Of naked saunas and rock walls

This country is ridiculous.  I don’t think I’ll ever discover everything it has to offer.

Also, this is really long, so you can skip to the bottom for a summary 🙂


Becca came out to Incheon again, so Ryan and I headed into Seoul with her to meet up with a group of teachers from around her area–she lives in the countryside of Gangwon-do and they had all been in Seoul for a couple days doing touristy-things.  We ended up in the Hongdae area for the night, which is home to Hongik University (an art school)–it has a character different from mainstream Korea, which is wonderful.

From Friday night. Random groups of people walking by on stilts and in mascot-type heads–yeah, that’s normal.

At one point we wandered towards the park, and watched an impromptu b-boy show/competition/thing. It was decent, but not particularly exciting. Although a guy/clown put on stilts and tried to show people what’s up, which was entertaining! And our second stilts-sighting of the evening.

Impulsive B-boy dance-off in Hongdae area

(Mental note: don’t try to pet random dogs.  That’s how you get rabies.)  Later, as the subways and buses shut down around midnight, we ended up taking a cab back to Bupyeong (where Ryan lives).


I slept for about 5 hours, then jumped on the subway home to change and such for hiking.  I then–lucky me–got to metro back into Seoul to catch a bus to a hiking area with about 40 other people from Covenant.

A view of the Han River & Seoul from the bus. Pretty city!

The metro ride to Covenant is around 2 hours (bus from my house to the subway, then subway transfer twice).  I need to figure out the direct bus situation, which I’m pretty sure can cut it to 1 hour.  Moving on!  The hiking was less-than, as it was rainy and clammy out, BUT there is a certain Mr. Park who sponsored the whole thing, so for all of 10,000won we got a bus ride there and back, a hike to make us appreciate eating in a warm and dry building, and an all-you-can-eat-of-meat Korean BBQ, otherwise known as samgyeopsal. I’m pretty sure I ate at least 3 or 4 slabs of beef, along with the various toppings and such. It was beautiful!

The samgyeopsal set up is: a grill for every 4 people, a plate of raw slabs of meat, a plate of lettuce & onion & garlic, and small bowls of sauce and salt, some type of kimchi (of course), and other various toppings.  You grill the beef, cut it up into chunks, and roll up a piece of meat in the lettuce leaf with whatever else you want!  After the lettuce ran out, I just put some sauce and onion on top, dipped my meat in the salt, and I was good to go.  Delicious!

Also, karaoke is a bit of an obsession here.  Noreybangs (or however you romanize it) are super-fancy karaoke rooms–you get our own private room for however many people you can fit in, and start singing.  I haven’t personally experienced one yet, I’ll let you know when that happens.  Point being, it’s a big deal to the point where the bus was equipped to become it’s own noreybang.  A flat screen TV (which are popular in buses here) played the lyrics, and of course there was a microphone.

Plus: very entertaining. Minus: cut into my scrape-together-some-extra-sleep plan.

Sing it loud, sing it proud

Once back in Seoul, a few of us headed over to a massive Lotte Mart in Jamsil (a stop on Line 2 of Seoul’s subway), which contained Lotte World.  Things like this really shouldn’t surprise me. I mean, this is Korea, after all.  But my mouth may have dropped open when I first saw it.

That’s the indoor section of the park that’s apparently there, and yes, those are hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling. And then there was a laser show. Which was cool if you didn’t have epilepsy.

We played a couple games of bowling–and no, I have not improved from the last time I played three years ago–and then I said my goodnights and ran to catch one of the last subway trains before the midnight-shutdown.  I headed over to Sinchon (Wikipedia and Virtual Tourist‘s take on the area) to meet-up with Paul–a guy I hadn’t seen since orientation–and…everyone else.  Karl was also in town–Paul & Karl live out in Becca’s area of countryside and such, and wanted more civilization for the night!  It was apparently a few peoples’ birthdays, so the crowd was pretty big.  A bunch of us broke off after a while, hit up a kimbap shop (kimbap being my new favorite late-night food: it’s rice and a few other varying ingredients–we got tuna–wrapped in seaweed. Surprisingly addicting! And cheap :)), and grabbed a few cabs over to Hongdae.

