If you want to see naked strangers in real life, your choices are fairly limited. Or perhaps I should say, there are few places where you have to endure seeing naked strangers. In Korea, it’s the jjimjilbang, or sauna/public bath. Of course, lots of countries have public baths, but here is how things work in the Korean version.
In Korea, going to a jjimjilbang (steam room) can be a whole day experience. For one thing, what is often referred to simply as a jjimjilbang is actually a lot of things rolled into one. Here’s the process:
Pay your entrance fee and get a uniform and key. The uniform is a pair of light cotton shorts and a t-shirt. At the place I usually go, they are color-coded for men and women. The key is on a plastic ring so you can put it around your wrist in the shower.
The key has a number on it. First you take off your shoes and lock them in the shoe locker of the corresponding number.
At this point, men and women say good-bye to each other and go into separate changing rooms. You put your clothes and uniform into the locker with your number on it. The problem with this is you cannot choose your own locker. Last time, my locker was right next to an open window that overlooked an apartment complex. At night. Someone messed up the design somewhere. Anyway, then you go take a shower.
This is the only naked part and luckily it is separated by gender. You take a shower and have the option of soaking in one of a variety of hot tubs. There are varying temperatures (including a cold pool), often ones with massage jets. The one I go to has an outdoor hot tub, made up to look like a natural hot spring, so it’s nice to sit out there at night and talk.
The baths are the place where you see the most
culturally different awkward things. I have no idea what the women’s side is like, but there is a section for lying down on the floor and some men like to sleep there, face up. I have seen two men sleeping next to each other, holding hands. In the context, there was nothing gay about it, since in Korea I could totally imagine two straight men doing that, but it was strange. As well, since Koreans are very big into skin exfoliation, you can pay a guy to rub you down with what is basically a scouring pad and get all your dead skin off. There are some things I will do as a cross-cultural experience, but lying down naked on a table and having a practically naked old man scrub all my dead skin off is not one of them.
When you finally feel like getting out of the baths, you go back up to the changing room, dry off and put on your uniform and then go out to rejoin the women (or men, if you’re a woman). This is the actual jjimjilbang part of it. Here you can go into hot rooms and lie around, sweating a lot. However, there are many other things to do. Such as eat. Most jjimjilbangs have a cafeteria there where you can get drinks and snacks and even full meals. There are massage chairs and pool tables and karaoke booths and places just to sit around and talk or place cards or watch TV. In other words, it’s a spoil-yourself-with-whatever-you-like-best sort of place.
Personally, I don’t like to sweat that much, so I don’t go into the hot rooms for very long, if at all. My ideal time is to go in the baths for a while, then go up and eat and hang out, and maybe use a massage chair once or twice. Lemonade and boiled eggs are very popular foods in jjimjilbang.
Another good feature about many jjimjilbangs is that the key has a microchip on it, so if you want to buy something, you only have to scan the key and then pay for everything when you leave. This lets you not have to carry money around and so, buy a lot more than you normally would. Win win, right?
Whenever you are tired of having fun, you go down, take another shower to wash off all the sweat, and get changed back into your street clothes. Then you check out and find out with shock just how much money you racked up on food, drink, massage chairs, air hockey, etc. You leave feeling very, very relaxed. It’s a good time.
August 6th, 2013 at 1:20 pm
My sweet friend, I have nominated you for the Best Moment Award! Please visit this link: transcendingbordersblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/best-moment-award-6/
August 6th, 2013 at 6:45 pm
Thank you so much! I am honored. 🙂
August 6th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
that’s a very decent system! its so much fun to know about different cultures!
August 6th, 2013 at 4:49 pm
That picture of the two kids in green t shirts is so adorable!
*cough* but yes, sounds very interesting. To be honest, I’ve never really fancied the idea of going to anything like a spa, but that sounds really nice.
August 6th, 2013 at 6:29 pm
I didn’t go for my first 3 years or so in Korea, partially because I didn’t have anyone to go with and partially because it seems so uncomfortable. But once I went, it was nice.
August 6th, 2013 at 8:26 pm
How cool! I went to a bath house in Tokyo and it was amazing. Spent a whole day there, snacking and taking dips in the various baths. Loved every minute of it, although I did get a headache from the constant temperature changes.
August 6th, 2013 at 8:58 pm
They’re great places to spend a day, or even a night. I’m not sure about the Japanese ones, but people sleep in the ones in Korean. It’s like a really cheap hotel.
August 7th, 2013 at 12:17 am
I guess that would come as a shock once you found out what was charged to your account with all the special services. 🙂 But, sounds like a great way to find some relaxation in a public place. A good stress reliever, kind of.
August 7th, 2013 at 9:45 am
I like the Simon Says lights in the ceiling. Do they blink? Imagine how much fun that could be if you got to play Simon Says naked. Or maybe not.
August 7th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
loved the picture of the sauna rooms, very interesting read. Every culture is so beautifully different, so much to learn from them.
August 10th, 2013 at 10:57 pm
[…] a while of sitting around, we decided to go to a jjimjilbang nearby to at least do something interesting. The rain had let up a bit at this point, so we started […]
August 11th, 2013 at 8:35 am
[…] Getting Naked with Strangers (in Korea). […]
October 9th, 2014 at 10:04 pm
[…] third most viewed post is called Getting Naked With Strangers (in Korea). It is all about the experience of going to a Korean sauna. I posted it just like any other […]