11.08.2014 - 11.08.2014
We encountered our first medical issue, other than disagreeable food, here in South Korea. Ben has injured his ear and will need to stay at the hostel to rest and continue to see a doctor for the issue. Unfortunately, the hostel has no room left, so I must figure out what to do for the next three days.
For the first day, I tour around Seoul more on my own. Checking out the large temple in the southern portion near Gangnam and eating some massive dumplings in the north. The filling is a mix of pork and tofu giving it a much softer texture than just meat alone. The broth is made with ox bones and has a delicate flavor.
For the night I headed to a local jjimjilban. This is a Korean bathhouse, where you do indeed need to be nude to enjoy the bathing facilities (not coed). Once you soak in the tubs of different temperatures, you change into clothes given to you by the bathhouse and can enjoy the rest of the facilities. They also had TVs and a comic library for you to use. They also had a few saunas to use with small pebbles to lay on and a cold room. Once your finished, you can pick up a mat and a pillow and find room on the floor to sleep. All of this for a duration of 12 hours for only $10.
Needing some food after walking around I visisted the restuarant to purchase some food. At this jjimjilban you add money to your account and then your key becomes a credit card to pay for optional amenities. The meal was a sweetened soy stock with thin cut meat and rice noodles, which included rice and three sides. The stock was rather thin, needing more soy sauce to brighten the flavor.
The next day I boarded a free shuttle to the city of Jeonju. The local tourist board has a special, limited time, shuttle they auction the seats to foreigners. I tried for all three possible days and managed to get some tickets for Saturday. Jeonju has one of the largest hanok (traditional Korean residential neighborhood) in Korea and is filled with local tourists trying out the scores of street food carts and restaurants in the area. This area is known for its excellent cooks and a variety of dishes that have since spread to the rest of Korea. The most famous being bibimbap, or rice topped with up to thirty different ingredients and then mixed together. It is a filling meal that showcases the best of the local produce.
Towards evening, I ventured into the mountains to do a Templestay at Geunsansa. This program is part of the Korean government's drive to share the culture of Korea. After learning the basics of Korean Buddhism, I participated in some meditation and prayer sessions (one at 4:30am, its a good thing Ben wasn't here). We also made a rosary of 108 beads after doing 108 full prostrations. After 80 it was hard going. We also enjoyed the temple food which was bibimbap, curry and a delicious soup which reminded me of collard greans but using soy beans instead of pork.
The next day I headed back into Jeonju and grabbed some locally made yogurt with cactus flavoring. Where Aryan was watery, this was thick enough you had to chew but had a great flavor. I also had fried cheese, similar to mozzarella but more crumbly, and a shish kebab of sausages and tofu covered in a sweet mustard and teriyaki like sauce. I then jumped on board the shuttle again and arrived back in Seoul in time for more fried chicken with a mostly recovered Ben.
The final night was once again spent in a jjimjilban. I was a little concerned, as it was late and the trains stop running at a certain point. One of the reasons for the popularity of these 24hr bathhouses. I didn't want to be stuck halfway to my destination in the American part of town (which also happens to be the most seedy part). This particular bathhouse has six floors including a video arcade, a outdoor pool and several restaurants and salons.
In the morning I headed back to the hostel where Ben was at and met back up with him to prepare for our trip south to the port city of Busan.