Archive for October, 2010

Jimjilbang wheeee!

Yesterday after work I thought I’d finally take the plunge and venture into a jimjilbang, which is this cool thing they have in Korea that’s a combination of a public bathhouse, spa, sauna, snack bar, lounge area, and other amenities depending on where you go.  I’m always hesitant to try new things alone here just because of the language barrier, but this adventure had the added scary element of being completely naked with strange women.

I’d heard good things about these places from my male coworkers. Still, my trepidation was totally justified. I mean, the last time I’d been exposed to that much nakedness was a good 6 years ago when I was at Camp Sweeney (diabetics say yeaaaahhh). And I at least sort of knew all those girls. That makes it better, right? Right??

I told my Korean coworker April that I was going to the jimjilbang after work, and she said, “Alone??”

“Yeah, why, who do you go with?”

“I usually go with my mommy, or friends, or my family.”

“Oh, well, I’m going by myself.”

“Oh! [hides her mouth in her hands while laughing in that cute Korean way] You are very brave.”

This fueled my anxiety. A duhh.

Anyway, for only 7000 won (Google tells me it’s about $6.25 USD) the lady at the front desk gave me two small orange towels, a pair of pink shorts and a big pink baggy shirt. I then proceeded to the women’s side of the bathhouse. There was this anteroom full of small lockers with keys attached. Surely, this couldn’t be where I store all my stuff?

The woman manning the convenience counter beyond this room saw my distress and told me “Shoes there.” Ah. I put my shoes in one of the box lockers, got the key out, then the same woman took that key and gave me another key attached to a plastic bracelet. There were bigger lockers, and here’s where the nakedness started.

I tried to be discreet as I watched other people. What were they doing? What should I do? How should I handle myself? I nervously stripped down and carried my towel into the main spa room. There were lots of interesting sit-down showers with little stools. Women young and old, but mostly old, were sitting and washing, and scrubbing their bodies raw with these little shower mitts. I took my pre-hot tub and sauna shower, then sort of wandered around everywhere.

There were several options. Some hot tubs with a running faucet and some very still and calm. Some cool, one really freakin’ cold, and one nearly scalding. There were 3 sauna rooms. All these rooms had their temperature readings on the outside. I am still not used to Celsius.

I saw one woman there with two of her daughters, about ages 6-9 I’d say. She was scrubbing and scrubbing them with one of those bath mitts all over, for like 20 minutes. My uptight American eyes were amazed. I’ve never seen a mother and daughter in that context. I could never imagine my mom taking me to a sauna, getting naked, and rubbing my dead skin cells off while strange naked grandmothers are mere feet away. But hey, that’s Korea!

I basically just wandered around until I’d had enough/started to feel pruney. Then I went back to the locker area, and put on my shorts. The woman who originally guided me before saw how they fit, and said, “Change, I get you new ones.”  I stood there naked for a bit. SO awkward. She came back with new shorts and said “3X.” Yeesh. Thanks for reminding me how fat I am compared to everyone in this country. My favorite part was when she looked at the fit disapprovingly like they were still too tight.

Once fully attired in baggy pink hotness I headed down to the co-ed lounge area. There was a pc bang down there, as well as a gym, a noraebang (karaoke stage), and snack bar. The way it works is if you buy something you can scan your little plastic bracelet, then pay for any charges you racked up before you leave. Pretty sweet. I didn’t know that at the time so I avoided anything that looked expensive.

I made my way from room to room, getting a good sweat in the 71 degree Celsius room full of little hot white rocks, and shaking a bit in the 0 degree Celsius room with ice on the walls. These rooms have different minerals and things because they’re supposed to be good for you. I had no idea which rooms were which because it was all in Korean, but I felt rejuvenated all the same.

The walk home after my jimjilbang experience was quite peaceful. I didn’t feel cold, even though it was probably around my usual shiver-inducing 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

I think I owe it to myself to try all the jimjilbangs in the area to find the best one. After a day at work trying to impart wisdom and keep from screaming at kids, it’s nice to just sit in a hot bath. As you can see by this lovely picture of my bathroom, the only way to do that is in the company of strangers.

A bathtub would be highly inefficient


Fun/Funny things about Korea, again

In my classes the students seem to have a really difficult time distinguishing between the words fun and funny. They’ll say stuff like, “I like going to beach because it very funny.” So I thought it’d be a fun/funny title for another blog post about what Korea is like to me, a foreign teacher.

These are some fun and funny things that have jumped out at me since the last time I posted (which was too long ago, I know). I figured a quick and dirty post was better than no post. I’m still here guys, don’t forget about me and this here blog!

  • Men wear really bright and/or sparkly ties. Seriously, my principal looked like he was going to go join Kim YuNa out on the ice rink yesterday- pastel pink and blue tie with major shimmer.  Today’s choice was fluorescent orange.
  • American fast food restaurants are different in subtle ways.  Yes, there are more culturally relevant menu items (patbingsu at Burger King, anyone?). That was expected. However, here in Korea everyone’s much more careful about their trash and recycling. If you order a drink don’t expect a cap for your cup unless you ask. Also, if you eat in there are 3 different holes in the trash bin to choose from and it honestly still confuses me. I believe one is for plastic trash, one is for paper, and one is for your empty drink? I just try to watch others and act like I know what’s going on.
  • Diet Coke is called Light Coke, and is never seen at fast food restaurants. Their low cal beverage of choice is Coke Zero. Coke Zero, Diet Coke, and Diet Pepsi (Pepsi Nex) all taste different than I remember them tasting back in the states. Oddly, Light Coke is my favorite so far.
  • People here really really like the Simpsons. Channel 23 plays it probably 6 times at night. And there are sooo many Simpsons products around. I assume they’re officially licensed but maybe not. If I wanted to I could get a Simpsons eraser, lunch box, wall clock, hair barrettes, stationary set, and more. In one of my classes, 3 out of 7 kids have Simpsons pencil cases.
  • My Korean coworkers brush their teeth all the time- after everything they eat it seems. Although, I don’t think this is something men do.
  • The women carry parasols or umbrellas on sunny days. Almost no one wears sunglasses.
  • Everyone shares their food. I am given some type of snack every day by at least one of my kids, and sometimes by my coworkers. I’ve sampled many yummy and weird things this way.

That’s all I have for now. You can see what fun things I did this weekend by visiting my Flickr page. A day that starts at 7:30 am with a field trip and ends at 4 am with a huge concert is one that needs to be followed by sleep.

But I shopped and walked around Suwon instead 🙂

random picture of an amusing Seoul restaurant sign for your enjoyment