Happy Summer, y’all! This is my third summer in South Korea and I’m definitely more prepared for it this year than I was in years prior. Born and raised in the deep South, I thought I could handle sweltering temperatures and humidity without a hitch, but I had to learn some new tricks to keep myself from melting. I’m sharing my hard-won wisdom here, so you don’t have to learn through a long process of trial and error like I did.
- Visors and Parasols
Oversized sun visors aren’t just for beach goers, and umbrellas aren’t just for rain anymore! Come to East Asia and you’ll quickly realize that everyone takes skin care very seriously; in the summer women (especially) wear sun-protective gear to block death rays from the sun. In Japan, the choice of defense is usually a parasol , which, in addition to blocking up to 77-90% UV radiation , can also reduce temperatures by as much as 9 C/16 F with their shade, depending on the size and material . Here in Korea, visors and hats rule the scene, especially among older women. Though they doesn’t provide the coverage as an umbrella or parasol, visors doesn’t have to be carried, and the wide brim is a great way to shield your face, eyes, and neck from UV rays. Don’t forget the sunglasses, though. Overhead coverage doesn’t block sun rays reflected off other objects or surroundings. And no worries, no matter which sun protective gear you choose, it won’t make you stand out more than you already do (if you are a Westerner.)
Here’s a lovely Tumblr guide on how to buy the most effective parasol, from a girl who also had her parasol awakening in East Asia: Adventures of Parasol Girl
- Pick the Right Fabrics
You probably already know that cotton, linen, chambray, and jersey fabrics are the way to go for a breezy summer wardrobe, but if you’re visiting Korea or planning to live here long term, go ahead and grab bedding in those fabrics too. Korean apartments rarely have central air, instead relying on window or wall air conditioning units to regulate the temperature and are not as powerful unless you leave them on for hours before bedtime. If you’re anything like me, you need it to be moderately cool before you can fall asleep and stay asleep. Switching out the polyester or rayon blend bedding for pure cotton or linen can keep the cool air circulating and prevent you from waking up in a pool of your own sweat. Ick.
- Hike at Night
Listen, no one blames you for not wanting to hike in 30 C+ degree weather. The good news is, there’s a way to enjoy the outdoors without risking heat exhaustion: Night hikes, my friend. They blew my mind.
The sun’s gone down so it’s much cooler, and as you climb higher, it will get chillier and windier. The air quality is usually a bit better than it is during the day. A night view of Seoul from the peak of a mountain offers a completely different perspective of the normally bustling, larger-than-life city. It’s a peaceful, rejuvenating experience after the stresses of your 9-5 or a whirlwind sightseeing tour.
Worried about hiking trails alone at night? You don’t have to. I went on my first night hikes with Seoul Hiking & Nature group that organizes beginner-friendly night hikes every week. If you’re a bit more advanced, Hiking in Korea does the occasional night hike as well.
- Fight Fire with fire
The Korean saying 이열치열 means “fight fire with fire.” This phrase is used to justify a variety of behaviors such as working up a sweat to break a fever, or drinking hot tea to beat the heat; most often it’s used during the hottest days of summer according to the lunar calendar (called 복날) when Koreans eat hot spicy foods like 삼계탕 (samgyetang: ginseng chicken soup) to keep the body cool. Think it’s ridiculous? So did I.Turns out that this tradition has roots in Eastern medicine, which says that blood moves closer to the surface of the skin to cool the body when temperatures rise, leading to poorer blood flow in your internal organs, and ultimately causing a loss of appetite and fatigue . Koreans believed consuming hot or spicy foods would get the blood flowing in those internal organs again.While the jury is still out on whether eating hot food will actually keep you cooler, the ingredients in 삼계탕 like jujube, ginseng, garlic, and ginger do have energizing and restorative benefits which will help just about anybody recover from a long day out in the sun.(Unfortunately, there’s no veggie version of this dish in Korea just yet, so I won’t be able to enjoy it this year during 복날. 😦 )
- Fight fire with water
Of course water parks, pools, and beaches (oh my) are always entertaining options to keep cool and relax. The best day of summer last year was when a friend and I went to Korea’s premier water park, Caribbean Bay, and spent the day screaming our lungs out on exhilarating water slides, pirate ships, and sloshing around in the lazy river. Our day trip to Busan where we chilled with our feet in the water was a close second.
