Getting to know Korea
Trip Start Aug 25, 2012
17Trip End Feb 25, 2013
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Bright and early Saturday morning I started out my journey, catching the bus from Shin Pyeong to Cheonan. I wasn't sure exactly when the bus would come or how long it would take... but I guess I would find out. I waited about a half an hour and then traveled by bus for about an hour and a half before I made it to Cheonan. I met up with Cheryl and Adam (with the help of a stranger's borrowed phone) and we were off for our adventure.
Okay, now what? Well, why not go down to the Asan open air market? Awesome idea! We walked for a while, took a bus for a while, and made it to the market. It was huge outdoor market that is covered by a high, hard plastic canopy to protect a bit from the elements. Before we got there, we grabbed up some walnut cookies, that Asan is famous for and they were tasty. Fresh made just moments before we bought them. We snacked on them as we walked up and down the ally ways of the market. Much of the market was filled with fish and other sea life, because Asan is right on the bay and is famous for their fresh fish. There were also fresh vegetables and fruit, clothes, and other goods.
After strolling up and down the market, we were ready to move on. Cheryl suggested that we try to find the Asan hot spring jimjilbang that is so famous. Jimjilbangs are super popular in Korea and it is basically a bath house where people go to soak, scrub down, and stay the night.
We hopped in a cab and directed him toward the jimjilbang and we were a bit surprised when we rolled up that this particular bath house was almost like a water park. This isn't typical, most of them are like a hotel with a spa in it
We wandered inside and were each assigned a bracelet with a number on it and a micro-chip inside. We shed our shoes and tucked them into lockers (no shoes inside, remember?). and went to figure out where we were supposed to go. Adam head off to the men's spa area and Cheryl and I found the women's spa. We wandered into the locker room, finding rows and rows of probably around 4,000 lockers. Walking between these lockers were naked women. Bare naked women. Lots of them. We found our lockers, waving our bracelets in front of the locks to open them and then we both hesitated. Neither one of us wanted to be the one to go first, but we had come here for a reason, and the other women who were here didn't seem to have a problem. So Cheryl shrugged and pulled her top off and I quickly followed suit. Once we were stripped down we awkwardly walked towards the entrance to the spa. There was a stack of pink towels that were labeled as being okay to use in the spa and we both grabbed one up, but soon realized that they were little more than hand towels. Both Cheryl and I held them awkwardly in front of us as we walked into the main spa room, trying to get used to being so exposed around so many strangers.
Inside was not what I expected at all. In my head this was a solemn, relaxing affair where people averted their eyes and gave each other a small amount of privacy in the public bath. Nope. Not one little bit. The space immediately outside the door of the locker room was a shower area that spread out to the left and the right and almost every shower head was occupied by a Korean woman who was vigorously scrubbing herself with soap. Cheryl and I stood awkwardly for a few moments as we got our baring and found a set of shower heads that were not being used. We followed suit and washed up before moving further into the spa.
The space is filled with a series of pools of various temperatures and purposes
Cheryl and I moved through the space, trying one pool and then another, sitting in saunas and steam rooms.
All along the way the place was pretty packed. Women and young girls walked casually around us, soaking and scrubbing on themselves and their family members. Women chatted casually with each other, reclining on pools, surrounding by bubbles. It was impressive to see the young girls running around, and the mothers and aunts, casually scrubbing themselves near by. No one was shy. No one was modest. No one except for Cheryl and I. We were the only non-Koreans in the place and although we were foreigners, the Korean women were kind enough to not gawk at our awkwardness.
At one point the heat and the humidity was sort of getting to me and I noticed a door that appeared to be leading outside. I pointed it out to Cheryl and we headed out into a little garden. The space was fenced in with high, dark fences that stood behind tall bamboo plants. There was a set of pools, one that was unbelievably hot and another that was particularly cool. Plunge pools. You are supposed to alternate between the two pools, causing your blood vessels to open in the hot water and close in the cold water. This circulates your blood and is good for you. Cheryl and I gave it a try but I think I enjoyed it more than she did.
Back inside we decided that we were about done with our soaking, but we had one last thing to do. Along the back walls of the spa there are little stations where a woman can sit on a low stool and scrub herself. Each of the stations was filled with a women, frothy with soap and diligently scrubbing away at her legs and arms
We met up with Adam and decided that we were all pretty hungry. We caught a cab back to their apartment in Asan and Adam led us to the Korean BBQ place across the street from their place. The place was pretty modern looking and Adam mentioned that it had just opened. The floors were a clean, light wood and the walls were bare brick. Adam said that this was the reason they liked to come here and at first I thought he was talking about the ambiance and great food. Then I noticed that he was pointing to a giant mural that took up the back wall of the restaurant. The painting was of a giant T-rex, bursting through the back wall of the building. It was impressive to say the least.
We ordered pork and within moments the waiter brought out a platter of raw meat, our dozen side dishes, and a metal basket of glowing hot coals. The waiter helped us arrange the meat over the basket of coals and we went to town on the side dishes that were presented to us. Soon our meat was cooked and we were wrapping up pork in lettuce leaves and piling on marinated onions, roasted garlic and chili paste. We stuffed ourselves, polishing off all of our meat and many of the side dishes. So tasty.
We finished off the night by going back to Cheryl and Adam's place and playing cards while sitting on the floor. It was a great way to spend the day, to say the least. I really feel like I got to know Korea a bit better, and now at least a few dozen Korean women know me REALLY well. Cheryl and I have decided that we are bonded for life after going through the bath house together for the first time.