Hello Winter My Old Friend


The view from my window this morning

And so it is. The stunning oranges, reds, browns and yellows of the crisp autumn have given way (or more likely, been pushed aside – this is Korea after all) to the dull greys of the North East Asian winter, also known as Hell. Now that the sun has gone AWOL and there have been a few half-assed snowstorms, it’s time to hibernate.

I find myself contracting. I become anti-social (even more so than usual) in the cold weather. I don’t want to leave the house. I stop exercising and lose motivation to do anything except lie in bed eating Dorito’s and mindlessly surf the Interwebs. Or read memoirs about people giving up their corporate careers to train as chefs and open restaurants. These books are an escape into la dolce vita where a large part of the protagonist’s daily quota of mental energy is spent thinking about what kind of cheese to eat next. As far as work goes, I can’t wait for each day to be over so I can run home and jump into a steaming hot shower and stay there until my skin is pink like a pig’s (and the lack of exercise is making me chubby like one too).

And when I’m not occupied with the winter blues and/or cheese, I’m thinking about one of my former students in Cambodia who sent me a message the other day telling me how heartbroken she is because her secret boyfriend is getting married to another woman. I’ve also been vicariously experiencing Afghanistan through Marianne Elliott’s great memoir about her time as a UN peacekeeper in that country. More than the political aspect is the internal journey she takes into yoga, meditation and self-compassion and her descriptions are often so acute that I feel like she has been inside my head. Also, I can’t imagine how she endured such harsh conditions, both in her internal and external worlds. Inspirational? Littl’ bit.

In other news, my cousin sent me a Christmas stocking full of chocolate things that can only be bought in New Zealand. It arrived on the day I decided to give up sugar. And now I have to delay my plans for another week as I must dutifully consume all of it. It would be disrespectful not to. Can copious amounts of Chocolate Fish take make the sun come back? Let’s find out.



La Vie en Snow

For the past two days, it has been snowing steadily. Big, white flakes are falling from the sky and settling on the ground, roofs and trees. It’s as if the city has been covered in Christmas cake icing.

I don’t know what it is about snow, but it makes me really excited. I revert to my six year old self and run about gleefully, slipping and sliding, holding my mouth open to let the icy flakes enter and vanish.

Once, when I was about this age, my younger brother and I had had baths, washed our hair and then put our pyjamas on and were ready for bed. As we got ready to crawl under the covers, there was a huge blizzard, and within minutes our lawn was covered in snow. We were like cats and this was our kryptonite – we ran outside in nothing but our pyjamas and bare feet, giddily scooping up the snow and throwing it at each other. Before we knew it, we were dragged back indoors by our father who was livid. We were dried, yelled at for our stupidity and sent to bed. At the time we felt unfairly punished for having a good time and didn’t much appreciate the tough love.

Another vivid snow memory occurred around the same time, maybe a year earlier or later. It was school holidays. I was at my best friend’s house with her and her older brother. As the hail and snow pelted down, we had the brilliant idea of going for a walk to the ‘end of the road’ to visit my mother’s horse that was living in a paddock there. Such a mission would take a fit adult around twenty minutes. But we, in all our childish sluggishness and puppy-like uncoordination, took a lot longer. As our skin burnt from the cold, our fingers and toes turning numb, we persevered. I recall the physical discomfort being exacerbated as I wet myself – flood of warmth replaced by a nasty rash from chaffing. We arrived back safely but I can’t ever recall being quite as frozen and physically miserable as I was then.

Later, when I was about 16, snow again provided the backdrop for a memorable experience. My Adonis-like high school boyfriend and I were hanging out at his house (on a big, rich hill that was on the right side of the tracks). And it started to snow. Soon, it was inches thick and we got oven trays and ran to a nearby park and ecstatically slid down the hill, running up, and then sliding down. Over and over again. It was beautiful because we were completely unselfconscious, like two children innocently playing together – completely present. Then, the joy came to a halt when his father attempted to drive me home (to the other, less grand hill on the wrong side of the tracks). Despite putting on the chains used for their family skiing trips, we made it halfway to my house. Then I had no choice but to walk alone in the cold and dark the rest of the way. With good things come bad things.

Back to reality: the downside to all this white-winter-wonderlandness is that it is hella cold (around -10). Which means that life becomes pretty sedentary and I am beginning to make like a bear and hibernate.

The floor heating is on, an extra cover is on the bed, the fridge has enough food for a few days, my credit card is maxed out on purchases for Kindle. Goodbye world, hello snuggly cocoon. I am entering a bubble inside a bubble.

I have a list of things to do while I’m in this zone – books to read, movies to watch, languages to study, goals to write, weights to lift. No doubt, my archenemy Procrastination will rear it’s ugly yet familiar head and I will be distracted by Facebook or will start listening to podcasts about procrastination in order to convince myself that I am really learning something, rather than using these tools as an avoidance strategy. While I wait for Flashdance to finish downloading, maybe I will start cleaning my apartment, or just gaze out the window and take in the pristine, harsh beauty of winter.