I had a crash yesterday. I was riding along a bike path and a motorcyclist came out of a lane way without looking. I didn’t have time to swerve or stop. My front wheel slammed into his bike’s belly. The impact threw my bike to the ground and me a few feet in the air but luckily to my feet. The motorcyclist just wobbled slightly like a mounted knight in a gale.
Somehow neither of us, or our steeds, received any significant damage. I couldn’t tell if the motorcyclist was angry or apologetic such was the stubborness of his stone face.
Afterwards I felt vulnerable and shaky.
About an hour later my wheel burst – my inner tube destroyed and my wheel exhibiting a gushing wound. I think I had ridden over some shards of scrap metal, one of them stabbing and ripping the tyre rubber. I was outside a short block of restaurants when it happened. I had no spare inner tube and no spare tyre after using my spare tube a few days ago when I got a flatty on my way to KL.
I was stuck.
I grabbed a bowl of noodle soup, hot with a sesame stock, sliced cucumber and seaweed, and asked the only restaurant staff member where I could find a bike shop. The only other customer, a greying man with suit pants, a gold watch and a pike polo, turned to me and smiled.
“Can I help you?” He said.
He offered to drive me to the next town with my wheel. The restaurant let me store their bike in their garage. I got a new tyre and the kind man dropped me back at my bike.
Another hour later and my other inner tube bursts. This time it’s in a large town and it’s 5:30pm. I was planning to ride another 48km to Haman, a country town near the base of a mountainous national park. Fuck it I thought.
I patched my tube and started cruising around looking for somewhere to sleep. A few minutes later I’m approached by a running man smiling like a toothpaste advertisement.
“Hello,” he says, his eyebrows jumping like horny rabbits.
“Maybe you can help me? Where is the nearest hotel?”
“No hotels here. Only in Pusan.” That was where I had come from.
“How about motels?”
“Yes many.” He is standing right next to me. Our arms are touching and drops of sweat are running off the line of his hat onto my arm.
“How much are they?”
“30-40,000 won.” About $30-$40US. I frowned.
“You want cheap?”
“You okay with Jim-Jil Bang.”
Jim-jil bang the only prison-luxury hotel hybrid on earth.
Everyone is encouraged to wear matching characterless outfits. Everyone sleeps on floor mats in one big communal room and each resident is identified by a strap on their wrist with a number.
“133.” I said everytime I entered or left the building.
There are massage parlours, restaurants, saunas, a roof top hut complex, a pc bang and the most outrageous shower room I’ve ever experienced.
There’s two floors dedicated to bathing, one for men and one for women. The lift on the men’s floor opens onto two huge glass doors, korean characters raining down the facade. I don’t know what anything says.
The doors open to the immediate and alarming sight of naked men. At the front of the room there’s a huge window and on either side mirrors where men, penises out happily giggling around, are fanning and pamerpering themselves. They took one second to notice the only foreigner and immediately went back to drying their genitals and gelling their hair.
To the left is an expanse of lockers that looks like a metropolis of government housing built for fairies. On the right is a reception and another set of large glass doors, these ones are glazed over with steam froth. These doors opens into the paragon of masculine health and beauty. Everything a man could need to cleanse and relax present. Most popular is the bath complex – seven or so different baths, each one a different temperature ranging from almost freezing to sous-vide. Some of the baths have jets and others steam. One of them has a waterfall option. I can’t read anything so I had no idea what anything did. I just hopped from bath to bath pressing buttons like a 4 year old at an arcade. One luke warm bath had a huge green and red button – the old Korean men who had eagerly followed my curiousity must have been rather amused at the result. It was the waterfall bath – the green button sets of a vicious jet of water down from the ceiling. Ignorantly, I was facing the mouth of cannon – the jet of water hit me in the face like a hammer. I gurgled, splurted and fell into the bath.
Other things I tried: a hair washing station with utilities for spraying and shapooing pubes, a seat with a rotating coarse back which scrubs your shoulders, a couple of pools designed for temperature trauma (one was hot and the other very cold – you jump between them) and a floor matt that steams your body when you lie on it.
I’ve never felt cleaner.
This is where I slept.
Some people sleep next to or in temperature controlled huts. This one was 40 degrees.
Late night snacks if you need them.
I met running man again that night, I now know him as Jong-Jim. He said he was saving money for a holiday in Australia and he would like to take me out to dinner.
Well if you insist I guess I can fit that into my busy schedule of rainbow hiking.
It was a raw seafood restaurant but very different to the Japanese style we have at home. Most of the raw seafood we eat is soft and tender, usually salmon, tuna or kingfish. Here it was anything but – a smorgasbord of the sea’s forgotten residents, bright orange clams, sea slugs, paint white squid, barnacles and perch. Everything chewy, crunchy or slimy, some boned and some still attached to the a coarse sea bed. There was a condiment or garnish for everything. Jong-Jim patiently explained the tradition – the non-fish sea creatures are to be dipped in gochujang, soy, bean paste or wasabi – the raw fish is to be wrapped in lettuce or betel leaf with kimchee, raw garlic, bean paste and wasabi. Everything else you snack as you like.
Like almost every random dinner encounter I’ve had on this trip, I was ridiculously over-fed. Red faced and squinting through a cloud of soju, Jong-Jim told me;
“Korea has a poor history. We like to eat until we are full.”
Another dish arrives at the table. The third round, it’s a plate of char-grilled mackerel.
“Are you full?” I ask. I too am feeling woozy. Jong-Jim treats my beer glass like his bank account.
“Yes . . . I’m ready to eat.” He says.
We had another two rounds after that. Drunk and full we stumbled home three hours later.
The rainbow continues.