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Journals from South Korea, Yonsei University

2009-05-20 A day at the Jjimjilbang

One of the activities I've been looking forward to the most has been going to the bathhouse/jjimjilbang. Oddly enough, it's taken me a little over a month to actually get to finally doing it! Kirstin (the other Linfield student) and I decided to have a girls' day out and relax at a bathhouse/jjimjilbang. Using my "Korean bible" aka my Lonely Planet guide, we went out to Hongdae in search of "Dongbang Sauna". After walking around for a good half hour, we realized that the sauna was most likely not there anymore, so we found the city information kiosk and asked the gentlemen there for a recommendation. His response: "Happy Day Spa". I liked that answer as soon as I heard it: happy days are always good, right? It also made me happy that the spa was only a 5-minute walk away from the kiosk. Once we got there, we paid the entrance fee and went to put all our stuff in the lockers. Now, here comes the interesting part: in the bathhouse section, no clothes allowed. At least, no one wears clothes, so if you came in with a swimsuit, you'd definitely get stares. It may seem kind of weird, especially if you've never done it before, but after the initial 1 min of awkwardness, it isn't a big deal. While Koreans are usually pretty modest with their daily dress, they also have a very "no nonsense" view of nakedness. And anyway, everyone else was naked, so it wasn't like people really stared at us. Well, maybe they did because we're foreigners, but it's no big deal. The best part about the bathhouse is moving through the different temperature pools: hot, medium hot, really gets the blood circulating! Your skin also starts to feel really good because of the constant change in temperature. At bigger bathhouses, they have different "flavors" of bath like salt water, coffee, green tea, etc (haha, literately, "flavors") but since this was just a smaller one, we just had the different temperatures of water. After soaking in the baths we decided to go to get our skin exfoliated. This was my absolute favorite part about the bathhouses. It's basically like a full body massage and cleansing in one. Afterwards, your skin feels oh so soft....mmm, I love it. It is kind of odd (at first) to be moved around and scrubbed by an older lady that you've never met before, though. Kirstin and I ended up getting really hot and dried out (since we didn't bring water or lotion, two essentials that I completely forgot), so we didn't go to the actual jjimjilbang section of the spa. Basically the jjimjilbang is a series of hot rooms, with different properties (i.e. some have stones, some have wood, some are cold, some are hot, etc). In the jjimjilbang - which is coed, unlike the bathhouse - everyone gets a set of clothes: a very baggy tshirt and shorts. So: bathhouse = nude, same-sex, jjimjilbang = clothes, coed. That answers the question that everyone keeps asking me about being nude in front of guys: it doesn't happen. Well, thanks for reading - until next time, Jenny

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