Well, it's official. The other morning Erin and I were walking down to the track to go for a jog when the first snow of the season began falling. It was thin and underwhelming, but a clear sign that the cold was here to stay. We shivered and went on with our morning, of course, but it brought to mind an interesting point. We've never mentioned the glory that is the ondol.

Ondol is the Korean version of central heating. The word ondol literally means "hot stone." Back in the day, Korean homes used to be heated through the floor (they still are, but methods change). Buildings were designed with open space beneath them, with a fireplace on one side and a chimney on the other. Smoke from the fire would be forced along the underside of the floorboards by a series of baffles, before eventually escaping up the chimney. The result was a nicely toasty floor that provided good heat in winter as long as you kept the fire going.

Now of course, this method wasn't exactly safe. Carbon monoxide poisoning was a real and persistent problem. Nowadays they've largely ditched the fires and switched over to other methods. In our apartment, this means hot water pipes.

Ondol heater
Ondol heater

This lovely box sits on our balcony. That mess of pipes spiderwebbing out of the bottom run to the raised floor of our apartment. When we're chilly, we activate the controls in our kitchen...

Ondol control
Ondol control

...and hot water starts flowing into the space beneath our apartment. The result is somewhat... humid. But very, very toasty.

Now, you may have noticed that the control box up there is entirely in Korean. Well spotted. Unfortunately, this means that we have very little idea what we're doing when we turn this thing on. If we push the button and the water heater starts up? Then we probably did something right. We try not to fiddle with it too much, praying that the previous occupants had rational settings. So far it seems to be working.

If there is a disadvantage to ondol, it's that it takes a while to work. When you switch it on, you're still going to have a couple hours of shivering before you'll notice a nicely warmed floor. But when it catches up, the results are most satisfying.

In Korean culture, people typically sit on the floor. This makes a lot of sense with the ondol. In fact, hot spots, places where the heater worked particularly well, were often reserved for elders or people of importance. Erin and I like our couch, however, so we miss out on this a little, but I've got to say, nothing beats a warm floor under your feet on a cold winter morning.