Hermie the elf who wanted to be a dentist.  We all have dreams, Hermie.  It’s just that most of them are more interesting than yours.

Before I digress too thoroughly – Christmas is a Western holiday that’s been assimilated to a certain degree into Korea.  A few Christmas trees popped up around town (usually decorated to the height of a 5’7″ man’s maximum reach) but there were no holiday crowds.  To sum it up, today they are playing “The Holiday” on TV.  But yesterday it was “Alien vs. Predator.”  Tomorrow’s Christmas Day programming is anyone’s guess.

Our Christmas decorations

Q:  People must be really terrified about North Korea.  What are things like over there?

A:  North Korea?  Where’s that?  If something happens, I learn about it on MSN or Google, just like everybody else.  There’s none of this fear mongering that seems to be so popular in American and Australian news (or so we hear).  The people here have been living under a cease-fire for something like 50 years.  It’s just a waste of energy to spend all of that time worrying.  We were supposed to have a practice drill last week, to prepare for a possible invasion.  An alarm was due to sound at 2PM, at which time all of the teachers were to corral 1,000 students onto the courtyard.  I’m not sure why, but we didn’t go through with it.  Maybe one of the higher-ups realized that if we were being bombed, herding a mass of people onto a basketball court was unlikely to save any lives.

Q:  What do you eat?  I hear people lose a lot of weight because they don’t like the food.

A:  Yeah, I heard that too.  I have yet to experience it.  While I have seen squirming octopi in the markets, I don’t often find them on my plate.  Yesterday in the supermarket I was taken aback to see a dozen giant crabs stuffed into a box of ice, legs waving in the air, mouths aimlessly opening and closing. But when they give me crab soup with 1/2 crab bodies floating in it, I eat it.

Food is food.  It makes life a lot easier to just eat what’s in front of you.  Some days it’s chicken, other days it’s goat.  All part of the experience that is Dynamic Korea.

Kimchi, the Korean culinary staple.  A spicy homemade batch from Jared’s co-teacher. 

Q:  What’s the weather like?

A:  Ironically, it’s a lot like Indiana.  Which really confuses people, since I am constantly shivering and/or complaining about the lack of feeling in my fingers and toes.  The difference?  In Indiana I went from a warm house to a warm car to a warm building.  Being cold was optional, something to experience when I felt like a burst of fresh air or was in the throes of temporary insanity.

Here, people are sensible about conserving energy, not comfort.  Each room is heated on an as-needed basis.  Our office is often heated until it reaches 30 degrees Celsius, after which someone will switch off the heater until it resumes igloo temperatures.  Alternatively, they will open a window to welcome in the arctic breeze.  I don’t understand it.  I just silently thank the inventors of long underwear.

The first snow. It has since been followed by the second and third snow. 

The craving for that stray Ferrero has finally subsided. Now my mind is freed up to think of other things, like that cup of tea I made an hour ago and abandoned on the coffee table.  Crap.

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