Monday, May 3, 2010

more noraebangs than you can shake a stick at

we had a packed day yesterday.

  • i watched a man delivering a cart of propane tanks on his motorcycle have a very bad day in the rain, stalled on the shoulder of the highway.

  • we wandered through the market at Namdaemun, where a man dressed up in a woman's hanbok dress complete with false breasts called to me in Japanese to check out his wares (people seem to think i'm Japanese here - my sister says it's because i wear ugly shoes, but i'm sure it's because i have the world's most startlingly bad Korean accent). My father also surprised us all with his ninja-stealthy haggling skills in the market.

  • i bought some nifty new glasses at a shop, which was a pretty interesting experience. i basically got a free eye examination and my optician got a free English lesson, because my dad decided it was time for me to be a man and try to navigate through the eye exam on my own without translation help. Despite many language barriers, the good news is that my glasses turned out perfectly, and dirt dirt dirt cheap (unlike in Canada, where i'd have to drop $400 on a pair that i'd have to wait three weeks for). The bad news is that it is clear that law school has worsened my eyes to the -10.00s now (shakes fist).

  • we ate at a deeeelicious restaurant (Koon-gi-wa-jib) where you take your shoes off at the entrance (while a dozen businessmen in suits file past you to meet their chauffeurs tending to their mercedes), and you are seated in one of those private rooms lined with rice paper walls and you sit on a bamboo mat on the floor. Then you are served dozens of different banchan (side dishes) in bronze bowls along with elegantly prepared abalone and the most tender kalbi i have ever eaten in my life. it's also probably the most expensive place we've eaten at so far, and it still came out to less than twenty bucks a person. have i mentioned how amazingly cheap Korea is?

banchan, as far as the eye can see!

  • we walked along the trendy yet historical Bukchon Hanok Village, which was where all the nobility class yangban and government officials originally lived, close to the palace. in other words, where my peeps would have lived, had we not been ousted by the Japanese (shakes fist again).

  • we also did a tour of Gyeoungbokgung Palace, which was where the King used to live, during the Joseon dynasty. it was originally built in the 1300's but parts of it kept getting destroyed (ahem, ahem, JAPANESE OCCUPATION...) We had the loveliest tour guide, a retired Korean banker who felt he had benefited so much from the country that he wanted to give back, and also practice his English. i really can't describe the palace grounds in words, but i did take some photos.

Our guide ended our tour by telling us why Korea is awesome.
1. Good King Sejong invented the Korean alphabet in the fifteenth century, which was a system so logical and uncomplicated that it has reduced the illiteracy rate in korea to less than 1%.
2. We keep getting invaded by countries, over and over and over again (ahem, JAPAN), but we're still around. I think our tour guide mentioned our amazing skills at sucking up to major foreign powers (ahem, USA) and i think that's an important diplomatic skill.
3. The King had a special toilet.

  • but the most magical thing that i must tell you about is the JJIMJILBANG.

i'm not quite sure what "fomentation" is

I have been contemplating this in my head for a long time but I cannot think of a English equivalent at all. i think the closest concept we have is a spa, but that raises notions of white fluffy bathrobes, white marble walls, white upper class privilege prices, and cucumbers placed on your eyes for no reason that anyone can understand. At a jjimjilbang, first of all, they store all your clothes and you wear the most ridiculous outfit of a bright orange t-shirt and red shorts, so you can't hold any illusions of being a bored rich housewife at a luxury spa. Secondly you pay something like ten dollars and then you can spend hours there, even stay there all night, so you have all kinds of people (especially families and young people on dates) hanging out there, not just bored rich housewives.

while there are spa elements there, like baths, saunas, and services offering massages and "padicures" (sic), the emphasis there seems to be on relaxation (My father thinks this is because Koreans don't know how to relax in an unstructured manner). this means jjimjilbangs have all sorts of Korean things that North American spas don't have, like:
  • movies
  • a cafeteria that serves beer, ice cream, and pogo sticks
  • karaoke rooms (noraebang)
  • sleeping rooms - included a room designated for snorers
  • a bookshelf of manga comic books to bring into the sauna
i am not kidding you, there really was a gaming room. i spent most of my time dozing off in the various therapeutic rooms, like the salt room (apparently it is therapeutic to lie on a bed of heated salt), the charcoal room, the jade rooms, the ice room, the clay room, the oxygen room. i also checked out the baths full of naked elderly Asian women, where i discovered that contrary to popular belief, the sag factor is a real concern for all of us when aging. my favourite part was the massage chairs (massages by a robot! for a dollar!) and the signs everywhere telling koreans to be nice to the foreigners, who will probably not be very good at Starcraft.

i think what excites me the most is that i am pretty sure there is a korean jjimjilbang in Toronto, which i'll have to check out when i get back to Canada. You'll all come with me, right? I sure hope it has a Starcraft room.