Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Holiday Break: Taebaek Snow Festival

Power Outage

QUESTION: So what's worse than your pipes freezing over? Answer: Your power going out, because then not only will your pipes freeze over once the cold makes itself at home, but you also won't have any lights to see by, and you won't have any Internet, in case you need to go online to figure out a message to tell the maintenance guy.

Question: What's the best perk of a power outage? Answer: having people to freak out with. My friends had stayed the night in preparation for our epic journey to Taebaek's annual snow festival, so they got to witness first hand my apartment's cruel indifference. One minute we were all bleary-eyed and stumbling about, trying to get ready at 6 in the morning, and in the next instant, the living  room light blew out. We were left standing in total darkness, with not even a stove light to click on.

I really have to commend its sense of timing. This was 15 minutes prior to when we had to be out the door and on our way to the train station. Visions of hanging around a frosty-rimmed, dark apartment all day, waiting for the wiring to be fixed, immediately surfaced in my mind.

Luckily, our phones were equipped for this kind of disaster. We looked up the words for "power out" and "maintenance" on our phone dictionaries. I managed to find some parking attendants having their early morning bagels and coffee. It occurred to me that perhaps I should figure out the actual maintenance number, but these people were getting so used to seeing me; it was like we were becoming friends. Once I showed them the word "fuse" and then mimed an explosion, they got the right guy on the job. He reset the electricity in the apartment AND found the source of a problem: the electric water kettle, which had a puddle of liquid around it. The water had gotten inside the wiring, which had been enough to blow out the power in the entire apartment. I thanked him profusely and gave him a bag of chips for his trouble. I'm really digging this "give-food" instead of" give-money" thing.

Best part of all: there was still time to get to the train station! We hightailed it out of there, and two subway rides later, we were sitting on a high speed train jetting off toward Gangwon-Do, the province neighboring our Gyeonggi-Do. The toasty heat settled over me like a warm blanket. It occurred to me what a paper-thin wall there is between us and winter; the chill chases us from the unheated halls and bathrooms in our schools, to the front doors of our apartments. All it takes is one slip-up in our water heaters or fuses, and it's in. I cozied up more comfortably in my chair, gazing out upon a cold, cold country.

Ice Sculptures and Igloo Cafes

We were all patting ourselves on the backs. Yes, the day had gotten off to a rough start. And yes, the train ride had been 4 freakin' hours long. But we had finally arrived in this small, tucked-away ski town called Taebaek for their legendary "Taebaek Snow Festival." Snow sculptures, ice rinks, igloo cafes, snow rafting, games- this was a festival to regenerate the peoples' spirits, to kindly take them by the hand and say, "See? Winter can be fun!" We waddled up to the information counter in our heavy ski gear and asked where the great snow festival that would make us appreciate the coldest months of the year was taking place.

"Ahhh, Snow Festival. It canceled," the lady told us.

We were thunder-struck. "Why?"


Dangerous? I assumed she meant there was avalanche danger. We'll never know for certain, but I think she meant the wind. Many people were out and about in the crisp sunlight, hiking to the lofty Taebaek summit. However, every few minutes, a gust of wind would come hurtling from those peaks that could pierce even the hardiest North Face jacket. It sneakily took us out one-by-one, first biting the weak toes and fingers, and then whipping our faces raw until our noses and ears were frozen nubbins. We fumbled to take pictures of the giant ice statue Buzz and Woody, the heads from Easter Island, the Sphinx, and the legendary Korean turtle ships. I really liked the tank and the humongous soldier. 

One of the downsides of having the 4 hour long train ride was that the sun had already done its dance across the skies and was prepared to be swallowed up by the towering mountain peaks. Although we put on a brave front for as long as we could- gliding across the frozen lake in tennis shoes, sipping cocoa in the igloo café- eventually we had to admit defeat. Back in the States, I'd heard stories about the Korean winters, and they aren't exaggerated. I've never known anything like this heartless, lingering cold. 

Ongoing poll: Who do you think this is?

But it didn't stop us from braving the outdoors and going to a freakin' snow festival, for crying out loud. Although I'll probably stick to winter sports that get your blood pumping, like skiing, I can proudly say that we did the Taebaek Snow Festival, canceled or not, and we didn't lose any limbs to frostbite.

Disclaimer: the above entry is presented as fiction, not fact.

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