climate control

I take back my previous statements about loving floor heating.  Well, sort of.  The problem, from a personal heating/cooling perspective, with this floor heating is the oppressive monotony of it.

Anyone who’s ever read Lisa Heschong’s Thermal Delight in Architecture would understand.  (which you probably haven’t, not being an Architecture major, but which everyone on the planet should read – especially non-Architects, as it’s tiny, incredibly accessible, and how more people should think about Architecture)  Like everything in life, it is the contrasts and the progression between them which make life interesting, which delight us and remind us we’re alive.

But sitting on this floor, lying on this floor, walking across this floor, I just feel like slowly baking ham…

Maybe it was different in another day and age when, instead of evenly disbursed coils set in concrete, the ondol system was truly fed by fire and the heat from the fire was shunted under the floors via actual flues.  At least then the heat was uneven and a person’s thermal comfort could be controlled by the proximity to the heat source.  Or, maybe it was better when the walls were only 3″ of straw and mud and the windows were covered in paper.

The only escape from this heat is to strip, or open the window, or go hang out in the unheated bathroom and get dripped on.  Or sleep.  Sleeping gives relief due to the lowered body metabolism, and I’ve even found my little moving pad blanket inadequate.  So I bought these super cute blanket pajamas for sale everywhere, and I roast in those as well.  But, I roast cutely…

I haven’t lived in a real winter climate since I was a kid, so it’s very amusing for me.  I forgot, for example, that manhole covers = guaranteed slipping, and that even if you don’t eat pavement, one slip and muscles you don’t know you have will be sore the next day.  I’d forgotten that people must start their cars 15 minutes early and leave them running so they don’t stall out.  I’d forgotten that pipes freeze and walls sweat.  I’d forgotten that over-dressing is a great way to get yourself sick from sweating and freezing.

Korean winters are a bit different from American winters, however.  Except for the Ugg boot knock-offs, the majority of women are still walking around in high heels.  Fur is everywhere.  NOT fake fur.  Real once live animals.  It’s super chic, but also super pretentious.  Scarves are a fashion must and I’m actually all about them.  It really sucks being around so many wonderful sweaters and scarves and passing them all bye.

Cardboard boxes are everywhere, used to soak up the excess melting snow from boots.  There don’t seem to be trays for snow boots like in the States.  There don’t seem to be that many wearing snow boots.  Just like there aren’t many raincoats during rainy season, just umbrellas.  There aren’t boot scrapers or brushes either.  The school hallways are a filthy dirty mess…

The most frightening thing in my neighborhood is the grade of the hills are so steep.  (30-40%!!!)   There aren’t sidewalks in most places, and the streets are barely wide enough for a car to get past, so if one skidded it would be easy to get pinned or crushed between a car and a brick wall…I also live in a high density motorcycle/moped area, probably precisely because the streets ARE so steep and narrow, and these crazy guys are still driving in the snow and ice.  I watch them going downhill on idle, their legs out dragging their feet, squeezing the brakes.

Another frightening thing is because the area is sooo hilly, there don’t seem to be safety regulations regarding stair step riser height or stringent handrail requirements anywhere in Korea, wet steps can be really treacherous.  The street of course is unlevel, and the bottom step is often met with some poorly constructed ramp connecting the two.  I’ve helped several old ladies cross this transition out of stores, but the entire time I was praying I didn’t take them down with me if I lost it!

And the curbs here.  They’re not rolled asphalt or poured and rounded concrete like in the states.  They’re GRANITE.  And they’re smooth and they have pretty sharp edges.

I haven’t seen any salt or sand being used to control the ice.  Only snow shovels.  I also saw shop owners on their hands and knees scraping the ice with hammers laid on their sides.  They were doing it in unison and chanting something, so it made me feel good.

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