Chuc Mung Nam Moui!

6 03 2010

It was hard to top our first anniversary celebrations, which was in Ireland. But Randy pulled it off. We didn’t get to go to a different country, but we spent the weekend in Seoul. Our anniversary falls on the day before Valentine’s Day and apparently this year, the day before Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year or Tet [in Vietnam] or Seollal [in Korea]). Chinese New Year is on a different day each year. But this year, we were lucky to have three full days to celebrate these holidays and a very special occasion.

During Chinese New Year or Seollal, which is what the Koreans call it, Koreans spend time with their families. The holiday is similar to Chuseok. Families get together, cook traditional foods and pay respects to their ancestors and elders. Chuseok and Seollal are similar to our Thanksgiving and Christmas. But, it’s also similar to one childhood memory, Tet, which is what the Vietnamese call Chinese New Year. We did all of these things, but would also receive “pockets,” or red envelopes with money inside for good luck from our elders. Although I didn’t receive any “pockets” this year, I received a great weekend with my favorite person in the world and good friends.

Because our anniversary was in between two major trips this year (Vietnam and Japan), we needed to save money. It’s somewhat hard to do in Seoul, but I think we accomplished it and also had star treatment. We arrived on a Friday night as usual and stayed in a jjimjilbang or sauna. Although the overnight jjimjilbangs are nothing like Spa Land in Busan where you cannot stay overnight (click here to see the entry about Spa Land). In Seoul, we stayed at the Hamilton Spa, which is located in the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon. It costs about 10,000 won ($8 USD) per person per night, which is a lot cheaper than even the love motels, which costs around 35,000 to 80,000 won ($70 USD) per night. You get a shirt and shorts and a blanket to sleep on the heated floors. It’s definitely an experience to try once. We’ve slept at a jjimjilbang several times though, mostly in Busan at Vesta Spa.

After a refreshing early morning spa and sauna, we checked into the star treatment hotel that Randy picked out. Hotel Elle Inn, although tucked away from the main street and standing out from all of the other buildings, was a little treasure. The room wasn’t massive, but the details and Jacuzzi were amazing. For a really nice hotel, the price tag wasn’t too terrible. It would probably be around $200 in the states, but this hotel was only about $100 USD per night. He also surprised me by picking out a place with a beautiful night view of Seoul. We had dinner in the Jongno Building on the 33rd floor at a restaurant called “Top Cloud.” But the most surprising event was that Randy had his first steak! I was so proud of him. Of course, from working at the American Meat Institute, I know how to enjoy a good steak, and I’m glad that Randy and I could enjoy the same entree that night. It’s really great to get to see each other grow as a person while in a foreign country, whether it’s with trying different types of food, interacting with people or learning both from each other.

As we keep learning from each other and seeing each other grow as a person, we continue to learn about Korea as a country. The War Memorial of Korea is a place we need to revisit. It’s a museum that shows the 5,000-year-old history of how Korea has with stood many foreign invasions. There is also a magnificent display of how the world came together to help South Korea during one of the most tragic wars in history, the Korean War. What’s best about this museum is that it’s free. It’s a five minute walk from Samgakji Subway station, near Itaewon.

Advertisements




Bathing like a King and Queen

11 12 2009

The best thing to do after hiking is to find a jjimjilbong (찜질방). A jjimjilbong is a spa and sauna that is divided into male and female bath houses. They give you shorts, a shirt and a few towels, and then you go into the respective locker rooms and get naked. The first thing you must do before you step into the steaming jet stream bath is take a shower. Although everyone bathes in the same bath, Koreans don’t want you to contaminate the water, so you must wash off before entering any of the baths. Koreans also scrub each other in jjimjilbongs to get all of the dead skin off. After this, you are able to bathe in the hot bath, cold bath or salt bath. But, a jjimjilbong is much more than openly bathing with other people. After you’ve scrubbed your body to full freshness, you relocate to the sauna area in the clothes provided to meet other people, males and females. There are thousands of jjimjilbongs in Korea. But, one of the best jjimjilbongs we have visited is located in Busan.

Anyone who visits Korea and does not visit SpaLand in Shinsegae is doing a great disservice to your Korean experience. This place reminds me of how kings and queens must have lived. What we didn’t expect was for it to be so different from any other jjimjilbong we have visited. It has a variety of different baths and so many different saunas. Within your four hours, you can watch a movie in the DVD room on huge recliners, watch TV in the relaxation room, enjoy the sun from the indoors, go outside in the freezing cold and be warmed by stepping into a bath of hot water and you can experience all types of saunas to relax in or even take a nap. They have snack bars everywhere and you can pay with your key! Your ticket to pure relaxation will cost you 12,000 won for a visit on a weekday, 14,000 won on Saturday or Sunday with a 4-hour limit.

Meeting area for men and women

In the bathing area you’ll start to notice the stark beauty and opulence of the place with many small baths, each of a different temperature. In the center of the room is the naturally-fed hot springs. One is sodium chloride (salt, benefiting the muscles and joints, as well as other body systems), the second is sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, said to “improve beauty of the skin”). There is a massaging tub (38 degrees C), a cool tub (25 degrees C), a cold tub (18 degrees C) and four dry sauna rooms. After you are finished bathing with your respective gender, you can put on the provided clothes and go to the “Meeting Area,” where you can meet the other men or women. Below are the different saunas that you can experience:

Charcoal Room -참숯방

Ice Room – 아이스방 / 어름방

Yellow Ocher Room – Hwang-to / 황토방. Hot, but dry, comfortable.

Hammam Room – 하맘룸, meant to replicate a Turkish-style bath sauna.

Bali Room – 발리룸, an open area with soft reclining floor mattresses where you can congregate with your friends and loved ones and talk freely.

Pyramid room – angled walls for a relaxing mood.

Roman Room – 로만룸, replicates the feeling of a traditional Roman sauna room.

Body Sound Room – fake bamboo along the walls and raised platforms that vibrate with the bass of the calming background music.

Body Sound Room

Wave Dream Room- place to lay along the sides, and from the middle lights are reflected through water waves for a meditative, colorful view on the ceiling.

SEV Room – therapeutic ions emitted into semi-private, wooden 2-seater benches lit by dim colored lights.

Relaxation Room – an amazing 3-tiered arc-shaped space with reclining leather chairs together in pairs, each one equipped with its own mini TV!

Spaland also includes a massage and therapy room, nail salon, cafe and beverages, a restaurant, DVD, PC and business rooms. This is one of our favorite Korean experiences and we highly recommend making the trip to Shinsegae Department Store in Busan, the largest department store in the world.

After a few months of living in Korea, we are beginning to learn about the Korean way of life. Everyday we learn a little bit more on how Koreans enrich their lives by incorporating healthy habits in their lifestyle. When will the rest of the world catch on?

How to get there. Take line 2 on the subway toward Heaundae and stop at Centum City, exit 12. Spaland is on the first floor next to Prada in the Shinsegae Department Store in Busan, South Korea. Click here to see a map.