Pride grows for pioneers of housingPOCHEON, Gyeonggi
The chain saw’s engine roars as the tool cuts through the thick logs, spewing out a mountain of sawdust. The humid air is saturated with the smell of gasoline fumes and sweat.
Eight men wearing helmets and earmuffs hack through the wood with metal tools. In the yard, a truck’s giant hooks lift a log as if it were a toothpick and pile it atop another. The basic structure of a log cabin, about six meters (20 feet) long and five meters wide, starts taking shape.
Welcome to the Woorim School of Log Building.
The school’s director, Yu Jay Wan, 59, is instructing each student on the proper use of a chain saw and the way to measure logs so that they fit into each other perfectly.
Although the eight students have been attending classes here for more than 10 days, “they’re still having trouble using the chain saw,” Mr. Yu says. He walks toward one of the students to demonstrate a proper slicing technique.
Five of the eight students are middle-aged, in their 40s or 50s. Only two students are in their 20s.
No matter what age, enthusiasm runs high among the men. “Every day, when I see that log cabin taking shape I feel joy that we really built something on our own,” Kang Shin-dae, 41, says.
Mr. Kang, who hails from Jeju island, enrolled in the school because he wants to build his own house in his hometown.
“It’s really hard work and every day my body aches,” Mr. Kang says. “But every day I feel as though I’m becoming physically fit and healthy.”
Ryu Jae-yeon, 30, is a car salesman. Mr. Ryu says that at first everyone, including himself, had trouble even lifting the chain saw and adjusting to it, but with each passing day he sees his classmates’ skills improve.
Mr. Ryu, like Mr. Kang, wants to build his own house one day.
For many Koreans, the concept of log cabins was foreign even as late as the 1980s, and only in recent years has the idea slowly started to spread.
According to Wood Korea, a newspaper for the lumber business, there are eight schools that teach the techniques of building wooden structures. But the B. Allan Mackie School of Log Building Korea Program, in Gangwon province, is the only one other than Mr. Yu’s that teaches students how to build Canadian-style log cabins.
While there are no specific data on the number of log houses, the market for wood frame houses in 2002 was estimated to be worth 350 billion won ($295 million), an increase from 210 billion won in 2001, according to Wood Korea.
Three years ago, Na Myeong-su moved to I-dong, a village in Gyeonggi province near Mr. Yu’s log cabin-building school, with the hope of building a new home by himself. He said he had no choice at the time; he had lost his “villa house” in an auction after his business went bankrupt.
It took three months of intensive labor for Mr. Na to produce a two-story building. His brother helped out during the framing phase, but Mr. Na did everything else.
“None of my family has gotten ill or even had the flu since we moved here,” Mr. Na said. “During the winter the house is so warm I walk around bare-chested.”
The house has his personal touches everywhere. Mr. Na made the deck slightly higher than usual to make it look like a hanok, a traditional Korean courtyard house. On the second floor, Mr. Na built a small attic-like room so that his daughter could watch the stars at night. The house faces east, allowing plenty of sunlight to pour in during the day.
Mr. Na says the Oregon pine that was used to build the house, including the roof, a sundeck and a ladder, cost him less than 2 million won ($1,700).
The log cabin-building business began by coincidence, Mr. Yu says.
Although he was the son of an architect, as a child he was attracted to aerospace engineering.
“I remember hearing about the Sputnik [satellite] shot into space by the Soviet Union,” Mr. Yu says. “As a child I was so completely fascinated by the beauty of space that I majored in physics in college at Yonsei University.”
After a few years Mr. Yu became attracted to architecture. “I’m not sure, but I think I liked the fact that you work alone,” he says. He pursued a second degree, majoring in architecture at Hanyang University.
After graduation, however, his father advised him to start a lumber mill because the architecture profession was not doing so well. Mr. Yu decided to run a lumber business, which he opened in 1973. Though he planned to keep it going for only a year, it became his life’s work.
Mr. Yu says he found his destiny in the log cabin-building business in 1983, when he met a Canadian, Murray Walt, in Seoul.
“Mr. Walt wanted me to sell the log cabins he made in Korea,” Mr. Yu says. “Back then, I had little knowledge of log cabins but I did my best to sell the houses.”
The results were disappointing, however, since log cabins were a foreign concept to the Korean public.
“I had little success but finally a breakthrough came,” Mr. Yu says. “A friend of mine asked me if I could personally build a log cabin for him and I complied.”
Instead of selling Mr. Walt’s cabins, Mr. Yu says it dawned on him that he could run a log cabin-making business of his own.
“I realized I had all the qualifications that I needed,” Mr. Yu says. “I was skilled in English, which is important in international trade; second, I was an architect; and third, I had all the materials that I needed in my lumber yard.”
To pursue his career, Mr. Yu moved to Canada, where he graduated from the B. Allan Mackie School of Log Building in 1987.
“B. Allan Mackie is known as the godfather of modern log cabin building, and back then I claimed to my classmates that I would be the B. Allan Mackie of Korea,” he recalls.
Since that day, he says he has been devoted to spreading knowledge about log cabin building. Today, he counts 1,000 graduates of his program, which requires 180 hours of classes, including on weekends.
Mr. Yu says his school not only teaches how to build a house but provides other benefits such as friendship and the value of hard labor.
“I wish we had more students who are young,” Mr. Yu says. “Young people nowadays have no respect for hard labor. All they want is a job where they can simply sit in front of a computer at a desk.”
Spreading his hands, Mr. Yu says, “God gave us these two hands for a reason, and that, I believe, is for us to learn the value of hard work.”
What’s next for this guru of frontier housing? He wants to bring the joys of log cabin building to China.
by Lee Ho-jeong, Park Soo-mee