Saturday, March 28, 2015

gas bill: low, the way I like it

I had no idea how much a monthly gas bill in Korea would cost me when I came back to the peninsula in 2013: I had never paid a gas bill before. (From 2005 to 2008, at Sookmyung Women's University, I lived in campus housing, which meant that I paid no utilities at all.) When I went down to Hayang, near Daegu, to work at Catholic University, I was furnished with a decent—if somewhat small—studio that had its heating system built right into the floor, Korean-style. This system is called an ondol, and it's a holdover from traditional days. In these modern times, wall-mounted thermostat controls the ondol's output: on/off, temperature, whether to heat water along with heating the floor, a "go out" function that minimizes heating so as not to consume tons of gas, etc.

In my Catholic/Hayang days (August 2013 to August 2014), I relied on the ondol during the winter months to keep myself from freezing. I knew that gas prices would rise as the weather got colder, but I had no idea how much an average winter's gas bill could be. I was floored when I finally got that bill: W120,000, or about $110, US. That was ridiculous.

As winter waned, I ranted to my brother David about how expensive gas was, and David's reply stopped me in my tracks: why not just buy an electric space heater if electricity is so much cheaper in Korea? (My electric bill only rarely went over $10.) By the time I had this brother-assisted epiphany, though, winter was almost over. Because I had decided to leave Catholic and was facing an uncertain future, purchasing a $120 heater didn't seem the wisest choice. I held off.

Months later, I was in my cramped yeogwan next to Dongguk's Seoul campus, suffering the chill after my yeogwan-provided electric blanket had died, when I finally decided to stroll over to Saeun Sangga, the electric/electronics market, to find a space heater. In the dead of winter, around two months ago, I found one, and it served me excellently during the rest of my tenure at the yeogwan.

But I didn't unpack and use the heater immediately when I moved to where I am now, in Goyang City: for the first half-month of my time in my new studio, I risked using the ondol, then finally switched back over to the heater. I was afraid, at first, that the heater would prove to be too tiny and weak to heat up the much larger space I now enjoyed (that yeogwan truly was a little shoebox). Luckily, I was wrong, and I've been using the heater ever since.

My electric bill came the other day, and it was barely $10 despite near-constant use of the heater. My gas bill, which reflected a half-month's aggressive usage before I switched over to the heater, was a cool W60,000. In other words, had I used the ondol the entire month, I'd have paid as much for gas here as I had paid back in Hayang. These days, I switch on the gas only when I'm showering, washing dishes, or maybe doing laundry (if I want my clothes washed in warm water).

My gas bill in April is going to be even smaller because (1) gas prices will have started to creep back down in tandem with the warmer weather, and (2) I'll have used nothing but my electric heater since the previous gas bill. A W25,000 gas bill is entirely conceivable.

As an aside, I'll say that I'm eternally grateful to the employee of the Catholic U. branch of Daegu Bank who showed me how to pay my gas and electric bills via ATM. I've been paying them that way ever since, and I find ATM payment to be a hell of a lot more convenient than going to a bank during banking hours, taking a ticket, waiting in line, and twiddling my thumbs. I'm all for whatever allows me to function more independently in a foreign environment, and this guy was a godsend.


No comments: