Faherenheit 84 (29 °C)
In the last few days, whenever I leave my relatively cool ‘one room,’ and step into the stairway, I can both feel the rising humidity and smell it. The smell, difficult to describe, is not unpleasant and if you can ‘smell ‘humidity, that is how I would characterise it. Then, when you step outside you instantly get zapped by both the sun and its heat reflected off of the pavement. With a little breeze in the air, and cool mornings and evenings, it’s not unpleasant but soon, venturing outside will become a torturous experience reminiscent of being stuck in a sauna-like microwave in which life is reduced to seeking sanctuary wherever there is air conditioning. As the middle English song goes; ‘Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu! Rivulets of sweat trickling down your back and amassing in little crescents under your man-boobs, if you’re unfortunate to have them, as I do, all necessitate keeping a towel in your bag and one of those bright coloured handkerchiefs in your pocket. As a winter baby, I’ve always hated summers but maybe my dislike of Korean summer is shaded by life in a one room before an air-conditioner was a normal part of an employment contract. Sitting around a small fan, clad only in underpants, as it gyrated from you to your flat-mate, granting you intermittent coolness, or spending the evening freezing in MacDonald’s, were the only reprieve from summer’s muggy heat.
Spring, which this year seems to have been skipped, as beautiful as it is, is an unpleasant reminder of what is to follow. And then there are the memi (매미). I have never heard cicadas in Northern Europe and associate them with hotter climates and in Korea, as summer’s leitmotiv, whose chirping, an incessant white noise, will dominant. Memi are bizarre looking things especially if you come from a climate with much smaller insects. I remember, before I’d seen one, you would pass a tree in mid-day and a chorus of memi would be ‘screaming’ at you. I could never see them and if you stopped and walked back to investigate, the ‘screaming’ would diminish, as if they were watching your approach. The sound is so intense, a crazy-crispy buzzing that it would suggest one tree is host to many memi. How many make that intensity of sound? A handful? Thousands? I am no memi expert but I think when the temperature falls a little, in the evenings of early summer, emerging memi migrate from the ground, either by flight, climbing the trunks, or a combination of both, to find a perch in branches. This is the time when, if you look carefully, you can sometimes see them on tree trunks. At other times, I have seen them in-flight as their bright colours, hidden when resting, flash vividly, probably to warn off predators. If you’ve never seen one, they certainly look ugly, fascinating and definitely prehistoric.
I don’t know if I like memi or not, that screaming symphony is at its peak at the hottest time of day, usually as I am on my way to work, scuttling between one air-conditioned sanctuary and another. I don’t know if I like them because they are a harbinger of summer’s heat. My bollocks positively dislike like them! When you hear the first memi you can assume the temperature is approaching 29 degrees and at the same time you will probably notice sweat trickling down your back . Once their chirping is symphonic, amassed and intense you can assume the temperature is in the 30’s and if you’re male, your balls, dangling in what has now become an E-Mart carrier bag, are probably stuck to you leg.
Here are some facts to remember when you hear your first memi this summer:
Desert cicadas are the only insects known to sweat in order to lower body temperature!
While Koreans often translate ‘cicadas,’ and many Americans term them, ‘locust,’ they are not! Cicadas belong to an entirely different family of insect.
One species of cicada is native to the UK. (Melampsalta montana)
Cicadas lay eggs in tree bark from which hatched nymphs fall to the ground where they live, burrowing, throughout this stage. Many cicada species emerge from the ground annually, but some, with much greater life spans, emerge at 13 or 17 year periods.(eg: magicicada).
Should a memi park on you’re pillow and sing in your ear-hole, with a capacity of 120dB, you can expect permanent damage to your sense of hearing.
However, here is the most important fact: Fahrenheit 84, (29 °C), the approximate temperature from which both the memi will begin to sing and a pair of bollocks will start to stick to an inner thigh!
If your bollocks were stuck to your leg when you heard the memi screaming, I’d like to know! It’s a sort of survey!
(Link: for more comprehensive memi facts and the source of most information here)