Sunday, April 25, 2010


That funny-looking word (to our western eyes) is the Korean word for a public bathhouse complex in Korea. At the jjimjilbang, they have spas, saunas, massage tables, and often, in another part of the complex, they have a PC bang (a large room with many computers where kids often go to play Internet games very cheaply), and a noraebang (a private room available quite cheaply where people choose songs which are then played on a video screen and with which one can sing along to. Often, one can purchase drinks and/or snacks to consume in the room.)

Anyway, I just went to the jjimjilbang. It was great. I will be going back a lot. I've always like hot tubs and saunas and I've found them very relaxing but I don't think I've ever been to a sauna, or a public bathhouse, for that matter. I had done my research online to find out what the customs and norms were so that I didn't upset some naked Korean men and that I didn't look like a completely clueless foreigner and I don't think I did anything wrong. Anyway, one goes into the complex and pays a very small fee (in this case, only 7000 won (about $6)) and one's given a receipt and a key. You put your shoes in the first battery of lockers and take the key to a front desk, inside the spa area. There they give you a key and you can lock up all your valuables and put the key (on a wristband) around your arm and you're off to the spas. The place I went to had one fair sized spa with jets. There were a couple of very hot baths where one could soak and there were two cool baths also-one VERY cold and the other only mildly cold. There were also two sauna rooms, one @ 79 degrees Celsius, and the other 57 degrees Celsius. There is also a massage table where one can get a massage (unfortunately of course, from someone of the same gender (although I guess some people would get more sensual pleasure out of this than most of us)) for an additional fee. There are several shower areas also. By the way, if you do go to the spa, make sure you DO SHOWER FIRST. This is perhaps the most basic rule of etiquette when visiting the jjimjilbang.

Everyone's naked there obviously and no one seemed the slightest bit insecure about this. I wasn't really. Once one realizes that we're all playing with the same equipment, really, what's all that shocking? Anyway, jjimjilbangs are popular family outing destinations here in Korea and so of course in the spa area there were a couple of 8-9 year old boys. In typical little boy fashion, they were more interested in jumping into the cold water than sitting still and relaxing like most of the men who were there. After I had boiled in the hottest pool, I went into the coldest pool to chill and the two boys were splashing around in there. They ask me where I'm from and I tell them and I saw their father looking over their way but since I'm used to humoring kids all day, it was no problem. I smiled at them, they smiled at me. That was about it. If I knew more Korean, maybe I'd have said a bit to the other men, but I don't know much. Anyway, that's all I spoke while I was in the bathhouse.

However, after I'd cooked a while and decided that was enough, I left. They have an area where they have a few hairdryers and toiletries where one can get back to normal a bit. The towels are small. I've found this in Korea. If in a catered location, the towels I've been given have been more like hand towels in the west. I guess just different strokes for different folks. I didn't actually need a second towel but what can I say, I still like a typically western towel. So after drying off and putting my clothes on there was a baseball game on, so I watched a bit. I got to see my man Hee Seop Choi, who used to play for the Dodgers and who has very successfully resumed his playing career back here in Korea, drive in a run against the NEXEN Heroes. I don't know if they have a sleeping area at this jjimjilbang but it was a very relaxing experience all the same. I've slept at a jjimjilbang before. The floors are heated by Ondol and one lays on a mat on the floor. It's a nice, relaxing environment in which to sleep. I can't believe it was all only about $6. Anyway, any wayguks reading this, I really recommend the jjimjilbangs.

1 comment:

  1. this sounds fabulous! i'm so glad you got to go and that you enjoyed it! sounds like a wonderful day, altogether. Japantown in SF has something similar (though obviously not the same). Michael and I considered trying it...