Saturday, November 12, 2005

Naked in Kyong-Ju

I*d be on the balcony in my boxer shorts writing this, if I could only see my screen in the glaring sunshine! It rained for the first time in forever yesterday and today it*s back to blue skies. Last weekend the weather was equally brilliant, and I actually got out of town to take advantage of it.

My room mate Jason, his girlfriend Joy and I took off for Kyong~Ju, **The Museum Without Walls**. From what Jason explained to me, the city used to be the Capital of Korea. It was once a great Buddhist kingdom full of extravagant temples that were later destroyed during the Japanese rule in Korea. The first day we set out to marvel a some of the tombs and temples around the city.

The three of us took the bus from Gumi in the early after noon and arrived in Kyong~Ju a few hours later. We went to the biggest temple site and joined thousands of locals who had decided to do the same. I wonder how many other peoples photos I am in, there was never a moment where someone*s camera wasn*t going off. Now I feel bad for saying this, but temples and tombs really start to bore me after I have taken in one or two. It*s not that Korea*s relics are low quality, I got sick wandering the temples of Anchor Wat, a world wonder, after half a day. Eventually, I just rode around them on my dirt~bike, which is now my favorite way to tour historic sites ~ drive in, drive out! After the first few temples here, the rest of the day was just about wandering, having fun and enjoying good company.

After temple~ing we invited a american we had met back to town for some Sam~Gup~Sa and bowling! Three games cost a meager $2.30, she rental included. And we*re not talking a scungy mini, six pin bowling, this place was classy and regulation. I*m not much of a bowler, and I sucked as usual, but Joy, a stick thin Korean girl who had only bowled once in her life, was cleaning up. The running joke earlier that day was how we envisioned the bowling ball thumping down the lane with Joy*s slender hand and wrist still attached. Luckily, it never happened.

After bowling we said by to our new friend and headed for the nearest Jin~Jil~Bong, a Korean bath house... and this is where the story gets interesting. I*ve never stepped foot in a bath house, let alone a Korean bath house, so I had absolutely no Idea what to expect besides having to be but~naked with a lot of Korean men and my room mate. I*m fine with nudity and even public nudity as long as I still got my boxers on. Going through with this Jin~Jil~Bong experience would take as much courage as took to eat the silk worms I tasted at the temple that day and the raw oysters, eel and fish I ate last night. Bungee jumping from 200 feet (60.96m) meters in Quebec, riding a dirt bike down main street in Cambodia during rush hour and caving for 4 hours in Laos with motorbike helmet and a mini flashlight I received with my hair gel purchase, are all pale in comparison.

When you arrive you are given brown shorts, a brown shirt and a key. After depositing my shoes in the foot locker and chugging the last of my beer Jason and I headed for the mens* bath. Three floors up we entered the cleanest locker room I have ever seen. The room was twice the size of most big swimming pool locker rooms. There was a receptionist near the entrance selling tooth brushes, soap and other hygiene products. In the center of the room there was a 56 inch flat screen television and five or six Koreans chilling out on a large couch watching the Korean drama unfold. Beside the couch was a low wooden table like thing with eight dozen eggs and four koreans sitting on it. All of these guys had their brown UPS looking uniforms on, that would have been a little weird had they all been naked on the couch.

Lovely wooden lockers lined the wall adjacent from the entrance and off to the side, near the entrance to the baths, there was a large corridor with long mirrors on both walls, counters, sinks and all sorts of free body lotions, soaps etc. And then there were the naked, slightly nervous Korean men and boys... everywhere. I was equally nervous, and I still had my cloths on. I found my locker, right beside Jason*s, stripped and headed for the steamy glass doors.

Beyond those doors was a different world. The room opened up into a huge marble, tile and stone bathhouse with 6 different baths, a eucalyptus steam room, sauna, showers and banks of sinks, mirrors and plastic buckets. Tons of Koreans were sitting in these seats exfoliating and helping to scrub each~others backs. Jason and I had to shower first and then we hit the first tub. It was one of the hottest tubs, shared by four or five others. Making small talk with older Korean men on the streets can be difficult in and of itself, I don*t think I exchanged a single with any Korean during the hour I was there.

There was one pool that had this large red button on the wall. Of course, my curiosity drove me to push it and upon doing so four pressurized jets of water erupted from the wall and ceiling. I enjoyed three cycles of this pressure cleaning and then joined Jason in the Arctic pool. It was the kind of cold that made you fight for breath at first, but after acclimatizing it felt great. The pool also had a chin up bar hanging from the celling, I pulled of 15, 11 more than my record! It helped that half my body weight being displaced by water. Finally, I headed for the steam room, sucked back the eucalyptus and let my feet get massaged by the bubbly cold water in the troff below.

After putting on our uniforms we met up with joy on the sleeping floor. Just like in the changing room, the marble floors were radiating with heat. Korean families were scattered everywhere in the vast open room. There were no furnishings, everyone just found a spot on the floor. The are also had a small restaurant and a internet and video game room where all the Korean boys and girls could be found. Besides the main room there were eight or so fair sized sauna rooms with people relaxing and sleeping in them. Each one had a kind of theme. I stayed in one that had quartz crystal and other mineral~y stones carpeting the ceiling and walls. The floor was kind of bumpy and metallic. Than the was a wooden room and a red room and a low, low ceiling room etc. Most of these rooms were far too hot for me, or too noisy because kids were stalking and following me, so I went and tried to sleep in the common area.

When you do decide to go to seep you grab a **pillow** which is a large 6X6 chunk of wood and find a spot on the floor. No blankets, no mattress, no privacy. The fact the floor was heated was awesome but the marble didn*t have much give, nor did my wooden pillow. I tossed and turned a lot that night, occasionally waking up, legs intertwined with other peoples. Overall, not my worst sleep, though the skin on my hips was a little bruised. But for the equivalent of $7 a night, I*m not complaining.

The three of us left that morning, rented bicycles and did a 25km circut around the lake. It was probably one of the best days I have had out here. The weather was brilliant, yet again, and the fall colors were at their peak. People were out everywhere, walking, biking, driving pocket bikes and ATVs. Jason and paid $3 to do some traditional archery. We each got 10 arrows and I hit the target once at 50m... it was windy. Tired and hungry after the long bike, we indulged in Sam~Gup~Sa again and then took the bus home.

I faithfully compiled my expenses when I got home, the two days of buses, taxis, hotels, ice cream, bowling, admissions, junk food, meals, archery and rentals cost just under $75. Not bad for the most kick~ass trip I have had since arriving.

1 comment:

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