A case of the “Tung-Tung”

I haven’t been writing much lately, but I have been cooking. Last weekend was freakishly cold for almost mid-March, so I stayed home Saturday to make french toast for breakfast, seafood pasta with leftover white wine sauce for dinner, apple bread for the weekday morning rush hour, and even two loaves of white bread (the kind with nice crusts and a chewy interior).

On Sunday we met S’ mom, whom I haven’t seen since she came back from Thailand, for lunch over braised beef ribs. She beamed as I struggled to use the little Korean that I had learned and I thought she was quite pleased with my progress. But then she pointed to S and said “tung-tung”, as if it were my fault.

Tung-tung, kind of like an onomatopoeia, is Korean for plump, and it seems that she thinks he has become victim to my culinary exploits. I admit that even I find my jeans tighter than usual, but I attribute this to lack of exercise rather than what is being made in my kitchen. In any case, something had to be done and with the university gym closed for renovation, we spent the rest of the weekend looking for a place to sign up. It turned out to be the most frustrating thing I have endeavoured to do in since I arrived in Korea, and the greatest culture shock I have experienced thus far. I exaggerate not.

After visiting a few, it became clear that gyms are overpriced luxuries with all sorts of restrictions. The monthly memberships run between at 60,000 to 90,000 won ($60-$90), and unless you pay more, only allows access at certain time-slots. Even at that price, they pale in comparison in terms of size, cleanliness and variety of machines, to the ones I’m used to at home. Rather than housing ellipticals, they have weight-loss belts, and both men and women shamelessly line up to jiggle their chub.

We decided to go to one that was running a special deal for a 4 months membership, but we went one day too late and the manager refused leniency even in exchange for 2 new members. We then opted for a community fitness centre, which was quite modern and nice, though a bus-ride away. But once we arrived, we were told that registration is limited to but a few days a month, and that we would have to wait until the end of March to sign up for April. Finally, we just decided to just pay for a one-time entry to the swimming pool. Even then, we had to wait 45 minutes for the next free swimming time slot.

I liked the fact that the water was salted rather than chlorinated, and also slightly warm to the touch. Also, every hour on the hour, there is an amusing 5-minute mandatory stretching period led by a tubby speedo-clad man. But crowded with ajumas (middle-aged women), ajushis (middle-aged men), and couples doting on each other, it made for a cumbersome swim that involved all sort of tactics to avoid being hit and hitting others. And once swimming was over, I had to endure to changing room, which, like a jjimjilpang, did not have any private shower stalls.  I also did not know that I was supposed to leave my towels on a nearby shelf. So after dripping water all the back to my locker, I was handed a rag by the cleaning lady and found myself wiping the floor. The last straw was having to pay for the hairdryer.

Well, the shock from yesterday has subsided, but unless I cut down on the butter, this is what I will have to continue to brave.

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