Thursday, December 31, 2009

More jimjil-bang for your jimjil-buck

I woke up two days ago in a jimjilbang, a Korean sauna. This was much better than the last time I slept in one. For starters, instead of paunchy middle-aged men drinking beer at oh-dark-thirty, I woke up to see the sun rising over Haeundae Beach and the Pacific Ocean. It wasn't all sunshine and kim chi though. I slept on a pillow the size and the feel of a DVD case, on large towels (beach towels?) that doubled as both a bed sheet and a blanket.

For about $7, the price was right, though I should specify that it was essentially like sleeping in the tiled lobby of a very clean office building. It's hardly unusual. There are sleeping rooms, vast labyrinths where humans lie dormant like unwanted products in a warehouse, but those tend to be unused. Rather, the common area of the spa is used by families, babies and all, for sleeping.

And thus concludes my week of influenza-inspired-internment-in-Ilsan. I visited many of Korea's most famous landmarks while accompanying Koreans as sort of a cross between their skilled monkey and the white-guy-adjusting-to-kimonos-and-the-Orient personified by Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai or Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet (fun fact: I am not white).

A nice part about leaving the Seoul area is that you get to see the sort of old-tymee things that a lot of Koreans try to hide. This is the world of Mugunghwa-class trains, which are the cheapest class of trains in Korea, stopping at virtually every station on a line (ie every 10 minutes) and consisting mostly of impossibly old people precariously standing in the aisle. It's also the world of spartan restaurants, women carrying loads on their head, unruly fish markets and your friends taking a thousand pictures in a 24-hour trip.

This also concludes my nearly five-month-long period of unemployment. It was a good run while it lasted, but it wasn't nearly the fantastic world of leisurely study and twice-daily runs that I imagined. Instead, it was a period of waking up in the early afternoon, running at dusk and watching old clips of the Daily Show online when football or Law and Order were not on. What still surprises me is that I get more done on busy days than idle days. On Monday, when I had to catch an 8:30 train to Busan and therefore left the house at 6:45, I woke up at 5 to run, ate breakfast and then read 100 pages of War and Peace before lunch.

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