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Our First Winter
January 21st, 2004

Winter conjures up the feeling of freefalling snowflakes landing on soft white beds across a landscape of perfectly white snow.  This image is far from our experience here in Seoul simply because it really doesn't snow as much as we would like because there is not enough humidity in Seoul.  It is quite cold, with temperatures ranging from -5 C to -15 C in the evenings from 2 C to -7C during the day.

Up until last week, we were of the firm believe that snow would only fall when we were out of Seoul.  In previous experience, it has snowed when we left Seoul.  Friends would report snow showers and the occasional blizzard in Seoul during our trips away from Seoul.  This all changed last week as snow began to fall and in that, we learnt a few things.  The most important detail we picked up is that it can snow in blizzard like conditions all over Seoul - just NOT near our home.  The best we can experience is small snow showers - at least when we are at home.

Snow began to fall for the first time when we saw the misty clouds come in and the atmosphere around us turned murky - the flakes lingered on its way down, blown about in the air.  In perfect conditions, some flakes don't reach the ground for a good 10-15 minutes.  Of course, "perfect" is by your own definition.

In the evenings when it did snow, we turned off all the lights, lit candles, turn on some light mood music and just spent the evening looking out into the snow fall.  I guess you could say that this is what we enjoyed most about living in Seoul - the evening snowfalls !

Blizzard at last!  However, on the last working day prior to the Lunar New Year holidays, the conditions were right for blizzard like snowfalls - temperatures well below zero guaranteeing that the snow would not melt as soon as it hit the ground and high humidity to ensure continuous snowfalls.  At about 7.30pm after we had returned from a trip to Taebaek mountains, at -7 degrees Celsius with 80% humidity, snow began to fall in blizzard like conditions.  Snow fell continuously for over 3 hours in varying intensities.  By the time morning came, temperatures plummeted down to -16 degrees Celsius !

We returned to the Korean Folk Village with our Japanese friend, Yuri Shiba.  This time, the village displayed to us another characteristic of itself, covering itself with snow, filled with laughter of visiting children.  As you would realise, the children were not interested in the cultural displays at the village, there were only interested in playing on the river, which is frozen.  Browsing through the image gallery, you should see some images of Jeanette and Yuri walking on rocks across the frozen river.  We noticed non-iced part of the river (also pictured in the image gallery) is dramatically reduced, leaving very little place for ducks to waddle.  Aren't the ducks cold?

The ice must be at least 200mm (8 inches) thick as I stepped on it, giving us a feel of (false) comfort even as many adults were standing on it.  Small sleds were used with metal skis built in.  There were many sleds in varying sizes, some with tow ropes some without.  The ones without a tow rope was meant to be hand-powered by small stocks.  Pictured on the right is one such device, with Jeanette powering herself at relative moderate ease through the ice.  On that picture, you can see a small child pushing herself onto a small sled which then slides along for metre or so.  As the sunshine came through, some evidence of the ice melting can be seen but not in the kind of magnitude which would cause us to panic from the ice giving way to our weight.

Every winter, the Mt. Taebaeksan Snow Festival is held.  From reading the website, the event starts with a fantastic opening ceremony with performances, parade and snow sculpture exhibition. Followed are main events such as the Mt. Taebaeksan climbing competition, mini snow soccer game, snow sledding competition, and dance competition. Among them, the snowman festival and igloo cafe are especially popular. Snow sculptures with lighting effects at night makes the best background for the photos. Also, it will be an interesting experience to drink from a mug made of ice in the igloo cafe. ‘Ogung sledding’ is a must-do activity in which a traditional Korean sled is used to glide down a variety of sledding hills. Mt. Taebaeksan is one the ten best mountains in Korea and its spectacular snow covered scenery glittering like a silver kingdom, makes it the best venue for the snow festival.

This year, the festival was held from January 10th through to January 18th, 2004.  Sadly, we missed the entire festival but we visited Mt Taeaeksan to see the remnants of the ice sculpture.  The 250km drive took us to the east side of Korea, through the rugged snow covered mountains where temperatures plummeted down to -9 degrees Celsius during the day.  For most of the time, we drove without snow chain but as the thickness of the snow made the last part of the trek impossible, forcing us to bring out the spike spiders, making it less dangerous to drive in the mountains as we were sure that salt has not been sprayed on some of the roads we were taking.

The view as you can see from the image gallery is nothing short of spectacular, although nothing compared to the European Alps and the ice sculpture did not disappoint either.  We understand that the ice sculptures will be taken down on the 26th of January 2004, so this was an opportune moment to visit. 

It was the first snow experience for Jeanette's mum.  Coming from Malaysia, she had little difficulty coping with the bitterly cold temperatures but walking on snow and ice had her confused and somewhat disoriented, slipping a few times despite what may seem to be simple for us.  Definitely, something which needs more practice.

This is all for now.  Our next newsletter will be more of our wintry experience!

Until then, cheers ....  Jeanette and Raymond Han


First winter sees temperatures drop below 0, yet mostly Sunny days
The ambiance of candles, mood music and snowfall makes life in Seoul enjoyable
Ice forms as melting snow resting on thatched roofs refreezes
Jeanette  sledding on a frozen river
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Jeanette  and Yuri sledding on a frozen river 
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