Monday, February 04, 2008

Gearing Up For a Korean Winter

Going to Korea in early December, my biggest concern was what to wear. Korea at that time was in the middle of winter. “Winters were long and very cold,” wrote Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, one of my favorite travel writers, in her 1992 book I Remember…: Travel Essays. I checked the weather reports. In Seoul, where we would spend the first night, temperature dipped to zero and even subzero. It snows there, contributed a friend who had a friend who just recently arrived from Korea. But in Jeju Island (said to be the warmest part of Korea), where we would spend most of our Korean sojourn, temperature averaged about eight degrees. Still, I thought, very cold. Baguio, the coldest place in the Philippines, can have temperatures as low as 18 degrees Centigrade, and we thought we would get sick from this cold. Baguio temperature was my indicator. Having lived in a tropical country all my life, I had never experienced winter and had no idea on how cold were near-zero and sub-zero temperatures. To survive this temperature, one must wear the proper clothes. I agonized over winter clothes, how to get them and how much to pack for a four-day winter trip.

I asked my friends, who have been to wintry places, what clothes were proper for this weather, and the keyword was thermal. This means the kind of cloth which provides and maintains much warmth. Thermal clothes are hard to come by in the Philippines. And they tend to be very expensive. Try the ukay-ukay stores, advised a friend. But I did not have enough time to scour these stores that have propped up in every cranny of Metro Manila like toadstools after rain, and wade through a dusty sea of secondhand clothes. If one has the time, patience and fortitude, the ukay-ukay stores can be a treasure trove. They have winter jackets, sweaters and boots. In or near Quaipo, there is a store that specializes on adventure gear, including winter jackets, carrying brands like The North Face and others, whispered a friend. Newspaper photographers frequent this place, he said, but could not divulge more information. I will find out this place, I vowed, when I get back.

Those squeamish about wearing clothes, whose former owners one will not have the chance to know, one can go through the surplus shops. SM has one in every of its malls. My friend Johanna got all of her jackets at the SM Surplus Shop. The store has ample choices for women. Unfortunately, the choices for men are limited.

Without thermal clothing, the trick is, said my other friends, layering. You put on layers upon layers of clothes.

I aggregated the tips from people and put to use what I could apply for the moment. One good tip is to borrow from friends who have been abroad. Buying brand-new winter jackets can be impractical, especially when one does not go to wintry places on a regular basis. Once used, these jackets can be practically useless in the Philippines. Friends who have them are very willing to lend you their jackets. Friends offered some jackets and in the end I have a few to choose from, more enough really for my travel bags.

Thermal underwear is important, said one friend. Fortunately, the Marks and Spencer stores carry an array of thermal underwear from shirt and socks to briefs and long johns. They have both long- and short-sleeved shirts. They also have different “levels” from minimum to maximum warmth. The price ranges from a thousand to two pesos. A tad pricey, yes.
With thermal underwear, one can wear the ordinary jeans. With thermal undershirt, one can wear another shirt, an ordinary one, a sweater and the winter jacket. With thermal socks, one can wear ordinary rubber shoes. One advised getting “closed” shoes or boots. But these can be hard to find here.

From friends, I got other winter accoutrements like scarves and gloves. I found these can be important. Cold weather can be harsh on the extremities like fingers, ears, nose and toes. Protect the neck with scarves, the hands with gloves or mittens and ears with head gears that can over them like a bonnet.

The North Face jacket and sweater
For brand-new jackets, there are few and select stores here that offer them. One that is on top of the mind is The North Face, which has earned a revered status specially among explorers and adventure climbers. In the Philippines, The North Face has been a recent introduction. Their backpacks arrived in select stores in 2003, and the year after they put up their own shops, which now carry jackets, apparels and tents, aside from the famed packs.

“When it entered (the Philippine market), it (the bestsellers) would be the backpack,” said Roel Chan, the brand manager of Uniglobe, the local franchise holder of The North Face. But with the shops, The North Face here is “now known for what it is known best, which is the outerwear, the jackets.”
“Although in the Philippines, we thought that jackets are not really needed since we’re a tropical country, but the market of The North Face are those outbound,” Chan added. “And even in hardcore mountaineering in the Philippines, you need a jacket. Definitely, it’s a part of your equipment. If you look at the market now, The North Face has no competition in terms of jackets…The North Face has the most number of designs of jackets in the Philippines.”
By design, he does not only mean the style but also the technical features. The North Face jackets are made for the outdoors and harsh weather conditions. It carries several series of jackets, each having special features, many which are propriety innovations. The Flight series, for example, is lightweight, waterproof and breathable, meant for fast-packing and adventure races. Several series are made for mountain climbing and cold weather. The brand is usually used by those climbing Mount Everest.
For this trip, The North Face provided me with a jacket, a mid-range one, with more than enough features for the trip. It made me feel like one of those adventurers that The North Face supports.
The Aleut Jacket of its Elevation series is a thick jacket meant for the cold and mountain climbing. It is not very thick as to restrict movement. It is actually sleek, in its Arctic Pool blue color. There are pockets in very interesting but very logical places. The armpit area can be zipped open for ventilation, and the hood is detachable.
With the jacket was a sweater, extra protection against the winter cold. I had a handsome Lyell crewneck sweater in Pinot red with beige sleeves. It is described as “a soft, thermally-efficient fleece layering piece with mock neck and contrasting sleeves and seams.”
With these two, I could face the Korean winter in style, comfort and warmth.

The Columbia Titanium shoes
Winter boots are perhaps the hardest item to find in the Philippines. But a friend said ordinary durable rubber shoes can suffice. Of course, I had to put on thermal socks and another pair of ordinary socks. The shoes should be a tad bigger than your usual size to accommodate the layers of socks.
For this trip, I was provided with a Columbia rubber shoes in its Titanium series with Omni-Tech features, which means these shoes are waterproof and breathable.
Columbia is sportswear company, which started in 1938 in the United States as a small family owned hat distributorship company. Now, it is one of the world's biggest outerwear brands and the leading seller of ski wear in the United States. Aside from outerwear, sportswear and accessories, Columbia also has rugged footwear.
The Titanium series employs the Omni-Tech technology for fabrics to be high-performance, waterproof and breathable. Different fabrics are combined and applied various coatings or laminates (to the underside of the fabric), thus creating appropriate functional applications based on needed levels of waterproofness and breathability. Additionally, they said they applied “ invisible DWR (durable water repellent) finish to keep water beading on the surface. The result is a wide range of fabrics comparable to other leading waterproof/breathable fabrics, but with incomparable value.”

Beside this technology, the Columbia Titanium shoes are stylish. I got one in Karasi color with burnt orange lining and insides. It was enough to keep me protected and comfortable.
With North Face jacket and sweater, and Columbia shoes, and big help from my friends, I became ready to be astounded by Korea, and even enjoy the winter temperature.
Published in The Daily Tribune, February 4, 2008.


Jimmy said...

Endorser? hehehe..kaiba ka talaga

Gridcrosser said...

Thanks much!