A little Seoulfood
Trip Start Aug 05, 2007
74Trip End Ongoing
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Following lunch we walked around other cute neighborhoods, a welcome break from the neon flashing lights and high-rises of my area. We ended up back at my friends house for a night of wine and conversation. It was lovely to reconnect with a friend. In the morning we went to a jimjilbang, which is a Korean spa. Korean spas are an integral part of Korean culture and very popular. They are inexpensive ($6-$10usd) and are often open 24 hours. People will go and spend hours there, relaxing and it's a viable alternative to a hotel room if you're in need of an inexpensive place to sleep. There is a communal area, which I have not been to, and then separate men and womens areas. Inside, everyone is just hanging out, completely nude. Anyone that knows me well knows that I am very uncomfortable with nudity. I can't even handle changing in the women's locker room in front of people- I go to the stall. So, for me to just walk around nude for a few hours was a huge step. But, it's just what everyone does. First you shower and cleanse yourself, then there are 3 tubs with different water temperatures in which you soak. There is a cold water plunge pool, a steam room, a dry sauna, a jet pool and far infrared lights. The steam room and dry sauna are lined with charcoal and amethyst crystals, which are known for their healing and cleansing properties. It was so relaxing and rejuvenating. Women just hang out and bath together and I've become a big fan! The gym that I joined has a jimjilbang included in the membership, so I've been going everyday after work now too.
I've also been confronted with a different side of Korea- the aggressive, anti-foreigner side. Koreans are very prideful people and can be a bit hostile towards outsiders (especially older Koreans). Historically, they needed to unify in order to protect themselves against Chinese and Japanese invaders. Now this sense of unity and pride is still engrained in them, although it is not very accommodating to a modern, global society. Korea is a Confucian society, which focuses on hierarchical units. First comes your job or company unit. Then comes your family unit. Then maybe other groups or associations that you may belong to. And everything is done to protect the unit from "outside invaders". So, Koreans can appear quite unfriendly unless you are a part of a given unit of association. This attitude carries over into so many aspects of Korean society. Another interesting thing about Koreans is their stubbornness. It's their way or the highway and they are unwilling to negotiate. They will shame you into doing what they want you to do. I've experienced this in subtle ways, but I've spoken with business people about it and the hassles it causes when doing business in Korea. Many culturally infused obstacles which Korea will need to address if it truly wants to be a player in the global arena.
Another interesting Korean phenomena: plastic surgery obsession! Korea is extremely materialistic and superficial, as you tend to see in much of Asia. It is odd to see this trend in the East, as we turn to them for many spiritual traditions. Koreans are obsessed with how they look and looking perfect. It's very Hollywood. They even go so far as to get plastic surgery for their toddlers, so people will think it's natural as they grow up. How weird! Everything's about working, making money and shopping. All they do is shop. And they are constantly checking themselves out in mirrors. I'm glad to be a foreigner, as I can get away with a lot and not get involved in that aspect of their culture.
I still love my job and absolutely adore the kids. They are amazing. They all call me "Tonya Teacher". I also find that this experience may be quite healing for me, as it allows me to reconnect with my inner child that often wasn't expressed when I was young as I was dealing with the loss of my father and taking on family responsibilities. Children are so young and innocent, it's beautiful to see the purity of their character. They have such distinct personalities and spirits, their true essence shines brightly; that seems to get lost with age and experience.
For the most part, the children are amazing. I have a few that are a bit challenging, but it's also very clear that there are family issues going on, so I am mostly compassionate and just try to offer them love and support.