Monday, December 14, 2009

Korean sleeping arrangements.

Let's draw a picture. I prefer pencil and paper.

It's a nasty hot summer night. I'm in a one room hotel room with twelve (count them) twelve other people in a room smaller than anything Holiday Inn has to offer. Air conditioning comes in the form of a thick piece of paper attached to a wooden handle. I'm on the central west coast of Korea in a small resort town with a bunch of warm and friendly Koreans aged anywhere from newborn to unmentionable. I've got a single buckwheat shell-filled pillow the size of a large ziplock bag and a tissue-thin blanket to keep me covered. Everyone is occupied with something. The older people are up late playing card games while the younger ones are watching a variety show. I'm trying to shut my eyes. I dream of oscillating fans. Then suddenly, like out of a made-for-TV Christmas special, by some miracle, I drift into a calming state and sleep like a baby (well, actually the baby kept waking up but I slept wonderfully).

Why on Earth were we all crammed in that little room? And why were there no beds?

Traditionally, Koreans sleep on the floor. That's just their thing. Hey, I'm not judging. Ask me where I sleep.
내 방
I like it. It saves space, it's cozy, and it's more comfy than a memory foam bed I went halvsies on.
For whatever reason, Koreans seem to be on the floor a lot. Be it watching TV, eating fruits, drinking, - If somethings going down, it's on the floor.

In this case, "going to the mattresses" refers to a classic line in the Godfather. According to Clemenza, when the Corleoni family goes to war with another family, they have to accommodate more people to stay with them temporarily. This is to keep the hitmen safe within a single household so that nothing happens to them during this hostile time. To accommodate the increase of people, makeshift mattresses are laid out on the floor spread throughout the house.

So, Korean sleeping arrangements are kind of like that, but just no one is speaking Italian or fighting with another family. So when Koreans go to the mattresses, they just fall asleep.

But don't let that fool you into thinking that western-style beds don't exist. Expect all Korean hotels and most newer apartment buildings to have one western style bed. Western style pillows and sheets though are in short demand. Sheets can be of a lower thread count than what you may be used to and the pillow itself might look more like a stuffed animal than a pillow.

Either way, expect to sleep in a shared space and don't expect much privacy. Ironically, you might get more privacy sleeping in your birthday suit at a 목욕탕 or 찜질방 than at home. Just a thought.

I wonder. What other cultures sleep on the floor (traditionally)? What are the typical sleeping arrangements of your culture? I'll even extend this to my neighbors to the north: Anything different going on in Canada that we should know about?