Elwood 5566

Bone Dry -The Problems of Ondol

Posted in Health care, seasons by 노강호 on December 6, 2010

prevention is better than cure

Acclimatising  is a long process and often foreigners who come to live on the peninsula are plagued with a series of illness as viruses and bacteria take advantage of human immune systems not optimized to operate in Korea. And in the process, especially if it is winter, your skin is ruined. In my first year in Korea I seemed to lurch from one illness to another and certainly for the first few months felt run-down. Of course, people suffer to differing degrees and a few escape it all together.

one of many brands of callous remover

Winter wreaks havoc with the skin. Ondol heating is great but it causes many problems one of the most prolific is drying the skin on the feet which means those with lots of hard skin need to be particularly careful. Pharmacists stock a number of foot creams specifically aimed at dry skin and there is also a small mains operated callous remover that can be purchased in places like Home Plus. Preempting a cracked heel is essential and a good soaking, for example in a bathhouse on a regular basis, followed by chastising  the skin with a pumice stone (available in E-Mart) is prudent. I avoid using the large stones in bathhouses for this purpose as the force you exert with your leg can actually force open a weak spot. on your heel or sole.  It’s amazing how quickly rough skin will ruin a sock. I also use very sandpaper and a small wooden block simply because you can use this more vigorously than one of those small plastic handled things you buy and which break the moment you apply any force.

humidifiers (사습기), I find them quite therapeutic

The dry air also irritates the nose and lips so lip balm is a necessity as is Vaseline. I even put a little Vaseline in my nose when I feel the air the uncomfortably dry. Everyone’s body is different and affected by a range of factors such as age and even ethnicity. For example, the dry cold wind always makes my forehead dry so I keep a bottle of skin lotion on hand for whenever required. Investing in a humidifier (가습기) for your accommodation is a benefit and in a store like E-Mart or Home Plus, the range is extensive with prices from 40.000 Won (£20) to those in excess of 140000 Won (£70). Placing a container of water on the floor, if you use the ondol extensively, can also help put moisture into the air. Another useful accessory are the small canisters of skin spray, probably predominantly water based, which you can buy in a pharmacist. I haven’t used these as yet and only borrowed a squirt from colleagues at work.

the designs are extensive

Personally, I try to minimise the use of the ondol as I often find it uncomfortable and so putting it on when I am either in bed, or setting it to turn on and then off in the period I am out, reduces the amount of contact between that warm floor and my feet.  It may sound as if I have psychological condition in respect to this effective means of heating,  I have learnt it is much better to avoid such minor problems than wait for them to occur.

and the prices vary

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.


Orion Reminds Me – Friday 15th of December, 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on December 15, 2000

I went for a meal with U-chun this week. She speaks fairly good English. On both occasions we went to a North Korean restaurant which is beyond my taekwon do school and on the last block of buildings before the main road which leads down towards Kemyoung University. Both times we ate kalbitang, which is a beef ribs in a broth along with a side dish of ray fish in a sweet and sour sauce. I am going to give her daughter lessons next weekend.

On Friday, several of the boys in my classes had crying fits – it’s always the boys! A couple of boys had been misbehaving and I was getting stressed out. Next moment a boy called Tom, who is usually very well behaved, wouldn’t sit where I told him and I was beginning to lose my temper just as Mr Lee, the vice principal walked passed. I was so stressed I called him in and though he doesn’t speak very good English, I tried to explain the problem. Well, I expected him to just tell Tom off but instead he took him away. Half an hour later he brings him back. The boy is only ten and he was sobbing uncontrollably. He sat sobbing for the whole lesson. I tried saying sorry but I couldn’t really explain my regret to him. I think he was made to do some kind of exercises, like press-ups or standing with his arms extended until he broke down. I felt very guilty.

When the bell sounded, I went to my preparation desk behind reception and in front of Jo’s office and another boy is sat crying. I don’t teach this boy and he doesn’t have an English name but he is a character who is always grinning and gets on well with all the teachers. Every day he comes up to me, bows, and says hello in English. He was still crying twenty minutes later so I went to a vending machine and bought him some sweets. In what was supposed to have been a free period for planning, I was summoned to teach a class of Nanas. Jo has taken him to Letterland and as usual, nobody was informed. Mr Song, not realising he was on a trip with Jo, even drove to our house to see if he was at home.

On Saturday (16th Dec) morning Pauline called for me and asked if I wanted to go to the city center. I was just finishing my new stretching routine which I have adopted to try and repair my hamstring. We took a taxi to the town center where we discovered an army of riot police as there was some kind of demonstration in one of the squares. It was all very ordered with the protesters sat in straight lines on the ground. A troop of riot police passed us, wearing white tin helmets, grey uniforms and white gloves; they marched in two file rank columns – holding hands. We spent several hours in walking around an area known as Ex Milano which is fairly up market with some very luxurious apartment stores. In this area, which includes a chic street of women’s clothing, called Foxy Street, are shops selling brand names such as Nike, Puma, Ellersee, Rebok and so forth. Tired and knackered, we took a taxi back to Song-so and did some shopping at the E Mart, a large superstore near my house. Here I bought a humidifier, something I’ve never seen in the UK. There was a whole section of them puffing out refreshingly moist air. I have no idea how they work as when you turn them on the instantly begin puffing out clouds of cool moist vapours. Then I bought a Korean childrens book, ‘Snow White’ which translates as ‘Baeksil Gongju.’ I also bought a Korean-English dictionary (note – there was nothing online in 2000 and teachers didn’t have internet connections in their house) and discovered the word for clearing your nose. The word is ‘heng heng’ and it is a sound one hears constantly around backstreets where men snort their nose up into the gutter.

