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Welcome to Korea (again)

We woke aboard the Weidong ferry as it’s giant diesel engines propelled the grouchy hunk of metal towards Incheon, South Korea. The sun had come back, at least for the time being, and made wise by our misadventures in dining the night before, we made sure to calculate our morning so as to just hit the window for the breakfast buffet.

The work paid off as we feasted hard on smoked fish, eggs, delightfully rank kimchee, seaweed heavy miso-esque soups, and sticky rice. There was hot water to make instant coffee with, and plastic bowls to drink from. They even had some of those sickeningly sweet probiotic micro-yogurt drinks that Scott likes. Needless to say, we were quite happy to be eating something that was not packaged in 2-6 layers of cartoon emblazoned plastic wrap, let alone this decadent spread.

The fog rolled in thick again as we made our way towards the coast of South Korea. Soon we began to spot islands in the distance, some of them with giant mansions and manicured estates on them. As we barralled on, pushing plumes of water out of the way, the fog turned to mist, which then turned to light rain. As the downpour continued, our stubborn Weidong Ferry was approached by a small craft, dispatched no doubt by one of the islands. It pulled up next to us and to my great surprise emitted a stocky Korean gentleman who sprung onto the side of our ship and scrambled aboard. Well done, sir.

We had a great pleasure of passing under the same monstrous bridge which we had seen under construction years ago when AsiaWheeling had first taken a ferry from China to Korea. The bridge was now finished and extremely impressive. It loomed way above our giant ferry and dripped the occasional stream of brown water down onto us as we made our way through the rain-free zone underneath.

As usual, Korean customs were delightful, and the people in line were excited to interact with us. We were made to feel very welcome by the officials, and our bicycles were a source of much interest for all involved. We secured a number of tourist maps from a Kiosk just beyond customs, which we began to pour over in order to make a preliminary plan for gaining access to Seoul.

First thing was first, however. We purchased a few paper cups of sticky coffee from a very cheerful vending machine. More properly caffeinated, we set out to change our remaining Renminbi into Korean Won and hop a train into Seoul. It was still misting lightly outside the ferry terminal in Incheon. The water clung to everything in big drop, which flattered the brand new bitumen and reflective paint on the Korean streets with a certain Hollywood noir flourish. It was wet but not cold, and the rain felt refreshing, so given that both of our fenders were still more or less operational (Scott’s slightly less than mine do to his accident on his birthday in Ulaan Baatar), so we used our Chinese motorcycle ponchos to cover the asiawheeling technology bags, and pedaled into the Korean suburbs.

We spotted a currency exchange that looked oddly familiar and pulled to the side of the narrow road we were wheeling. We realized it was none other than the one that we had used years ago on our first trip to Korea. The nostalgic value of using the same establishment again overtook our better judgment, and we simple changed all our Renminbi there, not really caring to inspect the rates.  Two years prior, we were wandering into supermarkets with Chinese currency in our hands, raving and jabbering to helpless staff members.  Now we were rolling up to this shack on a sidestreet and transacting with a smile, a nod, and a quick kam sam ham ni da.

It felt good to ride after being cooped up on the Weidong ferry for 30 hours, so we forsook the first few metro stations, where we could have caught a commuter train into Seoul, and rode on towards the heart of the Korean peninsula. Then suddenly, as if to object to our selection of freedom, the skies opened, and the refreshing mist became a thundering downpour. We hustled through sheets of rain, and river streets to the next metro station, arriving at the ticket machine soaking wet, but still in good spirits.


We were planning to spend as much time as possible in Korea staying in Jimjilbangs. The Jimjilbang is the Korean bathhouse. I was introduced to them originally when I was living in DC working as a management consultant. Not far outside the district was one of the largest Jimjilbangs in the US, a place called Spa World. I had managed to fall into a crowd that frequented that bathhouse. And, being already in possession of a penchant for group bathing engendered during my time in St. Petersburg, I took to the pools of hot and cold water, the baths full of jets and bubbles, and the strange rooms where the spa-goer can commune with the elemental forces of different stones, metals, or earthy substances like a fish to water.
But before we could get to one of the many Jimjilbangs that we had been researching via the AsiaWheeling Lonely Planet PDF database, we needed to figure out the metro system, which is only initially daunting.

