Tag Archives: winter

Snow on Kimchi Pots

Something brought the memory rushing back this morning – a smell? a sound? the taste of the air? Suddenly, overwhelmingly, I was back in my small, warm apartment in Daegu, looking out of the window on a snowy morning.

Kimchi pots. Kimchi is the tangy, spicy, fermented-cabbage taste that pretty much is South Korea. It’s an acquired taste, but once you’ve acquired it, it stays with you. Years after leaving Korea, I still crave kimchi from time to time.

Most families make their own kimchi according to old family recipes. Kimchi is traditionally fermented in big clay pots. “Pots” in the sense of traditional African clay pots, not pots you use on a stove. The kimchi pots are traditionally kept on the flat roof of the building during the cold winter months. Wealthy modern Koreans may have a dedicated kimchi fridge for making kimchi. Most people, however, still keep the traditional pots on the roof.

From my window, I look out at the roof next door. Just down the street, the wind is ringing the bell at the little suburban temple. On the roof, a blanket of snow lies heavy and white across the brown kimchi pots. It’s the first thing I look at on a snowy morning, standing here in my little apartment with my morning coffee.

A sudden vivid memory on a chilly early-winter morning.

African winter

I woke up this morning and looked out of the window. Outside, the grass, just touched ice, stretched away to a dam dotted with silent birds. Beyond that, hills gently undulated into mountains, towards, in the distance, a taller peak dusted with snow. The fingers of the sunrise were just painting the snow a gentle pink. Away in another direction, a copse of bare trees reached for the huge blue sky against a background of green hills. I was staying with friends just outside of town but in town was just as beautiful. The winter grass is dry but there hasn’t been much frost so lawns are still green – a perfect contrast to the white frost.

I sit in the garden in the mid-morning sunshine, watching a white cat trying to catch moles. A robin is bobbing from branch to branch in the apple tree. No gloves, not hat, no scarf, just one jersey – I’m not even wearing shoes – but I’m warm. I’m warm. It’s the middle of winter and a cold day but I am warm sitting in the sun, outside.

This is the winter I love. This is the gentle, beautiful winter that warms up in between cold fronts and has so much sunshine, for so much of the day, that a day that doesn’t reach the mid-teens is really, really freezing. The sun was shining brightly by 7:30am this morning.

I struggled with winter in Korea. I found myself much in sympathy with the ancient Europeans who honestly feared each winter that the sun might never return. It shook me. I began to wonder if I was imagining the pleasant winters back home. Everyone around me seemed perplexed because ‘that’s just how it is’. Being back, seeing the beauty and with my heart giving a jump of joy each time I remember that I can go outside, I feel sane again.

This, this is what winter should be like, with the dry grass and the red, red aloes and the birds and the blue, blue sky. There were no birds in the Korean winter, and no sunshine and no warmth and no winter-blue sky. Part of me wants to spend the days just lying on the grass and breathing in the joyful beauty of a proper African winter.

‘Proper’ winter

I think a lot of people I spend time with in Daegu are under the impression that I truly and deeply hate winter. They’d be wrong, as it happens. I am quite fond of winter, actually. I find it exhilarating and invigorating and quite often beautiful. The difference, of course, is that I like the winters I have grown up with and grown to love over many years, rather than the torturous cold I’ve experience for the first time in the last few months. This is not to say that it’s been all bad. Seeing snow was great and the ski trip has been one of the highlights of my time here in Korea. Going to work and especially coming home late at night in the freezing, freezing cold, however, has been horrible.

In the last few weeks, though, the weather has begun to change. It’s not the beginning of spring, which apparently is still a month away. The first stirrings of spring, the swelling buds on trees and the first beginnings of green on the hills are nowhere to be seen. Instead, it feels a little like Daegu has passed out of whatever horrible aberration was the iciness of recent months and into ‘proper’ winter weather (like that I’m used to). Suddenly, day-time temperatures are above freezing and the sun shines strongly enough to make you warm if you can find a sheltered spot. And the air is dry, dry, dry and static-y. And the best of all is the light. One of the reasons I have always loved winter is the clear, crisp air and the winter light that make you feel like you can see for a million miles.

I popped out to the shops at lunchtime today and bravely left a good deal of the winter clothing that I normally drag around with me behind. I was determined to take advantage of the slightly warmer weather and wear normal clothes. I stepped out into crisp but not freezing air. Occasional little gusts of colder air swirled past but for the most part it was perfectly still. I turned a corner and found myself walking in bright sunshine. The glorious rays of light and warmth rained down on me and made me feel like myself again – the same person who used to find a sunshiny spot to sit during school breaks in Queenstown, who used to sit in the library quad soaking up the sunshine in Grahamstown, who could spend hours and hours curled up with a book on the sunny enclosed verandah in Rondebosch.

In the clear air, the park I walked past looked pristine and perfect and each leaf of the trees outlined against the buildings and the sky. The sky. The sky in winter fills my heart with joy. The blue is empty and empty and feels like it goes on forever and ever. On the bus, on the way to work, we came over a hill and the view opened up to a picture of mountains and hills stretching to the sky with a white day-time moon hanging above the horizon. Even the crowded skyscrapers that clutter every corner of this city look sharp and sketched and beautiful in this weather.

I don’t know if it will last. Last year’s February temps suggest that it’ll still be chilly but I might get lucky with weather mostly above zero. I hope it does last for a while, partly because I dread the thought of returning to the bone-chilling weather that marked the first part of this month. But also because I want time to enjoy the kind of winter I love and to spend as much time as possible curled up, cat-like, in the warmth of the winter sun.