THE WATER LADY

By:  Dr. Rodney T. Hard

We lived in a neighborhood called Nam Boo Min Dong which translated into English as South Rich People Town.  Though the walled in houses in our neighborhood were relatively nice compared to what a majority of Koreans lived in, within a hundred feet of our house was a little one room shack where the water lady lived.  Her two sons, Jong-Goi and his brother were our best friends and played with us all the time.

Nobody had indoor plumbing or running water.  Our house was one of the few in the neighborhood that had its own well.  One of the chores we kids had every day was to lower a bucket on a rope down into the well and bring up fresh water to carry inside.  We had a bathtub in the house which we used for a cistern to hold water for cooking and bathing.  We kept the bathtub filled every day. 

All water that was use for drinking or cooking was first boiled vigorously for more than fifteen minutes to kill the organisms.  The mountain above us from which the water came to fill our well was peppered with many rice paddies and gardens fertilized by human waste dipped from the outhouses.  Both my parents contracted hepatitis during their stay in Korea.

The enterprising water lady made her living delivering water to the houses in our neighborhood.  She started early every morning making repeated treks up the mountain to fill her tin vessel with water out of a community well and walk back down with the water on her head to deliver it to her clients.  She made a meager living doing this day in and day out.

As you can see from the picture to the right, even when she got to the well, she had to wait in line to fill her vessel.

The water lady was very industrious and eventually cornered the market in our neighborhood by piping the water down the mountain.  Once a week, she and her sons carried rubber tubing and hollow bamboo poles hundreds of yards up the mountain and cobbled them together with wide rubber bands made from old tire tubing.  They ran the jerry rigged “pipe” down the mountain to our neighborhood so that gravity would bring the water down, siphoned from the well.  Now the neighborhood ladies could bring their vessels to the road right outside our front door and fill their vessels without having to trek up the mountain themselves or have it delivered for a greater price.

One sad winter day, the water lady’s little charcoal fire that cooked their food and heated the “ondol” floor got out of hand and ended up burning their shack to the ground.  They had no insurance, no relatives to help them, no government services to fall back on, and no place to live.

My parents took pity on them and invited them to stay at our house until their home could be rebuilt.  They slept in Dad’s office on the floor and ate with us every day until the home was rebuilt with the financial help of my parents and some local Christian churches.  The new home wasn’t any bigger, but it was definitely an improvement over the first house that you see in the picture.

I would like to think that the Christian charity and witnessing from my parents brought the hapless family to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, but, I don’t remember those details.  I guess I will find out some day when I leave this world for my reward in heaven.  I would like to see my friends again.

I did hear recently that the two sons eventually went on to finish school, graduate from college, and become successful businessmen today in modern day Korea.

The line of ladies waiting to get water from the Water Lady in front of my house.  The brick wall on the front left of the picture is the wall to my house.

Waiting line in front of a well.  The water had to be hand drawn with a bucket let down into the well and pulled up by  rope, hand over hand.

Dr. Rodney T. Hard

Water Lady in front of her little shack.