I had nothing to do on Monday before the funeral so I went to wikitravel to search for some good day activities in Busan, maybe a nice hike or some surfing. Well, Busan is famous for it’s beaches, seafood, and spas. I’ve always heard of spas, mostly in movies and from wealthy women I serve at the bar who don’t blink an eye at a $17 glass of Cabernet. A spa. Spa. Spahhhhh. The word just kind of rides along the wave of your breath. Maybe I’ll go to a spahhhhhh in Busaaaaan today. What do you do at a spa? I don’t know, sit around bathing in steam rooms alongside greek statues and senators I guess. In my mind it was so steamy in these spas that I wondered if I should always walk with my hands out to keep from running into a naked man. Then of course there are the spas in Chelsea that my gay friends tell me about and, well, it just wouldn’t seem appropriate to partake in any of that on the day of a Korean funeral. But I went for it, seeing that it only cost $10. Obviously I got lost as hell and had to ask everyone on the street, ending up with a beautiful Korean girl taking me by the arm and walking me there herself. I’m just a poor foreigner, what do I do???
She brought me into the front door and what is right in front of me? A bronze fucking statue, I knew it. I thanked her through her constant giggling and asked if she was going to have a day at the spa too? Maybe? I hear the spaahhhhs in Busan are the best around. She stopped giggling immediately and her eyes opened wide. Shit. This is the most conservative country you’ve ever been in Jim, just cool it! What the hell happens in a spa? Luckily, she started giggling again all the way out the door stopping twice to bow and say goodbye along the way.
I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do but I walked to the front desk and said, “Um hi. Uhhh. . . One please?” And then I got a key chain and was told to walk to the side. I stepped up on a platform and was almost tackled by a old woman who kept pointing at my shoes and then to a locker. You can’t wear shoes anywhere nice in Korea, which is kind of nice but also a little annoying when I’m carrying around a huge backpack everywhere I go. I rarely tie my shoes anyway, usually preferring to see if I can make it to my destination without tripping rather than just reach down and taking care of business, but Korea knows what’s up, and they keep shoe horns everywhere. So I got past the aged security guard and into the locker room where I found naked dudes everywhere. No towel. Nada. Just naked asian men of every age walking around. Is this what the spa is? A place to be naked? Ok, lets continue on. I saw a sign in English saying “Grand bathing room” and nodded my head to myself that that was where I needed to be. A grand anything sounds good to me. So I took apart my entire life to fit my backpack in the locker and stripped down to my bathing suit and wife beater. What bathing suit you ask? The same one I’ve been wearing for the past 8 years, obviously. You know, the bright red and orange one with Venus and some cherubs on it. But I walked into the Grand room to more stares than I get in China. Not stares wondering about my manhood or foreign face, just ones that said, “Dude, take off your clothes, it feels great”. So that’s what I did. And I gotta tell you, it felt great. The grand room was GRAND. Endless pools of all different temperatures, depths, water pressure, it was splendid. They had water cascading off high stone walls, water shooting out of huge stone turtles, grottos with tvs, showers, snack bar, everything. Spas are cool! Naked, but cool. I relaxed for two hours until I saw the sign that warned against too much bathing being bad for your health and then took a nice nap on one of the lounge chairs. I made my way down to the restaurant they had (in a lovely robe), got some stir fried octopus bi bim bop and smiled at every man and woman who walked by. Spaaahhhhsss.
Next stop down the corridor was a massive room where people just seemed to be napping on the floor with stone huts, which I assume were saunas, around. Then I saw it – a big tv on the wall, playing “The Kings Speech” in english with Korean subtitles. Oh spa, you devil you, why don’t I just lie down here on the floor oh MY GOD THE FLOOR IS HEATED! Heaven.
I had two hours to spare so I stopped by a department store to get a new nice shirt, I did some damage to the one I wore to the wedding, and went to a coffee shop to write that previous blog post and change in the bathroom. Walking to the hospital people didn’t really know what to make of this foreigner dressed in nice clothes carrying around a hobo’s backpack. The security guard called someone upstairs who spoke english and I explained why I was there, the guard then led me to a room packed with white flowers. There were Korean dining tables – about a foot off the ground so you sit indian-style to eat – with people eating and drinking soju. I saw Soyoung across the room, dressed in traditional black robes, and she waved for me to come over. She looked beautiful, but emotionally beaten down. I can’t imagine what it must be like for your Grandmother, who you’re incredibly close with, to die the night of your wedding, a few years after you lose your father. She led me into the side room and told me I could pay my respects by kneeling and bowing two times, and putting a white flower on the alter. She led me through the motions and I did my best to express my condolences to the last remaining sons and daughters. Jaehyun brought me some food and we talked about Confucian/Korean funeral traditions and my seafood and spa escapades in Busan. Since they can’t go to Vietnam anymore they will stay in Busan and visit different family there. They’ve been kind enough to let me stay in their flat in Seoul for the next two nights. He told me he was glad to see me, and that he had wanted to drink and now he could because I was there to have a beer with him. Anytime you want buddy, I’m right across the sea.
Walking soundtrack – all Elton John