Thursday, April 29, 2010

at the cinema

Like Vincent wisely said about the difference between Europe and the States in Pulp Fiction (and I think it's largely true regarding South Korea and the States), "it's the little differences. They have the same sh** there that they have here, but there it's just a little different."

For example, at the theater I went to recently to see Shutter Island, one had to take a ticket to line up and get a ticket. There was no one at the counter and not an awful lot of people around. It reminded me of that great scene in Meet the Parents Ben Stiller's weekend at his prospective in-laws has crashed to a halt and he fumes while a punctilious clerk runs through the routine of the checks she has to do in spite of the fact that he's the only passenger.

Anyway, one goes up to the ticket counter and tries to buy the ticket. It was just two foreigners, neither of whom speak a lot of Korean....but fortunately many of the movies are just Koreanized versions of English names so indicating which film we wanted to see wasn't too much of a challenge.

But in Korea one has to choose one's specific seat. So the ticket clerk turned the monitor around and I indicated lamely where we wanted to sit-cheogi (there!). They have all kinds of healthy refreshments at some theaters although I don't remember whether they did at this one. The portions aren't so huge though. No 64 ounce sodas or popcorn that requires its own seat. Sometimes they have apples and bananas and other things which are better for kids than monster servings of popcorn and nachos. The theaters are quite nice though at least the auditoriums I've been in have fewer seats than many in the States. The seats are a little bit cushier.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

lack of vandalism in Korea a.k.a I'm really, really, gobsmacked that computer screens at bus stops are not smashed by dopey kids or hopped-up adults

Never ceases to amaze me how stuff in the public domain here is respected. They have computer screens at many bus stops here telling people when the next bus is coming. I have never seen one that had been beaten with a bat. Perhaps it's an indicator of my western cynicism that it's so amazing to me that I've never seen one vandalized but there it is. I'd say it'd take, oh, 11.6 seconds for one of those screens at a bus stop in the States to be attacked by a hopped-up 17 year-old kid feelin' his rocks, or maybe by some "grown-up" with a substance abuse problem. It just doesn't happen here. It's really cool but every time I see it, it just blows my mind simply coz it's so different from the States.

On another similar point, they have a batting cage at my subway station and they leave the bats in each of the four cages. No one is there watching over them. No one takes the bats. No one. They have batting gloves there. No one takes those either. Again, I'm just amazed coz again, I think it'd take approximately, oh 42 seconds for someone to run off with the bats in the States. When one went to a batting cage in the States, one had to give the clerk one's driver's license and then one'd get a bat. Obviously one could use one's own bat if one wanted, but they wouldn't DARE leave a bat out there unguarded. Some dope would run off with that bat in, oh, 42 seconds. Again, I guess it's just very impressive to me that this stuff can sit out there in public and be unstolen.


That funny-looking word (to our western eyes) is the Korean word for a public bathhouse complex in Korea. At the jjimjilbang, they have spas, saunas, massage tables, and often, in another part of the complex, they have a PC bang (a large room with many computers where kids often go to play Internet games very cheaply), and a noraebang (a private room available quite cheaply where people choose songs which are then played on a video screen and with which one can sing along to. Often, one can purchase drinks and/or snacks to consume in the room.)

Anyway, I just went to the jjimjilbang. It was great. I will be going back a lot. I've always like hot tubs and saunas and I've found them very relaxing but I don't think I've ever been to a sauna, or a public bathhouse, for that matter. I had done my research online to find out what the customs and norms were so that I didn't upset some naked Korean men and that I didn't look like a completely clueless foreigner and I don't think I did anything wrong. Anyway, one goes into the complex and pays a very small fee (in this case, only 7000 won (about $6)) and one's given a receipt and a key. You put your shoes in the first battery of lockers and take the key to a front desk, inside the spa area. There they give you a key and you can lock up all your valuables and put the key (on a wristband) around your arm and you're off to the spas. The place I went to had one fair sized spa with jets. There were a couple of very hot baths where one could soak and there were two cool baths also-one VERY cold and the other only mildly cold. There were also two sauna rooms, one @ 79 degrees Celsius, and the other 57 degrees Celsius. There is also a massage table where one can get a massage (unfortunately of course, from someone of the same gender (although I guess some people would get more sensual pleasure out of this than most of us)) for an additional fee. There are several shower areas also. By the way, if you do go to the spa, make sure you DO SHOWER FIRST. This is perhaps the most basic rule of etiquette when visiting the jjimjilbang.

Everyone's naked there obviously and no one seemed the slightest bit insecure about this. I wasn't really. Once one realizes that we're all playing with the same equipment, really, what's all that shocking? Anyway, jjimjilbangs are popular family outing destinations here in Korea and so of course in the spa area there were a couple of 8-9 year old boys. In typical little boy fashion, they were more interested in jumping into the cold water than sitting still and relaxing like most of the men who were there. After I had boiled in the hottest pool, I went into the coldest pool to chill and the two boys were splashing around in there. They ask me where I'm from and I tell them and I saw their father looking over their way but since I'm used to humoring kids all day, it was no problem. I smiled at them, they smiled at me. That was about it. If I knew more Korean, maybe I'd have said a bit to the other men, but I don't know much. Anyway, that's all I spoke while I was in the bathhouse.

However, after I'd cooked a while and decided that was enough, I left. They have an area where they have a few hairdryers and toiletries where one can get back to normal a bit. The towels are small. I've found this in Korea. If in a catered location, the towels I've been given have been more like hand towels in the west. I guess just different strokes for different folks. I didn't actually need a second towel but what can I say, I still like a typically western towel. So after drying off and putting my clothes on there was a baseball game on, so I watched a bit. I got to see my man Hee Seop Choi, who used to play for the Dodgers and who has very successfully resumed his playing career back here in Korea, drive in a run against the NEXEN Heroes. I don't know if they have a sleeping area at this jjimjilbang but it was a very relaxing experience all the same. I've slept at a jjimjilbang before. The floors are heated by Ondol and one lays on a mat on the floor. It's a nice, relaxing environment in which to sleep. I can't believe it was all only about $6. Anyway, any wayguks reading this, I really recommend the jjimjilbangs.