[FOUNTAIN]Hey, keep the noise down!"I feel suffocated under a low ceiling," Lee Han-young, who defected from North Korea in 1982 and died mysteriously in 1997, once said. Ms. Lee, a niece of Kim Jong-il's wife, led a privileged life in Moscow and Geneva. She must have felt frustrated living in low-ceiling apartments in Seoul.
People who have lived overseas often find apartments in Korea to have relatively low ceilings. Visitors here have illusions that the ceiling in their houses are dropping lower and lower each day.
Koreans put up with low ceilings by saying, "In a small land, we have to accommodate a large number of people." It is true that apartment ceilings in Korea are too low. Even an average-sized person can stretch his arms and touch most ceilings. Not only are ceilings low, but floors between stories are too thin as well, which often cause noise problems and thus arguments between neighbors.
What then is it like living in countries where ceilings are much higher than those in Korea? Well, neighbors everywhere argue because of noise. Not long ago I was invited to a birthday party by a German neighbor living a floor below. I was having a beer down there and heard my children's footsteps through the ceiling. Though their steps were not loud, I apologized for the stomping. My neighbor smiled and said, "Kids will be kids." Concrete floors in Germany are twice as thick as floors in Korea, and carpets and wooden floorboards are laid atop the floors.
Germans living in apartments stick to a few common rules. I call them "Nighttime rules." For example, pianos can be played only until 8 p.m. Even with this, apartment residents need approval from neighbors. Parents usually put their children to sleep at 9 p.m. After 11 p.m., they do not even flush. Few people run washing machines at night.
General wisdom has it that Germans do not disturb others and are not to be disturbed by others. All couples must quarrel in soft voices. If they scream, their neighbors will definitely telephone the police.
Recently, Korea's National Environmental Dispute Resolution Commission made a meaningful ruling. The commission held a construction company responsible for noise in apartments. I believe it was a proper measure, though it came late. No occupants objected.
In Germany, noise cannot be fully muffled no matter how well the construction is carried out. In the end, the fundamental solution is consideration for neighbors. Now let's make up our own nighttime rules and apply them.
The writer is a Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yoo Jae-sik