“Now only a happy and sweet drinks” – John Keats
The past few days have been, in short, epic.
After work on Friday, all of my friends from training at the other branch (Baylee, Elaine and Schulyer) came out to Gimhae for the evening. Along with the other teachers from their school. We grabbed dinner and pursued the beverages. I ended up not getting home until roughly 5am? As seen in my previous blog post.
Saturday evening I rode over to Yulha to meet Baylee, Elaine and Erica (one of their co-teachers). We wandered through what was essentially a village of coffee shops. As Erica put it, each shop had it’s own unique flair, something you would see at Ikea. They all offer the exact same thing, but the aesthetics change with each shop. We grabbed some flat-crust pizza for dinner, then walked around and got dessert. The John Keats quote above was blazoned across one of the shops. It was too perfect not to capture.
Night’s like that, and a few others I have enjoyed, help me to realize just how amazing Korea is. One minute you can be in a busy intersection in the city of Gimhae with all its lights, and the next walking next to a stream with hardly a sound sans foot traffic.
Today, I ventured to Busan with Baylee and Erica – Elaine was going to meet up later on. I woke up around 8, left my apartment around 8:30, grabbed some kimbab for the road and headed to the bus depot. Our bus left around 9:30 and we were in Busan by 10:05. The ride was 3,300w (3.3w <- shorthand will be easier). The first mission of the day was visiting one of, if not the best, spa in all of Korea. Spa Land Centrum City is located in the world’s largest department store. It was massive. Seriously, they had an ice rink in there.
In my travels abroad, I have received a few massages here and there. The best was probably in Vietnam – $25~ for what, a 40 minute massage? I paid 15.0w. FIFTEEN THOUSAND WON. It was a four hour package which included around a dozen different saunas (each with their own health benefit, of course), an entertainment area consisting of dvds, tvs and the like, a bath area and an outdoor foot bath. For extra fees, you could purchase a plentiful amount of massages and numerous other pleasures.
Let me breakdown my experience for you using a few key words. Children, cover your eyes.
Sweat, relaxation, sweat, hot (the good kind), sweat, massage, naked Korean men, body scrub, more naked Korean men, sweat, and relaxation.
I do not know how I succeeded in maintaining composure through all of this, but I did. And oh, it was worth every penny. There is a coed area which we went to first. Yes, mom(s), we were wearing clothes. They give you these strange little pajamas to wear. In the coed area, you can find the foot baths, all of the sauna rooms, snack bar, entertainment, restaurant and different massage parlors.
We ventured into a room marked at 70.1 degrees Celsius. In my mind, I tried to do the math, but it just wasn’t happening. Just found out – it’s one hundred and fifty eight degrees. 158. ONE FIVE EIGHT. No wonder it was so hot. I actually burned my hand touching the ground as I pushed myself up. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. The other rooms were much cooler sitting between 35 and 60 degrees. The couple rooms with scents were the ones we enjoyed the most.
The girls decided to grab some massages, but I walked around. I found a 15 minute massage chair for 2.0w. Win. That 2.0w massage chair was ALMOST better than the massage in Vietnam. I continued to walk around and found this weird room of boxes. I asked how much and for how long 40 minutes for 15.0w. Done. This box, shaped like a coffin, was intense. I didn’t even know what it was when I got into it. I expected some sort of water or something. About five minutes in the Korean next to me says, “The box – it gets hotter over time.” And that’s when I felt the heat. I tell you the amount of sweat that came out of me today was record breaking. Around minute 30, I am dying. My arms were in the box – HAD to take them out. My heart rate was a bit faster than the standard CPR compression rate. When I finally got out, my pajama pants were entirely soaking wet. Afterward, it was the greatest decision up to that point in my day.
The next greatest decision I made was when I returned to the dressing room and found the cajones to walk into the bath room. “Never have I ever seen a Korean man naked” – I would lose all my fingers ten times over. It was so awkward being the only white guy in that room – the only white guy and the only beard. I bee-lined for an empty hot tub and just sat. I stared at the ceiling, I stared at the water, I stared at the random water fountains. After a few minutes, it was like man was meant to be naked and bathing in the same room together. There were a couple sauna rooms, but I wasn’t brave enough to venture into a dark room full of naked men. Instead, I found the body scrub room.
I don’t know if you have ever heard of these body scrubs, but it was life changing. It was like human car wash, buff, and detail. I have to say it’s pretty good at making you feel vulnerable, but once you get past it – life changing. I mean really, how many plops has this Korean dude seen? TOO MANY. That’s the answer. Anyway, they pretty much scrub all your dead skin off, soap you down, wash you off, and give a little massage to boot. This was 20.0w.
It’s actually a pretty unique experience, mostly because American men would never do it. And to think what my friends went through on the female side of it all – ha.
After that we walked around looking for food, but everything was closed due to Chuseok – the equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner here in Korea. So we grabbed a bus to head to the beach.
Busan has a leg up on Seoul because of Haeundae Beach. It was basically South Beach in Miami. TONS of foreigners, lots of big stores and restaurants, tallest hotels ever (which differed from Miami) and street performers. It was a blast! Being a forty minute bus ride away is dangerous. We walked through the market and settled for some pub food because we could. Gimhae doesn’t have much foreigner food and after two weeks of straight Korean/Japanese/Moroccan(one day for lunch, yes) it was okay in my book. At this point I realized I only grabbed one 50.0w bill and had to bum it out the rest of the day. (Thanks Baylee, Elaine and Erica!!)
After lunch we walked down the beach and up to this track of abandoned railway. It was quite the exercise! One thing I found really neat about walking all that way was how pure my sweat was. After our intense sauna sessions, I didn’t think I’d have any left – but it was basically straight water. The view from the tracks was incredible. I have created a Flickr account to post my photos to (a link should be in the bar on the right under “about.me”). We made our way back to the beach and sat down to await Elaine. Planning ahead, I brought the book Geoff gifted me and nestled in for a nice read.
After Elaine joined, we began the search for Pajeon and Dong-dong ju. Pajeon might be tied for first place on my list of favorite Korean food. It’s basically a pizza-like pancake with greens and seafood mixed in. So. Delicious. Thank you for the recommendation, Bomi! Although we did not find Dong-dong ju, we enjoyed some Makgeolli – an alcoholic drink made from rice.
Post dinner, we walked down the main street and found the bus depot straight back to Gimhae. Had we stayed on the bus in the morning, we would have been dropped off a mere ten minute walk from the beach.
Tomorrow we are celebrating Chuseok as a teacher-family putting together our own potluck. Thank goodness I am only responsible for beer!
Hope you all have a fantastic Chuseok over in America! Four day weekends still kick ass.