Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cockles and clams and all things steamed^^

Spaland, Busan
Including me! Monday was a public holiday, as well as quite cold, so I spent most of it in a jjimjilbang (찜질방) with Edithe. We went to the one in Dreamplus, which was huge! Nothing like the scale of Spaland in Shinsegae Department Store in Busan that you could easily spend the whole day in, but it was pretty good all the same. First we went and had a soak in the baths, and then went to relax in the communal areas. For those of you not familiar with Korean jjimjilbang's,  they are a kind of combined bath and sauna house, which is great for those of us living in tiny one-room apartments with no bathtub (our shower is one of those on a nozzle that hangs on the wall, or in my case hand-held to stop it flooding my apartment). It's a great place to hang out too because it's one of the few places where you see lots of space, exactly for that purpose, which is a commodity on short supply in such a heavily populated country.

A pretty typical 찜질방 bath set-up
So people usually go there for the full bathing experience - first you shower yourself and have a good scrub down to get rid of that nasty top layer of skin (you can buy little glove things for this purpose and rely on a friend or neighbour to do your back for you, or pay an old woman to do it for you, assuming you want EVERYTHING scrubbed down to that last nook and cranny - beware though, your skin CAN get addicted to this so once you start doing it you kind of need to keep doing it again every so often), then go for a nice soak in one of a number of baths. There are always baths of at least three temperatures: cold, tepid and piping hot, just like the Roman bath system, and sometimes there will be extra baths with special water, like salt-water or mineral-enriched water etc. The one at Dreamplus was an odd dark yellow colour and the sign just said it was an "event bath" (i.e. they change the type every so often) so we didn't brave it, and the "massage bath" didn't work, disappointingly, but we gave the other three a good work out, changing between them and the sauna rooms every so often.

And yes, you ARE expected to be completely naked in these places. In fact, you're likely to get roused on if you try and wear anything in. But really, at least you can stare back at people if they stare at you, and nobody really cares - everyone's seen at least one naked person before in their lives (assuming everyone knows how to look down!) and unless you freak out and act weird or have some weird gigantic piercing or a massive tattoo, no-one's likely to even pay you any attention.

Must figure out how to make these ram hat things!
Anyway, after the cleansing, you put on the short and shirt they give you and move into the communal areas. Earlier on, we'd almost walked out there butt naked as we'd been nattering away and not really paying attention to where we were going, but luckily a(nother naked) woman had stopped us and directed us to the baths instead. Here you can do whatever you like - most people just lie around and snooze, chat, read or watch tv, but there is also usually a restaurant, a massage place, a snack shop (unless you're somewhere like Spaland with very high tech keys that also track your bill, don't forget to take money with you if you want to buy anything) and the communal (non-naked) saunas of varying temperatures. At Spaland these are over a whole floor and half a mezzanine level and include things like the Pyramid Room and the Sonic Vibration Room, but at the Dreamplus things were a bit less complicated, so there was just the Ice-Room, the Salt-Stone Room, the Charcoal Room and the Gem Room, which we went into as it was a moderate 40 something degrees, and had crystals embedded in the ceiling. Our sotto-voce chatting was apparently too loud though as the only other occupant there who'd appeared to be asleep started snoring quite ostentatiously after about 15 minutes so we didn't linger, but went back to the communal area to read magazines and gossip with the others.

Michelle considering how much food we'll have to eat
So it was a very relaxing afternoon - so relaxing in fact that we missed our perfect bus that would have gotten us home in 20 minutes and instead had to take the regular 40 minute one and didn't even care. But get home eventually I did and went off to have dinner with Michelle. We decided to try chogae-guii (조개구이), or roasted mussels, which we'd both heard about before but never had the opportunity to try. We went to a place called Chogae Gung ('The Mussel Palace') and after some discussion with the waiters (who were very confused and then intrigued that we weren't fully Korean and thus didn't know what all of the things on the menu were) ordered the basic 조개구이 set menu for 33 000 won. And yes, that IS a lot for a meal in Korea, but it soon became apparent why - we got at least four different types of shellfish cooked for us at our table, as well as coleslaw, gyeran jjim (계란찜 - steamed egg soup), miyokguk (미역국 - seaweed soup) and  pajeon (파전 - savoury shallot pancake). The different shellfish included some gigantic mussels, cockles (called 조개비 or chogaebi), scallops (called 가리비 or caribi), and some others that I didn't recognise but were basically delicious! Most were grilled, some were steamed (in that foil parcel you can see) and some were even chopped up and put into a cheese ddokbokki for us. Here are some photos of our delicious dinner.
So all in all a very steamy and successful public holiday! Oh and then yesterday I got to school to find a 'bribe' of custard filled pastries on my desk from the third year girls who want me to help them with their English study group. How sweet!^^

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