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  Can 'Ondol' Gain World Heritage Status? http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2009/03/117_40832.html
  글쓴이 : 운아     날짜 : 09-03-07 01:10     조회 : 4582    

Can 'Ondol' Gain World Heritage Status? http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2009/03/117_40832.html
Can 'Ondol' Gain World Heritage Status?


By Sunny Lee
Korea Times Correspondent

BEIJING ― Many elderly Koreans remember putting their cold hands onto "a-raet-mok," which is the nearest area to the fireplace in a house.

The traditional Korean fireplace, however, is "invisible" because it is an under-the-floor structure, hidden from the surface. Traditionally, Koreans used this underfloor-heating device, called "ondol," to get through the long and cold winter.

The history of ondol goes back to the Neolithic Age, according to Kim June-bong, a professor of architecture at the Beijing University of Technology.
That's such a long time that he even would say: "There is the 'ondol DNA' running in every Korean."

Kim heads the International Society of Ondol, and is determined to promote ondol globally. Even his instant messenger ID is: "Long live ondol!"

In traditional form, ondol utilizes direct heat transfer from wood smoke to the underside of a thick masonry floor. In modern times, it refers to any type of underfloor heating in Korean housing. "Gudeul" is another name for ondol, meaning "baked stone."

The history of ondol is closely related to that of fire. Fire can cook, melt and warm. The fire's warming effect can be maximized when the object is directly on top of fire. "If you are afraid of fire, you can't come up with this bold idea that places fire right under where you sleep," said Kim.

In the Goguryeo period (37 BC_ 668), an "L"-shaped ondol was common that provided partial heating to the room floor. Then, it evolved into a full-room ondol (tong ondol) in the Goryeo period (918 - 1392). By the end of Goryeo, the ondol structure spread to the entire Korean peninsula.

Healing Effect

Ondol's effect of promoting health has long been documented in Korea. For example, a royal record of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 - 1910) read: "In June, King Sejong's 12th year, the King ordered the Gyeongsang provincial minister to let the brother Lee stay on the ondol to ward off illness."

Ondol is especially good for postpartum recovery of women or elderly people whose body needs more warmth. And in recent years, Germany has been paying a great deal of attention to this application of ondol to health, according to Kim.

Medical research has been underway to find out more about the healthful effect of the long wavelength infrared rays that are radiated from the stone and red soils, which are a main component of ondol. In an ondol room, one has to take off shoes. So, it dramatically reduces the indoor air dust as well.

In fact, the West has discovered the advantages of ondol and has been catching up rapidly. Germany even has put forward its own industrial standards and made vigorous commercial applications. That gave Kim some mixed feelings.

"While other countries such as Germany and Japan are making great headway on the commercial application of ondol, Korea, where the ondol culture originated, is not taking good care of its own tradition," he said.

The growing interest in ondol, noticeably from abroad, has been partly motivated by the recent global effort that advocates sustainable development. The architecture field was not an exception. It began to preach "sustainable design" (or environmentally friendly design), articulated by E. F. Schumacher in 1973. The term soon became a buzzword in residential architectural design as well. The concept of sustainable design is to apply eco-friendly ideas into architecture to stay balanced with nature. And people began to see the promising potential in ondol.

Meanwhile, ondol has been undergoing its own metamorphosis to fit the new demands of time. Ondol was originally fired by wood, but modern homes and apartments are built with heating pipes embedded in the floors. Heated water circulating through the pipes, warmed by a gas or an oiler, has replaced heated air.

"We don't need to think that the Korean culture is superior to others. That's nationalistic. When we want to explore a new foreign market, we need to be innovative enough to accommodate the different lifestyles there," Kim said, citing the success of Kimchi abroad after toning down its smell.

With a growing awareness of "well-being" and health-conscious lifestyles, Koreans are increasingly turning to ondol again. There also has been an effort to promote ondol in newly built buildings, even marketing in other countries. For example, a South Korean company that specializes in building apartments overseas successfully introduced an ondol-based apartment in Kazakhstan, as well as in the United Kingdom, in 2007. Another Korean company last year sold 30,000 heating boilers that use the ondol in China.

But Kim believes that the civilian-led effort is not enough and there should be government backup. "Today, Hanbok (Korean traditional costume) and Hansik (Korean traditional cuisine) have entered the international market, but ondol has not. Meanwhile, countries that learned about the advantages of ondol, such as Germany and Japan, are coming up with their own models and have been gaining widening international recognition."

Kim hopes the Korean government pays more attention to promoting ondol internationally. And the first step in that direction is for the government to preserve and promote the ondol culture, while it should also engage in an effort to correct some misinformation about ondol ― for example, as something related to the Roman hypocaust, which is an ancient system of central heating.

"We should revive the ondol culture in Korea by designating it as an intangible cultural asset and also instituting an ondol maestro system," Kim said.


Who is Kim June-bong?

Professor Kim was born in 1958. He studied architecture at Yonsei University for his undergraduate and master's degrees before earning a doctorate at Chungbuk National University. In 1993, he went to Yanbian, a northeastern city of China and taught architecture at the Yanbian University of Science and Technology for nine years.

His primary research interest is ondol and has conducted an extensive field research in northern China, Russia and the two Koreas. In 2002, he founded the International Society of Ondol with scholars from Australia, the U.S., China, Japan and Korea. The organization has been holding annual meetings in alternating venues in Korea and China. Last year, the annual meeting was held in southern Cholla-namdo province in Korea. This year it will be held in Harbin in China.

Kim also plans to start a museum and exhibition center for ondol in Korea this year in an effort to educate the public on ondol. His dream is to register ondol as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.




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