Thursday, July 11, 2013


It's hot today, there's no denying that. But is it hot enough to warrant advising the general populace not to annoy anyone for fear that it might result in violent crime?

The 불쾌 지수 (bulkwe jisoo), or Discomfort Index, will tell you just that. During the Korean summer, when the temperature and humidity level both reach a certain unbearable point, the Discomfort Index indicates that it's just too hot to risk doing anything rash. Then, weathermen will not only tell you that it's 85°F (29°C) with 85% humidity, but they will also tell you not to give anyone grief, because the heat can literally drive someone crazy and cause them to hurt you. They also caution against going outside or drinking anything caffeinated.

When it comes to heat-addled brains, some may find it odd that Koreans have a unique expression for symptoms of illness directly caused by heat. 도위 먹다 (dowee meokda) translates to "eat heat". It refers to the manifestations of nausea, fatigue, and various bodily aches which are claimed to be brought on by uncomfortably high temperatures. I'm not aware of anything comparable in the US. I mean, we have heatstroke, but that is a legitimate medical condition, whereas 도위 먹다 sounds to me like crankiness. Perhaps those who eat too much heat are the ones to watch out for when the Discomfort Index is too high!

Today, I received a text message that appeared to come from a national or regional alert system (소방방재청): 폭염경보 (pogyeom gyeongbo), or "heat wave warning". It read: 11일 11시부로 폭염경보, 물을 자주 마시고 카페인음료 삼가, 잦은 환기, 한 낮 외출은 자제 하. My rough translation: "July 11th, from 11am onward, a heat wave warning. Drink lots of water and avoid caffeinated drinks, stay in a ventilated area, and refrain from going outdoors for the day."

Korea takes its weather seriously. Not that I wouldn't expect the same sort of thing in the US, especially in perennially scorched California, but I just find the Discomfort Index so... I don't know, endearing? Quaint? Fitting for Korea? I can't think of the right word at the moment. Probably because it's too hot.

On the other hand, I'm also mentally preparing for even worse weather. I am planning to fly to Taiwan this weekend (God-willing, as long as Typhoon Soulik doesn't wreak complete havoc on the island), where the temperature and humidity are both considerably higher than in Korea. After this week and next, I'll be quite relieved when I'm finally back in California, land of sunshine and a super-dry atmosphere. And cheap fruits, and Chipotle, and my family, etc.

온도와 습도가 높으면 불쾌지수도 높아요.
When the temperature and humidity level are high, the Discomfort Index is also high.

더워 죽겠네!
It's so hot I'm dying!

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