The rain might be sliding down my window now, but soon it will be hot and sunny and everything a Korean summer is meant to be! In Korea, spring is warm but short, followed by a few weeks of summery bliss before jangma (장마), or monsoon season begins. So while I’m trapped indoors temporarily, let me share with you the things I’m looking forward to most this summer season.
Sunshine, summer dresses, and long days at the beach are the first things I think of when I daydream about summer. Here in Busan, we are lucky to have so many beautiful beaches, my favourites being Gwangalli and Seongjeong. Koreans have some endearing but quirky beach habits, like how some swim fully clothed! I think this is partially for sun-protection and partially out of convenience or modesty. I’ve seen women swimming in cotton cocktail dresses and a man taking a dip in his suit trousers, belt and all! Another funny habit is that many people like to bury themselves up to the neck in sand and just hang out. Again, sun protection comes into play here, but the heavy, wet sand also just feels nice (or so I’m told).
If you go to the beach in Korea, you can expect a crowd. Prepare to share the waves with hundreds of yellow inner tubes and the sand with dozens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of umbrellas propped up for shade. Resting on a beach mat in the shade is the perfect place to sip a drink or have a bite to eat. You can even order some fried chicken, delivered right to your mat on the beach – the future of relaxation is finally here! At night-time, the beach transforms into a place to hang out, play guitar or shoot some fireworks. Some beaches have snack carts and tents, and you can even see some traditional fortune-telling, too. Street shopping and catching busker performances are popular ways to spend summer evenings in many of the bigger cities.
Day or night, if the beach isn’t your thing, try to cool down Korean-style with some tasty snacks! I love Korean ice creams – the variety is endless! My picks? Super-tall soft serve cones (I like choco-vanilla), and corn or green tea-flavoured ice creams! I’ve made it a personal mission to eat every kind of ice cream on this list (thanks, Suzy Chung!), but first, I must indulge in some patbingsu (팥빙수). I miss this sweet shaved-ice and red bean treat for 6 months of every year and now that summer’s here, I’m going to eat it as often as I can! You don’t have a sweet tooth? Try some chilled noodles or naengmyeon (냉면) or go the opposite route and eat something hot like samgyetang (삼계탕) to kick your body into overdrive and help you sweat the heat out.
Along the same lines, people flock to the mountains to beat the heat. Summer means hikes and camping, but if you’re gonna go, you’ve gotta have the gear – hiking shirts, hats, pants, boots, and poles! Picnics are a similarly elaborate affair with Korean picnickers packing enough food to feed a small army. Hungry folks don’t stop snacking when the picnic’s over, though. Summer is prime-time for snacking and to enjoy some tasty street food (check out Steve Miller’s posts for more). Whether it be outside at street-side tables and tents known as pojangmacha (포장마차) or perched at a food cart, you won’t be left hungry for long! You’ll see Koreans chowing down all night long, knocking it all back with a little beer and soju. Along the Millak waterfront in Busan, the entire boardwalk will be covered in late-night picnickers on any weekend in July. One of these days, I may try and sit down and join them!
I love Korean summer, and with just July and August left, I’ll be sure to make the most of it! Now that you’ve had a little taste of Korean summer, what are you most looking forward to? Do you have a favourite activity I’ve missed? Have a great summer, everyone!