The metro was quiet and comfortable, and there was plenty of room to store the Speed TRs in what we later learned was the section reserved for those in wheelchairs.

Our train hammered through the downpour, which washed down the windows so hard and fast that it was nearly impossible to even make out the scenery going by. We were thus forced to consume the transition from coastal suburbs into the urban monstrosity of Seoul in snapshots glimpsed through the opening of the train doors.

The rain was falling harder than ever when we finally reached Seoul. Rather than strike out blindly into the downpour, we decided to consult the inter-tron as to the best reasonably proximate Jimjilbang. We decided on Angel in-us Coffee shop as an internet source, because the name made us feel sort of uncomfortable, which is how we like to feel here at AsiaWheeling, and because they served coffee which might be good and it had been quite some time since we’d had decent coffee.

The good people at the Angel in-us did their best to get us on their network, since after all we had purchased very expensive cups of coffee from them, but in the end, we all gave up just sapped connection from the Dunkin Donuts next door.  Korea was turning out to be just as fabulous as we had left it, and we were thrilled to be at just the onset of our time here.

We selected the Siloam, a Jimjilbang, which it seemed we could get to reasonably easily by wheeling our bike across the sprawling Seoul railway station and taking an underground tunnel to a distant entrance point. When we reached the exit, it was still raining like mad, small rivers of water were rolling down the steps and collecting in a drainage grating at the base of the stairs. As we stood there staring up into the storm, and preparing for a very wet ride, we were approached by an Evangelist. I had forgotten until then that Korea is a very Christian country, but quickly remembered as we did our best to politely decline salvation.

The ride was every bit as sopping and stressful as we had feared. There are so many bathhouses in Seoul, all emblazoned with the ubiquitous neon icon of a steaming pool. So miserable was the rain that I was ready to just check into a random one. Scott was more steadfast. We were both soaked to the bone and huddling in a tiny dripping doorway, trying to make sense of our navigational blunders, and sopping wet tourist maps in the deafening rain. Scott was staring into an image of the map that he had taken with his camera when he came to a conclusion about our location. He dabbed a wet finger against the LCD screen and explained his plan.

So we piled or things in a doorway, hoping no tennant of this building would hope to enter or exit, and Scott headed out to do some unencumbered reconnaissance on his Speed TR. I huddled and shivered in the doorway, awaiting his return and watching water pour off of every surface. It was not long before I heard woops and shouts of delight and saw Scott’s sopping mustache curled up in a smile.

“Got it.” he said, splashing towards me, and we piled our things back onto the Speed TRs for a final push. Then we were there. The fine people at Siloam showed us there to park our bikes, issued us keys and lockers and handed over neatly folded color coded outfits (white for men; orange for women).   They were thrilled to see us, as if awaiting our arrival since we departed from Chinese shores on the ferry.  They even took our sopping clothes and washed and dried them for free – “service,” they said.

We

We spent the next twenty hours, scrubbing, soaking, baking, ruminating, stewing, pickling, and plunging in pools of ice water. Once we were seriously clean and had been sufficiently relaxed in that way that only extreme temperature changes can relax a human, we headed to the in-house restaurant to sit on the floor and eat some Korean food. We were plenty ready to dig in to a big bowl of cold noodles with seaweed and lettuce, a sizzling bibimbap (the famous Korean meat and rice dish) and a somewhat marrowy tasting seafood and dumpling soup. As usual, the dishes came with a few of the traditional Korean side salads called “Banchan”.

There was no free Internet connections at the Saloam, only some interesting coin operated computers in the “Business Room,” but we were able to use our Shenzhen hacker’s external USB wifi card and antenna to nab some free network through the window, and share them between our two computers via Ethernet cable. Meanwhile, the sky continued to douse the already sopping capital of South Korea.


Comments

  1. AsiaWheeling » Blog Archive » Jim-jil-bangin’ | February 28th, 2012 | 11:09 pm

    [...] time we stayed at another spa, we figured, since it had been days since our relaxing stay at the Siloam, and Jimjilban visits had been a distinct goal of our time in [...]

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