Shinsegae, in Busan, is the world’s largest department store. Generally, I’m not terribly interested in department stores, but I did walk around the supermarket a bit so I could be shocked by the jaw-dropping prices.
What did interest me is Spaland, a jjimjilbang inside Shinsegae, and supposedly the best in South Korea. A jjimjilbang is an place for relaxation which generally has baths (sometimes natural hot springs), saunas, and rest areas. Some budget travellers stay in jjimjilbang overnight since many are open for 24 hours, have places to lie down, and entrance feels to a jjimjilbang are much lower than the cost of a motel. You can find a basic description of Spaland here.
The very day I arrived in South Korea, I entered Spaland after 8pm so I could get the discounted price. I received towels and a bath robe. I first headed to the baths, which consist of natural hot spring water pumped from deep below Busan. I particularly liked the outdoor sodium carbonate bath.
(Since the baths are full of naked people, photography is naturally forbidden, hence the lack of photos in this post).
I met a nice young Russian woman in the baths, and we talked for a while. While we were chatting and soaking together, a young Korean woman came up to us, and asked us ‘Do you know me? Do you know me?’ I tried to figure out if I had ever met her, but she seemed unfamiliar to me, so I said ‘No, I don’t think I know you.’ She then replied ‘So why did you call me a jerk?’ The Russian and I had not used the word ‘jerk’ or even were aware of this particular young woman, and we told her so. She then replied “I heard you say that I was a ‘jerk’.” We told her that she must have misheard (note: she was more than three meters away from us before she approached), and then she said that her English was really good and that she heard very clearly that we called her a ‘jerk’, and that it could not have possibly been a mistake. (If her English were *so good*, how come she didn’t know that ‘jerk’ is an insult usually applied to males?). She insisted we apologize, and we pointed out that we shouldn’t apologize because we had done nothing wrong.
Well, she refused to leave us alone. The Russian woman had to leave to meet with her boyfriend, and I told the young Korean woman that if she would not leave me in peace, I would get staff to help me. This is what I did, but the staff member did not speak English, so she got another woman (with red hair) to help. I told the red-hair woman what happened, I managed to get the Russian woman to say a few words before she went to her boyfriend (I am grateful to her for this). The red-hair woman then had a long talk in Korean with the accuser. She (the accuser) then said that she might have made a mistake. I questioned her sincerity, but the red-hair woman said that she really meant it.
Well, with that over, I had to explore more of Spaland!
I then went to the footbaths area (unlike the baths, the footbaths area requires robes/clothing and is mixed-gender) where I found … the red-hair woman with her husband. I had assumed she was a member of the staff, but it turns out she was just a customer like me. I felt embarrassed that I had troubled her so, and she said it’s alright, and that the affair was ‘nothing’ and ‘bullshit’ and that I shouldn’t let it bother me. She also commented that Koreans tend to act very stubborn when they think someone has insulted them. I don’t remember whether she is a native of Busan or not, but she has stayed in the United States for longer periods of time, which is why she spoke English so well. I told her that it was my first day in South Korea, and that I planned to stay for two months. The red-hair woman was impressed, and said that South Korea is a such a small country that I should be able to see everything in that time. I think we might define the word ‘everything’ differently, since I don’t feel like I saw everything in South Korea…
Then there was … the saunas!
Never had I seen such fancy themed saunas in my life. I began to regret that I had come after 8pm, for I would have liked more time to lounge around in the different saunas (later, when I went to Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul, I gave myself plenty of hours to appreciate it). There was a steam room, the Himalayan salt room, and more. Lots of people have described Spaland, and I can’t offer a better description than them. Some rooms didn’t do much for me, but other rooms were very soothing. I remember really liking the Yellow Ocher room. Mostly, I was trying to cram in as many new experiences as possible before I had to return to the hostel for the night.
If you ever go to Busan, and you don’t have a health condition which would interfere with your experience, you should definitely find a significant chunk of time to relax at Spaland.