Photo credited to westla.savysource.com, from the ever-lovely Google Images

Fun fact (Cultural Tidbit #8, if you will)

Koreans are, overall, very honest.  I left my bag, complete with my wallet and enough cash to feed kimbap to my school’s teaching staff for a week, in the kimbap shop.  Halfway to Hongdae I realized I didn’t have my bag with me, so I jumped out of the cab and ran back to Sinchon (a lot closer than it sounds–only about a 5 minute walk, if that!).  And lo and behold, the shop owner had my bag!  Any other city, it would have been swiped in a second, am I right?  There are other stories–a man who left his thousands-of-dollars watch in a bar and they still were holding it for him when he returned a month later, Amelia left her camera in a restaurant in Tokyo and returned the next day to find it waiting for her (I know, not Korea, but still–I think it may be a little of bit of an Eastern-Asian thing?), and Karl left his bag in Bar Da Saturday night, and I just went by last night on my way home to pick it up. Because of course they still had it.  Moving on!

We bummed around the area for a few hours, then the other Incheoners got separated from myself and the three Gangwon-do guys.  It was close to subway-reopening time, but since I was going to come back into Seoul on Sunday, I saw no reason to travel 2 hours back to Incheon to sleep for a couple hours before traveling 2 hours back into Seoul.  So we searched for a jjimjilbang.  (There is no such thing as a subway to Gangwon-do, so they were stuck in Seoul, too, until buses started running).

Jjimjilbangs are Korean saunas.  Pretty sure this is the one we went to.  They are 24-hours, and much cheaper than a hotel room (unless you get a room at a love motel with enough people, but that’s a whole other deal).  Our cab driver took us to what Paul–being the most experienced in the jjimjilbang area out of all of us–informed us was a pretty huge setup.  Anyways!  As you may have guessed from the title, these are naked saunas.  Men and women have separate sauna areas, of course!  So we check in, get handed a set of prison-clothes-colored pants and shirt, and head to our respective floors.  After walking through the curtain, I was greeted by a pleasant Korean woman wearing only a pair of very-granny granny panties. I think I veiled my initial shock well, though. She gave me a locker to de-robe, I changed into my prison clothes, and then I met up with the guys on the communal floor.

We went to the…coal kiln?  Not really sure what it was!  A really big semi-outdoor room.  But there were two cats, and two guys who came in with some boiled eggs, string cheese, and two cans of Korea’s finest beer (“finest” being sarcasm).  And a man who kept watering the stone floor with a watering can.  We laughed for a solid 10 minutes about the ridiculousness of the situation.  It’s just an experience you have to have!


Since the sun was starting to rise, we figured it must be about bed time.  The sleeping area was ridiculous.  The floor was covered with people in their prison clothes, sleeping on mats and using block-like-pillow-deals.  A few people were intertwined in ways that just could not have been comfortable.  We found a few empty mats, and hit the hay.  Three hours later, we got poked awake by a couple Koreans who were in charge of making sure no one slept past 9:30 and stacking the mats back up into piles.  Urgh.

THEN I got the full sauna experience.  I needed a shower, and the only way to shower is to strip down and walk through the women’s locker area and into the sauna area, which is full of women of all ages.  I was uncomfortable for a few seconds, but then I just avoided eye contact and it’s all good!  I used bar soap on my hair–pleasant–and baked in the sauna room for a bit before getting back into my street clothes and meeting the guys out front.  The sauna area also had foot baths, hot tubs, and an area where you could get professionally “cleaned”–some sort of scrub.  That costs extra though.  And I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point of wanting another naked woman scrubbing me down.  Eh.  But the sauna and cheap sleeping arrangement is cool! Karl was pretty ecstatic about the whole deal, claiming he’d go back “just for fun! Not even just as a place to sleep!”

