SEVEN TIPS FOR SURVIVING A ONEROOMTEL

 by Andrew T. Post

Note from editor: Housing in Korea can be tough to find. Not only is the language barrier an issue, but the large key money deposits can be daunting.  The author of this feature, Andrew, shares with us his experiences of hitting the streets in search of good housing in Korea.

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    On September 10, 2014, I moved from a spacious three-bedroom apartment near Daecheong Station in southern Gangnam-gu to a somewhat less spacious oneroomtel in Gunja-dong, Gwangjin-gu, near Sejong University. Students, divorced men, and the recently unemployed often select goshiwons and oneroomtels as inexpensive, barebones places to lay their heads while they study for exams or seek new direction in life. I plan on living in this one until early January, when my contract with Sejong University expires and I jet home to the States. I humbly offer the reader some tips on how to survive living in one of these sardine cans.

 1. Know what you’re buying. A hasukjib is a boarding house for students, typically run by a middle-aged Korean woman. You’ll be sleeping in a room of your own and eating communal meals in a dining room with other boarders. A goshiwon is a dedicated building with one to three floors, which may or may not be segregated by gender. The rooms are like jail cells, containing no more than a bed, a desk, a closet, a television, and perhaps a window if you’re lucky. A goshitel is largely the same, but may be better kept and cleanlier, not as full of middle-aged ajushis whose dreams have dried up, and contain a refrigerator and an air conditioning unit, plus free rice and kimchi in a shared kitchenette. A oneroometel is the same as a goshiwon or a goshitel, but often contain an en suite bathroom with just enough room to turn around, containing a sink, a showerhead, and a toilet. Livingtels are the nicest of the bunch–cleaner than goshiwons, more luxurious than goshitels, and roomier than oneroomtels. As you might expect, goshiwons are generally the cheapest and livingtels are the priciest, though location is a factor as well. A livingtel in a remote sector of Seoul might be reasonably priced, though still more expensive than a goshiwon at the heart of a university district.

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2. Mind your surroundings. Just a moment ago I said that location is important. One of the best pieces of advice I received about choosing a goshiwon was this gem: “Don’t pick one that’s far away from a university. They’re full of divorced and unemployed men. Pick one that’s near a university and packed with hip, energetic, optimistic college students.” My oneroomtel is smack dab between Sejong and Konkuk Universities, and I don’t get the sense that I’m living in some kind of existential purgatory. The surrounding neighborhood has a bouncy, vibrant vibe to it, and there’s tons of stuff to eat and drink and do within a few minutes’ walk. Make sure your chosen goshiwon or oneroomtel isn’t too far away from everything.

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3. Be prepared to go over budget. Rooms of the aforementioned sizes generally run between ₩200,000 and ₩500,000, give or take fifty thousand here and there. It may seem like a steal to live in one of Asia’s most vibrant and energetic cities for a mere $200 American a month, but things like claustrophobia and sanity (and, as previously mentioned, location) must be taken into account–particularly if you’ll be rooming in one of these places for months at a stretch. Would you rather spend ₩180,000  per month on a jail cell or ₩400,000 per month on a clean, comfortable, air-conditioned room? You decide. Sometimes it’s worth forking over an extra 100K per month for your own bathroom, especially when you’ve spent the last five hours gorging on dalk galbi and soju in Sincheon.

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4. Don’t bring too much. This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how fast these tiny rooms can fill up with your junk. Though storage varies from house to house, as a general rule you’ll be lucky if you get more than a closet and a shelving unit. Leave the record collections and framed blacklight posters at home and just bring enough clothes to get by, and your computer if you have one. And don’t forget the cleaning supplies if you’re considering a oneroomtel or a livingtel–nobody cleans your bathroom but you.

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5. Get ready to battle the elements. Some goshitels, and mostly all oneroomtels and livingtels, are heated and air conditioned. But do not, repeat, DO NOT take that for granted. My oneroomtel, the F-House near Hwayang Junction in Gunja-dong, has central air conditioning, but it doesn’t do jack. The room is boiling hot even now that the weather’s cooling down outside–and in winter, I expect it to be bone-chilling in here. The window has screens, but the mosquitoes still find their way inside. Don’t assume that you’ll be perfectly sheltered from the elements. Bring fans, warm blankets, mosquito repellent, and possibly one of those battery-powered bug-zapping tennis racquet things they sell in stores.

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6. Pay attention to the little things. While we’re on the subject of comfort, don’t underestimate it. The experience of living in a goshiwon may seem novel at first–ain’t it cool to be able to reach anything in your living space without getting up? But the novelty wears off quick, and cabin fever sets in. You can combat this in various ways. First, don’t be afraid to pay out a little extra to make your space comfortable. I filled my mini-fridge with cold beverages and oranges and bananas and breakfast sausages, so I’m never at a loss for a quick breakfast if I need one (and I don’t feel like rice and kimchi). I have a portable fan on my nightstand, a beach calendar, some books, nice soft bedding that I brought from my previous apartment, and everything else I need to make this place a home and not a monk’s cell. The second and best solution is to…

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7. Get the heck out. I mean it. Spend as much time away from your room as possible. If you stay cooped up in there too long you’ll go stir-crazy. This is the reason I told you to get a room in a university district. Get outside and eat some barbecue, drink beer, go to a karaoke room, play some billiards, see a movie, sit in the park with a book, take a stroll by the river, whatever. Just get some fresh air. Don’t hole up, even if it’s the dead of winter. There’s a ton of roomy, warm coffee shops in Korea where you can take your ease away from the Black Hole of Calcutta that is your sleeping space. The less time you spend in your cave, the less time those four tiny walls will have to close in on you.

If you’ll be in Seoul sometime soon and are looking for a room, Habang will set you up. Visit www.habang.co.kr/en for more information. They do bedding, bank accounts, airport pick-up, and alien registration cards too.

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