Today was a very brutal reminder of why I have no love for rail transport in the United States…in particularly, rail transport in the National Capital Region. My MARC Commuter train was 26 minutes late this morning and I had to stand out in very cold elements because the delay time kept changing on the passenger information board. In due time, I’ll commit a blog series to my frustrations with DC area rail transport but it won’t be on this occasion. This post is strictly about the extreme cold. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the coldest day ever.
How I first came across this moment? The final year of my Air Force career was a special duty assignment to Osan Air Base. That meant I spent the last of my career living in the Greater Seoul Area. It was actually a pretty unique experience living in the shadow of one of the world’s most populous cities. There was much to enjoy in my 2nd and final Pacific Rim assignment: the food, the culture, the scenery, the transportation, the style, the money. One thing I wasn’t particularly fond of during my time on the Korean Peninsula: the weather. When I arrived in Seoul in June 2012, it was 87°F and the relative humidity was 95%. That meant that the heat index was 113°F. It was easily the hottest temperature I’d experienced since my debut in Iraq nearly 5 years earlier. The real temperature hovered around in the mid-80s to low 90s the entirety of that summer and halfway into the autumn. The humidity let up a little bit, averaging around 75%. Despite that, the weather was pretty unbearable for my first few months. I actually resigned myself that South Korea might actually be hotter than Iraq, despite what I experienced in my Seoul debut in November 2009, when my longtime best friend hosted me for a week. That all changed in early November 2012. The temperature dropped drastically and we had a freak snowstorm. It got so cold that the engine on my moped froze. Then came December 9, 2012. It was 7AM and I was relaxing in my off-base apartment, having just finished an overnight shift. I got a notification chime on my HTC Sensation 4G: somebody had commented on a Facebook post of mine. I cleared the notification and I took a quick peek at the home screen and that’s when I saw that the temperature was 6°F outside. I looked closer and the wind chill was -1°F.
What it meant to me then? In the moment, I didn’t believe it. Not even 6 months earlier, it was 87°F with a heat index of 113°F and now it was 6°F with a wind chill in the negatives. Me being me, I went outside to see if it was really that cold. Man, it was f’n freezing. As soon as I opened the door, the bitter cold that was stalling in the hallway of my floor—my landlord didn’t believe in heating or cooling that hallway—I shut my door and literally said “fuck that”. It was only 10 seconds roughly but I had the chills for about 30 minutes. I had to turn on the ondol so I wouldn’t suffer from hypothermia. I had plans of waking up around 2:30PM to run some errands in Downtown Pyeongtaek before starting my shift at 5PM but that cold turned me off. I stayed in my apartment until the last possible moment…until my cab was outside waiting at 4:50PM.
What it means to me now? 5 years later, that is still the coldest day I’ve ever experienced. The temperature never did get up to 27°F. It topped out at 18°F. Fortunately—or maybe unfortunate for me, depending on how you look at it—I slept through most of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I experienced a much colder temperature when I had to go on a TDY to Busan in January 2013 to watch classified cargo at the port. The temperature gauge in the car read an outside temperature of -7°F but I never really felt it because it was nice and toasty inside of that Kia K5. I’ll never forget how cold it was that December day in suburban Seoul though. I’m usually pretty resilient to the weather conditions, especially the cold. But that was a different beast.