We got On the Border for breakfast/lunch, which was grand until we realized that, as much as we miss Mexican food, it has the same negative effect on you that it does back home.  Our stomachs loved us, and informed us as much.  Karl grabbed a train back home, while I went with Paul & Brian to find an outdoor rock wall they had heard of.  They both climb, and I want to learn, so it worked out!

So grand
Brian doing what he does!
Paul basically killed it. It’s ’cause he’s so spread out–he’s at least two of me!
The wall had nothing on this guy
One day, I’ll be able to do climb as high as this kid!
“Hey, I’m gonna try it with my pack on.” That’s a great idea.

The cool thing is, this would never fly in the U.S.  Because of liability issues and such.  But here, it’s grand!  And the weather was perfect.  I climbed 3 walls, and got to the 45 mark, the 70 mark, and the 55 mark respectively.  My legs, arms, back, and shoulders are sore, and I have a blister and a scab, and it was totally worth it.  And this week I’m getting a membership to a climbing gym here in Incheon to prepare for a trip to Thailand over winter break.  Apparently there’s a setup there where they kayak you to these caves where you free climb on the ceiling and then drop yourself and land in the water.  Sweet.  Also, Becca and I can get our scuba certification while we’re there, so it’ll be the perfect combo!

Some views from the park we were at! Right on the Han River
The weather was so perfect that day! A nice break after the rain from the day before!

And now I have motivation to pick my yoga back up, as apparently it’s really good for climbing.

When I was planning my move here, I knew I wanted to learn climbing while I’m in Korea.  So this was just a grand weekend overall!  Dinner was less than $5 for a delicious setup of bibimbap, which is easily one of my favorite meals.  So good!

Realization from the weekend

I need to not focus on what I’m not good at.  For example.  I’m pretty good at musical instruments, and decent at athletic things.  I’m NOT good at artistic expression in the form of drawing/painting/what have you, and I’m not good at cooking.  I’ve never really dedicated myself to an instrument, because I’ve always wished I could draw.  Or cook.  So I’m going to stop wasting time at trying to work on my weaknesses, and just spend my time on things I can actually be great at, instead of mediocre.  And have fun doing it!  So I’ll try the drum thing, and work at climbing, and maybe pick up a guitar here and get back into that.

Side note: On the subway ride home, a couple suit-wearing-soju-smelling-of older men were confused what stop they were at, so I told them Bucheon.  Then one of them bowed to me, said what sounded  like the Korean for “What is this,” and they got off the subway. I’m confused about his use of that expression, but proud that I told a couple Koreans where they were in their own city. Even if they were heavily intoxicated Koreans.

And at some point in the next few weeks, I’m going to finally get involved with an orphanage.  A Korean woman from Covenant goes to an orphanage in Dongsu with her fiance, and Dongsu is about a 20=minute bus/subway ride from my house.  Sweet!  Downside is, they only go once a month, and I’m out of town this weekend when they go. But it will happen, and maybe once they introduce me I can get by without a translator or whatnot and just go on my own. So I’m ridiculously excited about that!  I’ll keep you posted for sure!


* I love Becca

* Subways here close from midnight-ish til about 5 in the morning.

* I got around 8 hours of sleep the whole weekend, I still can’t use the muscles in my arms enough to grip my coffee cup, and it was totally worth it

* I had my first Korean sauna experience, which is a naked sauna experience

* I tried my hand at rock climbing, solidifying my desire to make it a part of my life–even if I could barely lift my coffee cup this morning!

* Korean BBQs are where it’s at

* This coming weekend: Seoroksan!

And I didn’t even include the best part!


3 responses

  1. Pingback: Mall of America ain’t got nuthin’ on this | The Other Side of the World

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