Saturday, September 27, 2008

하숙집 생활

I wanted to experience something different in Seoul, something like a more frugal lifestyle. So in my application form to the Institute of International Education (IIE), I indicated that I wish to be accommodated at a boarding house (하숙, 下宿) or "Hasuk". In response to my request, the IIE's course co-ordinator provided me with the following information about Hasuk.

"하숙집은 보통 학교 정문 근처에 있고 1인실이고 한달에 45~50만원 정도예요. 3주도 똑같다고 해요. 아침, 저녁 식사를 제공하고요. 하숙집은 욕실을 공동으로 써야 하는 불편한 점이 있어요. 에어컨도 없다고 해요. 인터넷은 2만원을 내면 사용할 수 있다고 해요." (Boarding houses are normally located near the main gate of the university and the monthly rental for a single room is about KRW450,000 to 500,000. The monthly rate is also applicable to 3-weeks stay. Breakfast and dinner are provided. One of the inconveniences of living in Hasuk is that the toilet is shared. There is also no air-con. Internet is available with an extra KRW 20,000.)

Once I confirmed my option to go with Hasuk, the course co-ordinator went ahead to reserve a room on my behalf. I was then provided with a telephone number to call upon my arrival. On the actual day, with my luggage in tow, I made my way to the main gate of KHU. From there, I gave the Hasuk's Ajumeoni (아주머니) a call and within 15 minutes, she arrived. She led me to my Hasuk which was about 5 minutes walk away. My Hasuk is located much closer to KHU than the rest of the dormitories. Close proximity to school is one of the advantages of living in a Hasuk. I could leave my Hasuk at 8:45am but yet reach my classroom at IIE building before class starts at 9:00am. Travelling time was absolutely minimal.

1. The red-brick building is my Hasuk. It has 2 levels plus a rooftop. I lived on level 2. To get in and out of my Hasuk, I have to go through 2 doors with a very tight gap in between. The dark green outer door opens inward while the inner door (building's door) opens outward. I have to be "sandwiched" in between these two doors every time I moved in or out. One night, I got a shock when I pushed open the outer door to get into my Hasuk. The door hit something. I wasn't expecting anything to be behind it. It turned out that there was a dog resting in between the two doors. It took me some time to shoo away the dog before I could enter. By the way, the two doors are never locked. Potentially, anyone can enter the Hasuk without any restraint.

2. After entering my Hasuk, there is a flight of stairs I need to climb to get to level 2. The staircase is not very wide - good enough for only one person to move up or down at any one time. I made a mental note that if there is any emergency, it will probably be safer for me to jump out of the window. Also the staircase light does not come on automatically at night. The light switch is at level 2. So unless someone switched it on, I would come back to a pitch-dark staircase and had to feel my way up to level 2. Fortunately, I am not a person who is afraid of darkness.

3. At level 2, there are 5 rooms, 2 toilets and 1 pantry. Like the staircase, the corridor light does not come on automatically at night. Of the 2 toilets, one is bigger than the other and this bigger toilet houses a fully-automated washing machine. The pantry has basic cooking facility, a fridge and a drinking water dispenser which dispenses both cold and warm water. If there is anything I like about my Hasuk, it has to be this water dispenser.

4. I like going up to the rooftop although the place is quite messy and dirty. I seldom have this opportunity to look out from a rooftop, so when I was given this opportunity, I made full use of it. From the rooftop, I have quite a good view of the buildings and streets around Kyunghee. I also like to take sunset pictures from it. Last but not least, the rooftop has one functional use - it is where I can hang up my cloth to dry under the sun.

I handed over a sum of KRW470,000 to my Hasuk's Ajumeoni on the first day. For the next 22 days, these are what I get for the price I paid:

- A room with a floor area of about 4 square metres.
- A single bed with bed sheet, pillow and blanket
- An electric fan
- A 14 inch "black & white" TV with less than 20 channels
- A small desk and a chair
- A cloth rack
- Internet access (paid KRW20,000 for it)
- Free Breakfast and Dinner
- Free use of the pantry
- Free use of fully-automated washing machine
- Free use of drinking water dispenser
- Free use of refrigerator
- No utility bill
- 2 toilets to share with 4 other occupants.

