Turning Korean


Lately I’ve been singing this song in my head.

Hugely popular in the early MTV days, I heard the quintessential oriental chinky chink riff a lot and it was all in good fun and inspired instant pogo dancing.

But now that I’ve spent a month in my Korean apartment with no furniture, I’m beginning to think I’m turning Korean.  But Korean doesn’t fit in the song because of the syllable stress…

Something about being floor bound is changing my relationship with buildings.  If it’s even possible for this 4′-10 1/2″ person to feel smaller, I do.  And my 6′-0″ tall ceilings somehow seem like 8′-0″ tall ceilings as a result of being way way down here on the floor.

The inability to sit anywhere with legs dangling or at 90 degrees is forcing my body to fold up on itself, and vertical is such an effort that our natural inclination to economize movement forces one to choose to stay low and crawl to reach things.  I find myself squatting more and also reclining more.

I can’t remember what exact incident it was when I realized I must look like an adjumma, the particular way I was crouched, and then cracking up at my own image.  And my constant shedding is really a problem, because when you live at floor level, anything littering up the floor starts to bother you – a lot!

I can’t, honestly, say I’m enjoying it that much.  Sustaining crossed legs or switching extending one leg or having one knee up gets to be tiresome.  In my little Japanese upholstered half seat, it’s initially a relief to sit on something soft and lean back upon something that isn’t rigidly perpendicular, but even that requires a constant shifting of legs.  And then I slide.  And then I’m reclining again.  And then I’m sleeping.

From a motor/locomotion perspective, removing the subtleties of the range of movement that a body on two differently jointed legs makes, with all their pivot points, vs. a body resting on two seat bones, I suddenly feel like a weeble, whose major movement is wobbling from left cheek to right cheek.  Movement is like that of a sumo wrestler.  Arms provide relief by redistributing weight to hands on thighs or floor, also in movement like a sumo wrestler. (see the first few minutes of this video to know what I’m talking about!)

Forget about keeping your knees and ankles together daintily.  You need your hanbok skirt to cover up your vessel.  You also need a gravity inversion table to give your poor spine a stretch in another direction.

I can live like this for a little while, but I definitely need some furniture soon.  The problem with furniture is it kills the multi-functionality of a room, and Koreans traditionally lived in just one room with a separate kitchen.  The mattress folds up and gets put on a shelf or in a chest.  The dinner table folds up and goes on a shelf.  the seat cushions come out when the table comes out.  Today Korean apartments are much more like western homes, with a room for each member of the family if they can afford it.

Interestingly, the only people I’ve seen living like this are the people I replaced when looking at this apartment.  Most homes I’ve been in (granted I haven’t been in many) are fully western furnished.  People have beds, tables, chairs, and couches.  One time I asked someone if they slept on the floor and they were clearly offended, though floor mattresses are still easily obtainable for purchase , so I’m guessing that living close to the ground has low class connotations.  Or maybe it’s just Koreans have learned to like stretching their legs and backs.  Maybe it’s not only the improved diet, but also the western furniture which is making Koreans taller…

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One thought on “Turning Korean

  1. The Westernization of Korean culture does concern me…and I wonder what’s going to happen to certain values as Korea moves away from traditional ones.

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