When in Rome, as they say. Or in this case South Korea..
My first experience with a Jimjilbang
Christmas Eve 2016 was spent a little differently this year. In snowless Gwangju, South Korea, I joined a downtown pub crawl to celebrate. From underground jazz clubs, to German beer halls, and rooftop patio’s, last night was an adventure. I woke up Christmas morning not to presents under a tree, but a pounding headache.
‘Today will not be wasted away with a hangover’ I thought to myself. I jumped out of bed and set out into the world early this morning fueled by intention – and probably some of last nights liquor remaining in my system – in search of the coveted Jimjilbang. A traditional public bath house.
Jimjilbangs are encompassed of various rooms depending on the location but always contain gender-segregated spa rooms and a co-ed quiet floor where you can relax, nap, or sleep overnight in a clutch. Sometimes they also offer massages, restaurants and other services.
After falling in love with my hometown’s recently built outdoor spa, Thermea, I knew I had to try a Jimjilbang out. Though the key difference between a Canadian spa and Korean spa is, you’re completely nude in the spa room in Korea.
Growing up playing hockey, the team would hit the showers after games so being in a room full of naked guys isn’t too big of an issue for me.
In we go..
After an odd start to my search of mistaking a few Love Motels – cheap hotel’s that can be rented for an hour or an evening. But are generally a very nice stay and well kept – for a Jimjilbang, I finally found one at the city bus terminal.
You begin by paying a nominal fee of about $5 for a locker key. And enter inside through either the male or female entrance. Walls of lockers and two connecting doors filled the change room in this particular Jimjilbang. One to the co-ed quiet room where there I could see about a dozen sleeping souls on comfortable looking mats, men and women.
Farther into the locker room, the second door lead to the men’s spa. Through the fogged, glass door I could see the outline of many, naked men.
I also saw people coming and going in uniform-like clothing. These very neutral garments are given for sleeping in the quiet room. They are extremely unflattering and bland, to inhibit sexual activity I’m told.
I wasn’t sure if I needed these clothes first to enter the spa or if I just dropped the drawls in the locker room and naked parade into the spa. With no clothes in sight or in my locker, the naked parade was my only option.
Chest puffed out and ding dong a’swinging, I strutted into the spa room buck-ass naked.
In the belly of the beast..
Shower heads lined the wall that separated the locker room from the spa. It is mandatory to hose down before jumping into a tub. Across the room from the showers were 3 tubs and a dry sauna. There was a hot tub, a warm tub and cold tub.
To maintain some pride I skipped the cold pool initially and opted for one of the hot pools to begin with. The guys will understand this move.
I tried to play it real cool as I climbed into the tub where a few other asian men all sat, relaxed and strongly abiding by the unspoken code of eyes kept above center.
As I entered the first hot tub, any initial discomfort I had immediately washed away. It felt great to actually sit in some water. Eventually I began switching back and forth between the hot tubs and the cold tub, and throwing a few sauna sessions between each tub as well.
A cedar type of wood lined the walls and ceiling. It gave off a nice woody aroma, to my satisfaction. Opposed to the sweaty ball sack smell, which I had prepared myself for.
Spring water, herb and salt infused waters are all very common for the tubs of Jimjilbangs. So the whole place didn’t smell all that bad.
As I had the sauna to myself for the most part I even busted out a few yoga poses. ‘What is this white, tattooed, and shaven devil doing here?’ Must the other Korean men have thought, had I been spotted.
And the results on Jimjilbang are..
After about an hour and a half I remembered I had to FaceTime the family, so I begrudgingly showered off and headed home. Not sold on how sanitary and hygienic the whole thing is, I showered again at home once more.
Overall, I had a great time and for $5.. I might even make that a weekly ritual. Whether it’s for a relaxing soak or a cheap place to rest my head for a night, I will be back.
Jimjilbang gets the thumbs up from me.
Have you ever tried one? Let me know!
Merry Christmas, Happy holidays & Hanukkah,
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