They may not see real snowflakes in Busan, but the Christmas decorations do help set the mood.

Right now there are 14 degrees separating me from Ames Iowa.  It’s 32 degrees here and 18 degrees there.

When I lived in Iowa, I had a religion about weather.  Here were the tenets:

  1. Anything below 70 degrees is cold and requires a sweater (at least within arm’s reach).
  2. Anything below 60 degrees requires at least a lightweight jacket, if not a winter jacket.
  3. Anyone who didn’t spend at least one month in weather comparable or worse than that of the dreaded Iowa Winter should shut up about being cold.
  4. Being hot is best, being humid is fine – it’s like a nice heavy sweater on without a real one on.
  5. Being hot and humid every day is the best option.  I don’t need winter, I don’t need snow, I don’t even need autumn or spring.  Just heat.
  6. Don’t tell me winter is better because you can always put things on but you can’t take everything off in the summer.  There are so many things flawed with that statement, it makes me think less of you.

Ok, there might be more involved in that religion, but that’s the basic idea.  And I’ve held firmly to these beliefs for pretty much my whole life.  (Hey, I grew up in NW Iowa – stubbornness is considered a survival skill.)  Yes, snow days are a miraculous gift of God, and I enjoy them.  And there are lots of fun things you can do in the winter.  Yes, humidity can be make it hard to keep your hair styled.  But all of those lovely things are kind of the same as being a vegetarian and missing meat from time to time – you miss it, but it’s not that big of a deal.  Period.

But you know, then I moved to Korea.  I spent one summer and a few other random weeks of my life living on the Amazon River – I thought I’d met Humidity and we’d hit it off really well.  But somehow – I think it’s the difference between jungle humidity and city humidity – things aren’t the same between us anymore.  The summers here are HEAVY.  Heavier than Iowa.  Heavier than the equator.  Summers here drench me in sweat between my home and my school.  Summers here require skirts, EVERY DAY.  NEVER PANTS.  NEVER EVER IS THAT POSSIBLE.  Summers require MULTIPLE wardrobe changes every day, including undergarments.  Summers here are… sometimes… somewhat… uncomfortable.  I still prefer them, but they aren’t the paradise I’ve always known them to be.  That’s quite a concession from me.  Let’s leave it at that.

The fall here stretched on forever.  There were a few weeks of gasping beauty and “perfect” weather – hot/warm without too much humidity.  But mostly it was just a slow dying of life and the sun moving farther and farther away every day.  But after Iowa, I didn’t think I’d ever get to the point where I thought it was too cold outside.  Cold, on occasion, I would allow – but nothing worth complaining about.

Until this week.  This week, let me remind you, the thermometer has been hovering at 0 degrees (Celsius).  Before you start crying about sub-zero temperatures, icy roads, canceled plans, and walls of snow, let me lay out my trump card: turning on a heater here is about as taboo as asking your childhood bible study leader to marry you to your homosexual lover.  After she throws you both a bachelorette party.  With a party bus.  And Katy Perry is on the radio.  Singing that song about kissing a girl and liking it (even though it’s not serious).

Oh, and I don’t have a car to carry me from parking lot A to parking lot B.  I have to walk blocks to bus stops and wait at those bus stops for buses, and then make transfers and walk blocks to the final destination.

Yes, you're cute. Now go put some pants on.

And when I get to the final destination, it’s a building with no insulation.  And the windows in the halls are wide open (32 degrees outside, let me remind you).  And the heaters in each room are just large space heaters that most people don’t like to keep on.  And the doors are left open all day.  And when you turn your heater on and leave it on while you’re in your room for a few hours and people come in, they look at the heater, look at you, and you see a glint in their eye that says “WASTEFUL WOMAN!”

Oh yeah, one more thing: the winter clothing here leaves much to be desired.  I finally found a wool jacket that wasn’t just stylish but practical, but it’s still a bit too small, and it doesn’t really keep the cold out all that much.

So yeah, it’s cold out there.  Yes, you have lots of snow.  Yes, when you go outside the oxygen hurts to inhale.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  But when you crank your heater, drive in your heated car from point A to point B, sleep under your heated blanket, and try to decide whether it’s a Columbia jacket day or another cute, American-sized winter jacket day, picture me standing at a bus stop in freezing cold weather, the wind blowing at me, the arms of my jackets ending above my wrists, shivering, waiting for a bus to pick me up to go to my freezing cold school.

And next time I’m in California and you say, “It was so cold last winter!” and I scoff about you not really knowing what cold feels like, remind me of this.