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Busan’s Very Own Madame Tussauds

Korean Pop Music aka K-Pop

Is there anything more thrilling than standing next to a wax figure of a celebrity? Say, Lady Gaga? Of course not, what a stupid question! Wax museums are among humanity’s most transcendent achievements, allowing us to indulge in fawning celebrity worship without the actual physical presence of the celebrity! There’s nothing the least bit ridiculous about that. Nothing; right, Gaga?

Isn’t that right, m’lady? … Gaga? [poke] Oh that’s right, you’re wax, hahahahahahhahaha!! You just look so realistic, hahahah! Hah. Hehm.

Lady-Gaga-in-Seoul-Korea-Busan

We were among the first to visit the new Madame Tussauds, which just opened on the sixth floor of the Shinsegae Department Store. Because we love wax figures so much that we simply must be the first ones to see them… or because we just happened to be walking by and noticed it. This is a temporary exhibit, though there’s a chance it will become permanent. Madame Tussauds’ website threatens the good people of Busan, thusly:

Even though this is a temporary attraction, if South Korean residents and international visitors enjoy it as much as the other 13 Madame Tussauds attractions around the world, then we will look at making it a permanent feature in the future.

Hear that, South Korea? You better get to worshipping wax figures of Western celebrities or the huffy Madame will take her toys away! Entrance to the rather small exhibit costs a whopping ₩9000 ($8.10), which is about the same price you pay for four hours at Spa Land (also in Shinsegae).

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July 9, 2012 at 9:05 am Comments (3)

Shinsegae’s Spa Land

Relax At Home: Premium Massage Chairs

For our first trip to a Korean spa, we choose one of Busan’s biggest and most modern: Spa Land in the Shinsegae department store. Twenty-two baths, thirteen distinctively-designed saunas, relaxation rooms, steam rooms, foot baths and more were ours to enjoy for four blissful hours.

Shinsegae-Spa-Land

The jjimjilbang (as bathhouses are called here) is an essential part of life in Korea, found in every neighborhood, and popular with people of all ages. Most are open twenty-four hours a day, and offer Koreans a place to recuperate from the pressures of everyday life, bathe and clean, meet with friends, and even sleep. I don’t know what took us so long to finally visit one…

Oh wait, yes I do. I know exactly what took us so long: the nudity. I was just completely put off by the thought of disrobing and walking around naked in front of others. Jürgen might be from sexually-enlightened Western Europe, where people whip their clothes off at any opportunity, but I’m a good old-fashioned American prude, taught to be secretly ashamed of my body and hide it jealously from peering eyes. Public nudity is something I just don’t do, unless absolutely compelled. Like in prison. And, as we paid and then entered the changing room, that’s kind of what I felt like — going to prison. I was very distressed.

I’d love to report that my fears were unfounded and that, upon disrobing, I discovered the liberating joy of being naked among others. But… nope. It was uncomfortable, and Koreans have no problem with staring. I’m sure that it’s just the novelty of a foreign body, but we felt penetrating, curious eyes on us every time we walked over to another tub. But although I was constantly aware of it, I did eventually relax and was able to enjoy myself.

How could I not? The first room was gender-separated, and had around eight separate baths of sodium bicarbonate (for the skin) and sodium chloride (for the blood), heated to various degrees. Some had whirlpool bubbles, while others were still and serene. We switched from baths to saunas. There was a variety of styles to choose from, including Finnish (with wooden benches and suffocating heat) and Roman (with thick steam and a circular tiled bench… and naked Korean dudes staring at you).

Spas Korea

After showering off, we put on comfortable brown shirts and shorts which made us look like monks, and went into the gender-mixed area. Here, a variety of saunas awaited us. We tried the 52° “Pyramid Room”; according to the description, 52 degrees is the “easiest angle to collect energies from universe”. We laid down in the Hamam Room, which recreates a Turkish bath house and the “Body Sound Room” which is “based on the principle of bone conduction”, whatever that is. My favorite was the Yellow Earth Room, which is apparently good for mental stability.

