Weekend in Busan
Last week we received our first Korean paychecks and flight reimbursement. WE. ARE. MILLIONAIRES (In Won). In case we weren’t officially teachers before, we are now. It’s surreal to think that we are employed by the Korean public school system. Our bank accounts, our insurance, and our cell phones are all 100% set up. As a celebration, on Saturday we hopped on the KTX train over to Busan for the weekend. I don’t want to give anything away, but there was a lot of Korean nudity. Really. Click below to read about our exploits.
Our friend Randy was celebrating his birthday in Busan with his fellow native teachers from Ulsan. Busan is considered the Miami of Korea – and was originally our first choice for placement – so needless to say, we were excited to visit the city.
Korea’s high-speed train is called the KTX and connects a number of major cities including Busan, Daegu and Seoul. Aside from the travelling speed, there’s a new train about every ten minutes, so it’s a really convenient way to travel. We got to Busan Station in about an hour and grabbed a taxi for the Dadaepo Beach kite festival.
The cloudy, windy weather made for perfect kite flying conditions. As soon as we got out of the cab we took in a deep breath of fresh sea air, which was a welcome relief from the smog, stink, exhaust smoke and yellow dust of Daegu (check out a fellow EPIKers post on yellow dust here). With dozens of huge, brightly colored kites overhead, we spent the next few hours just exploring the shoreline and taking pictures.
Later that afternoon, we went met up with Randy and Shauna’s crew in Haeundae Beach. Haeundae is essentially the South Beach of Korea. It has great restaurants and night life right on the edge of the sand. As we’re all highly sophisticated world travelers, we thought an authentic place for a Korean birthday dinner would be Outback Steakhouse.
Our lodging in Busan was something Gina and I had been dreading since we got to Korea. The infamous “love motels.” Korean culture is very strict when it comes to unmarried couples staying together. Most people live at home until they get married, and most Korean homes are much smaller than your typical American house or apartment. This doesn’t exactly leave many options for young people to…you know…get busy. Love motels are affordable places where people can go spend anywhere from an hour to a weekend together. Yes, a lot of their guests are just Johns and prostitutes as you would initially expect, but I think a majority of them are regular people who just need some privacy. Travelers have also discovered them to be a cheaper alternative to hotels.
Love motels are everywhere, especially in our neighborhood. And we mean EVERYWHERE. From what we’ve been told, love motels can actually be pretty nice since it’s normal people using them, not druggies or anything like that. Nevertheless, we were expecting something out of a Dateline expose, sticky remote controls and all. In reality, our motel wasn’t too bad. We even stayed in a low-end one for 35,000 Won (about $33). And best of all, it had all the low-budget soft-core Korean pornography you could ever ask for. There was no need to make an embarrassing call to the front desk because the VHS tapes were stacked in the corner of the lobby from the floor to the ceiling. Classy.
On Sunday we had another experience that I personally had been dreading since we got to Korea: the Jjimjilbangs. Jjimjilbangs are Korean spas full of showers, hot tubs, saunas, etc. and are a big part of Korean culture. Families go together and spend the entire day there just relaxing. Koreans believe the high temperatures help promote good health by releasing toxins from the body and strengthening the immune system. At a jjimjilbang, the men and women first go to their respective areas to shower and scrub down thoroughly (while naked…with other dudes). After that, they spend some time in hot and cold tubs of various temperatures (again, with other dudes). “Can I wear a bathing suit?” I asked Randy, our enthusiastic guide. “Naw son, “(New York accent) “you gotta go naked all the way son! YOU READY TO SEE SOME KOREAN ****!?” Ahh geez.
So what better way to have our first jjimjilbang experience than at Spa Land in Shinsegae, the worlds largest department store. As far as jjimjilbangs go, Spa Land is about as high-end as you can get. I’ll skip the details, but just imagine a room full of guys that look like the Asian guy from The Hangover. You know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, look it up. The showers and tubs were actually all really fancy and nice, except for…all the uh, penises. After the first room of horrors, we dressed up in our cult-like Spa Land shorts and t-shirts and headed for the co-ed common area. We met up with Gina and Shauna and set off to enjoy all the amenities Spa Land had to offer. There were about a dozen beautifully designed saunas of different temperatures, themes, aromas and sounds. There were massage rooms, a small movie theater playing American blockbusters, a relaxation room with about 100 recliner chairs with small TV’s attached, an outdoor foot bath, and a restaurant among other things. At the end of the day, it actually was a very relaxing experience. The final price tag for four hours at one of the best spas in Korea: about $11 USD.
At around 7pm we had dinner at the Shinsegae food court as we watched kids skate around the huge indoor ice rink, then grabbed the KTX back to Daegu. The weekend was a success and a pretty good way to spend some of our first Korean paychecks.
Check out our Flickr page for all the new pictures we put up.