It is quite obvious that there is no creature comfort to talk about. Only basic essentials are provided at the Hasuk. Living condition is definitely not fantastic but passable - provided one is not demanding. It took me about a week or so to get used to my life at Hasuk. Initially, I couldn't sleep well when the summer heat was at its peak. Soon, I slept like I have "forgotten" completely about the heat. Initially, I always locked my room door when I needed to use the toilet. Soon I just left it close but unlock. Initially, I was wary about stepping on the pool of water which gathered at the centre of the toilet after someone had showered. Soon, I didn't even notice that pool of water. It seemed like everything just turned out fine once I had adapted.

Despite all the inconveniences, I think Hasuk is more superior than other types of accommodation in one particular aspect and that is breakfast and dinner are provided. Breakfast is normally served at 8am while dinner at 6pm. I got to eat authentic Korean fare everyday and one of those days, my Hasuk's Ajumeoni even prepared "Bo-ssam" (보쌈) for dinner. Considering the quality of meals which I was served, I could have easily paid KRW8,000 to 10,000 daily for them outside. Despite that, I seldom took my breakfast and dinner. For that, my Hasuk's Ajumeoni kept apologising to me though I kept assuring her that it is alright.

Dinner served at my Hasuk. There were seven side-dishes. The main dish was curry rice. You cannot see the curry because I have yet to pour the curry gravy over the rice. Honestly, I like eating the side-dishes more than the main dish. After the dinner, I was served cherry tomatoes as fruit.

Besides close proximity to school and free meals, the fact that Hasuk does not impose curfew (귀가시간, 歸家時間) also gave me a lot more freedom to stay out beyond midnight although I rarely stay out late. Students who stay in dormitories will have no choice but to make it back before 12 midnight or risk being locked out by the security.

I have chosen to live in a Hasuk because I wanted a different sort of experience. I got what I wanted at the end despite the fact that I almost felt like finding another place to settle down after I saw my small room on the first day. I gave up the thought of moving out as my Hasuk's Ajumeoni was quite nice to me. I believe I can afford something better than staying in a Hasuk if there is a next time. Nevertheless, my stay at Hasuk has given me invaluable life experience - one of which is devoid of creature comfort and where life can be lived with bare minimum. Perhaps the truth is not too far away from austerity. We may not really need a lot to lead a fulfilling life.

On my way to school. There are so many restaurants along the way. One good thing is that I am never too far from good food but the bad thing is that it is difficult to keep my weight at bay.

The road I took everyday to return to my Hasuk. This road is not really as quiet as it seemed. Many students walk up and down this road throughout the day. That day when I took this picture, it seemed like autumn had arrived. The sky was high, blue and almost cloudless.

To end this posting is another picture of sunset taken from my Hasuk's rooftop. It has been an invaluable experience staying in a Hasuk. Watching sunset from the rooftop is one of those unforgettable memories.


  1. Wow...that's the word that suddenly pop up in my mind :P
    Wow for lot of things...
    i never knew that it's so expensive to live outside... (so lucky to live in this wonderful dorm ^ ^)
    And also "wow" for the security in dorm :( so bad for not being able to be home late :P
    But i envy the TV in the room :( bout the heater?? is it provided?? especially in this unpredictable temperature...
    (i hate when the temperature suddenly it dropped like thisㅜㅜ..)

    감기조심하세요 ^ ^

  2. 안녕하세요^^ I've been reading your blog for quite some time and i am always wowed by the experience you have had in korea (:
    I'm a first year student in NTU now, but i'm more interested in learning korean than my degree right now :D

    so would just like to ask if you are pursuing your interests in korean after undergrad studies? I'm really keen to pursue Korean after i completed my undergrad studies.

    저는 지금 혼자서 한국어 공부하고 있어요. 대학생 생활 너무 바빠서 수업 다닐 시간 없어요. ㅋㅋ 저는 싱가폴 학교에서 초급 1하고 2반 공부했어요.

    만나서 반가워요.

  3. Tata, I am not too sure if there is heater but I believe there should be. 환절기이니까 너도 감기 조심하세요.

    Hello hangukdrama, perhaps we've met in SKS before ^^. Thanks for reading my blog. It is part of my plan to study Korean language in Korea. I believe you will one day be studying in Korea as well if you keep your interest. 파이팅~