At Home


Text: The word "Home-fice-tel," a recent addition to the Korean language, is a combination of Home, Office, and Hotel. We lived in a second-floor apartment with one large living/sleeping/eating area, a kitchen that was barely big enough for one person, and a dimly-lit bathroom with a drain in the floor and a shower hose attached to the sink. In our first week there we bought a rice cooker which we named Lucky. We ate all our meals sitting on the floor Korean-style. Our building was in a section of town called Ssang Yong, which means "Twin Dragons." We were right on the edge of town, with a small mountain called Bong So San just a couple of blocks away.


Pens: Zig Writer ocean, Zig Scroll and Brush antique burgundy, Micron black (01, 05)

The "At Home" title was cut out of paper with a craft knife, from a "font" (for lack of a better word) that I found in a calligraphy book. The green border was my own design--I pieced it together because none of the paper that I had at that point was big enough.


Korea is a fascinating blend of the old and the new. There are people who still live the way they did fifty years ago and there are people who live in expensive, modern apartment buildings. In the traditional style of house (which you can still see out in the country and in older city homes) there is an enclosed courtyard with a few buildings inside. The buildings are raised up off the ground and have wooden porch ledges running along the outside. As you step up onto the ledge you step out of your shoes. The courtyard is used for washing and for other kinds of work. The houses are raised up because the heating system goes under the floor. I think originally this was just done with fires, but now they use hot water in pipes.

This idea of the courtyard has turned into the tiled porch areas which you see in modern houses. Many people now live in high-rise apartment buildings, so they of course don't have yards, but the tiled porch with the drain in the floor takes on the role of the courtyard area. They generally house washing machines and drying racks, and are also used for storage. When you go into the porch you step into plastic flip-flops. The porch is on the balcony and is separated from the rest of the apartment by sliding doors. The porch itself is frequently glassed in with big sliding windows, but may be open to the air. The bathroom also functions as an "outside" area (though it isn't outside) and also has a drain in the floor. When you go into the bathroom you step into rubber flip-flops. At first I thought that these were to keep your feet dry (since the floor is almost always wet) but then came to realize that they are actually to keep you from tracking bathroom-floor scum into the rest of the house (the difference is subtle but significant).

The separation of shoe areas and non-shoe areas is sharply defined. When you go to someone's house there is an area immediately inside the door (the shoe pit) where you take off your shoes, and then step up onto the floor which is raised slightly (again for the heating pipes underneath). Most houses have a layer of soft vinyl (like a thin cushion) over the floor. This is always recognized as a non-shoe surface, even outside of houses. In the school where we taught, there was one room that was floored in that material, and the kids always took their shoes off before going into that room. Once when I was playing jacks with a student in another classroom, she got some scrap paper and laid it out on the floor for us to sit on, and then told me to take my shoes off before I sat on the paper. When Koreans go on picnics they will take along a ground cover of some sort and take their shoes off when they sit on it and eat (or you can sit on the edge with your feet hanging off).

Shoes are always left in the shoe pit or the porch and never brought into the non-shoe areas. You become adept at stepping from "inside" into your shoes without letting your feet touch the ground "outside."