Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Get Down, Get Down to the Floor

Dear Korean,

Why do Koreans sometimes sleep on the floor? I mean they just put a mattress on the floor and that's it. But sometimes, they sleep in a regular bed. Why is that?

Gabriela


What's "regular" to you may not be "regular" everywhere in the world.

Until recently--that is, until approximately 30 years ago--the "regular" way to sleep in Korea was to sleep on the floor. Koreans would usually have a very large wardrobe, in which they kept their bedding. The bedding would be comprised of a thick blanket/mattress (about as thick as a thin futon,) which was placed on the floor. One would sleep on that blanket (called 요 [yo],) with a lighter blanket on top for warmth. Every morning, Koreans would wake up, fold the two blankets and put them into the wardrobe; every night, they would take them out again and make the bed.

Modernity and convenience eventually phased out this habit. The Korean is actually old enough to remember the time when few Koreans slept on a bed. He himself never slept on a bed until he was in the third grade, i.e. 1991, when the Korean Mother decided to sign onto the ongoing fad--and the Korean Family was somewhat ahead of the curve. (It took him nearly two weeks before he did not fall out of the bed every night.) Hotels used to give the guests an option to choose between a "bed" room, or a "floor" room. Yet like everything in Korea, lifestyle habits change very fast. It appears that sleeping on a bed became the mainstream in Korea by mid- to late 1990s. Today, most Koreans sleep on a bed, although sleeping on the floor is not difficult to find in Korea today.

Interestingly, some Koreans found a way to compromise the prevailing trend and the bodily habits. Especially among older Koreans, a "rock bed" has proven popular--literally, a bed that has a sheet of rock instead of a mattress, like this:

(source)
The rock bed often has a heat blanket function for additional comfort. For older Koreans who are accustomed to sleeping on the floor, the rock surface with a blanket on top ends up being just right.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

29 comments:

  1. I am surprised that you do not mention the ondol floor (Is that repetitive? Does "ondol" automatically mean floor?). As someone with perpetually cold feet in bed, I dream of going to Korea and sleeping on a heated floor!

    I notice that in many K-dramas, sleeping in a bed versus sleeping on the floor seems to be used as a measure of prosperity. Rich families have western-style beds, while poor or even middle class families sleep on the floor. The exception to this is families that are being consciously portrayed as "traditional" or old fashioned. Western beds seem to be a status thing, unless your family is so rich or so important in its genealogy that you can ignore status. Anyway, this is the impression I get fro watching too much Korean TV.

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    1. "ondol" literally means "warm stone" because traditional system heated rocks underneath the floor. However, in mondern days they use pipe with boiled water running underneath the floor. that's the reason why you see people lying on the floor even in winter in Korean dramas.

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  2. I tend to prefer sleeping on the floor with a "yo" (which I do when I go back home) to a bed, but it's harder to do in the US.

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  3. I think it is much better to sleep on the floor if it is heated. However, if it is not heated then you have to sleep on a bed.

    I hate sleeping on a bed, because I can never find the right mattress. Either they are too firm or too soft. I just hate mattresses. However, every time I sleep on the floor, everything seems just fine.

    Also, I think the rock bed is dangerous. Rock on its own can be radioactive or it is just too cold and too hard. Sleeping on the heated floor is the best in my opinion. If it is water-heated, of course (ondol).

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    Replies
    1. Koreans have found various solutions for that such as electric sheets, for those who prefer the floor or who has not such a high income, or an entire bed with heathing and cooling electrical mechanism. Plug your bed/sheets into the socket, press the buttons, set your wanted temperature and you're done.

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    2. Electric blankets are REALLY REALLY bad for you. They create electromagnetic field and disturb the natural electromagnetic field. It is like living withing 5 miles from the power lines and it causes cancer.
      Microwaves are really bad for you as well.

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    3. What you say makes sense, I remember, for a while when I was using an electric undersheet when I was living in a home leaking a lot of cold air in a particularly freezing winter, anytime I'd touch my boyfriend's skin, it was vibrating, if he was laying or sitting on the bed. I didn't feel the vibration on my own skin, though. (I felt a lot of tiny electric shocks on my finger every now and then, but in a different situation, not related to the electric sheet)

      But on the other hand, that sheet really did save me from cold. I was born and grown up in the Mediterraineans, well-known for soft winters, and I'm very sensitive to cold. I can't sleep without the proper temperature and that flat was really leaking a lot from the outside, and it was one of those -20 C winters with a lot of snow.

      Now I don't need it anymore, we moved to a better home which allows us to save more energy (and money for it). But anyway, I don't find it too harmful and I'm sure the new products have solutions for these problems you mention too. Or at least are going towards such a solution.

