Rain Rain go away! Now that we are in the midst of summer, monsoon season in Korea seems to be finally kicking up. Korea experiences four distinct seasons, with monsoon/the rainy season beginning in the middle of June. "Jangma, 장마" aka the rainy season brings heavy rainfall with lots of heat and humidity. Seoul experiences an annual precipitation average of about 1373 mm, mostly during July and August.
My first rainy season while teaching in Korea has been an interesting experience. Since I've been here for eight months now, I kind of forgot that rainy season was a thing here, despite knowing about it prior to moving here. It's pretty crazy how quickly the rain will come on, with what feels like flash-flood intensity. I have had to borrow an umbrella from work once or twice now, as I was completely caught off guard. Stocking up on umbrellas is essential... although you can buy an umbrella at any cornerstore during the rainy season. I recommend getting something cheery to brighten up those drab days. Also, a sturdy umbrella is worth investing in, as the rain is often accompanied by strong winds that flip cheaper umbrellas inside out within a matter of minutes. Oh- and also because umbrella wars on sidewalks are inevitable as ajummas, the middle aged Korean women barrel past without a care in the world. Trust me. It's their world, we're just living in it. Anyways, despite the torrential downpour, I've compiled a list of some enjoyable activities to entertain yourself with until the skies clear.
Shopping. South Korea's real National past time. One of the best ways to kill a rainy morning/afternoon is to get some quality browsing done in one of Korea's massive malls. If you like to shop, Seoul will be paradise for you. While street shopping is popular, the giant malls provide a great place to go when the weather isn't so great. I recommend checking out COEX mall, the largest underground mall in Asia, which has an aquarium, one of the worlds largest indoor theme parks, theater performances, 4D movies, and a kimchi museum. COEX mall is easily accessible from Line 2: Samesong Station Exit 5/6 (it is connected to the station). Another mall I like is the Lotte Mall by Gimpo airport, which has your basic selection of Western style stores, and the added bonus of being one express stop from me. It is located on the last stop of Line 9, at Gimpo Airport. Not to be missed are the various underground shopping centres in Seoul, my favorite being the Gangnam Terminal underground shopping center. Also during rainy season, shopping and subway centers in Korea have umbrella baggies available at entrances/exits. These little plastic baggies keep your wet umbrella from dripping all over the place while shopping/commuting. Such a good idea- I don't know why I've never seen these anywhere else in the world before!
Seoul is known for it's cafe culture, boasting some seriously strange themed cafes. From the famous cat cafes, to the infamous poo cafe, Korea has it all. It's impossible to walk a block without seeing a CafeBene, Tom and Tom's, Ediya, CoffeeBean, or Starbucks.I'm not exactly sure why cafe culture became so huge here- possibly they provide a space for young people to gather, or Koreans are so hardworking they need all the coffee? I still don't know, but it's a culture my caffeine addicted self is more than happy to embrace. Branching out from the run of the mill coffee shops, Seoul has some uniquely themed coffee shops, which are an experience and a half. Since coming to Korea, I've visited Thanks Nature Cafe, which is a sheep cafe in Hongdae, Blind Alley, the one and only raccoon cafe in Yongsan, as well as CaFace in Hongdae, a cafe where you can have your picture printed on the foam of your drink. Wild, I know. I honestly recommend all three of them. Cafe culture is so huge here, and is a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon with friends.
"Bang" is a romanization of the Korean word "방" and means room. In Korea, there are many different "bangs" for various entertainment purposes. My indisputable favorite is the Jimjilbang, or Korean bathhouse. These elaborate 24 hour spas make for a relaxing spa day, time with friends, or place to crash after a night out (usually the latter for me). The most famous Jimjilbang is Dragon Hill Spa, a humongous and luxurious bathhouse in Yongsan. It has numerous facilities, such as a swimming pool, arcade, fitness zone, salt rooms, an ice room, as well as a large number of saunas and heated cave like rooms. The place is enormous, and makes for an entertaining rainy day. Make sure to try some sweet sikhye- 식혜 a traditional fermented rice drink served cold at most jimjilbangs. It hits the spot after all the sweating!
Another popular "bang" that is frequented by many are the PC Bangs. PC Bangs are Internet gaming centers where you can go and play computer games for a super cheap hourly fee- about $1 USD an hour (or so I've been told). In Korea, PC Bangs are a popular place for young people to socialize and distress/escape from their lives. The majority of PC bangs are 24 hours, and equipped with drinks and snacks. While I'm not a gamer myself, my friends that are into gaming worship these centers, and claim them to be a big part of Korean culture. Interesting enough, my middle school students talk about the PC bang all the time, so as a teacher you will definitely get brownie points with your students if you mention spending time playing LOL in the PC bang to them!
The last "bang" that is worth a mention for a rainy day is the DVD bang. While commonly associated with young people and shenanigans, DVD bangs are essentially rooms you can rent to go watch a movie of your choice. The better DVD bangs have a large selection of both English and Korean DVD's, and it's worth checking out what they have available before you settle for one. Make sure to stock up on some popcorn and snacks before heading in! DVD bangs are a cozy way to hangout while the weather outside is dismal. If you have a group of people too big to get together in one apartment, it's a nice way to socialize together in a relaxed environment.
Well there you have it. I hope you are able to enjoy the month or so of rainy season, and make the best of it. If all else fails, accept the fact that you will get wet, and forage on! Monsoon season really isn't so bad, and there's plenty to keep yourself entertained with until the weather perks up. Happy trails!