Today I killed off some of my stress and some time at the Jim Jil Bang. This is a marvelous Korean version of a spa, at sane prices. You pay a little money and you can not only use the public baths (though, sadly, there seems to be no mud bath these days), but also the temperature controlled, semi-quiet relaxation area. It may seem strange to pay money to bathe with other people, and then sit in a T-shirt and shorts in warm rooms or in large open spaces with people lying on the floor sleeping or chatting… but it’s actually quite relaxing. I got a haircut (overpriced) and some quiet time, so it was good.
I brought along the wonderful book I am reading these days, which is Jules Verne’s Paris in the Twentieth Century. (I’m about halfway done and I will post more about this remarkable novel when I finish it.) It was all completely relaxed except for a short span of time when an older man decided to practice his English by probing me with the usual questions… can you speak Korean (I said, yes, some… and he immediately started speaking in English that is no better than my Korean); then, when did you come to Korea, what’s your job, how much money do you make, are you married, why not? This wasn’t so annoying, though I made it clear I didn’t feel like chatting by looking at my book. I wasn’t outright rude, just a little unwelcoming of the questions.
Well, one of his younger friends showed up and I heard an extended conversation about me. I know it was about me because of the words I could pick out: he told the guy about my job and where I work, told him I was a “confirmed bachelor” (that’s the closest I can find for the concept of a male spinster that conveys anything at all of the shamefulness it’s supposed to convey), and said a few things that sounded, grammatically, as if he was making generalizations about foreigners, wityh a kind of complaining tone of voice. All I did was look up at a couple of appropriate times, in a way that communicated to the younger friend that I knew very well I was being discussed. Finally the older guy got his friend’s cue.
I wanted to say, on my way out, “You know, sometimes foreigners understand Korean well. And foreigners don’t like to be discussed when they are present.” But I just nodded politely and left when the time came.
But this was a small annoyance. Overall, I have to say that the only thing that could have made my visit better would have been if they’d reinstated the mud bath! Ah well… such is the way of things.
More later, especially about the Verne. I need to get some sleep. I will be cooking tomorrow, as my friend So Young will visit me in Jeonju tomorrow night.