Yesterday I announced that a 23 page writeup of my travels and lessons for the year called "Era One." You can download your free copy here - Era One - Download PDF
This is an excerpt from Era One, if you haven't gotten your copy yet.
The Korean Bathhouse
2010 had been up and down for me. But the two weeks I’d spent in Guilin were fantastic, I felt really revitalized. After that, Beijing was okay, and then my visa was up – where to go next?
I decided and flew to Seoul, South Korea.
Landing in Korea, I had a really great feeling. Just right there in the airport, things felt right. I don’t get this feeling too much, but when I do it signals great things. I had the feeling that a bunch of amazing stuff is about to happen.
I’d been tired and mostly rested for 2009. In 2010, I was trying to shake the rust off and get back on track, and I was wandering around Asia while trying to figure things out. As I landed in Korea, I had the feeling that I was about to put things together.
I found the most crazy and enjoyable sleeping arrangements – Korea has family-style bathhouses called “jimjilbang” – they’re very cool.
As I was researching where to stay in Korea, Seoul seemed very expensive for relatively poor quality sleeping arrangements. Even a cheap, bad quality hotel was quite expensive.
Then I came upon a wonderful thing – the jimjilbang sells tickets starting at 7PM for the whole night until 10AM. You can use all the facilities, and there’s a very spartan sleeping area with bunkbeds.
I arrived in Korea in the mid-afternoon, and took the slow train into Seoul. I had this lifting of my spirit on this beautiful modern train, crossing over bridges and rivers into the city. From there, I went into Seoul Station, had a bite to eat, and then asked a police officer for directions to where I was staying.
He was incredibly friendly. He didn’t know the place, so he radioed in to HQ and we waited until he got directions. Then he walked 10 minutes with me to the jimjilbang, and we had a great conversation on the way.
I checked in, and they gave me Korean pajamas and keys to two lockers – one for my clothes, one for my suitcase. From there, I was in heaven. The place was inexpensive – only $12 for the night – and there was five levels. On the bottom level was the locker room, showers, and pools of water of different temperatures, some mixed with minerals or herbs. I showered, and skipped the pools of water for now.
From there, I walked upstairs, and the whole place was full of Koreans with their families – I didn’t see any foreigners.
There’s different kinds of spas and bathhouses, but jimjilbangs are really catered to families. There were lots of groups of a Korean Mom, Dad, and a kid or two. Lots of young couples, and the occasional person by themself. But no foreigners – I’d found a pretty obscure place to spend the night.
Floor 2 had restaurants and food, and I kept climbing. Floor 3 was an entertainment floor – there was a movie room, karaoke, gym/fitness center, food and snacks stand, and computers with internet and Starcraft on them.
Floor 4 was my favorite floor – there was maybe 10 different rooms of different temperature and materials. There were two rooms full of salt – so you could lie in the salt. One was slightly hot, and one was very hot. There were likewise two rooms full of jade and two rooms full of charcoal, both with somewhat hot and very hot temperatures. Then there were a high oxygen content room, an ice/cold room, and an extremely hot room. All these rooms were open to both men and women, and you’d see people relaxing laying in the salt, or napping in the high oxygen room, or sitting trying not to pass out in the extreme temperature room. There were two final rooms, one men-only and another women-only, for people to take naps.
Finally, floor 5 had three gigantic barracks-style sleeping arrangements. In the men’s barracks, there were maybe 100 sets of bunk beds, 200 beds total. Each one had a flat, hard, coated leather pad, a flat hard pseudo-pillow, and a simple cotton blanket. I quickly learned that it was no problem to fall asleep if you went to bed early – any time before 10PM – but lots of times guys who miss the last train drinking stay at the jimjilbang. If you’re there and haven’t already fallen asleep by midnight, especially on the weekend, you’re going to have to deal with people drunkenly carousing, loud snoring, and things like that.
In theory, there should be no snorers in the men’s barracks – there’s a separate third barracks called the “snoring room” – nicknamed the “dragon room” because it often sounds like a dragon’s lair. But you know, maybe not all snorers realize they snore, or maybe they don’t care, because you’re likely to get it in the men’s barracks any time after 10PM. I set a goal to only go to bed late if I was certain to be exhausted, or otherwise to go to bed early.
