Bath Houses and Culture ShockSubmitted by Ducky at 2009-04-08 12:20:34 EDT
Rating: 1.56 on 65 ratings (65 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
Travelling without attempting to experience what different cultures have to offer is such a waste.
There are places you can go in Korea where you sit on the edge of a pool of water and hundreds of little fish will come along and glom onto your feet. They will proceed to suck all of the dead skin off of them, leaving them smooth and soft as a babies bum, which would be pretty soft…barring rashes and so on. I wanted so badly to try this out, and after begging and pleading, one of the Korean teaching partners finally emitted a high pitched, warbled, multi-syllabled whining noise with an ‘ok’ attached to it and found me an address. Two of my co-workers decide to join.
This place was a mere two subway stops away, which was wonderful. We walk in and take a jammed up elevator ride up to the 9th floor. I went to the desk and paid 7000 won ($6.50 or so) and found it strange that the woman behind the counter gave me a pair of shorts, a shirt, a towel and a key. I followed Cat and Nicole, who seemed to know where they were going, into a locker area where they started to undress.
“What are you guys doing?”
“We’re at a Jimjilbang. If you think I’m just going to do the foot thing you’re nuts” said Nicole.
“A bath house” Cat says, like it’s painfully obvious.
I’m pretty sure this is where I instantly broke out in hives.
At this point I must share with you that I am NOT okay with random nudity. For other people sure and I wish I had a comfort level with it, but I don’t. I have always been the girl/woman who changes in the bathroom. Always. This isn’t to say that I feel I have an overly poor self-image. I don’t. I’ve just always been conservative like that…and when I am forced into being naked, for yearly checkups and that sort of thing, I always invariably use really lame humour as a defense mechanism – sometimes I dare say it gets in the way of my awesomeness. Flashback:
Doctor: Okaaay…there’s your labia…
Me: There’s an African country in my vagina?
Doctor: *glancing up* …
Me: Sorry…it was a joke…I was trying to say that, you know HOW’D THAT GET THERE…an African
country…heh heh heh in …you know…kidding like, that there was an African cou…because labia sounds sort of like Liby…nevermind.
This is what happens to me when I’m naked, and it’s not okay. I also have a staring problem in general.
“Stop thinking and lets go” Nicole blurted.
And this is how a pasty, 5’10” foreigner (wei-gook) with clown feet ended up in a bath house. I looked at the ‘towel’ I’ve been given.
“I don’t know…this is pretty small” I said, preoccupied by trying to fashion it into some sort of anything that will conceal me and failing miserably.
“It’s for your head Ducky”.
They shook their heads and walked towards two frosted glass doors. I followed, trying to be inconspicuous, but ultimately looked more like Jim Belushi did while running across the lawn in Animal House. We walked through the doors and were in a space filled with upwards of 200 little naked Korean women. I’m all about ducking out of my comfort zone, but this was a stretch for me.
As I slowly lumbered my way in I saw that there were about 20 pools of water, all of which were different temperatures as evidenced by the large digital displays above each. There was a waterfall and the walls were encrusted with semi-precious stones. It was insane. Some of the pools were even scented with essential oils. Paradise right? I was having trouble enjoying it at first. It didn’t seem to matter where I moved – these women were staring at me. I was having an internal panic-attack but feigned confidence and just walked around and did my thing. Nicole and Cat had been to various Jimjilbangs, and this was nothing new for them. They clearly found my discomfort amusing though.
“Hey Duck, is that a big pimple on your ass?” Cat called out.
“What?!” *craning head around*
“Ooooooooooh…I see what you did just there…with the…yeah…YOU’RE SO FUNNY….Cat, with your…you mean
*More laughter* “We love you Duck”.
I sat in one pool, closed my eyes to combat the staring problem, and after pretending for what felt like forever that the woman next to me wasn’t burrowing her eyes into my skull, I turned to her and smiled. She smiled back.
“What are you doing here” she asked?
“Um…I’m here with some friends of mine…is there a problem?”
“No no no no, no problem” she said, “it’s just that white women never come here”.
“I think they are afraid”, she whispered.
“Well that’s just silly” I say, and suddenly that’s how I felt.
Learning experiences right? Here is a picture of part of Seoul that I took from N'Seoul Tower.