With holidays over for the time being, I started a new project out near Yangji -a small town that’s a mere thirty minutes away from Yongin, as opposed to over three hours for the farm near Hwaseong. The work is a bit different from that which I’ve been accustomed to – my primary mission is to help with the construction of luxury houses, with some English conversation practice in the evenings. Although this is a significant departure from my usual organic farming and sustainability campaigning, I’m learning valuable (transferable) skills and, given the dearth of appealing work for foreigners, am inclined to take what’s available (not to mention the excellent conditions – I get good vegetarian food and a bed!).
As I am by no stretch of the imagination a skilled builder, most of my work involves assistance to others or cleaning the site up. I have so far constructed an enormous pile of scrap wood (which will undoubtedly be set on fire at some point in the near future, scorching the paint off nearby cars), rescued a frog from certain death in said pile, helped attach concrete fibre sidings to two houses, bashed expanding bolts into a concrete foundation and trimmed some levelling wedges. I really am learning quite a lot about construction, though there doesn’t seem to be much of a safety culture out here. I made a point of putting the nailgun safety catch (a simple piece of metal moved behind the trigger) on every time I used it, as it had gone off accidentally a few times when I was nearby. When I came into work the following day, the safety catch had been taped into the “off” position, an action that I still can’t really comprehend.
One thing I was especially interested to see was the installation of the ondol system – Korean underfloor heating (similar to a Roman hypocaust for all you Western-educated readers) which is delightful in the harsh winters. A thick layer of polystyrene is put down on a concrete base, followed by a criss-cross of thin metal wires. A network of pipes is then put on top, and they are attached to the wires to help distribute the weight. On top of the pipes goes a plastic weave sheet, and then concrete is poured on to make the floor. Hot water is then pumped through the pipes to heat the floor; the system is apparently inspired by Chinese medicine (the head is cool, but the feet are warm). The guys doing the concrete had some nifty specialised footwear, consisting of tie-on spikes for moving in wet concrete and padded snowshoes for walking on not-quite-set.
I arrived in Yongin at a refreshingly early hour due to my new proximity, and made plans with Amy for what ended up being a full and productive weekend. I finally suffered to buy some new clothes to replace my travel-worn ones, heading straight to the market to pick up some more cargo trousers and a rather funny top which Amy got for me (look out for a photo later on). We also collected a new house for Roger (to make him more comfortable in the winter) – a padded and covered bed intended for a small dog which he’s really taken to (look out for a photo of this too). We made calzone (small folded-over pizzas, aka pasties), watched a decent film called Cheonhajangsa Madonna (English title: Like a Virgin), about a transsexual schoolboy who takes up Ssireum (Korean wrestling; a bit like Sumo), and then hit Itaewon for some music and drinks. Sunday was quieter, but included a frisbee throw-about on the sports pitch at Amy’s college, Mexican food in Gangnam, meeting Dan fresh (wilted?) off the plane from England and a half-game of The Game of Life where everyone except me ended up as same-sex couples due to lack of pieces.