Quit yer bellyachin’ and soak up summer’s best

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Quit yer bellyachin’ and soak up summer’s best

Summer is a season that seems to inspire more than its fair share of complaints in Korea. If the temperature breaks the 30 degree Celsius (86 degree Fahrenheit) mark, for example, there’s an unwritten rule that young women must begin all conversations with a mention of how hot it is.

Facebook also becomes a repository for all sorts of built-up angst at this time of year, where the moans and groans about summer - the stickiness, the pungent drains, the torrential downpours, the bugs, the air conditioning bills - are added to more general grievances.

One acquaintance in particular recently took the time to disgorge a long list of gripes before heading back to the United States after an extended stay here. And although the result was more a comment on the person she is than her situation, she did touch on a few classics commonly heard in expat circles; notably fan death and certain grooming practices (or lack thereof).

But all that aside, summer is actually one of the best seasons in Korea. The fact is that this is a country of extremes, and you have to be able to appreciate the highs and lows.

With the weather so hot, people become relaxed and happily lethargic, the shops and restaurants throw open their windows and doors, and the sidewalks fill up with tables and chairs and become everyone’s favorite hangout. If you haven’t watched the world drift by over a few cold beers outside the convenience store on a hot summer day, you haven’t really experienced the best of a Korean summer.

Summer is also the season of weekend trips to the seaside or to cool mountain streams. Gapyeong is only an hour and a half from Seoul, and is full of nice little pensions parked along streams that can be both swum in and fished from. Along the west coast, Anmyeon Island is equally packed with cozy little hotels where you can have a clambake overlooking the ocean. Just make sure you avoid the main holiday weekends, when the country’s highways become giant parking lots. On those breaks, it’s best to stay put in the emptied-out city and do all the things the crowds normally prevent, like going to the amusement park or the waterslides.

In the city, afternoons off can be spent picnicking at the newly renovated Han River Park. Or you can drop a couple thousand won and spend a few hours dodging dragonflies as you cruise along on a rented bike. The Han River also has several swimming pools along its banks. There are far too many people to make actually swimming any fun, but Korea’s high standards of attractiveness ensure that the sights make up for the lack of space in the pool.

When the rains come, make sure you’re wearing flip flops unless you want to spend the day sloshing around in wet socks. With shorts, sandals and an umbrella, you’ll have all you need to make it to the next pojangmacha stall, where you can duck in and wait out the rain over some pajeon and makgeolli.

And with the World Cup now on, there’s going to be lots of free entertainment in the squares of downtown. Head to City Hall Plaza to be in the heart of the action. Even after the Cup ends, there are free concerts almost every weekend - with pads to sit on the grass provided.

There’s way too much great stuff to do in the summer to waste your time complaining. But if you absolutely need to do some bellyaching, make sure you’re sitting outside the convenience store with a few cold ones.

By Richard Scott-Ashe [richardscottashe@gmail.com]
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