Saturday, November 17, 2012

I love Korea #3

Jim Jil Bangs

I love Korean saunas/spas.  I recently joined a gym/spa and it makes going to the gym actually seem enjoyable.  Most of the information I got about jim jil bangs have been from my co-workers, and random posts online.  If any of this information is incorrect, I apologize in advance.  I also took all of the pictures in this post off the internet.  I did not take any of them, but I tried to get as many as possible to give you a good look at what the spas can offer.  Some are very fancy with tons of rooms, pools and massage tables, while some might only have 2 pools and some showers.  

Korean spas or bathhouses are amazing.  They are segregated, but usually have common areas to eat, watch TV, lounge, and sleep.  Often, you can sleep in them overnight instead of going to a hotel for about 5000 won to 15000 won ( $5-$15 depending on how nice it is).

Korean spas have many different rooms and uses.  The main spa areas are segregated and very clean.  It is thought that wearing clothing may be unhygienic, and if you are wearing any type of cover up, you may be hiding something!   Ideally, you are supposed to scrub all the dead skin off your body before entering the hot tubs.  You will often see Koreans scrubbing each other for what seems like HOURS before they even get into the water.  You are always supposed to take a full shower before getting into the pools.  No rinse and go!  It's funny that as an American, I always prided myself on being able to take a quick shower - and as a Peace Corps volunteer, I could bathe with a glass of water!  HA!  I seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum, now!  Most people are there for hours!
This picture I found was staged since they have on shorts.  But please note the green scrubbie.  I bought one of these and it feels like sandpaper!  They srub each other for hours with this!  This has nothing to do with sexuality.  It is a common practice for friends, and family.  I see young daughters scrubbing moms, and young women scrubbing their elderly grandmothers!  It is not seen as anything but a community bath, and people getting CLEAN!  Men do this too, purely platonically.  I guess Koreans don't have the same hang ups about personal space and sexuality as we do.
The spas include saunas, steam rooms, scented pools, different temperature pools, and washing stations.  You can get massages from ladies wearing black bras and panties (not sure about what the men wear) or just a good ole scrub anywhere from 1000 won to 60000 won.  I even saw one masseuse bringing in a giant cucumber and a pot of something gooey! Talk about relaxation!

Before you come in, you are given two hand towels, a pair of shorts and a shirt.  Hand towels are used as main body towels and notoriously rolled into 'lamb horns'.  This is mainly seen on Korean dramas.  Most people just wrap them around their heads, dry off, and put on the clothes. It's still a pretty neat way to wrap a towel around your head!

After bathing, you can then go to the common areas which usually include tv rooms, eating areas, PC rooms, arcades, kareoke rooms, ice rooms, and the large ovens.  The large ovens get so hot that you are only supposed to be in them for 5 minutes max!  They can range anywhere from 42 C to 90 C!  I can only imagine it would be like taking a walk on Mars!  Ugh!

The cold room is up above, and below are the common rooms and sleeping areas.  Note the square blocks are the pillows.  They are actually a little spongy, but not much.  This is a traditional Korean pillow, and they are great for sleeping on the floor.

 Traditional Korean snacks in the Jim Jil Bang include baked eggs and and iced drink.  The eggs are baked in the ovens, and the brown spots are the cholesterol leaching out during the baking process.  Healthy eggs and iced coffee anyone?

So there you have it.  I put as many pics as I could in this post to give you a good idea of what the Jim Jil Bang is like.  At first, I had trouble with the naked thing.  But after going a couple times, you realize that no one is looking at you, and everyone is just relaxing in the hot water.  As I've continuously gone after my spinning class, I see that it is a very social event, and families go with their great grandmothers to babies.  It's a part of Korean society that I really love, and I definitely don't feel awkward because I'm naked.  It's almost freeing!  Most of the guide books tell you to visit a spa, and I agree.  Go with friends, or go alone.  If you love relaxing in the bath - this is the place for you!  If only I could bring in a book, I would be there for hours!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Apple Fest

I wrote last time about the beef festival.  Last weekend we hit another fall festival.  This one was an apple festival.

We stopped first at an ancient temple, Sudeoksa (수덕사).  It is about 1500 years old, but they've kept it up well for both tourists and pilgrims.  Many temples were destroyed in a Japanese invasion in the 1590s, but this one survived.  The main hall is Korea's oldest wooden building, from 1308.

These guys were in a pagoda out front.  They are big, about 8-10 feet tall each.

The entrance to the temple area.  The building and statuary are hundreds of years old.  Notice the interactive computer booth on the left.

Roasting chestnuts for sale to pilgrims:

Cass and Sam in the courtyard of the temple.  The pagoda in the background was built by a well known monk hundreds of years ago.

Buddhist monk figurines.  I've seen these little fellas in many temples.

The monks live here.

After visiting the temple we headed to the apple festival.  They held it in Yeosan in South Chungcheon province.  The spot was strange.  There was a beautiful orchard and a steel and scrap yard.  I didn't get too many pictures, though.

Cassie told me to climb in the crate.

We were eating a veggie pancake and some soup and we heard the strangest thing.

A group of Korean yodelers.  They were singing German folk songs.  I felt like I was in another world.

I went to compliment the singer on his voice, and it turns out he is a yodel teacher.  He knew Bill Monroe tunes and lots of other old time singers.  He asked me to his campsite and we sang a few tunes.

 They handed me a glass of wine, a shrimp pancake, cheetos then a chicken wing.

 Then someone gave me some playin' spoons.

Not a bad way to spend a late fall Saturday.

Beef Festival and Hiking

The fall in Korea is beautiful but short.  Localities take advantage of the great weather by holding festivals .  On October 20th we went east to Gangwon-do.  They were holding the Hoenseong Beef Festival.

They was a lot to do and see.  Cassie and Sam thresh the rice:

And carry it around.

They had a booth with free snacks... chestnuts, boiled eggs and potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Around the corner was a bizarre spectacle:

Transformer cow and awesome thumbs up cow relaxing in the garden.

Then they gave me some shower shoes, gloves and a tail.  I caught this rainbow trout with my bare hands.  Badass.

Then they cleaned him up and we ate the fresh sushi.  There was a little soju to wash it down.

Fresh raw trout in a lettuce wrap with raw garlic, wasabi and spicy pepper sauce.

You know they had a mechanical bull.

I didn't last long.  On the plus side, Cassie found a new friend.

After the festival we were off to Supchaewon, or the Healing Forest Garden.  It was a little chilly, but great for a hike.

The hike was a quick one, about 45 minutes.  Then I scored a CocoGrape.

After a long day we headed to Phoenix Park,  resort where we spent the night.  They had a water park.  It was okay, but the spa (jimjilbang) was outstanding.  They had a steam room at 90 C (about 195 F).  I lasted abut 8 minutes.  We got some junk food for dinner.  It was an early night because there were important things to do in the morning.

Another, tougher, hike.

Our roommate Moonish made a wise decision giving up after 10 minutes.

The ladies were even smarter, taking the gondola to the top.

Awesome last activity... RVing.

Successful weekend.  RVing, hiking and beef highly recommended.