This week, I learned about iyeolchiyeol, a Korean expression that means fighting heat with heat. Of course, this is relevant now as temperatures are skirting 100 degrees. New York City is responding to the dreadful heat wave by extending city pool hours, which makes some sense; however, I warn you from personal experience that excessive cranial submersion in a pool for many hours can be unwise. (As a teenager, one dull summer, I spent maybe 8 hours in my grandmother’s community pool in Ohio and all that submersion left me with a swol
menenges ? and some killer headaches so be warned! ). Apparently, keeping cool by staying someplace cold has it’s limits. Koreans seem to understand this; many Koreans believe that eating hot food or going to a sauna during a heatwave will help you overcome the heat by sweating a lot. I have always believed this! (Alas, further confirmation of my Korean-ness!)
I recall myself as a young woman wearing a long-sleeved shirt on the stifling nyc subway. This oddity caused a young man to ask me, concerned, if I was anemic. I was/am not anemic. I am often found in my own apartment wearing unseasonably bulky sweaters/hoodies as if I reside year-round in a winter log cabin. I was an enthusiastic fan of the 2020 celebrity-driven trend of wearing puffy coats during the summer (but never tried it myself.)
In part, I like wearing long sleeves as they prevent sunburned arms. I may be warped, but I’m convinced I’m cooler than those wearing flimsy tank tops and almost-naked wear. Incidentally, I like the look of balancing bare legs with a more covered top, which is very Korean of me. (To those who have seen my confused, haphazard outfits over my lifetime, it may surprise you that I have any heart-felt fashion principles. I do!)
As I start to plan a trip to Korea for my 50th birthday next year and to celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary, I ponder whether my family and I can tolerate my motherland in August–a month when weather can reach 100 degrees F. (I can’t be the only heat-hater who sometimes wishes the school calendar could be modified so that school ran through the summer and summer vacation began in the fall).
In the spirit of iyeolchiyeol and very much inspired by an article I read, consider having a party or at least a modest gathering of a few friends with this theme. Though for fun and benevolence, you might want to offer more traditional methods of staying cool as well.
1. Many Koreans believe that being scared cools your body temperature down, which is supposedly why horror movies are released during the summer in Korea. That said, invite friends to watch some of these creepy tales, especially the one about the murderous twin sisters that will surely leave you frost-bitten.
2. Serve hot drinks–Korean soju hot toddy anyone? Throw in some fun cold ones to be charitable to your guests.
3. Offer guests hand warmers, the kind you slip into gloves during winter or cave in and provide a more traditional cooling method: offer guests ice facial rollers that have been pre-chilled in your fridge for a delightful jolt of cold. Or a cheaper option that is popular in Korea is to put your Korean facial masks in the fridge/freezer for a short time. That is just good times.
4. Serve hot Korean soups like samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) and/or my favorite Korean icy cool-off soup Naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles), which comes in a package at HMart and Amazon of course.
5. Though this is not quite on point/relevant to this post,I am obsessed with these in-demand jelly cakes by a Korean-American baker that look perfect for a hot summer day. They make me smile.
6.Require or cheerfully suggest guests come wearing their best winter gear–puffy coats, scarves, winter beanies and mittens to add an element of ridiculousness. Absurdity elevates most parties, no?
7. Use fans or put your a/c on that conserve mode that you may shun on hot days (of course not in a heatwave, that would be selfish!). The idea is to be a little warm but not too warm. You don’t want want your guests to wilt, abandon the party spirit and question your regard for their well being/curse you out.
7. Decor, decor, decor. Hang a string high across your party space. Draw jagged flames with permanent markers on clear, thin acrylic sheets and then cut out the flames. Use a hole punch on each shape and and hang flames off the main line. Or use layered colored felt to make flames. Draw other things that are hot/summer themed. Good Lord, use your sense of humor if you have one. This could look really rough-hewn if you do just what I wrote above.
In drawing my imagined party, i notably forgot to include any guests, which may be my way of acknowledging that my friends would not want to extend their heat-wave misery and melt at my party for my sheer amusement. Perhaps this party is limited to my immediate family–an agreeable lot who often entertains my passing fancies.
Stay cool either conventionally or try the Korean iyeolchiyeol way!