Last winter, when it got too cold, I finally relented and turned on my apartment's ondol, i.e., its heated floor, which is something of a Korean residential tradition. In the old days, floor heating involved a system of heated water pipes under a floor's surface; in my current apartment, the ondol is electric. Being electric, the ondol gets expensive in the wintertime because, in some parts of Korea, electricity is expensive. Last year, my monthly cost of living skyrocketed to almost twice its summertime price—from roughly W186,000 to somewhere around W350,000, if I remember correctly. Granted, W350,000 is no cross to bear: that's barely $300, US, and most Seoul residents probably spend closer to $700-$2000 a month on rent.* Still, if I could pay less than W350K a month during the winter, I would.
Which brings me to my current experiment. As the weather gets colder, my apartment goes from greenhouse to icebox given its huge, uninsulated window. I'm away all day, and I leave my window open to aerate the place and to facilitate floor-drying in my very poorly ventilated bathroom. When I get back at night, I close my window and—lately—turn on my electric space heater. This is the same heater I had used back when I was still cooped up in that old, nasty yeogwan while teaching at Dongguk University. The heater still works great, and I haven't yet died in a fire. I also suspect that the heater uses far less power than does my apartment's ondol, so I used it through the entire month of November. In a day or so, I'll get my November admin/electric bill, and I'll be curious to see how much the bill has gone up with the constant use of my heater. Surely the bill can't be anywhere near W300,000, can it? We'll just have to pray to old Uncle Cthulhu and hope for the best.
My monthly gas bill never amounts to more than about $2 a month, so I've also decided to accelerate the apartment-heating process by wasting some gas and water. I've hit upon a highly effective method, too: I fill two large pots with water, place them on my gas range, fire the two burners up, then let the pots boil away on high for a few minutes before I switch them both to medium heat. This works amazingly well, I must say, however bad it might be for the environment to be cranking up the gas and wasting water in this manner. My place might be ice cold when I first enter it after a long day at work, but it's toasty within just a few minutes. That solves the problem of having my electric space heater at one end of my apartment while the other end goes unheated. The range-produced heat lingers thanks to the water vapor, and even after I turn the gas range off, the apartment stays warm with just the electric space heater going. If my gas bill goes up to an astonishing $3 a month, I doubt I'll stress all that much.
Meanwhile, we wait. My bill ought to arrive either this weekend or early next week. I'll be curious to see how much it's gone up since the summer and early fall. If it hasn't gone up much, then I'll know I've hit upon a winning strategy—something that, I hope, can tide me through the winter. We'll see. We'll see.
*As my boss reminds me, what I'm paying isn't rent, technically speaking: it's more like an admin fee. Since this is a company apartment (and a shabby one at that, but that's another rant), it's the company that's paying the actual rent. My monthly residence fee is a combination of the aforementioned admin fee and my electric bill. Most of the year, I don't pay much in electricity; it's the floor heating during the winter that drives costs up.