On Monday, the temperature suddenly dropped to minus 5 and it is now freezing cold. I sat in the internet cafe wearing two pairs of trousers and four shirts as I am desperately trying to keep the cold out of my muscles. As soon as Nana got back from Andong, where he goes every weekend, he turned the heating up to 80 degrees; the thermostat is in his bedroom. I don’t mind the heat but the heating system totally removes the slightest moisture from the air so I was glad I had bought the humidifier.

I didn’t go to taekwondo classes this week but I have been following a stretching plan and I think my leg is almost ready to work on but I am going to take it very easy. There are rumours going around Di Dim Dol that I am working in the Letterland School next week, when the winter holiday starts. I’ve also heard that Nana and I have a week off but of course Jo doesn’t tell us anything. On Thursday, Will, a young Sweedish student from Kemyoung University arrived to discuss his teaching hours. Of course, Jo wasn’t in the school when he arrived.  He kept him waiting for two hours before he arrived. On Saturday, he was supposed to take Pauline to the Alien Registration Office, down town but he never turned up for that either and ruined her Saturday morning. Also, in the week he telephoned the two Korean-English teachers, Gloria and Angela telling them to come and meet him over in Yon San Dong, but when they arrived there he had left the school early. I don’t know if it is typical of Korean bosses, or just Jo, but he really thinks he owns you and thinks nothing of inconveniencing you in your own time.

I had a couple of bad classes at Di Dim Dol this week., in fact in one of them I just walked out and told them ‘I wasn’t going to fucking well teach them.’ Twice I have arrived at a class to find it full of students I don’t know and who span the entire ability range. When I ask what has happened to my class I’m told my class list has changed and then told to, ‘just talk to them.’ This is the worst scenario for a teacher as you completely lose control of the lesson, more so when you don’t speak their language.

On Friday, U-chun and I met for lunch and ate bibimbap at a restaurant not far from the school. I had to sit on the floor which is getting easier. On Friday evening Ryo Hyu-sun called for me. He runs a reflexology practice next door to my flat. We drove into the centre of town and had a meal, the usual barbecued meat called bulgogi. I had to sit cross legged on the floor with my legs stretched out in front of me and straddling the barbecue that hangs down from the centre of the table. The problem is that my legs are just too long to go under the tables even though I can now sit for a limit period of time in the correct position. I felt really uncomfortable and and in need of a good fart. Hyo-sun and I spent most of our time with heads buried in respective dictionaries and both of us carry little note books for learning important words. In the west you’d probably assume him to be gay as he is very gentle and always impeccably dressed in a casual manner. At his practise, he usually wears the traditional informal hanbok which is a sort of loose fitting karate suite in a light brown colour with darker brown edges. He is always very feely-touchy and at one point massaged my big toe to make sure the gout was going away. Then he massaged my hamstring when my legs started to ache a little from the uncomfortable sitting position. However, things were spoilt when his girlfriend arrived just after we’d eaten. She ordered a coke a ignored me – perhaps she was shy. Thankfully, she fucked off after I’d paid the bill and I’m sort of hoping that she is more of an accessory than a real girlfriend – but that is wishful thinking.

After the meal my legs were so stiff I could hardly move them. I feel as though my legs are constantly repairing themselves only to be re-broken. We took Hyo-sun’s car, a new people carrier, to U-bang Park close to U-bang tower. This is right in the centre of Daegu. The top of U-bang tower has a restaurant in the form of a flying saucer similar to the tower in Seattle.

In the park we found a cafe, had a coffee and went for a walk. It was a beautiful evening and we didn’t really need coats as the temperature has been warm most of the week. This was the first time since I had arrived in South Korea that I was able to get a good view of the night sky. Orion was almost at the centre of the sky, I recognised it immediately. In Britain at this time of year this constellation sits on the edge of the sky and is very prominent, here it is much smaller, almost insignificant. On the edge of the park, and silhouetted against the sky was the Daegu Opera House. Next, we took the car to a place in the park where two large trees had been decorated with hundreds of tiny white lights. We took several photos and then drove on to the park’s lake, by now it was almost one in the morning. The lake was beautiful with large black hills rising up on the opposite bank and the silhouette of barren trees edged the panorama. High in the sky, almost above our heads shone a tiny half-moon whose reflection was mirrored in the dark water. We took photos of the lake from a small oriental, humped bridge which led to a small temple which was lit from the ground by lights. The stark light emphasized the typical colours that Korean temples are decorated in, a broad spectrum of colours ranging from light to dark blue, here and there splashes of red and yellow and set against a predominantly matt duck egg blue. The mountains, sky, lake and temple created in me a heightened sense of reality that suddenly reminded me that I was thousands of miles away from home, in Korea. During my stay in Korea there are times when I was memorably reminded that I am in a country and culture I had never expected to visit.


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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.
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