Memories of South Korea: Before We Had Windows

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There was a time when I lived in a house without windows…

I’m slightly older than my fellow writers here at the Geography Collective, as such I’m given a little leeway in regards to my indulgences in nostalgia.

My journey from rural Pyeongchang, South Korea to the urban sprawl of Manchester here in the UK is one that never ceases to amaze the new people I meet.

My Mother met and married my step-father, a British man visiting the country for business back in 1979. My biological Father, an inveterate drinker and gambler, had long since abandoned my Mother and I, leaving us to fend for ourselves in what was a rather harsh financial climate. Thankfully, the local community were kind to us, giving us food when we needed it and providing me with clothes when I needed them.

The mists of the past often cloud the smallest of details, which only deign to reveal themselves after the mind is brought to attention by a stimulus of the present day. Such an instance presented itself just the other day.

It all started with something relatively mundane. Recently, my wife and I decided that we needed to replace our windows. For nearly a decade, we’d been living with single glazing, leading to the cold of the England’s North continually sucking all the heat from our little terraced home. The team at Allerton Windows promised me that they could replace all our shoddy single panes with strong double glazing within a day.

I stayed at home on the day that they were due to visit, whilst my wife escaped to a friend’s house. The men arrived and the old windows were duly removed, leaving the house open to the elements. I had work to complete at home, so I sat in my study wrapped up in a jacket, leaning over my students’ exercise books. As my breath appeared before my eyes, with the bright white light of an overcast day poring through the open window, my mind was transported back to Pyeongchang in the 1970s.

The 70s were a turbulent time for South Korea – I grew up in a time book-ended by student protests, military coups and assassinations. For a young boy, living in the rural scrub of the countryside, these political issues were the barely audible whispers of conflict. Such noises were drowned out by our wireless radio.

This little box forever played our country’s approximation of Folk music – which was growing increasingly popular amongst women my Mother’s age, due to the impact that American culture had on the country’s tastes following the war in the fifties.

In those days, our traditional Korean home was fast becoming obsolete. During the balmy summers, the open windows were a relief, allowing a breeze to flow through our small two-room home, but in the dead of winter they were a curse. If my Mother closed the shutters I’d be left in darkness with no light to study by, so she left them open. We wrapped up warm and the fog and mist, that collected off the nearby paddy fields, drifted lazily through our small home, as I struggled over algebra problems and my Mother sung along to covers of Simon & Garfunkel.

The men finished their work on time and my wife returned to a house that was finally warm from top to bottom. She found me asleep that afternoon, in my dimly lit office with my head resting on my students’ work, ‘The Sound of Silence’ playing on the radio.

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