Monday, January 12, 2009

Korean Technology Update: Going Old-School

It's been a while since we suffered a technological meltdown over here, so really, we should have expected this. We've blogged before about ondol, the Korean system of heating apartments by running hot water pipes through the floors. When working, ondol is a beautiful, beautiful thing, far superior to Western forced-air heat that dries out your skin and blows all duct-dust into your lungs. (Side note: try saying "duct-dust" three times fast, and leave me a comment if you actually succeed).

But there is a dark side to ondol. Last spring, in our old apartment, our ondol just decided to turn on and stay on, thereby resulting in apartment temperatures in the mid 80s. We called up the building ajeosshis ("old dudes"), who honestly don't have a clue what's going on. I sort of don't blame them personally - I suspect many of them grew up without electricity and therefore cannot be expected to be able to fix digital floor-heating interfaces - but it's really frustrating how they show up, mash buttons, and then leave as if it's fixed without actually fixing anything. I mean, I can do that.

Anyhow, last year, the verdict (eventually) was that there was some kind of piping problem and that, in defiance of all Western rental custom, the tenant would be responsible for fixing it if we wanted it fixed. Since we were moving in two months, and it was April and we didn't need heat, we decided to cut off water flow to the ondol manually and leave it for the next tenants, who presumeably could argue better.

This year, the ondol has bitten us again: since activating the ondol, we have been unable to get any hot water in the bathrooms. It's not that it's impossible - our coworkers in the same complex have both floor heat and bathroom hot water - it's just that something's wrong and we don't have the clout or linguistic skills to fix it. We've had two ajeosshis over so far and gotten nothing more than the hiss of death (a sharp intake of breath accompanied by a head cock that in Korea indicates that you are SOL).

We do, however, have hot water in the kitchen sink. So last night, tired of lukewarmity and tepitude, I decided to kick it old school, a la Farmer Boy, and manually schlep pots of water from the kitchen to the bathtub. It took about fifteen minutes, but you know what? It worked. Not that I want to do it again, although I'll probably have to.

Send us positive technology vibes as we work to get this fixed, or at least not get billed for it.

PS. While wondering about the likelihood of the ajeosshis growing up without electricity, I stumbled up on this paper on the history of electricity in Korea. The Internet is a mighty place.

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