Note #113: Water, water everywhere (2017.4.27)
So, April has been a bit of a busy month. Probably the busiest month so far. During the first week of the month I gave a talk for the Folklore & Mythology people. That went well, but the next day I started feeling sick, and I ended up coming down with a nasty cold that lasted a week and had a very long tail. I got mostly better in time to fly down to Kentucky to give another talk the following week. I got back at the end of the week, and at the beginning of the next week my parents and my brother Brian came up to visit to celebrate birthdays; three of the men in our family have April birthdays that all fall within a seven-day period. Since then, I’ve been trying to get some work done, and tomorrow my friend Dave and his son are coming up to visit. It’s likely that this will be the last chance I will get to write this month, so I figured I’d take it.
It’s been a rather glum week as far as the weather is concerned. It rained quite a bit, and we finally saw the sun again today for the first time since Sunday. So I guess I’ve had water on my mind a lot. One thing I’ve noticed here is that the majority of people do not use umbrellas when it rains. The number of umbrellas increases the harder it rains, but I still don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 50% of the people out and about using umbrellas. At times I would estimate that figure to be more like 10%.
I’m not sure why this is. In Korea, almost everyone uses umbrellas. I think this has something to do with the fact that it generally rains harder in Korea, but it probably also has something to do with the belief that a rain picking up all the pollutants in the air on the way down can’t be all that healthy. At any rate, it’s a bit weird for me. But I am adapting to the local customs, if gradually—on days when the rain is a mere drizzle, I will often not bother taking out my umbrella. I was talking with a recent transplant from Tucson yesterday evening (it was raining, of course), and she wondered if perhaps the lack of umbrellas was a sign of an inability to plan ahead. I suppose that is possible, but I think people just don’t care. Or it could be that the wind here makes umbrellas pointless at best, and liabilities at worst. It is quite windy here.
While we’re on the subject of water, here’s another weird thing: Go into any restaurant in the US and ask for a glass of water, and you will most likely get ice in it. Doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside. It could be freezing cold in the middle of a driving blizzard and you’d still get ice. I don’t understand what the deal is with the ice, but it’s definitely a cultural thing. HJ tells me that I used to always put ice in my water when I first came to Korea, and she thought it was weird. I guess I grew out of it, because I very much do not like ice in my water now. If you don’t want ice in your water here, you have to specify “no ice.” It’s kind of like getting a sandwich in the UK; if you don’t want both slices of bread slathered with butter before the sandwich ingredients go on, you have to say so (or at least that’s the way it used to be, and I find it hard to imagine that it would be any different these days).
I am so happy when I remember to specify “no ice” in my water. When I forget, or when I am not asked and do not think of it until it is too late, I just stare glumly at the arctic water, willing the ice to melt with my mind. It rarely works, or at least it does not work quickly enough to be distinguishable from normal environmental factors. I think that if I had Cyclops’ mutation (from the X-Men), I would probably use it mostly to melt ice in water glasses. I could probably throw the nation into turmoil if I just went around melting everyone’s ice.
So there’s my pointless meditation for today. There are actually a lot of things about the US that I think are weird now, and I expect to write about them in the future, but this seemed like a pretty good (and harmless) place to start. As far as water goes, the good news is that it looks like we’ve gotten most of the rain out of the way, so it should be a pretty nice weekend.