Jjimjilbangs and getting naked in front of strangers

Jjimjilbangs and getting naked in front of strangers

Now that we’ve been in Korea over a month and have started working during the week, we try to make it a point to go on at least one adventure every the weekend. We don’t necessarily have to go out of town or go far, just try something new that we haven’t tried before, do something unexpected. This weekend’s adventure was finding a jjimjilbang to unwind from the stress that was a fairly long week. It was, indeed, an adventure that I was not expecting. A jjimjilbang (jim-jeel-bong) is a public bathhouse where everyone can go to rejuvenate and basically cleanse themselves. Honestly, I only needed the sauna, but figured I’d try something new if I could.

When we first arrived we paid  6,000 won (roughly $6 USD) and a very nice ahjumma gave us a key and a couple of towels. Now, if you’ve ever seen a Korean drama you’ll know that in those jjimjilbangs they’ll get fairly large towels that they can wrap into an adorable set of Princess Leia buns on top of their head to cover their hair, also called a ‘Sheep Head’. Our towels were on the small side so they were not really ‘Sheep Head’ ready, and they were certainly too small to use on your body so I suggest you take a towel with you from home. Turns out our keys corresponded with lockers downstairs for our shoes, and then we were sent upstairs to the actual bath house/sauna portion. Here’s where it got really interesting, really fast. As soon as walked in we gave our receipt slips to another nice lady at another desk and then ran smack into a fully naked ahjumma going to her locker. Yes, fully naked, and she was not the only one. It’s separated male and female on two totally different floors, so no worries there, but it was still quite a shock to walk in and just see nakedness full on in the face. We put our things in our second locker, which was much larger than the first, and then, towels wrapped around us, proceeded into the actual bathhouse portion.

Again, more nakedness, but at this point I was adjusted. It was a surprise, but eventually you just start to accept it as fact: you are surrounded by naked people who don’t seem to care that everyone else is naked, so why should you? At first, we were super confused. There were a long row of showers along one wall, two larger warm baths and two smaller ones, and then a HUGE cold bath that looked like a pool. Next to the showers was the sauna and what we assumed was the cold room where you went to cool off. After several minutes of perplexed looks and adjusting to the staring, a strict ahjumma came over and informed us that we had to shower and get clean before we did anything.

In the showers.

With no doors.

Yup, just out to the whole wide world of strangers. Here’s where we decided if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I mean, what were we supposed to do? So we stripped down like everyone else and after a few minutes of slight embarrassment and a lot more awkwardness, we were deemed clean enough to do whatever we liked. We spent a few minutes in the sauna first which felt like a Texas summer and had me feeling right as rain in the first 30 seconds, then out again for another shower because we were so sweaty, into the baths (which are just like huge jacuzzis), and into the cold, pool-style bath. After I finally got adjusted to the cold, I felt amazing. I have literally never felt so light or able to conquer the world in my life. We’ve often wondered how Koreans get their skin so nice looking and smooth, and we know have the answer. It not only felt amazing, but our skin LOOKED healthier from less than an hour of time!

One of my favorite things about Korea is whole communal every atmosphere is here. The group there was very mixed, from older grandmothers down to tiny children with their moms. Even though we got stared at quite a bit more than usual, once they were done being fascinated with us it was like we were just accepted into the fold. That would almost never be accepted so widely in America, but here it’s as normal as showering at your own house except your skin looks better in the end. If you’re worried about being awkward, don’t. You will feel awkward at first, and that’s fine. Honestly, the experience is worth it. If nothing else, think of how awesome your face will look when you’re done!

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