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Winter in Donghae Revisited

I’d like to revise the opinions I shared in last month’s post about winter in Donghae. At the conclusion, I implied that winter here is a dull, vapid affair without enough struggle to inspire excitement or lust for life in the inhabitants.

That was before this happened:

1 - P2104838

It began late last Thursday night. This picture was taken the following Monday. The snow stopped falling early Tuesday, then sprang up again Thursday and Friday.

Donghae is sunk in over a meter of snow from a storm that has taken over the eastern coast of South Korea. Korean news articles even refer to it as the “snow bomb.”1 According to one of my co-teachers, Donghae only has a snowstorm like this every 6 or 7 years. 

1 - “눈 폭탄”; see here – I’m pretty sure that’s Donghae in the article picture.

This week I was told we’d have classes as usual on Monday, followed by the graduation ceremony for the third-year students on Tuesday and office work the rest of the month. Even as I watched the snow collect over the weekend, I anticipated arriving at school by 8:30 as usual. The snow came up to my knees as I trekked down the street. 

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I should have suspected something when I didn’t see any students. Perhaps they were starting late? In any case, the teachers are expected to be at school even when the students aren’t. As I approached the building, I saw some of the groundskeepers shoveling the walk outside the gate.

The principal and vice principal were standing outside with shovels. They looked surprised to see me. As it turns out, we weren’t supposed to start work until 10:00 that day. Despite the snow, I’d made it to school around the usual time. I looked around the empty parking lot, where a single track had been cleared to the door.

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The teachers’ office wasn’t even open yet. There I was, a Minnesotan trapped in the snow while the heads of the school labored in the lot. I left my backpack in the administration office and grabbed a shovel.

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I’ve complained before about the way the ice doesn’t get cleared from the sidewalks in Korea. For that day, at least, I could put my muscle where my mouth is.

 

I don’t want to know how many hours of my life I’ve spent clearing sidewalks of snow, but I know a thing or two about how to break up ice with a plastic shovel. 

 

When the other teachers arrived on the scene, I was shuffled back into the office. For the rest of the week as the snow came down, the male teachers gathered outside to clear the snow. Whenever there was an extra shovel outside the door, I picked it up and joined the others.

 

Without any students to attend to, most of the staff went to work in the office. The snow was so thick it blocked the roads, so the cafeteria staff couldn’t come in that day. You’ll never guess what they served for lunch: 

 

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It was like a party. Someone bought a couple bags of grocery store kimchi to complement the ramen, and all the faculty lined up at the water machine to cook their noodles. There were so many of us that we ran out of hot water in the main office and had to go to another machine in the hall. The teachers in the office upstairs filled a pot to cook their noodles over a burner, as opposed to heating them in the Styrofoam bowls. The rest of us sat with our cup noodles at our desks. 

As the week progressed, the snow continued to pile up. With this much accumulation, it was hard to move through my own neighborhood, much less go downtown. The weather is keeping most of the locals off the road, but knowing what I do about driving in Korea, I can’t quite bring myself to walk in the street.

Still, with all the snow I enjoy wandering town and viewing the landscape with fresh eyes. Coated in this thick blanket of snow, the city of Donghae looks more beautiful than I’ve ever seen it. 

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I could say this week has taught me to be careful what you wish for, but I think the moral is better than that. When the meteorological forces align to give you the biggest snowstorm you’ve seen in years… experience it. 

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