When I was fifteen, my mother (generally a woman of impeccable taste) talked me into wearing leggings. I can’t imagine what came over her—I can only assume it was the nineties. At fifteen I was a stringy-haired pudge in goggle glasses. No aspect of my person was improved stretching spandex over it. Yet, for a brief time, I loved those leggings, particularly when paired with a regrettable purple and grey striped t-shirt. I loved them so much, in fact, that they were the only pants I packed for my first overseas trip—three weeks in Germany.
It was there the magic ended. No one in Germany wore leggings. The hip kids were wearing hundred-dollar, blaze orange jeans. Off-brand spandex had no chance against Euro-cool. I returned home, shoved the leggings in the back of a drawer, and swore I’d never wear them again.
It’s not what you think. It's true that stylish Koreans routinely leave the house sheathed in spandex from the waist down. They can do that. Theirs are the legs spandex was made for. Me, I just want to stay warm.
South Korea has about the same temperature range as Wisconsin. What it doesn’t have is cheap, plentiful energy. So schools don’t turn on the boiler until there’s frost on the desks and ice rinks have formed at the bottom of the toilets.
To go to work, I layer my stylish new leggings under my work pants, and throw on two pairs of socks. A tank top and a t-shirt go under my sweater, which is then covered by a duster. Over this goes my coat, hat, and the new sparkly mittens Sam bought me because he loves me very much.
To teach, I take off the hat.
Supposedly, the furnace will go on at -5 degrees Celsius (that’s around 23 degrees for all you Fahrenheit types). I have doubts. Two of the country’s nuclear reactors were recently shut down for using substandard parts. Major blackouts are forecasted if they don’t get back online before winter hits. If that happens, I’ll have to wait until June to thaw out.
(Koreans have a track record for running out of energy—and for pulling out the long johns. Here’s from two years ago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-15914485.)