In each of these steam rooms, we sweated like crazy, and took breaks between each in the pleasantly cool main hall, which had cozy chairs to lay upon. Perhaps more than anything else, I was most surprised by this aspect of the jjimjilbang — that people come here just to sleep. Everywhere you looked, people were snoozing; on the chairs, laying on the floor and (perhaps dangerously) in the steam rooms themselves. There was an entire section called the “Relaxation Zone” with at least a hundred recliners, each with its own personal TV. So many people were here, sleeping, watching soap operas or playing on their cell phones. Basically doing the kinds of things which Americans do at home.

We stayed at Spa Land for the maximum four hours permitted. Although I wouldn’t have wanted to remain any longer, it’s a restriction most jjimjilbangs don’t have — usually, you pay the entrance, and stay as long as you want. I’ve read that many families even spend the night, for the healing properties of sleeping on a hot, hard floor.

The price was fantastic. Regular entrance is ₩12,000 ($10.80), and we had coupons (available at Shinsegae’s Information Desk) for an additional 20% off. Four hours of first-class spa treatment for less than $10 is a crazy deal. And now that we’ve tried it out, we’re already looking forward to discovering Busan’s other jjimjilbangs.

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June 16, 2012 at 2:27 am Comments (4)

Shinsegae – The World’s Largest Department Store

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We hadn’t even discussed it with each other, it was just understood. An unspoken contract between me and Jürgen, sealed the very moment we learned of its existence: the first place we would visit in Busan, before any temples or museums or beaches, was going to be Shinsegae Centum City — the world’s largest department store. That title is Guinness-certified and uncontested. Shinsegae is three times the size of Macy’s, which was the previous record-holder.

Shinsegae

Finally, the fateful day arrived! You have to understand. After three months in Sri Lanka, where most shopping is done in dusty streets, we’d have been excited about any department store, and the thought of visiting the world’s largest made us delirious. We stepped through Shinsegae’s massive sliding doors, and spent the first air-conditioned minutes hooting like dazzled apes at the sheer size of the place. Fourteen stories! Over 3.1 million total square feet! An ice rink! Four food courts, and a ridiculous number of restaurants! A “Spa Land” with 22 tubs and capacity for 1600 people! A cinema, a water bar, a rooftop park, a bookstore, an art gallery! A driving range with 60 tees!

What to do first?! Exactly as clever as the apes we were unconsciously mimicking, we wandered from the lower-level food court into the four-story parking garage and promptly got lost. “Hngh?” I asked. “Mrrng!” came Jürgen’s frustrated reply. You know you’re out of “shopping practice”, when the first thing you do is lose yourself in the mall’s parking lot. I don’t know how to explain it… we thought there was a special elevator to the top floor at the end of the lot, but misunderstood the maps. And then we couldn’t get back. It was all in Korean! We were jet-lagged! We’re idiots: that’s probably the simplest explanation.

Shinsegae lacks for nothing. Relaxation, food, entertainment… there are coffee shops and theaters, a rooftop park with green grass, and a daycare center. A person could live quite comfortably here, and I’m fairly certain that some do. Everywhere we looked, there were old women on benches, gossiping with each other. Businessmen were taking breaks to whack golf balls. We sat down at the ice rink with Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and watched kids learn how to skate. On the fifth floor, we browsed the huge bookstore, and then checked out the view from the upstairs park, where there were actually people picnicking.

We spent about five hours inside the store, which is more time than we’ve dedicated to certain cities. As we were leaving, we stopped by the information desk to pick up parting gifts, ours simply for being foreigners. We just showed our passports and proof that we had bought something. I had bought a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, so I got a free bag, and Jürgen had bought a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, so he did too. Not a bad deal, and not a bad day out.

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May 7, 2012 at 11:35 am Comments (8)