It’s only as hot as you feelThe Korean poet Yi Sang’s hometown was Seongcheon, South Pyongan Province in North Korea. Even though it is in the northern part of the peninsula it must have been extremely hot in the summer. In his essay titled “The Tedium,” he wrote, “In the morning and evening alike, the intolerable heat wave continues,” and, “I wish it would get dark soon, but summer days in a remote town stretch endlessly, so it feels like I will die before they end.” In today’s terms, such weather would warrant a heat warning.
Tired of heat, the writer went to the terrace to play Chinese chess. Jeong Yak-yong, a Confucian philosopher during the Joseon Dynasty with the pen name Dasan, suggested eight ways to forget the heat, and Yi’s method coincides with the old philosopher’s first method, to play go while sitting on a bamboo mat. It is said that when one is totally absorbed in the game, one loses track of time. It’s easy then to forget the heat. If you’re actively thinking about how hot it is, it feels even hotter.
Ways to fight heat can be found in nature, in the four basic elements of wind, earth, water and fire. One can retreat into the water, wading or washing one’s hair. Earth can be used in a sand bath or by going into a cave. One can also fight fire with fire, eating kimchijjigae stew or visiting a sauna. Best of all is, of course, gusts of wind, which can be created with a fan. There are two types of handheld fans: screen fans and folding ones. A hapjukseon is a traditional Korean folding fan made of bamboo and paper.
Folding fans originated in Korea. Choi Nam-seon, a historian and writer at the turn of the 20th century, wrote, “China had screen fans only, and during the Northern Song Dynasty, folding fans were introduced from the Goryeo Dynasty and became common.” A seohwaseon is a folding fan with a painting or calligraphy on it. One should not wave such a fan too quickly. One is supposed to appreciate the art and gradually forget the heat. A folding fan with a painting of cold weather should not be unfolded too fast, since it’s said if the entire painting is revealed at once one will catch a cold.
Handheld fans are not so common today. Air conditioners have replaced them, and they’re now so overused that they make people sick. A heat warning has been issued in southern Korea. It’s likely that as the entire earth has become warmer, heat watches are issued earlier every year. This year’s came three days earlier than last year’s. As the use of electricity increases, there is a risk of a blackout. If we use handheld fans, we will save energy and get healthier.
There is another element that can fight heat: Love, just like in the movie “The Fifth Element.” Passionate love can help, of course, but a “bamboo wife,” a pillow made of bamboo that one can hug when sleeping, can help as well. If the country is run well it will be much easier to endure the heat. What else can we do when our minds are on fire on top of the sizzling weather?
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Park Jong-kwon