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11 Dec 2021

Renovation beginsIn my last entry, I finally broke my silence (at least publicly) about our upcoming move. The final stage of the process began this past Sunday morning, when our tenant moved out. We headed over to the apartment shortly before eleven in the morning to find that the moving trucks had already left. We met with the tenant and transferred his deposit—his contract was a combination of rent and jeonse, so this was a significant sum of money as opposed to a simple security deposit (if you don’t know what jeonse is, see my previous entry). We then went up to the empty apartment to look it over and make sure that nothing was amiss. Nothing was, but the real estate agent mentioned that the boiler was a very old model and probably should be replaced, so we made a note to do that.

“Things are coming along apace.”

While we were walking around the apartment, I asked the tenant how things had gone with his graduation and job search. I was relieved to hear that he had gotten a good job and was going to be moving into company housing. Not that he was our responsibility or anything, but we knew that he was having a hard time finding another apartment earlier this year, and it was nice to know that he was going to be fine. In what seemed like a passing comment, he attributed his success to the apartment having “good energy” (not exactly what he said; I’ve translated it into Western terms). At first I thought he was joking, but then he said that the previous tenant went on to become a member of the National Assembly. I’m a little suspicious of that claim, but it does show that he was at least partly serious about believing the place had good energy. Neither HJ nor I put much stock in places having good or bad energy, but it was a well-meaning comment, so we took it graciously.

When the inspection was complete, the tenant went on his way, and the real estate agents left as well. This left HJ and I in our new—but empty—apartment (I’m not going to call it “home” until we move in). We had about a half hour until the next visitor was to arrive, a representative from the place where we are buying our curtains and ceiling fan. So we walked around and talked about where we might be able to fit everything. When the curtain guy came, we told him what we wanted so he could write up an estimate of what it was going to cost us. That didn’t take too long, and then it was time for us to head out to lunch. We had originally planned to try a brunch place that HJ had seen on Naver Maps, but when we got there we found that they were closed for remodeling. I guess it’s that time of year. We ended up circling back toward our place and eating at a Mexican restaurant where we’ve eaten before (and where we’ll eat again—they have good enchiladas).

The guy from the interior design place was scheduled to stop by at two o’clock to finalize some measurements for the placement of lights, electrical sockets, etc. We still had some time left after finishing eating, so we stopped at a coffee shop on the ground floor of our building. I mentioned this last time, but there definitely is a lot more in this area in terms of restaurants, etc. than there is around the faculty apartments. I can’t imagine that we will be spending too much time in this particular coffee shop—it’s cheaper just to have tea at home, and probably better quality, too—but it will be handy during the renovations.

At two o’clock we met up with the interior design guy at the apartment. While we were in the storage room (what HJ has been calling the “piano room,” as that is where her electric piano is going to go), the interior design guy happened to open the door to the boiler closet. Just before he closed it again, I stopped him. I had seen something in the darkness of the closet, and when I looked closer I saw that the boiler was in fact leaking. We had inspected it more thoroughly earlier, and it had not been leaking then, but it was definitely leaking now, with drips falling at a pretty good pace. We called the maintenance guy, and he came up and turned off all the connections (water, electricity); we also put the only container left in the apartment—the bathroom rubbish bin—under the boiler, just in case. We had been planning on having the boiler replaced anyway, so this was just extra motivation to get it done sooner rather than later. This was the last bit of excitement for the day; after the interior design guy left, we also walked back home. It was about four by the time we got back, and even though we hadn’t done all that much, it felt like we had just finished a hard day’s work.

Monday was the first day of remodeling, when the team came in and ripped everything out. Well, not “everything.” Mostly just the kitchen and the bathroom. We were originally going to meet the interior design guy there to discuss some things in the evening, but something came up for him elsewhere, so we delayed that to Tuesday morning, which was also when we had arranged for the new boiler to be installed. We left our place early to get to the new apartment before nine (when the boiler guy was supposed to arrive), and we found the remodeling team already on site. Just about everything that needed to be torn out had been torn out, including the entire kitchen and almost all of the bathroom (there were some tiles left on the walls). Somehow, with everything gone, the place seemed smaller—although that could also be because it was full of construction guys and their equipment.

