July 1, 2011

Sleeping on the floor (Korean culture)


Since old days and even until today, the lifestyle in Korea is very much "floor based". Most of the time, we sit on the floor for meals, kids do their homework on small study tables on the floor. When we go to a "shik-dang" (restaurant), there are table and floor seats to choose from and floor seats are actually considered more comfortable because you can cross your legs anyway you like. When it comes to bed time, most people sleep on the floor too.


"Don't you feel weird without a bed", is what I've always been asked by non Korean friends who visit my home. The answer is no but when I first came to Korea, it was YES, indeed so weird. Our first house after we got married was very small and definitely no space for a bed. I was really disappointed to "get married without a bed" and having to make the mattress and stow away every morning when I wake up was really a chore. My body ached in the first few months of the mattress lifestyle.

I remember before I had my first baby, I told my husband who is 100% Korean born and raised in Korea that I had to buy a baby cot because I cannot allow baby to sleep on the floor which is so dangerous. He came from a poor family and they never had a baby cot so to him, baby sleeping on the floor was the norm. Due to space constraints, we ended up sleeping on the floor on the same "yo" (mattress) from newborn days until today with 2 children. We have since added 2 more mattresses.

One of the main reasons for sleeping on the floor is because the floor is heated. Korean homes do not have any fireplace or air-con type of heater because there is a boiler system that runs underneath the floor. It runs on gas and the water in the pipes built under will boil and cause the floor to slowly heat up. You can choose the level of heat as well. We all know hot air rises so the hot air from the floor will just make the whole house warm. I really love this system because whether you are in the bedroom or living room, it is warm in every part of the house. Another reason for the no bed culture is probably space constraint. In general, the houses here in Korea are small so many people do away with the beds altogether. Of course people who live in bigger houses do have beds in their bedrooms because a big room without a bed would look equally funny.

I have tried sleeping on a bed in my mother in law's house during the winter. It was a single bed and having been without a bed for so many years, I "snatched" the bed but the moment I got in it, I jumped and insisted on changing with my husband who was so cozy on the floor! I must have been spoiled to sleep on a warm cozy "yo" in the cold winter.

I like to put my babies on the floor too. Somehow I feel it is safer and more comfortable for the baby because he/she can roll all over the place without any restrictions. Now I tend to encourage every new mother to "put baby on the floor and don't get a baby cot!". Unfortunately the no bed culture here doesn't apply to other countries so of course nobody is listening to me.

There are many different types of bedding set. For babies, junior, adults, wedding, summer, winter, etc. If you are planning to get a Korean bedding set, please be sure to take note of the kind of filling inside the mattress. There are some cheaper versions which are polyester filled. The polyester fibers are so weak that they sink in not even after 1 month. That will end up being so bad for your back and there is no way to puff up the mattress again. When we buy a mattress here, we always look for cotton filled (mok-hwa som). "Mok-hwa" is the Korean name for the cotton plant while "som" means filling. After some time, when your mattress becomes flat, you can even bring it to the mattress store for them to puff it up and it becomes new again. Or you can even make 2 baby mattresses out of your adult cotton filled mattress. There is almost no ending to your "yo"!!

1 comment:

Omar Jumran said...

Wow, this must be very fun. I really like to sleep on the floor bedore reading this article, and if I could find a korean mattress here in Canada to sleep on I won't hesitate. Thank you for sharing this experience, koreqn culture is really one of the most civilized and health based in the world. Wish you best of luck :)