Friday, July 6, 2012

Korean Everydayness - Morning Routine

I had a little poll, and the thing you wanted to read about most was "Korean Everydayness". As this is a very broad topic, I will do my best to pick a few things and write them here, but also to weave aspects of everyday life into all my posts like I used to do.

Let me walk you through a normal morning in my officetel, which means 'studio apartment'. Sometimes I will be me, and sometimes I will be a Korean person (I'm not totally Korean).


I wake up to my alarm and push aside the blankets. Koreans don't use sheets; they have harder mattresses on average and use thick pad-like blankets underneath and quilted blankets on top. These are called ee-bool (이불). The reason for this is simple: historically, people slept on these blankets on the floor and then folded them up and put them away for the day so that they could live in one room. Actually, many people still do this, and I did for about half a year. It's very space-efficient and good for your back, but not very comfortable. Anyway, this history also explains why making your bed in Korea means folding all your blankets and putting them at the foot of the bed with your pillow on top.

After stacking my folded ee-bool on the foot of my bed, I probably want to take a shower and start getting ready for the day. To do that, I should first turn on the gas or my shower will be ice cold. There is a control panel with a power button and some options on the wall next to the intercom for letting people into the building. The control panel is for the boiler, which I use in the summer just for showers, and in the winter to heat my officetel by running hot water under the floorboards. Another good reason to sleep on the floor: historically, Koreans heated their houses by lighting a fire under their stone floors/foundations, letting the heat radiate up through the floorboards. Just as our center-of-the-room furnaces, which heated the air, developed to central heating, Koreans now heat the floors with the same hot water that is routed to the shower. There is a dial on the control panel so I can choose whether I want the heating and hot water on, or just hot water. I can also control the temperature of the heating system, and I should set it on the lowest setting in the winter when I go out so the pipes don't freeze.

Now that I've turned on the gas, I can go into the bathroom for a shower. The floor of a Korean bathroom is all meant to get wet; there is no separate "don't get water here" bathroom area and "get water here" shower area or bathtub like in the US. Many bathrooms have a little separating half-wall for the general shower area (like mine), and many don't. My shower has a faucet with a knob to turn: right means faucet, left means shower head. The shower head is on a long, flexible pipe so I can move it around and wash myself from all angles, and spray the whole bathroom when cleaning. There is also a vertical metal rod with a soap dish attached and an adjustable holder for the shower head, so I can choose to hang it up at waist height or way overhead for a tall person and have a shower like I'm used to with fixed shower heads in the US.

But if the whole floor is wet and probably dirty, don't you hate walking around in the bathroom? That's a good question, reader. That's why we have plastic or rubbery, often uncomfortable, bathroom slippers, which are available in all colors and sizes from tiny to small (the sizes of Korean feet) at your local store for anywhere from $1 to $10.

To dry off after my shower, I use a hand towel in I'm Korean. I've never seen a full-sized towel except in movies and one time at my American friend's house, and I thought that was a blanket so she laughed at me. Actually, I have American towels I got at Costco, but I see why Koreans haven't adopted the practice of drying off with full-body towels. Washing machines are very small here and most people don't have dryers. Not good for washing and drying giant fluffy things that are best when warm out of an environmentally unfriendly dryer.

Now I'm clean and dry, I'm quite hungry. If I'm Korean, I check the rice cooker for leftover rice from last night's dinner, or I get some rice out of the freezer and stick it in the microwave. While the rice is heating up or sitting around waiting for me to eat it, I pull as many side dishes as I can find out of the refrigerator and grab metal chopsticks and a long spoon (Korean silverware). I don't drink water while I eat, because I believe that this is bad for digestion. I might have a small cup of water after I eat if I'm thirsty. I don't drink water from the tap. I either get it from a water filtering machine that dispenses both hot and cold water and is cleaned by a service center once a month, or I boil water and put it in old water bottles. I might be lazy and buy water in bottles that I keep on the veranda.

After eating, I wash the dishes by hand and leave them in the drying rack. Even if I have a rare dishwasher, I don't really like using it either because it doesn't work well, I'm not used to it, or I find it mildly frightening and/or don't trust it.

Now it's time to brush my teeth. I go back into the bathroom with my slippers (remember the floor is wet) and brush my teeth. I make a hocking sound to make sure my throat is clean, too.

If I am a Korean woman, I spend an hour or two getting pretty. If I'm a Korean man, I may also spend an hour or two getting pretty. Depends. I personally spend 5-10 minutes putting on foundation and jewelry and making sure my hair doesn't look weird. I'm not good with mornings, so I usually also shower at night and have toast and coffee at the office instead of eating at home. So most of this story has nothing to do with me.

Anyway, when I'm ready to leave, I grab my purse (or man bag that looks an awful lot like a purse) and choose my shoes from the shoe closet in the entryway. I undo the chainlock (yes in my case, not in all cases) and push a button (or turn a knob in my case) to unlock the door, and step out. When the door closes, the electronic lock beeps to let me know it's working and I hear the deadbolt sliding into place (or in my case, I pull a lever underneath the door handle, but that's the first time I've seen that). Later, to get in, I'll just punch my code. No key! Well, some places have keys so you can choose to use your key or punch in your code.

I now, if I'm rich as hell or have two incomes and kids to cart around, get in my car. If I'm normal, I head to the bus stop or subway station and join the sweaty, jostling mass of people rushing to work.

More everydayness next time!

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