Day trips not an option for your summer schedule or budget? I hear you. To my knowledge there are no public pools in Seoul; only indoor ones at overpriced gyms. (But if you already have a gym membership in Seoul that grants you access to the pool, then by all means…) Another option is to visit the water gun festival held in Sinchon every year. It always looks like a good time!
- Fight fire with Air
Sure, air fans literal flames, but fans will also keep you cool forever. As previously stated, few apartments in Korea have central A/C, so you’ll most likely be using a wall, window, or standing units in your apartment here. The effects won’t be as fast as central A/C, but if you leave it on for a few hours during the day, your entire apartment will be nice and cool when you get back.
To save money and energy, rely on your windows and fans to get the job done. Get yourself a big oscillating fan for the middle of the room and let that bad boy do its thing. Just be sure to clean off dust from the blades every once in a while for maximum wind power. If the air quality that day is okay and you have the appropriate windows for it, place a box fan in the window. It’s often warmer in my apartment than it is outside, so bringing the breeze indoors brings sweet relief.
- Cafe Living
If you don’t wanna run fans and air conditioning all day, go somewhere that does. Cafes are a major hub for socialization in Korea these days but also serve as make-shift offices for freelancers or students who lack a sufficient work space at home. It’s not unusual, then, to see locals post up for long hours at cafes with their laptops and notebooks. (In fact, there’s a Korean phrase for these cafe-dwellers: 카페에 살다시피 한다, which means “to practically live at a cafe.”) Summer might be one of the best times to try a little cafe living yourself. You would have refreshing beverages at your fingertips and the opportunity to bask in that good A/C.
Here are a few good manners to practice: Use headphones. Don’t hog the outlets or take up a table meant for four if you’re alone. If it’s a small cafe and new customers start to line up, maybe change locations to let new customers spend their coin.
- Swap Out Your Skin Care Routine
High temperatures in summer can send your sebaceous glands into overdrive. This means you might need a face wash that draws excess sebum from the skin instead of a nourishing, extra-moisturizing one suited for the winter season. Likewise, heavy face creams won’t serve you well when summer turns your T-zone into an oil slick, so ditch them for lighter, more absorb-able lotions with higher SPF. And slather on that sunscreen! If you’re a make-up wearer, try using a lighter hand when applying your favorite cosmetics so your skin can breathe .
And luckily, Korea is the land of cheap face masks! Stop at your nearest Olive Young, Lohb, or favorite skin care store and load up on clay, charcoal, or sheet masks for a spa day at home.
- Fight fire with Ice
Ice cold beverages that is! Drinking lots of water to stay hydrated is a no-brainer, but sometimes a girl wants to switch it up with iced teas, coffees, or cold-pressed juice. There’s no shortage of refreshing drinks in Korea’s multitude of convenience stores, and new items pop up quite often, so it’s kind of fun to check back regularly. On the downside, you’ll amass a mountain of plastic bottles if you’re not careful. The more environmentally-friendly option is to make your own drinks at home and put them in your reusable water bottle, have your drink at a cafe, or ask the barista to put your beverage into your reusable bottle.
Also, if your freezer in your apartment doesn’t make ice, convenience stores sell small bags or cups of ice for personal use. Or you could buy ice trays and freeze some yourself. Your choice!
- Or with Ice Cream!
Ah yes, ice cream, a classic summer treat. If you’re not vegan or lactose-intolerant, it’s easy to snag frozen desserts at convenience stores, cafes, restaurants, and creameries. Dairy-free ice cream poses a bit more of a challenge, but your vegan-friendly guide is here for you. That’s why next month, every post will be about where to find Seoul’s best bingsu, vegan bingsu, and vegan ice cream in honor of Ice Cream Month, yay! I’m also open to requests. Would you be interested in hearing about the most “Korean” ice cream flavors I’ve seen around the city or how Baskin Robbins is different here? Let me know!
(Hmmm, is this just an excuse for me to eat tons of ice cream…? Maybe!)
Follow the blog so you don’t miss the ice cream extravaganza that’s about to go down! There’s something for all eaters, I promise 🙂