I have always had a special attachment to the Korean Peninsula since school days, and this time things went beyond the limitation of the 38th parallel to the very north. Early this year as the virus was going truly viral in the kingdom, I and wife decided if one must waste another year of one’s life one had better waste it in the north latitudes as we had had enough of summer, in fact all the summer of a lifetime’s ration, as Alfred Lord Tennyson would put it, in the tropics she lives with little joy and fear. We were to find a place “cold, friendly and of exotic attributes”.

We found it in the border village on the Yalu River where the Korean Peninsula parted with the continent. The village appeared to have served as canvas for a certain group of art students who would periodically return to paint the walls and doors in the village lanes. when we first walked in, they looked like this:

As BBC headlines featured grim generals taking notes like schoolboys at Kim Jungeun’s most monumental speeches while the latter held a potato or some agricultural product of the kind, it was announced that the north part of Korea starved yet another year. On the other hand, life on the border from the Chinese side seemed perfectly complacent: as I walked in dusk along the river bank gazing upon the other side, I heard dog barks and folk songs sung by happy Korean men returning home from a day’s work, leaving me mesmerised as whether to believe BBC or Kim Jungeun. Maybe neither.

The flowery river bank walk on the Chinese side
The river and Korea

As I foresaw a year’s life of fishing while Korea-spotting as my curiously pleasant past-time, I thought we had better wasted our time in this village. So we purchased a dilapidated fisherman’s house from a man who seemed also to live with little joy and fear in this part of the world. How queer.

The entrance
The yard as we received it
After some ground breaking work, we found an apple tree in our yard

That was Tiedan, our resident Xinjiang sheepdog, doing personal business against the apple tree

First of all, we found the aluminum-glass portico popular among village houses in this part of China extremely hopeless: the sliding doors squeaked excruciatingly everytime pushed, the double-layer doors meant to buffer the cold air during winters were air-tight during summers, and above all it was ugly beyond salvation. Replace it we must.

The idea was to build a Chinese style portico of round and triangular patterns:

This design solved the following problems:

  1. Entrance door now faced the south, reducing cold wind as wind rarely comes from the South in winter;
  2. Simplifying the procedures of entrance from opening two sliding doors to pushing open only one door, making the whole move a great deal more amicable;
  3. New portico made of concrete and bricks topped with a thermal solution clay tile roof in the traditional Chinese style;
  4. Aesthetically more appealing.
Portico in the making
And when it was almost done

Another major problem was the door between the living room and the study made both areas unsatisfied: study felt isolated and alone, living room inhospitably short of space. We resorted to enlarging the door and making it into two un-doored arcades like the renaissance masters would in Italy. And as the study now was no longer isolated we thought it had better become a media room with cinematic devices.

In the making

We then discovered that on one’s way to the bathroom, one had to go through the kitchen. What an extraordinary idea. We wanted the route changed.

Kitchen before
Bathroom before

As shown above, we built a permanent wall between the kitchen and the bathroom, opening a separate door to the bathroom via the media room. In so doing, the improvements are:

  1. The two functions would never have to interact;
  2. Segregational wall now served as back wall of cooking area, hence reducing non-usable floor area;
  3. An arched wooden door for bathroom would be liked by the Romans;
  4. Reducing mid-night grappling on the way to bathroom.

When autumn crept in, the first Siberian gales swept the ginkgoes yellow, heating became another task. The conventional device was constituted with a burning furnace whose hot smoke ran underneath the hollow brick bed in the next room to provide warmth for the night’s sleep. As we had two bedrooms to worry about, we installed an extra steel fireplace whose mouth faced the media room while its bottom remained naked to the second bedroom so that, when burned, it radiated heat to both directions. So far it had proved itself apt.


And then we found the master bedroom interior a bit decadent like the ones Korean defectors would temporarily stay in in the olden days.


We thought it should have a Japanese tatami taste.


Finally, it was decided that Tiedan deserved a better garden as he spent most of his time in it sun-bathing. So we did.