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Summer thaw

So I get back from Seoul, stitched-up bunny in tow, mere minutes before
work starts for another week.  To a still cold house.  Set Mo down,
check on boiler in shed, new motor installed but not turned on.  Odd, I
think.  I hit the flame button, watch it chug merrily to life and return
inside to let Mo out of her kennel.  She scampers out onto the icy
floor, looks at me as if I'm crazy and heads straight for her favorite
cold-weather perch atop a faux-leather armchair under my desk.  From
which she essentially doesn't move for a couple of days (this is
foreshadowing - how long it will be before any semblance of warmth

I run off to work, expecting to return to a delightfully warm house
later in the day.  Not so.  The flame on the boiler has gone out again -
I push the button, watch it start again, forget about it.  Mo does not
forget - she stays tightly balled in her chair nest.

Before bed, light the boiler.  Wake up to tiny clouds of breath hovering
above my face - the only part of me not tightly wrapped in a heavy layer
of blankets and sleeping bag.  The floor is so cold my feet ache.  Light
the boiler one more time, go to work.

Back from work, call repairman.  Me, myself.  He does not speak much
English, only a word or two, my Korean is only slightly better.  But
somehow we manage to communicate with no difficulty and a few minutes
later he is knocking on my door.  He is the fastest repairman in all of
Korea.  He taps on a few pipes, feels a connection while staring
intently off into space, declares as if having just telepathically
connected with the machine that it is air in the pipes and the whole
works need to be flushed out.  How I understand this is another mystery,
but somehow this particular repairman and I have never had trouble with
this.  He is too busy delivering oil (his normal job) this afternoon to
do it, would I mind if he came back at 7?  No problem, have a nice

Promptly at 7, there is a knock on my door.  With the setting sun, the
temperature has fallen dramatically since afternoon and both of us are
shivering.  Flushing the pipes is a time and labor intensive job,
requiring him to squat in the narrow, cement space behind the boiler for
over an hour with his hands in the icy, rust-stained water bubbling in
fits and bursts out of the pipes.  Knowing that I have precisely 10
000won (about $10) in the entire house, I trepidatiously ask him how
much this is going to cost.  He smiles with a tinge of regret and says
'just a cup of coffee please'.

Now, flushing the pipes is a fairly costly enterprise, compared to other
repairs.  About 30 000won.  I know that when he replaced my motor last
week he charged only the cost of the part, no labor at all, so this is
extraordinarily kind of him.  Turns out he lives in my neighbourhood,
knows that I manage the house alone, worried about me having to wait to
make the last repair in the cold weather and doing his best to make sure
I don't need to do that again.  Coffee is the least I can do.  We drink
together over the freshly cleaned and re-attached pipes, as the boiler
chugs along.

And then, disaster.  Water boiling maddly, filling the overflow
container, spilling over him, the new motor, the floor.  He yanks the
power cord quickly, getting a mild shock in the bargain, and everything
goes quiet.  He is puzzled.  More tapping, yanking, testing the motor,
looking baffled.  A Korean friend arrives to translate for us,
unnessessarily, a thought.  Repairman pries the cover off the boiler,
scrounges around blindly inside, emerges with a pathetically rusted
part, unrecognizeable.  Previously, the thermostat.  The machine isn't
working because it doesn't know how hot it is getting, and never signals
the motor to start pumping the water through the pipes.

Now it is well after 8 and he will not be able to repair it tonight. 
The service centers where he could find a new part are not open.  He
wonders if I will stay in a hotel overnight.  He promises to return the
next day, part in hand, and will again charge me only for the part, not
for his service.  My friend and I go into the icy kitchen to make some
hot tea.

Which is where we are half an hour later when the repairman taps again
on the door, flashing a big grin and the new part.  He has gone from
store to store in the neighbourhood rapping on locked windows until he
found one that would let him in.  Explained to them the situation, his
worry that I would not go to a hotel and would be too cold in the night,
and was sold the part afterhours.  Came back to install it.

This time, instead of hands poised incessantly under streams of icy
water, they are immersed repeatedly in boiling water.  He looks
thoroughly wet and uncomfortable, but oddly pleased to have been
successful in completing the repairs before night.  True to his word, he
takes only some more coffee, the 10 000won of the part, before whistling
his way down the walk and finally to his home.  It is 9:30.  He has
worked steadily for 2 and a half hours with no pay at all, more
impressive still, happily the entire time.

When I woke this morning, the house was pleasantly warm.  In a few
places, the tile floor was so warm that it was actually uncomfortable to
stand on - I had to leave the boiler on all night to finish the job of
flushing the pipes.  Now it is turned back down to a more reasonable
temperature and a sort of summer thaw has settled over things.  Mo is
off her chair and motoring through the rooms exploring like she's been
away for months, the fish in their tanks have started swimming again, I
again sit on the floor with my tea and my book (without my heavy socks
and coat).  The friend who translated for me sent a funny message this
morning asking if in my new summer the flowers are blooming, and funnily
enough, the african violet has chosen today after months of barrenness
to bloom.  I think the next time I see the repairman passing by, I will
give it to him in thanks.