So, you’ve secured a job in Korea (or you’re considering, or commiserating) and you’re wondering what a Korean apartment looks like. Let me take you on a journey to your blurry-eyed, jet-lagged arrival in Korea and answer some questions every foreigner has about their new abode.
There is a huge variety of apartments in Korea- on one end of the spectrum, the uber-Western style complete with bathtub, and on the other- the kind where you have to cook on top of your washing machine. Since we all know what a Western apartment looks like, I’m going to focus on the most Korean of the Korean.
Question 1: Where’s my washing machine?
No one can really ever be sure. Chances are it’s stashed somewhere around the house- under the kitchen sink, in a secret pantry, outside on a balcony (where it will randomly spurt washing water on your floor like a naughty puppy) or even in the bathroom.
Once you’ve found it, you may be equally unaware of what it does. Internet translation of laundry settings can lead to hilarity. One of mine was translated as “it cries in a cage.” I don’t think even my treacherous socks deserve that setting.
Unless you’re a foreigner lucky enough to have a built-in dryer in your washing machine (a mythical machine never seen by the human eye), then you’re going to have to hang out your clothes on that torture device-esque metal contraption. Get ready to enjoy the just-washed-crispy feeling! Mmmm… My t-shirt feels like Pringles.
Question 2: Why’s my bathroom all wet?
Also known as, where’s the shower? Bad news, if you can see the sink, you’re looking at it. Most sinks in Korea double as showers. When you’re done brushing your teeth and you’re ready to take a shower, just flip a switch. You don’t even have to move over!
Aside from the luxury of lethargy, you don’t even need a maid. Every time you take a shower, you’ll clean your bathroom. Nothing wrong with that. Unless you’re not a fan of having a wet butt, in which case I recommend all readers learn to TCB before taking a shower. If you’re the unfortunate creature to wander into the bathroom after someone’s shower, be sure to use those little slippers or you’ll end up with a wet and sore butt.
Question 3: What’s a pyeong?
A pyeong is the Korean version of the tatami mat. It’s a seemingly arbitrary measurement used for the size of an apartment. One pyeong is about 3 square meters or 4 square yards. It’s supposed to be about the size of one man lying with his arms out Leonardo da Vinci style (dude loved to make snow angels.)
Interestingly, the pyeong is supposed to have died in 2007. Rumor (Wikipedia) has it that the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy ruled that Koreans need to switch over to meters. Well, here it is 2010 and the proud pyeong, like the beleaguered Fahrenheit, lives on in the heart of its country... and all over your apartment bill.
Chances are, most of you are living in an Officetel. If so, you pay a service fee by the pyeong- and not only the pyeong in your apartment, but the elevator, hallways, maybe the mail room. If your apartment’s pretty swishy, your pyeong could be inflated by as much as 65%. And you get to pay extra for all of that non-existent area! Sleep in the elevator once a week to make sure you get your money’s worth.
Question 4: How the crap do I cook in here?
Ah, so you’ve seen the stove. And I’m guessing no oven. Access to an oven, like the freshman with a car in college, is worth being pretend friends for.
Unless you’ve won the cooking lottery, chances are your kitchen is small and ill-equipped for the meals you had in mind. Maybe, like my apartment, you have two burners on your stove but they’re too close together to use at the same time. Or, maybe you have no counter space to put your cutting board on.
Whatever you’ve got, it’s time to get creative. That rice cooker your school thought you couldn’t live without (that’s collecting dust under the sink)? Whip it out and use it to steam your vegetables, boil your pasta, or slow-cook your stew.
Then, purchase a toaster oven. A 40,000 won one from Yongsan station can do just about anything a bigger oven can- including baking chicken or cookies.
Worst comes to worst, there’s always delivery.
Question 5: Ummm, garbage?
General rule: follow what other people do, and if all else fails, play the foreigner card.
First of all, you need to buy trash bags. Ask at the local supermarket or mini mart. As a rule, white bags are for garbage, yellow is for food trash. No, not the stuff that food is packed in, the actual food. Korea is better than your home country because there is a program to collect food and compost it/feed it to nursing homes/actually I dunno what they do with it. Regardless, you have to collect your scraps in a small bin in your kitchen and try not to let them fester too long.
Anyway, yup, the garbage has to be taken out. Don’t hold out hope for a chute- there won’t be one. You have to lug it yourself to, uhm… one of these options.
Maybe you have one trash day a week where people throw everything they have into the parking lot of your building. Or, your ritzy apartment has a trash room (probably near the parking garage) where you can dump trash all week long. Or, if you live in a villa, the “system” may be leaving it next to a tree. Once again, copy a nearby Korean.
And there you go. You are now an expert on Korean apartments. For more, try 5 Things Noobs Ought to Know (part 1, part 2 is on it's way!)