I'm picking out a thermos for you

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Jjimjilbang-ing

As promised, I spent last weekend in Science City, Daejeon. While I didn't take advantage of any of the science-related activities, I still had a great time.

The weekend got off to an inauspicious start when I met my friend D. at the Seoul train station at precisely 7:30 in the pm. We were excited to take the KTX bullet train down to Daejeon - a quick 50 minute jaunt. I hadn't made reservations, because my coworkers had assured me that there were always plent of seats. The trains leave every ~20 min, so why wouldn't there be 2 open seats?

Holiday season, that's why! August is officially vacation month in Korea, and like many countries, nearly every Korean wants to live in the big city, near all the convenience and excitement of urban life, yet no one who lives in Seoul wants to spend their holiday there. Meaning they are all at the train station on the first Friday night of vacation season. All 12 million of them...

So there weren't any open seats on the KTX bullet train. And there weren't any seats on the saemaul middle-class train, either. Which meant that we were on the mugunghwa, the 3rd class train. Cheap? Yes. Efficient? No.

But at least we could relax and sit down, right? Not having been on a train in Korea before, we assumed there was open seating, first come, first served. That's how it is in Europe and on Southwest Airlines, right? Open seating? Well, not so much on the mugunghwa, since we quickly learned that we had bought "standing room only" tickets!!! Sweet. Apparently, we were lucky even to be standing on the mugunghwa. And really, there's nothing better to do on a Friday night than standing through a painfully slow train ride to Daejeon, watching while the bullet train whizzes by at 180 mph.

It all turned out for the best, however. My friend D. went looking for open seats, and although he didn't find any seats, he did return with some welcome news: there were other Americans on the train. And they were drinking beer! And they had asked us to join them! Cool. Of course, I assumed that these Americans were sitting down in seats. Wrong. You know the platform in between cars? The place without air conditioning where you only stand on your way to and from the bathroom? That's where they were hanging out.

But it was actually a lot of fun. If you're stranded on a slow train to Daejeon, you might as well make the most of it by standing in between cars, sweating to death, and drinking bad Korean beer.

Once we finally got into Daejeon, we met up with James and Eric, who had rounded up several locals for a night out. After hanging out for a while at a chill place called the "Beer Cabin," we decided to venture out into downtown Daejeon.

But we weren't really feeling the club scene, so we did the next best thing: batting cages! Seriously - what's cooler than batting cages that are open all night long? And check out that form! It's the swing that begat a thousand singles...



Anyway, on Saturday we visited Gyeryongsan National Park on the outskirts of Daejeon for some hiking, which is the favorite outdoor pasttime of Koreans. Well, elderly Koreans anyway - we were about the only twenty-somethings out hiking except for a couple from Denmark.

There are really only two words to describe this hike: steep and sweaty. I've done some decently hard hikes in my day, but this was incredible - just straight up. Thankfully, the trail was pretty short, so the hike wasn't so tough, but it was a lot more difficult than we had imagined a ~4 mile roundtrip could be. Thankfully, we avoided both the incoming rain (we heard thunder the entire way down, but only got sprinkled upon) and the rapidly advancing nightfall (finishing up just as the light was dying).

And after that hike, we needed some relaxation, so we visited some of the aptly-named bars of Daejon:















OK, I didn't actually go into either one of these bars, but they've still got sweet names, huh?

And finally on Sunday, we got to rest our weary mucles at the jjimjilbang, or Korean spa.

To call this place a "spa" is an understatement. We were a little confused when we pulled up, because the jjimjilbang was located in a 7-story building, but we weren't sure which floor it was on. Turns out, it was on all of the floors. That's right, the spa takes up an entire 7-story building!

For an entry fee of a mere 5,000 won (~$5), we visited the sauna - four rooms of varying temperatures, each decorated with a different theme. Then we checked out the "ice room," which has walls covered in real ice. And then we got a snack at the snack bar. And checked our e-mail at the PC bang. And took in the view of Daejeon from the rooftop patio. And then finally soaked in the hot and cold whirlpools.

And we didn't even scratch the surface - we neglected the noraebang (karaoke room), the restaurant, the gym, the swimming pool (complete with a slide), the Playstation 2 room, the massage tables, and (best of all) the sleeping rooms. Yes, sleeping rooms - at least 4 of them, by my count, including the basic sleeping room, the communal sleeping room, and the "cave" sleeping room where you can crawl into a little hole for privacy during your nap.

There weren't too many people sleeping there on Sunday afternoon, but we learned later that a lot of Korean businessmen will go out and get very drunk on Saturday night, and rather than return home (where they will probably get yelled at by their wives), they go sleep it off at the jjimjilbang. How relaxing! If we had known better, we would have spent the night there, too, just for the experience.

Did I mention this was only $5? You pay a little extra for some of the amenities, but still - $5? What a jjimjilbanging deal!

3 Comments:

  • I will be sad when your posts from Korea end. I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every one.
    You sound like you have had WAY too much fun in Korea.
    Do you think that you will ever go back?

    By Blogger Rachel, at 10:57 AM  

  • Will I ever go back? Maybe. I'd certainly be open to living / working in Korea again (for a defined period of time - it's nice to know when you're coming home!). But I probably wouldn't go there on vacation - Korea is fascinating, but it's not really a tourist hotspot. That may change, of course, as the country continues its adjustment into a first-world country.

    By Blogger swimmerpie3331, at 12:17 PM  

  • Thanx for your report! I'll go to Daejon tomorrow.. do still remember how to get to that jjimjilbang or what its name was?

    Would be nice if you might let me know.
    (ariane.wietbrauk@yahoo.com)

    By Anonymous ariane, at 7:21 PM  

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