Wednesday, August 22, 2007

School's Out

School's out for summer - really; children in certain areas of Korea have been told not to return for the new semester because it's too hot. In other cases, the school day has been reduced and classes are only being held in the mornings. It seems that some schools are regularly shut in Korea when temperatures are too high. They say it's about34.5°C inside the classrooms and above 40 when they are full of students. Some schools are too poor to have air conditioning - there's no help from the government so it's down to the parents to raise the funds if they can, but even those that do can't necessarily afford to run it.

I don't know how long schools will remain closed - it's currently around 31°C here in Busan - though with the humidity it feels about 10 degrees warmer than that - and the short-term forecast says this is likely to last for at least the rest of the week. Still, it's nothing compared to life in some countries closer to the equator. On the other hand, I am bravely remaining indoors at every available opportunity and I can only imagine the hell that must be a morning commute on a hilariously overcrowded bus throwing everyone around as the driver tries to break the sound barrier.

Last week an official heat warning was issued for Busan. The news reports that seven people died due to the temperatures yesterday, and it now seems obligatory that a shot of Haeundae beach has to be shown during news broadcasts - apparently with as many lingering shots of young Korean women wearing bikinis as possible. It's so crowded these days (allegedly with 600,000 daily visitors) it's difficult to see the sand.

We currently risk fan death on a daily basis by brazenly keeping our electric fan on all night, though it's been a lost cause lately; sleep has been so difficult of late I feel I'm part of a some kind of sleep deprivation experiment. When I wake up in the morning I'm so dehydrated my eyelids feel stuck to my eyeballs and I lunge for the water in the fridge like a man reaching an oasis in the desert. The net result of everything is debilitating, I'm permanently tired and struggle to maintain my concentration. Amongst other consequences my Korean studies have ground to a halt again.

Last month we left our aircon on for most of the day while we were in as an experiment to see what the additional cost would be. It almost doubled our electricity bill from 27,500 won (about £14.68) to 54,000 won (about £28.83), but our gas bill went down a little because we weren't taking showers every few hours. It's still more cost but well worth it. One of our Korean friends is disgusted with us though, calling our aircon lifestyle 'opulent'. I don't care. I just hope I don't have to face another summer in this apartment while we wait for the British Government to decide on our fate. Given the differences in bills though, one can begin to understand why it's a real financial issue for some of the schools.

Meanwhile the long range weather forecast says the current hot weather will last until mid-September, going well beyond what should be the start of the cooler period. As much as this may sound like a joke, the potential for the weather to switch from 'hot' to 'cold' next month, in the way the reverse switch occurred a few months ago seemingly bypassing spring, has some commentators genuinely worried that Korea may be losing its 'famous' if not unique four seasons...

Korean tags: 건강, 학교, 여름, 날씨


Anonymous said...

When I was a PCV in the 70;s teaching ESL at a Middle School we had one small, sometimes lit stove in the middle of the room for those very cold Korean winters. I will never forget the red an d frozen hands of my 70 students in those non insulated school rooms.

Anonymous said...

You left your air conditioner on for the entire month, or only one day?
Because if you left it on for the month during the day, and your electric bill is only 54,000 won, I'd like to know how you do it. If we run our air con for only a few hours, a few days a month, our bill goes up by 100,000 won or more, depending on how much we use it.

Mike said...

Anonymous - fortunately we don't seem to have the same problems with the cold as the heat - but I'm sure Busan is warmer than some of the inland areas and then if it's anything like the UK with global warming the winters thirty years ago were probably harsher than they are today.

Mike said...

Nomad - well, to be fair it's not on 24/7 but we have been fairly liberal on leaving it on when we're in. We're in a one-room apartment so probably that helps - but on the other hand the unit is probably old enough to pre-date the concept of energy efficiency. Your aircon bill sounds really expensive although Korean Mother warned us of those kinds of costs too. I don't know what to think about it really.

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