Jimjilbang Anyone?

In case you’re like me, and before coming to Korea never heard of a Jimjilbang, here’s the lowdown.  A Jimjilbang is a huge staple of Korean culture.  It is a large public bathhouse that includes spas, hot tubs, showers, saunas and massage tables.  The bathing area is communal and gender-separated.  After leaving the communal baths you can enter another area with males and females that includes several floors of saunas, movies, pc rooms, food, and sleeping areas.  Going to a Jimjilbang is something every foreigner should experience to truly embrace Korean culture.  When in Korea…

Saturday night my two girlfriends and I decided that we should take a break from the partying and have a night of relaxation at the Jimjilbang.  We went to Hongdae (Hongik University exit 5 walk straight for about five minutes until you arrive at Gyu Su Dang Wedding Hall. It’s located in the basement). We arrived at around midnight and paid $7.00 for 12 hours.  They handed us pink gym clothes and some towels and we were ready to go.  Going to a Jimjilbang means that you have to be somewhat familiar with the routines and protocols, which I was completely not, but thankfully one girl that was with us had already been once before.  The first step is to lock your shoes in a small locker.  Then you head to the girls locker room, strip down and lock all of your belongings in another locker.  The real culture shock was getting over the fact that we were going to be completely naked in front of strange Korean women. Let me go back and explain for a minute.  Before the Korean war, people did not have their own showers, so communal bathing was part of their daily lives.  Now people do have their own showers, but communal bathing has still remained a tradition and it is now a huge social activity. So do not be too shocked while reading this.  Think of it like going to a gym and showering where everyone in the locker room is usually in the nude.  My two friends and I were quite the sight for the Koreans to see.  My two friends, one Indian and one African American and me being white and all were definitely not the norm for them to see, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  I wasn’t stared at any more than I usually am at least.  Anyways, so once you are in the female pool area you take a shower and proceed to enjoy the hot and cold tubs and hot sauna.  We rotated from hot to cold water and the end result was pure relaxation.  The sauna was a little intense and we didn’t venture to get the massages, but there will be a next time.  After the spa we changed into our gym clothes, grabbed some mats, and claimed a spot on the floor.  My body had never felt so ready for bed.

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