Monday, January 4, 2010

Winter Wonderland

This morning I woke up wondering if I had set my alarm wrong. It was 7:30 but still dark outside. Looking out the window I realized it was daylight, but so overcast it seemed almost like night, and snow was falling steadily outside. I groaned inwardly, knowing that more snow would turn the steep hill my apartment sits on into a ski slope (one thing I have learned in the last month is that, in snow or ice, there is a whole world of difference between walking down a flat street and walking down a 30 degree incline). But I was unprepared for the scene which greeted me outside.

The hill I walk down to the bus stop was covered with a thick coat of new snow through which people had trod paths. There were no cars on the road except for one which had gotten stuck partway up the hill and was spinning its wheels uselessly. People were walking in the middle of the street, wherever it looked least slippery, edging their way down by baby steps, and I saw more than a few fall on their butts (we learned the word for this in last week's class: "ongdong banga rul ji da"). I managed to make it down the hill with my dignity intact, but even with my hiking boots it was hard going.

I considered waiting for my bus, but saw that even the busses were creeping by and one appeared to be stopped with engine trouble. The few cars that ventured onto the main roads were doomed to spin within a few meters if they did not have snow tires. I took the subway, which was predictably packed and only took me within about 1.5 km from school. The shuttle busses taking students up the hill appeared not to be running, so after waiting fruitlessly for about 5 minutes I joined the throng trudging up the steep slope through the snow. Even taxis were nowhere to be seen today, though they could have made a killing if only they'd been able to drive.

When I finally got to class I was 30 minutes late and had collected a thick mantle of snow on my head and shoulders. Our classroom was packed - our teacher had not arrived yet so they had combined us with another class for the morning. There was a holiday atmosphere in the room, and we cheered as each red-cheeked and frozen classmate blundered in out of the cold.

Our teacher said that Korea does not have a system of cancelling schools on snow days. She said they did have a snow day once, in 1981.

It kept snowing all day, though it lightened up somewhat after noon. By the time I headed home, the main streets at least had turned into a drivable slush and paths were being cleared through the sidewalks. Individual shopowners took responsibility for clearing the paths in front of their shops, the weapon of choice for this task being a broom with bright green plastic tines. These brooms are used everywhere to clear snow, always the same shade of bright green. They must be mass-produced somewhere. I also saw army guys and laborer types with big shovels clearing the smaller roads, and at one point I saw a big mechanical shovel, the kind you see at construction sites, being used to clear a patch of road.

The news today was full of footage of cars slipping, sliding, and spinning in the roads. A lot of people abandoned their cars and took public transport. Apparently it's the heaviest snowfall on record for Seoul. Tomorrow is supposed to be cold but clear.

This would all be so much more fun if I didn't have to deal with all the hills!

Picture taken from my apartment window looking down on the parking lot

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