By Lindsey Coulter, Greenheart Travel Teacher in South Korea
Somehow, even in the dead of winter, when my Rocky Mountain home would be dull, dead and brown, Korea seems vibrant. Maybe it’s the constant crowds in the streets (despite the frosty temperatures), the flashy neon illuminating block after block, or just the fact that life here still feels a bit exotic. Whatever it is, it was making these last days of winter seem a little more bearable. That was until “꽃샘추의” arrived, right on schedule.
Translated literally, “kkotsaemchui” means “the cold is jealous of the flowers”. It’s the period of plunging temperatures and bone chilling breezes that immediately follows the first hints of spring. Just as things were starting to thaw and people were easing into the coming season, BAM! Kkotsaemchui!
Although it’s really a geological and meteorological phenomenon, Koreans describe kkotsaemchui as a sort of jealous winter spirit, fighting against the spring and reluctant to accept its fate. Just before the first forsythia and azalea bloom and the persimmon trees come out of hibernation, kkotsaemchui bursts forth with one final, yet futile, effort. The word can also be likened to personal struggles and obstacles; however, it’s meant to have a positive, optimistic tone. Whatever life throws at you, the chill will subside and spring will sweep in and make the world new. With all the struggles Koreans have endured over the centuries, this word must be especially significant. As an expat facing new challenges each day, it’s also a good lesson to remember.
For me, kkotsaemchui is both a reminder of my first, frustratingly long Korean winter, and a welcome sign that sandals and sunglasses are not far off. Even in the midst of this late winter surge, I daydream about bicycling through the cherry blossoms in Gyeongju, exploring Namsan Park, celebrating Buddha’s birthday at Donghwasa Temple and sinking knee-deep into the mud beaches of Gangwha-do. If it takes living through one more kkotsaemchui, bring it on. A Korean spring is well worth the wait.