South Korea’s Skyscraper Window Cleaner Fear of Heights

For nearly thirty years, Seo Seung-ho has cleaned the windows of some of South Korea’s tallest buildings. It is a reliable, well-paying job. Just one problem: He’s afraid of heights.

Every day, from the 125th floor of the Lotte World Tower, Seo and his team of cleaners enter a special „gondola” and descend down the building to keep the tower sparkling.

At 555 meters (1,820 feet) above the Seoul skyline, the glass and steel spike is one of the tallest buildings in the world.

„I was afraid of heights, so I didn’t think I would do this job,” Seo told AFP.

„But I had trouble making a living, and the job paid relatively well compared to other professions, so I gathered the courage to start.”

The weather is extremely variable for Seo.

He said the gondola is „heavily affected by the wind”, and „there are times when we experience wind that we have never experienced in a lifetime”.

Once, an unexpected gust of wind caused the cleaners — mounted on gondolas — to lose their balance.

Another time, they had to wait in the gondola for an hour, swaying in the strong winds, until the weather calmed enough to get them to safety.

Between the wind, rain and snow, Seo and his team of seven couldn’t manage to completely build the tower, which has about 42,000 windows, once every year.

„We can’t clean every day because of the weather,” Seo said.

„We usually start in April and work until the end of September or early October, which means we work 65 to 70 days a year.”

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– 'Wonderful View’ –

The tower’s unique shape causes additional problems for window cleaners.

„We like straight, square-shaped buildings, but the thin conical shape of the tower makes it difficult to get down and clean,” Seo said.

„There are many instances where the cage is pushed sideways and twisted as you go down.”

His team uses diatomaceous earth — a powder made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms — to clean windows because it polishes the glass without scratching it and prevents complaints about pedestrians being sprayed with soapy water.

„It’s a great method, but when the wind blows, the coarse particles poke our eyes,” Seo said. „It’s very difficult to work in the hot summer.”

Even so, from the top of Seoul, Seoul says, „His work is very rewarding because we are gifted with this amazing view.”

Lotte World Tower and the mall inside receive nearly 50 million visitors annually, and the observation deck on the 123rd floor has become one of South Korea’s most popular tourist attractions.

Cleaning the observation deck’s windows makes Seo feel like he’s „helping a little bit” to show the city at its best to visitors.

„I live in Seoul and I see the tower everywhere I go,” Seo said. „I’m proud, and even after I retire, I always will be whenever I see the tower.”


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