House constructionAfter the upper floor was more of less complete, we made a start on the roof – this involved, as pessimistically expected, heaving fourteen-foot planks of Canadian pine up onto the first floor and onto the ceiling (later to be loft space) from there. Wood sheathing followed, and an elegant system of interlocking gradients emerged as the frame was gradually covered. From our vantage point, we could see some locals toiling away in the sweet potato field next door and the house owner brought some rice cakes for them when he came for an inspection (he also took away a box of sweet potatoes, though he may have paid for them). These inspections are usually a daily occurrence, and provide a welcome break and even more welcome snack food (we also get things like ice creams and vitamin drinks from various subcontractors, as competition is stiff and dealers are eager to keep customers happy – sometimes people we don’t buy from come round with edibles in the hope of stealing some business away from a competitor too), though it’s often meat. Once I’d explained that vegetarians don’t eat fish or squid, and stood my ground in the face of unassailable logic (“meat is good for health!”), it became something of a snack-break ritual to try and get me to eat whatever the owner brought. Today, however, the tables were turned as he drove up with some kimchi mandu (steamed dumplings with meat-free kimchi filling) and red bean rice cakes.

T-BoneOne rather interesting thing that happened during the course of the week was the water hook-up. There’s no mains water (and presumably no mains sewage) out here in the countryside, so a well driller has to be hired at astronomical cost and a hole bored down to groundwater (around 100 metres). The driller is a neat machine that fits on the back of a five-ton truck and uses extendible legs to raise itself high enough for the truck to drive out, whereupon it lowers itself to the ground and awaits the return of the truck with a whopping great generator to power it. The best part of a day was spent drilling through various layers of rock, with intermittent floods as new lengths of pipe were fitted, and the house now has access to all that percolated sewage sitting underground (see lack of mains drainage, above).

We had scheduled a visit to the jjimjilbang on Friday, and, full of Amy’s delicious spiced new potatoes, drove out to where it used to be before it closed (which, obviously, we hadn’t heard about). A couple of phone calls later, we’d located another one and with the loss of only fifteen minutes or so were sweating it out in a hot-room. As has been mentioned before, these places double as cheap (and noisy) hotels, but it was the first time I’d seen people crashed out in the middle of the floor, snoring loudly as other patrons picked their way around them. The usual bunches of kids were running around, and foreigners were an attraction not to be passed up – as we sat in some percussive massage chairs (possibly converted meat tenderisers), a small child spotted Dan and exclaimed loudly, “Chinese person!”. We set them straight, causing the outspoken one to hide behind a larger child, and they tracked us down in the sauna later on to apologise.

The following afternoon, still squeaky-clean and fluffy-haired, we went out to Yangji for the house blessing ceremony. The outer frame was complete, and it’s traditional in Korea to invite friends and locals to a small gathering with plenty of food, drink and representational items. Most important is a pig’s head, which represents good fortune. It definitely does for the workers, as well-wishers put envelopes containing money into the pig’s mouth (after drinking some rice wine and bowing) and this is distributed amongst the people who built the place. There is also a placard with Chinese characters detailing the particulars of construction, a dried fish (I’m not sure what this represents) and some thread (long life). The fish is tied to the placard with the thread, and everything is then permanently nailed to the apex of the roof. The pig’s head is carved up and eaten along with traditional rice cake.

In the evening, we went into Seoul for a combination Halloween and birthday party (the birthday being Amy’s friend Bree’s) – costumes were mandatory, and while Amy stepped out as a stern Supernanny I grabbed my work clothes and went as a generic labourer (with some mascara applied to look like oil smears). The relative obscurity of her costume and the relative ordinariness of mine gave ample opportunity to invent new ones on the spot, such as librarian and photocopier repair man (the oil became toner), and regular (i.e. not super) English nanny and chimney sweep. We saw all manner of costume – some brilliant, others less so (highlights: kimbab, convincing alien, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Mystique, Lego Man; lowlights: cats, devil girls, dominatrices), and returned to Yongin the following morning in time for a lunch date at Mr. Jang’s house with Sunny’s family. Much food was eaten, bubbles were blown, recorders were played and we discovered that what we thought were hummingbirds are actually a type of moth. When we got back, we made cookies!