CONTRIBUTED BY SIBO LUNGU
-6 C and windy, but feels like -14 degrees, said my phone last week. Getting out of bed was going to be a challenge, and this new soft mink blanket wasn’t helping at all!
I moved to Korea this last July when it was hot and humid so I can’t claim to know everything about winter here, but I do have a few ideas about what’s working so far and what isn’t.
For those of us living off base, upon move-in your realtor probably showed you the control pad that turns on and off the heat. If you are like us and moved into during the hot and sticky summer, you probably barely paid attention to it because it was hot at the time; or the instructions were in Korean and learning about an appliance you wouldn’t be using anytime soon was information overload. “We’ll figure it out when the time comes,” was our attitude.
But soon enough, fall ended and it was freezing at night so we had to tinker with the control pad. We did eventually figure it out, and it does warm up the house reasonably well. I must say, I was skeptical at first as we waited for hours touching the bare floor every few minutes to check if it was working.
Most Korean houses use a floor heating system called ondal. It is basically gas heated hot water that runs through pipes under the floor. How it would heat the air above the floor in our 2000+ sq. ft. house was beyond me! I started making preparations to begin sleeping on the floor if that’s how this winter was going to play out.
Because most energy is imported, gas and electric are on the expensive side in Korea. If you talk to most people living off base, you will hear that utilities are their biggest expense. Electric costs are high, and gas – while lower – can still be high depending on how much you cook and how much you use your ondal heating.
In an effort to keep toasty but not break the bank, here are a few tips to survive this winter. I can still feel my toes, so it seems to be working!
- Turn on the ondal heat
This floor heating system takes some getting used to, but if you use it for a couple of hours then turn it off, it should heat up the house. Ask your landlord for the recommended setting to avoid getting a heart attack when the gas bill arrives.
- Buy the cozy imitation mink or microfiber blankets from outside the Osan main gate
These are a lifesaver. I have two to insulate the bed and sandwich us in, and one for the couch. Beware: they make getting out of bed on those cold mornings very difficult! There are many shops that sell these blankets. They come in a variety of colors and some have NLF logos. Costs vary from $20 – $40. Always negotiate!
(Editor’s Note: My husband’s cousin was stationed in Korea in 2005; when she returned stateside she brought home imitation mink blankets for all her family members. Ours has moved with us from duty station to duty station since then, and it has a permanent place on our bed in the winter months. One set of movers appropriately labeled it “Cat Blanket” when packing it for us because it’s my feline friends’ favorite place to sleep, hazard as that may be for my legs.)
- Take it a step further and buy clothes made of thick blankets
My hubby finally gave in this last week and we bought a robe made from the blanket. It’s huge and heavy, but so warm! It’s a great buy for big and tall guys who can’t fit warm fleece pajamas around town. Cost $40 (negotiable).
- Buy furry footwear
Yes, the floor gets warm, but you need something to keep warm while the heat kicks in. And they are just fun to wear! Cost $10 (negotiable).
And to be more specific, bake. Turning on the gas oven, will help heat up the place and make it smell divine! I don’t know about anyone else, but cold weather gives me the munchies, so having something yummy on the kitchen table is always wonderful. And you knock out two in one. When I bake, I don’t use the floor heat. (But please DON’T use the oven solely to heat your house. That’s a fire hazard in the making!)
- Cozy up to a furry friend
We don’t have pets but my neighbor does and she snuggles with her furry baby to keep warm. But of course if you decide to get a furry friend for winter, remember that he or she will still be around and need love in the summer too! Homeward Bound is an animal shelter and organization serving Osan AB and Camp Humphries that often has furry pals up for adoption or fostering.
- Buy an electric blanket
The BX has some electric blankets, but if you just cannot wait, then GMarket, a Korean website that sells everything and anything, has them too. I just discovered the website thanks to a friend and I am hooked because you can have items shipped free to your off-base doorstep in two days!
- Do not get an electric heater
Ok, maybe do not is harsh if you have one and it works for you, but as mentioned, electricity costs a lot in Korea so be aware of what kind of heater you buy and how much power it takes. The electric bill may shock you. You are better off using floor heat because gas is cheaper than electric.
- Last but not least, do get out of bed
As I said, I‘ve not made it through a Korean winter before, but I did live in Alaska for many years and I know that cabin fever is real! It doesn’t seem to get too dark here, but many of us here are mostly at home during the day and winter conditions make it harder to want to get out.
Bundle up, layer up, and head out even if it’s just for a coffee with friends at the many cafes in town. There are also many activities to be enjoyed in the winter even if you are not a snow person: The malls, the movie theatres and museums are just a few great places to keep toasty, have fun and not just survive, but enjoy the winter in Korea.