Thursday, February 11, 2010

Episode 50: Busan Day 3

On Friday, January 8, Ji-hyun planned to show me Haeundae beach, the most famous beach in Busan. She told me it would take about 30 minutes, but it ended up taking about an hour.

Once we arrived, and after having some lunch, we explored Haeundae. Because it was winter, we more or less had the beach to ourselves like at Gwangalli the day before.

(Long time readers will recognize the hill and buildings of Haeundae beach from my visit here back in March.)

(Waves crashing onto Haeundae beach.)

(Even the buildings behind Haeundae are beautiful. Notice the blue colour on this building and the interesting architecture. You won't find either of those things in Seoul - the city of '60s-era Soviet-style apartment buildings.)

My last time visiting Haeundae beach was back in March, and because I was frantically searching for the shark diving course at the time, I failed to realise how peaceful and therapeutic the crashing of the waves against the shore can be, which is something I'll be looking forward to enjoying more if I return to Busan again. What I also failed to realise is that not every wave crashes into the beach with the same momentum, which can give some tourists a nasty shock if they're not prepared (see video below).

After I got my shoes soaked, we walked over to the nearby Nurimaru APEC House. "Nurimaru" translates to "world summit," and the Nurimaru APEC House on Dongbaek "island" (it's more of a peninsula) was a building built specifically for the 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. The building and location were stunningly beautiful, but you can see that for yourself from the pictures.

(The Nurimaru APEC House. Home of the 2005 APEC Summit.)

(One of my favourite pictures from the whole trip. You can see the famous, on my blog at least, buildings of Haeundae beach in the back ground, a ferry-like boat that made regular trips past this point, but seemed to move more seagulls than people, and a solitary fisherman enjoying the beautiful weather and waves on his own rock.)

(Nurimaru was easily accessible from Haeundae and vice versa. Here Ji-hyun and I cross a small swinging bridge.)

(The famous Mermaid of Dongbaek Island.)

By this time we were getting a bit hungry again, so Ji-hyun suggested we go get a waffle at a cafe called BeansBins. I was expecting a $1 "dutch taco" style of waffle like I was used to buying in Seoul, but at BeansBins waffle creation is taken to a new level. It's not cheap though, as this elaborate looking, mediocre tasting waffle costs around $11.

(An $11 waffle. I wish I could say it tastes as good as it looks.)

After supper, Ji-hyun's brother, Jeong-pil, came over and we went to the nearby Shinsegae department store. The Shinsegae department store was completed in early 2009, at which time it became the largest department store in the world (taking over first place from the Macy's store in New York). While I have been to a number or large department stores in Korea already (Lotte and Hyundai), and I generally find nothing of interest inside, this department store was different. This department store, Shinsegae (literally, "new world") had a massive jjimgilbang called Spaland.

In the past I had limited all of my Korean bathing experiences to the Hamilton Spa in Itaewon. While the tubs there were as nice as any, it lacked the massive size and ridiculous amenities of the jjimjilbangs I had read about in books about Korea. Not Spaland though. Spaland is the Mecca of jjimjilbangs.

In Spaland, there are two floors featuring a great many different "relaxation rooms." There was the Pyramid Room, whose four walls were tapered to a point designed to focus ones energy. There was the Fomentation Room, which seemed to me to just be a room that was really warm, and induced a light sweat. There was a "Cold" Room, whose temperature was 13 degrees centigrade (not quite freezing, when you consider the temperature outside was around 2 degrees). There were rooms that had walls made of yellow ocher, and rooms made of charcoal. There were rooms that played relaxing sounds, and rooms that projected images of waves onto the ceiling and walls, and many more rooms. There were just many rooms.

While all the rooms listed above, along with those I did not list, were described as having some special effect on the body - like de-acidifying the internal organs - I can't imagine anything being more effective at relaxing the mind and body as just sitting in one room and lying down to have a nap or to meditate. However, it seemed like most of the people (including myself) felt pressured to rush from room to room to get the "whole experience," subsequently receiving no experience at all.

After exploring all the rooms, Jeong-pil and I went to the baths section to experience the real reason to come to a jjimgilbang: the baths. As I had said about the experience of jumping back and forth between 49 degree centigrade water to 13 degree water and back to 49 degree water again on my first visit to Korea: it is invigorating.

Actually, invigorating doesn't even begin to describe the sensation. In April of 2009 I had run a mountain half-marathon in Seoul. After that race I went to my usual sauna at he Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon. While I would have normally been hobbling around for a few days after a race like a mountain half-marathon, the Korean sauna helped prevent almost all of the normally occurring DOMS (that muscle stiffness and pain you feel after exercising) in the next two days. But I digress...

At the Spaland baths, there were also a number of steam rooms of varying temperatures that made the Fomentation Room seem like a joke. I'm frankly not sure why the relaxation rooms even exist, when you can go to the baths section and sit in the the 80 degree centigrade Swedish Sauna.

Admittedly, the Swedish Sauna room was so hot that the wood floors and benches scorched my skin after less than 3 seconds of contact. That may have something to do with the lack of people I saw when I went in... and then immediately back out again. After hopping around on my toes a few times I had to exit and run for the cold tub to soothe my burning feet.

At this point it was midnight, and Spaland was closed. It was definitely an experience, and I can see why many young Korean couple go here for dates (you can hang around all day and the owner doesn't give you a dirty look if you don’t buy anything else after you come in). That said, I found the overwhelming amount of choice of rooms to be... well, overwhelming. What I really want to do when I come to the sauna is, come in, build up a sweat in the steam room, and then jump back and forth between a hot and cold pool a few times. For this reason I prefer the simple, more traditional saunas, to these... (insert shuddering here) spas.

I know what you’re thinking now, and that's okay, because Hank Hill has an answer for you: “yes, (I’m) ‘old fashioned.' Old fashioned as in good!”

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