Jan 4, 2013

K-Fail: The Cold Water Problem

This is the latest installment in a series called "K-Fails", in which Meg does something dumb because she can't speak Korean.

So, apparently during my absence, it got cold here in Kimchi land. Like... really cold.

I had anticipated some serious chill, and accordingly had left my hot water heater on, turned to the lowest setting. I also left my thermostat at the lowest setting. My theory was that while my apartment would get very cold, at least this way it wouldn't get below freezing. In other words, my pipes shouldn't freeze.

How very wrong I was.

Following my red-eye flight from Bali (and still reeling from the 90-degree temperature difference), I arrived back in my apartment highly relieved to find everything appearing to be in one piece. I could hear the hum of my water heater and feel a bit of warmth in my floors. I checked my kitchen sink-- it worked fine. All seemed to be well. At least, until I went to use the bathroom.

I flushed my toilet, but it didn't fill back up. The tank stayed empty. I became a bit alarmed and tried my bathroom sink. Nothing. The pipes in my bathroom had frozen.

First, I tried to deal with it myself. I went out and bought a space heater (something I had been meaning to buy anyway) and set it up in my bathroom. I also boiled several kettles of water, diluted them to make them lukewarm (to lower the risk of a leak), and poured them down my sink and into my toilet tank. Still nothing.

Then I thought, "Hey, maybe coteacher tipped off my building manager that I was leaving and they turned off the water to my bathroom to prevent freezing." I went downstairs and told the man (in my broken Korean) that my bathroom didn't have any water.

When he frowned and grabbed a hair dryer from his desk, I knew this couldn't be good.

He spent the next hour blasting my pipes with his little hair dryer and pouring kettles of warm water down the drains, but still nothing.

When he stopped, turned to me and said Coteacher's name and "phone," my heart sank. I got Coteacher on the phone and passed the phone to Maintenance Man. They talked for a few minutes and hung up. I just stood there, bewildered. Mind you, I was running on about 2 hours of sleep at this point.

5 minutes later, my phone rings. It's Coteacher. She tells me that they have to call a technician to sort out the plumbing. She throws around the figure 700,000won ($700) and I panic. I don't have that money. I just got back from vacation. That's 70% of what I have to live on for the rest of the month. Turns out, that's what my rent is. She was saying that the school can pay my rent, but not anything extra and that I would have to foot the 100,000 won ($100) bill to fix the plumbing.

This felt like one of those scenarios where a teenager tells her mom she's pregnant, and then says "Just kidding, but I did fail my science test." I was so happy that the first thing wasn't true, I didn't even care about the second thing.

I hung up with her, and Maintenance Man told me (in Korean) that the technician would be here around 7 or 8. He left.

I immediately lay down for a nap.

The technician arrived promptly at 6:30, jerking me from my coveted slumber. He spent the better part of the next hour hooking up some contraption between my kitchen sink and my bathroom sink. At one point, something went wrong and a large quantity of smelly water spewed onto my floor, drenching a few items of freshly-laundered clothing that had been laid out on the ondol to dry.

Oh yeah, this all happened while my clothes and unmentionables were spread out over my floor. So that was fun.

Finally, the technician summoned me to show me that my bathroom sink was, once again, functional. But then he told me that my kitchen sink was NOT functional, and he would have to come back tomorrow to replace a part. Fine with me. I need a hot shower more than I need a kitchen sink.

A moment after he shut the door, I went into my bathroom to investigate. The sink worked, the shower worked, I gave my toilet a test flush... and nothing happened.

I thought about calling after him, but I was so tired that I just decided to leave it until tomorrow.

So, toilet issue is still unresolved. I was able to fill the tank with water from the bathroom sink, so I'll be able to flush it at least once without having to repeat that process. I'm hoping that will sort of kick start it back to life-- like jumping a car-- but this only goes to show that my plumbing skills are rather abysmal.

Coteacher informed me that I should have told management that I was leaving. If I had been able to express that in Korean (and had a better working knowledge of Korean plumbing), this all could have been avoided.

K fail.


  1. Oh! No water heater during the winter season in South Korea? OMG! What are you gonna do? I guess, for the meantime, wake-up early and heat your water over the stovetop and fill up your tub. This is what I did before when my water heater was broken. Good luck with your situation! I hope everything goes for the better soon!

    Elia Lester

  2. Even if you said that your plumbing skills are bad, I beg to disagree. I think you know the things you needed to do to avoid your pipes from freezing. It just so happen that apparently, piping in South Korea is different from the US. So even as your try to fix the problem on your own, only a professional can fix it properly. I've followed your recent posts and saw that you finally understood the mystery behind your hot water pipe. I'm glad to know that.
    Darryl Iorio

  3. Don't be too harsh on yourself, Meg. If you were a plumber and didn't know what she was doing, then that would be disappointing. But you are not a plumber. And the fact that you called for professional help instead of doing the repair yourself is a smart move. I hope the plumber came back the next day and successfully fixed everything!

    Althea Tumlin