Going to work on Mondays after a long weekend is tough. Therefore, I decided to show solidarity with my friends by spending that day, May 8th, at the beach. I walked around Haeundae Beach, admired the view, and then took a bus to see Yonggungsa Temple, a Buddhist Temple perched on a cliff right next to that large body of water separating Korea and Japan (call it what you will). What struck me, in addition to the picture-perfect location, was how women were portrayed. I had never seen women in the art at other tenples but here there were murals with a proud mother of an enlightened child and even a large statue of a water goddess in a prominent location. I don’t understand why this place was unique, but at least it makes me sound politically correct. I really enjoyed the hoddeok, or fried Korean pancakes stuffed with nuts, from a stand afterwards. The fried fish paste…well, at least I gave it a try.
Yeongwhi thought it was time for David and me to experience jjimjilbang, or Korean spa, so I met them, along with her close friend You Jeong, at the Aqua Palace Hotel jjimjilbang in Gwangali Beach after dinner. Since the next day was the presidential election, my friends, all teachers with the day off, decided we would stay the night there in order to get the full experience. The price per person to stay and have access to all of the spa overnight was only about 15 USD – totally worth it as I soon found out.
The first thing you do, after being sent to the floor corresponding to your gender, is to strip and shower off (finally, an advantage to having bad eyesight!). Then, you walk upstairs (this place had eight floors), still without any cover, to a room with several large, heated saltwater pools. David and I both thought the 42 degree Celsius pool was comfortable so we spent most of the time before the agreed reunion time there. After a refreshing dip in the cool pool, a shower, and finally getting dressed in our provided shirts and shorts (orange for men, purple for women, dark green for children), we walked up the stairs, passing another men’s level, all of the women’s levels, and a waterpark level, to reach the main common area. There, Yeongwhi and You Jeong had already prepared leather mats for us with blankets and small, square leather pillows right next to a huge window overlooking Gwangali Beach and the colorfully lit Gwangan Bridge. The women treated us as guests to all of the traditional foods and drinks for jjimjilbangs. Sikhye, a sweet, fermented, non-alcoholic rice drink, reminded me of orange juice because of the pulp on the bottom. The baked eggs, which you had to peel the shells from, and instant noodles were good too. Like a bad movie, we just sat and talked until we finally passed out, at 2 AM, on our mats like everyone else in the room.
We spent the next morning testing out all of the different spa rooms in the jjimjilbang. My favorite was the hot salt room, an upper 40s degree room filled with salt gravel, because the comfortable temperature, combined with a rounded wooden head pillow, nearly put me to sleep. The adjacent room, filled with small black and white pebbles, was fun because we spent a lot of time throwing pebbles at each other in an attempt to land them in each other’s pockets. The hot room, housed in an orange mudbrick igloo upstairs, wasn’t too terrible for being 73 degrees as long as you stayed on the straw mats and off the hot concrete floor. The cool room, 10 degrees by my estimation, felt amazing afterwards. Finally, we found ourselves sitting in a pool, open to the common area, filled with marble-sized red clay balls. Your body would sink into them no matter how you moved and we soon discovered that they felt amazing against our backs. It was funny because some enterprising soul had managed to fill the bottom of the adjacent double-pane window with red clay balls thanks to a tiny hole.
Somehow, after spending all this time together, the women still wanted to eat lunch with David and me. Since it is hard to turn down intelligent, not to mention English-speaking and intensely gorgeous, company, I found myself enjoying Busan-style cold noodles at a nearby restaurant. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer evening and this will certainly be one of the highlights of my trip.