Monday, July 23, 2012

First time ever at a Korean bathhouse

Today was quite the hot and humid summer day in Seoul, so after spending an ill-advised afternoon out in this unpleasant weather, I decided to check out a Korean bathhouse (jjim-jil-bang) for the first time in my life.

When I was younger, I avoided these places like the plague whenever I was in Korea because of my monumental fear of seeing naked dudes. But having gotten over that irrational fear many years ago, I thought that nothing would be a better reprieve from a heavy, sticky day than taking a cool shower and just lounging around for a couple of hours.

A jjim-jil-bang, or at least the one I went to, is divided into two main parts. There's a shower/pool area where you can rinse yourself off and/or relax in a hot pool. There are even masseuses there, though I think you have to pay for them. This place is obviously segregated by gender. Then afterwards, you go to a common area (fully clothed, of course) where everybody can just lie around on mats in a big open area. There are also steam rooms in little igloo-shaped huts.

If you're thirsty or hungry, there are concession stands and restaurants that serve simple meals. Because of these amenities and the fact that there's no limit on how long one can stay, jjim-jil-bangs are sometimes used by late-night partiers as a crashpad. I'm not speaking from personal experience.

On a sweltering summer day, there's no refuge quite like a jjim-jil-bang. I guess I'm a convert now.

Jjim-jil-bang staples: hard-boiled eggs and shikhae (sweet rice punch)

Escaping from the summer humidity in the common area

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