Staying at the jimjilbang was exceptional. My first night, I spent time in the salt and charcoal rooms sweating, lifted weights, ate a meal at the restaurant on the ground floor, and then slept in the barracks. Every day, I had to check out by 10AM and bring my luggage with me, which was a hassle but still worth it in my opinion. The facilities were incredibly nice for the price. Some days I would sink into one of the pools of hot mineral water. Other times I would lie in the charcoal room for hours thinking. I’d lift weights regularly, and eat lots of food. Korean food is pretty good, and the quick Korean foods are surprisingly good – after I’d have a hard workout on the weights, I’d order a small ice cream, iced coffee, five flavored hard boiled eggs, corn chips, and aloe juice.
I’d gotten out of shape after Cambodia – after my injuries, I figured I should just increase the amount I eat a lot to make sure I have enough nutrients to heal. I wasn’t able to work out or move around very much. So I was putting on a belly and lost any muscle tone I had over the next few months while healing.
In Korea, I started getting cut back up again. The jimjilbang was great for me – I’d do cardio while reading a book, hit the weights hard, eat food, go sweat, shower off, maybe spend some time in the high oxygen room, and then go to sleep.
I explored Seoul a little bit the first few days, and then I bought a power convertor that I needed. I found a cafe near the jimjilbang with wireless internet, and I’d set up there each day, ordering food and coffee, and getting back into the swing of things.
I’d been wanting to get back on track for a while, and now I had two things going for me – regular fitness in the gym, and I was forced to keep a schedule. I could only check in where I was staying after 7PM for the all night rate, and I had to be out by 10AM. This meant I had a 15 hour window for my gym, toiletries, and sleeping, and meant I was always out at the cafe or city from 10AM to 7PM.
I’d already done a lot of thinking and made halfway-attempts to break free from inertia throughout 2010. I’d actually hit a good stride in January in Taipei and did a lot of writing, and I think if I’d stayed in Taipei and kept that routine I would’ve broken out earlier. By far, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made traveling is leaving a place where I’ve got a really good thing going, for no particular reason. In Thailand and especially Cambodia, I lost the momentum and production I’d built in Taipei, and was back into the inertia of distraction.
I did have one thing going for me – I’d started looking for materials that would help me shake the rust off, and I’d already picked up a copy of David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. I had it since I was in Hong Kong, and in retrospect I feel silly for not reading it right away.
That’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read. The biggest problem I’d had was that a lot of things in a lot of different areas were not how I wanted them to be. If I did break out from distraction and stimulation for a few hours, the end result was never much better than the start. My email inbox had 800+ mails in it, some of them important and some not. If I answered 10 of them, my inbox might decrease from 842 to 832. Not exactly a major win. I had a variety of big and small charges I should cancel, I had a bunch of papers I wanted to go through and either digitize, deal with, or throw away. I wanted to start to accounts, I wanted to close some accounts, and a variety of other things.
This is before even getting into the expansive projects I wanted to be working on in business or writing or creativity – most of which didn’t have clear steps on next actions, either.
I followed Allen’s system, and gathered everything I had to deal with. For longer things – like clearing out 800 messages – I made sub-tasks. “Email to 700, email to 600, email to 500, email to 400, email to 300, email to 200, email to 100, email to 50, email to 35, email to 20, email to 10, email to 5, email to 0” were all set as to-do items.
And then I spent a few days clearing things out. I canceled everything that needed to be canceled, cleared my email down to zero, and went through and cleaned and sorted all my traveling gear. I threw away clutter and junk and simplified, digitized documents whenever possible, and cleared up a variety of little things that needed to be done.
Just as importantly – maybe more importantly – I wrote down all the potential projects I could work on, the goals I had, the things I needed to do, and so on.
David Allen calls this “clearing the psychic decks” and I did just that. I cleared the decks – about ten days after I started Getting Things Done, I had a blank slate that just had my goals and the projects I potentially wanted to do. Combined with the strong fitness component and regular schedule, I was getting into a position to start doing good work again.
Your can download Era One in PDF form by clicking here. The first sections are narratives about my travels like this - the latter sections have practical guidelines and numbers, so there should be something for everyone. All feedback is appreciated and very welcome.