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    4. You would be surprised, but the best, healthiest and the most environmentally friendly solutions are the ones that we used to have one hundred or even more years ago.
      I think hot water heating under the floor is the most brilliant invention ever. Convenient, healthy, economical.

      If you ever have to sleep in some cold room, think about a hot water bottle. Just wrap it in a couple of towels.

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    5. This might had been the healthiest ways for the people of those times, but nowadays our bodies and our immunities reshaped as they rather addapted to the conveniences of today. And amongst the electric beds and sheets I was talking about, there ARE those that use tiny water pipes, it's just that they use electricity to heat that water up.
      Well, what my man and I were using was a cheaper sheet with a no-water principle, but just to let you know, ehm....

      I'd just agree here that since you do have a heated floor then the bed really is a choice rather than a neccessity.

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  4. Now I have solid wooden boards under my super thin mattress instead of a box spring, for extra firmness, but the rock bed is probably too much for me.

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    Replies
    1. Same here, I have been using boards under my mattress since I was in middle school. For some reason sleeping on a soft mattress makes me very achy.

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  5. My husband and I slept on a yo when we were in Korea in the mid 70s. It was nice to sleep where it was warm especially since we were from a dry climate in the States. The humidity in Korea chilled us to the bone.

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  6. i am interested in design. i think this bed perfoemance is like glass, but it is so beautilful

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  7. yes i like the korea style.i think it is the best korea style

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  8. I am comfortable either way; just depends on what the room situation is like. If I want more space during the waking hours, I prefer the floor, whereas I prefer the bed if the room is more of a storage/sleep place rather than a space I spend a lot of my waking hours in.

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  9. We had a huge house on a national park in the mountains with a garden right below it and below that was the city of Seoul. You could see Seoul for miles and miles but heard none of it. Two story house, piano, etc, but we slept on the floor. We actually had a small waterfall that ran from a stream further up the mountain so we always had fresh water. Then again the house was built many years before that and I remember the joys of an outhouse which plagued me with nightmares of which I fell into this black hole in the ground. When I came to America I got a bed, but when I'd go back it was right back to the floor. Come to think of it though I remember one house with a bed ~'94. Pretty much a 20'x20' house where you could see the bed from the front door (which was always open) with a small tv directly in front of it on a small stand. It was definitely a different Korea back then though. Astonishing how rapidly Korea evolves.

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  10. I can never sleep in a sleeping bag and I have a very sensitive back but I can fall asleep right away with a thick damyo on the floor, its the Korean in me=) My in-laws have the bed pictured above. When we go stay at their house its great because it gets nice and warm, however when I was pregnant it was painful to sleep on. Thanks for the post TK!

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  11. VB, a radioactive rock bed will keep you warm without driving up the utilities bill :) But seriously, is radioactivity ever a serious concern with stone furniture?

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    1. How is it going to keep you warm? Is it heated? With what? If this is electric, that it is really bad. Or is there a water heater?

      Yes, they recommend to screen granite counter tops and some minerals that people collect to be screened for naturally occurring radiation.

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  12. And for those Koreans who earn a little more money, they've got electrical beds with warming and cooling functions. Just press the button.

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    Replies
    1. Electrical beds are really bad for them. Somebody should tell them.

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  13. In the wintertime, in my own experience, it is all but completely impractical to sleep on a bed in Korea. I have found that if I sleep on my own bed in the wintertime, I have to turn the thermostat in my apartment up to a wastefully high level just to stay warm while I sleep on it. When winter comes in Korea, it only makes sense for me to sleep on the floor with a mat.

    My bed in Korea is not much softer than a mat on the floor anyway (if at all). When I visited home after my first year of living in Korea as a civilian, when sleeping on a Western mattress that had once seemed to me to be moderately soft, I absolutely felt like I was sinking into it!

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  14. That rock bed looks amazing.

    I sleep on a thin fold up futon (I think it's about 3 inches thick) and I like it much better than getting a bed and mattress. It was about 70 dollars but is very comfortable and doesn't take up much space in my studio apartment. It's not at all hard to understand why it would be the norm in a country where people had less space and financial resources.

    I will confess to often not folding it up and putting it away in the mornings. I know this is bad for the mattress and a little gross, but it's hard for me to keep up with everything sometimes.

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  18. It's worth noting that minbaks (민박) are still a popular type of accommodation when traveling outside of cities. Minbaks are cheap rooms (~$20/night) with a heated floor and sleeping mats. I love the simplicity of them

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  19. O...M...G... I LOVE these beds. I had the opportunity to sleep over at a Korean friend's house last winter, and her bed was not only stone, but it was HEATED stone..with a thin mattress on top. BEST discovery of life for a winter-hating-floor-loving-sleep-a-holic like me.. :D

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  20. We use an electric blanket under our yo/futon hybrid type beds. It's a bit thicker than a traditional yo but not as thick as a futon.

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