Sunday, October 3, 2010

Moving on up (in?)

GOODBYE goshiwon and hello apatuh (apartment). It is small, but so is everything in Seoul. It also has no bed, wardrobe, desk, crockery, cutlery, pots or pans. This can be worked on. But not for a while. Money is still tight. On the plus side, it is in the same area as before, Sinchon, which means four subway stops to work and more bars and restaurants than any area could ever really need. And I haven't seen a cockroach yet. Not one. Nasty creatures.

I've embraced sleeping on the floor. The best way to make it comfortable, I've found, is to roll yourself in a blanket like the contents of an over-sized burrito, close your eyes and hope for the best. And I've discovered underfloor heating.

Most dwellings in Korea are heated through the floor, creating the sensation that you are living on top of a giant, apartment-shaped frying pan. Which is just well as I hear Korea's winters get very cold and drag on quite a bit. Bring on the those -10ÂșC nights, winter, I'm ready.

Another thing that is rather nifty about the place is that it has no key. No living in the past in Seoul. Key? Ho, ho, dear child, you might as well dry your clothes with a mangle. Instead, you enter the apartment by typing a password into a number pad which flashes and beeps upon verification like something out of "Robocop". The real test of the actual value of this will be whether I can remember the password after a bottle of soju late some night soon. Robocop, of course, wouldn't need a password - he'd just kick down the door with his steel size 13s.

Anyway.

One thing that is very easy to under-appreciate about Ireland is just how much space there is. Wide, open, uncluttered, God-given
room. Even in Dublin -- which in my memory increasingly seems like a quaint village in comparison to Seoul -- a park rarely seems to be more than a short walk away. And people live in houses. Houses with a dozen rooms and back gardens.

Now you may think that living in a house is a given, a matter of course. It's not. In fact, the degree to which Irish people feel entitled to a four-bedroom semi-d is a fairly isolated
phenomenon globally.

Practically no one, bar the exceedingly wealthy, lives in a house in Seoul. There is no space. Costs are enormous for what meagre
accommodation is on offer. A modest apartment typically costs, relative to the average wage here, a small fortune. This, along with a host of cultural factors, explains why just about everybody in Korea lives with their parents until they are married.

But my small, empty apartment comes as a relief. I can look out on the lights of Seoul from my window and feel that I have something to ground me here for the time being - a modicum of stability in a strange jungle of a city. Oh, and I forgot to mention. My TV -- a vessel for broadcasting of indecipherable, utter lunacy -- is a good six inches bigger too.

Who needs a bed?

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