Vietnamese battle unprecedented cold in Japan, South Korea

By Duc Trung   February 1, 2023 | 07:44 pm PT
Vietnamese battle unprecedented cold in Japan, South Korea
A man clears snow in front of a shrine amid heavy snowfall in Tottori, Japan in this photo provided by Kyodo on January 25, 2023. Photo handout via Reuters
Vietnamese families in South Korea and Japan are struggling as water pipes freeze and heating costs skyrocket amid some of the worst cold spells to ever hit Northeastern Asia.

"Blizzards caused several flights to be canceled, and vehicles have to constantly keep their lights on and move at very slow speed, because visibility is less than a meter long," said 28-year-old Nguyen Thi Bich Ngan, who lives in the northern city of Sapporo, famous for its Japanese beer brand.

Chaos befell traffic across Japan last week, when temperatures in 46 out of 47 localities dropped below zero on January 25. Flight and train schedules were disrupted due to the weather.

The cold weather has been further exacerbated by strong winds. Meteorological agencies in Rausu, Hokkaido have recorded wind speeds of over 130 kph at times.

"It’s very cold. The snow and the strong winds have formed blizzards, with temperatures always below minus 10 degrees Celsius," Ngan said.

Quynh, 32, an office worker in Nara, said the area where she lives does not usually get snow during winter. But the cold period this year caused snow to fall for over two weeks, making every activity more difficult.

"I usually go to work early on my bike, but the frozen roads are slippery, forcing all vehicles to go slowly," said Quynh, who’s been living in Nara for 8 years.

Quynh was forced to keep her heater on at all times, which has caused her energy bill to skyrocket.

"The most expensive energy bill this fall was around ¥4,000 ($31). But this winter, no matter how much I try to save, the bills are never below ¥10,000," Hai said.

Quynh also had to resort to other measures to stay warm, including sticking reflective surfaces onto glass windows to prevent heat from getting out. She said she didn’t have to keep her fridge’s temperatures too low as "the freshness of the food is not affected much in this season."

In South Korea, several Vietnamese have also been struggling in the shivering cold.

Cao Ba Long, 24, who has lived in Gyeongju for five years, said winter came early this year and the cold period has also lasted longer.

"The lowest temperatures last year were between minus 7 and minus 9 degrees, but this year, they fell to as low as minus 10 or minus 15 degrees, even minus 17 degrees... The moment I get home, I have to turn on the heater," Long said.

Van Giang, who lives in Seoul, said her family's water pipes in the bathrooms were frozen, which was a great inconvenience.

"We had to use boiling water and hair dryers to warm the pipes," she said, adding that her family sometimes had to shower and do laundry at neighbors’ houses. The family also had to let water faucets drip to keep the pipes from freezing again.

Long said the South Korean government often provides subsidies so people can use heaters more liberally during the cold, but skyrocketing costs mean that energy bills still "nearly doubled" this year.

Hai Yen, 25, who lives in Gyeonggi, said gas prices for cooking and heating during the winter amount to around ₩250,000-300,000 ($204-244) every year for her family of three.

"But this year is too cold, and combined with gas price increases from the government, we predict next month's bills will go up to ₩600,000," Yen said.

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