While we waited for the boiler guy, we talked with the construction team about things like light size and placement. Then, about a quarter past nine, the boiler guy showed up and began the process of installing the new boiler. I stuck around for a little while as he disconnected the old boiler and brought the new boiler in. On the box containing the new boiler was printed: “The boiler that burns in reverse.” Actually, it’s a bit hard to translate, because the Korean word used could mean “in reverse,” “backwards,” or “upside-down”—basically, opposite of the expected direction, whatever that might be. I had seen this before, as it is the marketing tagline for this boiler company, but I never knew exactly what it meant. Since the boiler guy was right there, I decided to ask him: “So, what does it mean when it says it burns in reverse?” He didn’t look at me when he replied, “It means it burns in reverse.” Yes, dear reader, he just repeated my words back at me. I calmly persisted: “Right. But what does that mean?” Again, he didn’t look at me. “It just means that it goes the other way.” I sighed inwardly and gave up. HJ later speculated that maybe he merely installed the boilers but didn’t actually know how they worked. I’m pretty sure he had a fairly good understanding of the boiler technology, though, and just didn’t feel like explaining it to me. In fairness, that’s not really his job—his job is to install boilers, not give lectures on how they work. I’m so used to explaining things to students all the time that I tend to ask people for explanations without thinking too much about it. I am almost always disappointed. You’d think I would learn by now, but I haven’t.

When we were shopping for appliances a month or so ago, I asked a salesperson a similar question about how something worked. While it is understandable that a technician might not be the best person for detailed explanations, you would expect that if a salesperson wants to sell something, he or she would be able to answer questions about how said thing works. The thing in question this time was a combination oven and microwave. Our new kitchen is designed for a built-in oven, and most of the models we had seen were of this combination variety. LG in particular had a series of combination ovens that used what they called “Lightwave technology.” Before we went out to the store I did some research online to find out what this technology was, but every explanation I found simply said that it was a combination oven and microwave. I already knew that—I wanted to know how it worked. So when we got to the showroom, I asked the helpful young guy who was showing us around. He told me that the oven cooked with light waves. I explained to him that, technically speaking, this was how all ovens worked—microwave ovens cook with microwaves, convection ovens cook with infrared, etc. These are all waves on the electromagnetic spectrum (of which “light” is a part). I could see the panic creeping into his face, but I pressed on. “Does it cook with a different type of light? Like visible light waves?” He grabbed onto this explanation like a drowning man grasping at a life preserver: “Ah, yes, it cooks with visible light waves,” he nodded. I went in for the kill: “But that doesn’t make any sense. Ovens cook through infrared, which is invisible to the naked eye. Any visible light you see in an oven is wasted energy.” Was it mean to set him up like that? Probably. Do I feel a little bad about it? Yes, a little. But I wanted to see if the “Lightwave technology” was nothing more than marketing gibberish, and I had my answer.

I changed the subject to talk about the actual functionality of the oven, and the sales guy mentioned that if I was planning on using it primarily as a microwave, I would be better off just getting a dedicated microwave oven. I peered inside the model we were looking at. “But it doesn’t look big enough to function properly as a regular oven, either.” He nodded ruefully. I think he just wanted to get rid of me, and I suppose you can’t blame him. I’d probably want to get rid of me, too. But I had learned what I needed to know: that combination ovens like this do two things poorly instead of doing one thing well, and there was no way we were going to get one.

I’ll come back to the oven later, though, as I want to return to the boiler. Later that evening, HJ and I did some digging around online and finally figured out how this boiler works. It turns out that a traditional boiler has the flames at the bottom, and the cold water comes in through a pipe at the bottom, gets heated as it winds up through the boiler, and then exits at the top. An “upside-down” boiler, though, has the flames at the top. The trick is that the water still comes in at the bottom, so that by the time it reaches the top it has already been warmed up some by the ambient heat inside the boiler and thus doesn’t require as much energy to heat. At least, that is the theory. These boilers have been certified as more energy-efficient (and thus also more economical), so I guess there’s something to it.

In the process of doing our research, we also figured out something else that we had been wondering about. When we were shopping around for boilers and talking to various companies, they all referred to their boilers as “condensing” boilers. That didn’t make a lot of sense to me, because why would you want to condense water in a boiler? It turns out, though, that what they were actually talking about was condensation. Because the water comes cold into the heated environment, moisture condenses on the outside of the pipe and must have somewhere to go; this doesn’t happen in a traditional boiler, because the flames burn off any moisture that might otherwise begin to condense. I am not sure why they use a side effect of the process to refer to the boiler—normally if an adjective is used to describe something, you expect that adjective to have some central significance to the way the thing works. But now, at least, we understood how our boiler worked, and incidentally we also understood why the old boiler was leaking—it wasn’t water coming from the pipes inside the boiler, but condensation that wasn’t draining properly.

