Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Korea - The first jjimjilbang

Hello everyone!

In amongst the sporting festivities, last weekend also involved the standard drunken debauchery. I briefly mentioned it in the previous blog, but I'm going to talk you through our super Saturday. Sky Sports has nothing on it.

We (when I say we here, I mean Tom, and we all owe him) bought some meat and accroutments in Sammi Market, near my house, and then lugged the food back to Woosok tower for a sunshine-smothered barbecue. Woosok is where a lot of the English teachers in Siheung live, and I get the feeling we will spend a lot of time on their roof. It felt like we were on holiday, topless torsos being parched by the sun whilst cooking and drinking.

It was a glorious day. Many of my schoolkids spotted me as we walked down, and came to give me hugs and hi-5's. When I tried to talk to them, it fell a bit flat. Guess I still have some work to do. I took over cooking duties when some ash flicked into Tom's eye. As you can see, I still haven't cut my hair. Still going for the whole year! After the tension of the outspoken American's brief appearance (see my previous blog if you missed that), we got on with having fun. Mixing it up a bit, and feeling summery, I was drinking an amazing sweet red wine. It's South African - Korean wine is restricted to rice wine, and thus a bit heavy.

Our barbecue was awesome, and will undoubtedly be a regular feature of our summer. But soon the sun began to weaken, and we prepped to go into Hongdae. Rather than dealing with public transport, we went direct in a taxi, which wasn't overly expensive - just over a fiver for a pretty long journey. Whilst on toilet breaks in a coffee shop, we noticed two university students sat across from each other on the same table doing their art homework. Both listening to music - different music. It was strange to see people in the nightlife district working, a fact made worse when we saw that their drawings weren't really that good.

First stop was a bar called Woody's. 2,000W for a beer (that's just over a quid!). Fair few of those were sent packing. A Canadian girl was sat near us, and Jon and myself took it upon ourselves to give her some playful banter. Others would have called it outright abuse. After doing this for far longer than was necessary, she then bought a gin bucket, which...well...was a plastic bucket with gin and juice in it. The two of us played a drinking game where the other person drank if you could end a sentence with a word that's final syllable was 'oh' - innuendo, low, slow, etc etc. Needless to say, the girl got destroyed, until Deb joined in and showed off her amazing linguistic skills, getting me drunk in the process.

The rest of the night involves trying to learn to salsa in a packed club which definitely didn't play salsa-friendly music, bacardi shots and mental podium dancing. Not by me, I might add. The people I came with left relatively early, so I went to meet some people I had met at the DJ festival the week before. It was soon light, and thus time to head home.

Or not, as it turned out. 'We're going to a jjimjilbang!' one person shouts as we pile into two taxis. A short taxi race later and we arrive at a very large complex called the Dragon Hill Spa. A jjimjilbang is essentially a health spa, with one crucial addendum - you can sleep there. In this one, which with seven floors is one of the bigger jjimjilbang's in Korea, you pay 12,000W and have access to everything for 12 hours. It houses all of the things you would expect in a health spa: saunas, jacuzzis, colder bathing and swimming pools. The works. We must have got there at around 6.30am, and headed for the baths.

Having never been to one before, I wasn't exactly sure on what to do. I'd heard about nudity, but they give you a t-shirt and shorts upon arrival, so when we got to some lockers and other people started to put their stuff in I decided to change. When finished, I looked around to see that no one else had followed suit, and that in fact everyone else was staring at me as if I'd shot the Pope. It was at this point that one of the guys explained that there are other, more secluded changing rooms where you change your clothes, and that these lockers were for your valuables. This point was hammered home when we walked through into the main lobby area.

The faux pas' don't end there, though. We go to the baths (they're segregated, for reasons you're about to find out), and then everyone changes. I'm done, of course, so head through in the grey t-shirt and shorts. Soon I turn around to see everyone else walking through...stark naked. This time the looks were just of despair, and I was quickly sent back to strip. It made sense, we were going into the baths, but this didn't register in my gin-fuelled state.

It was very relaxing, even after Frank got a bucket of freezing water and starting chucking it at us. Drunken shower done, and we then went to sleep. I mentioned earlier that you can sleep in a jjimjilbang. I'll now say that it's not at all comfortable to do so. You can sleep anywhere - some slept in the PC room, for example - but most of us ended up sleeping in the main hall. On the wooden floor. You do get a pillow if you can find one, and after I had done so (it took a while) we settled down for one of the more painful sleeps of my short life.

Waking up four hours later was a strange experience. I turned my head and opened my eyes to see two chandeliers shining above me. I looked across the room and saw families walking around in shorts, the kids excitable and the parents desperately trying to rein them in. I could hear the faint noise of activity coming from afar. It felt a little bit like Vegas, but also felt like your bog-standard holiday resort, especially when we chilled by the swimming pool for a little while. I had to leave soon after to sort out the football stuff, but the rest of the people had planned on staying there before going to Hongdae, and were making a day of it. You could easily do that there. It was very nice, if a little surreal, and I'm sure I'll be back.

Love you all


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