[FOUNTAIN]A warmer backside for AsiaAccording to a German proverb, a leaking roof, a scolding wife and smoke are the three things that plague homes. Why smoke? It has to do with the way Europeans heated their homes in the old days. Europeans used to have a fireplace in the middle of the house and made bonfires to warm themselves in the cold of winter. The problem was that they did not have a ventilation system such as a chimney and the house would soon be filled with smoke. Homeowners began to make small holes in the wall so that the smoke could escape. The hole was called a “windauge” in German, meaning a wind hole, and it is the origin of “window” in English, according to “Stories of Gudeul and Ondol” written by Kim Nam-eung.
Fireplaces then began to be placed against the wall. In that location, however, they could not heat the entire house. Liselotte von der Pfalz, a German princess who became the Duchess of Orleans by marrying into the French royal family, wrote in a letter to her family in February, 1695, that even the water and wine on the king’s table were frozen. Six years later, she began another letter by writing the only thing that kept her warm were her six puppies sleeping in her bed. There is a reason why Westerners say that no fireplace can ever be too big.
After iron stoves, the western-style heating system developed into the modern-day central heating system. Meanwhile, Koreans for a long time used “gudeul,” something we should rightly be proud of. Gudeul refers to an under-ground heating system, or to the floor or room that is heated by the system. Folklore expert Son Jin-tae presumes that “gudeul” originates from “guun dol,” or “baked stones.” “Ondol,” or warm stone, was created by a combination of Chinese characters to describe “gudeul” before hangul was invented.
Gudeul appeared in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria around th 3rd century B.C. It spread all over the peninsula by the 3rd and 4th century A.D. and established itself as a heating form original to Koreans. The floor heating system is made up of three parts: “agungi,” a furnace where fire is made, “gorae,” a flue in which the smoke travels, and “guldduk,” a chimney through which the fume is exhausted. It costs little to install and is very efficient. In Korea, gudeul is a product of 23 centuries of constant development. Recently, use of the gudeul heating system has been rapidly increasing in newly-constructed luxury apartments in China. In addition, new apartment buildings in Japan increasingly prefer to use an ondol. I hope another Korean Wave of gudeul can heat up East Asia for the New Year.
by You Sang-chul
The writer is the Asia news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.