My inability to read maps is one thing. Throwing in non sequential numbers on buildings as well is just cruel. Seoul is another of those cities where half the streets don’t have names, addresses are suggestions at best, and even the most savvy local won’t have any clue the hostel you’re looking for (because of course it’s down some ally in the basement of a Karaoke bar).
Having made friends with my entire (ENTIRE) neighbourhood last night I did finally find where I was going- even if it did require a comprehensive wonder around the same six blocks, two stops for kimchi, and finally a private escort by a local shop owner who took pity on this jet lagged traveller.
Finally settled and exhausted from the trek across continents I crashed into the styrofoam pillows of my windowless room looking forward immensely to a night’s sleep. Why after so many years of doing this I still think I can cheat Asia jet lag is beyond me. Aided by the constant absolute dark of my hostel, and the fact that pork shows up in every meal regardless, I have second guessed not only the time (in 12 hour segments) but am generally unsure of what day it is either. It’s 4am here, so what is it, October there?
For anyone who has followed my writing the past decade or so you know that within about 48 hours of landing you’ll get a commentary on public transportation, social nudity, and/or street food. Not necessarily in that order and thankfully in practice not in tandem.
Social nudity (which I scarily often find myself a part of during my travels) by far the most entertaining.
Lashing rain in Seoul when I awoke (at 4am again), I took a pre dawn excursion getting out of the city to explore one of Korea’s many 24hr Jjimjilbangs (traditional bath houses).
In fairness, I wish I’d had no prior practice with these, but as it turns out my old local spa spot in NYC (Spa Castle) is a shockingly accurate export of the real thing, minus the hard boiled eggs I just bought at reception. Without previous exposure though I’m not sure how well this would have gone with no English. Basically, the sequence of events is as follows:
1) 10,000 won (about $8) by credit card upon arrival, receive day glow bracelet with locker key and dangerous pay-as-you-go sensor
2) Receive uniform (baggy knee length shorts and a XXL T-shirt), surrender any hope of feeling stylish
3) Leave shoes in the first set of lockers, find a local and follow her to the impossible to locate women’s sauna
4) Oh hello nudity. Other than on co-ed floors, clothing is prohibited, as are some basic grooming habits as well apparently
5) Indulge in 17 different jacuzzis, saunas, salt baths, scrubs, and ah yes, the royal oriental medicinal hip washing. It reminded me a bit of my rowing days and having to sweat weight for races – if, in fact, that was done naked, in a tent, and with an herbal steaming pot between your legs. Go ahead and google that one ladies.
6) On communal floors other services such as massage, reflexology, and accupressure are offered. After said accupressure, however, I think I’ll stick to the tamed version I get in Chinatown in the future. Fine there were no needles but there were definitely a few tears. Ironically, the only word of English the therapist spoke was “pain?” question mark?
Five hours later, my skin, back, mind (and a few other areas) have been well attended to as I lie on the floor of an aroma sleeping room, side by side a dozen korean grannies and wait for the light-headed ridiculous awe of it all to pass.
An experience worth indulging and once again proving that rainy afternoons should always be spent naked.
Seoul, South Korea