Speaking of leaks, HJ discovered something after I left. The boiler guy didn’t look like he was going to be done any time soon, and I had work to do, so I headed out to school at about half past nine (which turned out to be a good decision, because the boiler guy had to go back for parts and didn’t finish the installation until after noon). But as HJ was walking around the place waiting for the boiler guy to do his thing, she spotted a dark spot on the concrete in the kitchen near the valves for the floor heating system. Like almost all Korean homes, our new place has floor heating, and our system uses hot water in pipes that run under the floor. Underneath where the sink used to be, there is a set of valves connected to pipes running into each of the rooms in the apartment; there is only a single setting for the heating system, so if you want to adjust how warm the floor is in a particular room, you can partially close off the valve to limit the amount of hot water that flows into that particular pipe. Fortunately, none of these pipes were leaking. But there were two other valves to allow air to escape from the system, and these had become corroded. They had held together up until that point, but when they tore out the kitchen the valves gave out and began leaking. While the demolition technically was a proximate cause of the leak (had they not torn out the sink, the valves probably would have held together at least a little longer), it was also true that the valves were heavily degraded and would have given out eventually anyway. It did mean a little more money out of our pockets to install new valves and fittings, but we weren’t too upset about that. We figured it was better to discover and fix the problem sooner rather than later—when it would be more difficult to get in there, and when we might not discover the leak until the people living below us demanded compensation for water damage to their ceiling. Seen in that light, I think we got off cheap.

At any rate, I left the apartment and checked the time as I did so—I wanted to see exactly how long my morning commute would take. I knew that it took about thirty minutes to walk from my office to where I get my hair cut, which is just up the street from our new place (closer to school), but I wanted a more precise measurement. I set out at a good clip, and once I hit the hill I realized that it was going to be a pretty good workout. I’ve walked down from school this way plenty of times, but I cannot remember the last time I walked up. The hill isn’t any steeper than the hill I already walk every day, but it’s a lot longer (because I’m starting from farther down the mountain), and when I reached the top I was quite warm. There is then a short downhill section before I turn into campus, after which the path to my office winds between various buildings and up and down little hills. When I reached my office I saw that it had taken only 26 minutes. This was a bit surprising, but also comforting—the walk had been quite strenuous, so it was good to know that I don’t have to push quite as hard to make it within thirty minutes.

I made the same walk the other way—back down the hill—the next evening (Wednesday), and discovered that it took about the same amount of time, although it was of course far less strenuous a walk since it was mostly downhill. I met HJ at the apartment at about six, and we looked over the work that had been done for the day. The first thing I noticed was the change to all the doors and door frames. They had originally been a very dark, mahogany-like color that we weren’t too fond of—darker colors in small spaces tend to make those spaces look even smaller. At the same time, we didn’t really want to spend the money to have all of the doors replaced. We did have to replace the bathroom door due to water damage, but for the other doors we chose an alternative (and much cheaper) solution, something that is called “sheet paper” in Korean. It is basically a thin sheet of material that goes over the existing surface. I have to admit that we were a little skeptical at first, but all the doors looked great, as if we had completely replaced them. I don’t know what the expected life of the material is, but it seems like it would be a fairly simple matter to get a door resurfaced in the future, should the need arise.

We went back most recently yesterday, as they were doing the tile work. That was originally supposed to have been done on Thursday, but the tile guy was too busy to fit us into his schedule, so it was done yesterday. They had installed the kitchen tiles and the bathroom wall tiles when we got there and were in the process of installing the floor tiles. It was very noisy and dusty, so we didn’t stay long, but what we saw looked good. I imagine it will look even better once all the construction equipment is gone and the tiles have been cleaned up.

And that’s where we stand right now. Things are coming along apace, although I wonder if the delay on the tile will affect the schedule. We have some leeway, though, so I’m not concerned. The first estimate we got for the completion of construction was the 23rd, and we had booked the movers for the 27th. We technically could have moved in as early as the 24th, but apparently that is an auspicious date (or at least a date with “no harm”), and apparently people are still very superstitious about moving, so that would have been more expensive. Then you have the weekend (and of course Christmas), which is more expensive as well, so we decided on the 27th, which is a Monday and thus a cheaper day to move on.

As the beginning of construction drew closer, though, they moved the completion date up nearly a week to the 17th. Given that the end of the year is a very popular time to be moving, we didn’t want to try to reschedule the move, which means that if everything goes according to plan we will have a ten-day gap from the completion of construction to when we move in. But, like I said, this gives us some leeway should the schedule change again, and it also gives us time to do a thorough cleaning of the apartment before we move in.

I think I’ll leave things there for now. I did say earlier that I would get back to the oven, but I’ll come back to that next time when I talk more about... stuff. Stay tuned.

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