This content is exclusively written in English for the Unboxing Korea program, as I was selected as a Korea Allimi in 2020.
It has already been one year that I spent time living in the semi-basement room in Seoul.
Some of you might have seen this kind of dwelling from Korean movies or dramas. The first time I learned about this is when I watched Reply 1988, in which the leading characters (Duk-Sun and Bo-ra’s family) living in a cold and small semi-basement house. I saw it again in Oscar-awarded movie Parasite, and I am sure many people around the world have got to know about this semi-basement house that you could easily find one in Seoul.
In Korean, this semi-basement room is called “Pan-Ji-Ha.” There are other types of low price residence that you can find in Seoul. For example, a surprisingly small unit with a shared facility called “Go-shi-won” is very cheap compared to other options in this high living-expense city. Another type that gives you a more homey atmosphere is ‘Ha-Sook-Chip,’ where you also share dining and kitchen facilities with other residences but have slightly more private space.
For my roommate and me, we chose ‘Pan-Ji-ha’ among these economic choices for foreigners. The reason is that when we found the room in a finging room application, we suddenly feel like home. The place has just been remodeled by the homeowner, and the price is not too high for the newly decorated room (yes, because it is semi-basement room).
I remember that the first days we arrived here, it was raining heavily for several days. I was fearful that it would be like a catastrophic scene in Parasite when the sudden flood destroys their house, and the toilet explodes with a splash of dirty water.
But there was nothing. Everything passed without significant problems. We were afraid of molds and humidity because it is the semi-basement floor, and we barely dare to open the windows (which will make other passersby see us) to let the wind flow inside. However, the dehumidifier machine that the homeowner bought for us works very well. It can make the recently-used shower room dry after opening it for some time. We can see a lot of water, collected from the air, inside its tank. In this rainy summer in Seoul, we even try hanging our wet clothes inside the house, while the dehumidifier is working, and all are fine.
The surprising thing is that the electricity cost is not as high as we expected. The most expensive utility for us is gas for making warm water and warm floor (Ondol) in winter.
In our remodeled Pa-Ji-Ha, the tempurature is very comfortable. It is not extremely hot in summer and extremely cold in the winter since it barely touches the outside climate.
I could not say that all Pan-Ji-Ha now is excellent, unlike we see in the movies. We might just be lucky that we could find one whose owner took care and remodeled it so well.
She is very friendly and considerate. Every time she has to visit our room for a maintenance issue, she will notice in advance. When she comes, she acts as a mere visitor who is very considerate of our private space and apologizes for the inconvenience she might cause, although the action is also for our advantage.
Once we needed to open our room for sewage suction (all the sewage in the building is collected down here). The owner even brought the good-looking package of the bakery from Tous Les Jours to express her apology that the action caused the foul-smelling air in our room for a while.
The owner impressed me by these little actions, treating us as true homeowners (even temporarily), not just a renter.
Another good thing about our Pan-Ji-Ha is that we have a bigger room than other floors. We also have an outdoor space in front of our front door that we can hang our laundry. It feels as if we are living in a single home.
However, on the first days here, the neighbor put big tree pots in a risky position for falling to our head. Since the semi-basement level is low, the hight of the containers is very significant. So, one day, my roommate asked the old man to move the pots.
He replied, “Oh! Don’t worry! It’s ok. They have been there for a long time and never fallen once!”
My friend still expressed worries but did not demand further.
On the next day, without notice, the pots have moved.
He must have thought about it and decided to do it for us as a good neighbor.