A very busy Saturday: Post 3 of 3: JimiJilBang

So, here I am, half a world away…and I have found THE most relaxing way to spend an evening…or a cold day. (Continuing from my adventures earlier in the day.)

For my friend in America, may I introduce to you: The Jimjilbang! 

I found a few really informative blogs online about them. Here is an introduction lifted from TimeOut.com’s “20 great things to do in Seoul.” At the end of this blog, I’ll post a few others’ links so you can get a more complete snapshot. This is what TimeOut had to say though, some of which I will repeat below:

“20. Do the jimjilbang thang

There are few more enjoyable places in which to get a grip on contemporary Korea than the jimjilbang. A curious mix of sauna, spa and entertainment facility – and also doubling up as the country’s cheapest form of accommodation – these are unique.

First, put your shoes into a locker, and pay the entry fee: typically around ₩5,000 for the pools and sauna rooms alone, or ₩8,000 if you want to use other facilities or stay the night. Those choosing the latter course of action will be given a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, for use later. Then it’s into the changing rooms, which are segregated by gender; here you lock all clothing away, and wander naked into the pool area. After showering, you’re free to take your pick of sauna rooms, steam rooms and a variety of pools – some ice-cold, some turned green from gigantic teabags.

Those who venture into a jimjilbang will have to follow a few rules of etiquette. First, it’s essential to wash thoroughly before entering the water – the showers are easy to spot, and all have bars of soap. You’ll get extra points for using the abrasive scrubbing flannels, usually located by the door on the way from the changing rooms to the showers. The second major point to note regards entry into the water – diving into the pool is a big no-no. Follow the Korean lead and in no time at all, you’ll be relaxing in the most local way possible. There are jimjilbang all over Seoul, and facilities are fairly standard across the board; any local will point you to your nearest one. The most notable facility in town is the gigantic Dragon Hill (792-0001), just outside the main entrance of Yongsan train station.

Words by Oliver Duke. Edited by Jon Wilks. See the Time Out online shop to buy the Time Out Seoul City Guide, first edition. “

What does that mean? 

A few comments from me before we get into that:

– First, I am not sure I can add much  more to the conversation that has not already been noted by other bloggers. Still, I had a great time and that is what I will be speaking to.

– Second, for obvious reasons, I did not take my camera into the gender specific area. As such, some of the pictures you will see here are for the most part, from the internet. The last thing I want to do is make someone uncomfortable with flashing pictures of my friends sans clothing…and then posting them (though some may not mind, haha). Still, sometimes I like to be decent…

– Lastly, Why don’t we have these in America? (I heard there are maybe two or three in the country, but why so few?!)

Ok…what is a “jimjilbang?”

It can mean a few things to different people.

Here’s my short list:

A Heated bath place… a place with lots of hot tubs. A place to soak in hot tubs and shock yourself with cold tubs.

Bath Pic 1 (outside) Note: they ARE wearing clothing – the indoor, gender specific areas are NOT clothing optional…they are CLOTHING…um…NON-“optional!”

Bath Pic 2

Bath Pic 3

A place to sleep… cheaper than a hotel, but with less privacy. You’re here to sleep, so grab a mat and a brick shaped firm pillow for your head. the floors are heated and try to ignore the snoring neighbor.

Sleep Pic 1 

Sleep Pic 2

Sleep Pic 3

Sleep Pic 4

A place to chill… Go with a group of friends or on a date (maybe not a first date). There are places where everyone can gather to enjoy the  other amenities, like hot dry sauna rooms, cold rooms, coal rooms, large (heated floor) sitting area – complete with large tv to watch what ever Korean TV show (game show, music videos, K-dramas, etc) is playing. There may be massage chairs lined up along the walls. Think large gathering area.

Chill Pic 1

Chill Pic 2

Chill Pic 3

What to expect when you go.

(NOTE: This is just to give a general idea, every place is different and may have different pricing and/or amenities as to what they offer. )

Cost: most are around 12,000 KRW, and it usually covers 12 hours. If you arrive at 9pm,… great, stay until 9am! 🙂 I often chose this after going out with friends and realizing that the subway closed down. All my items were safely stored in a locker, and I could go relax in a hot tub and then on a sleeping pad for much less than a taxi or hotel room.

Location: They are all around Seoul, though the best one I have visited so far is the Dragon Hill Spa near Yongsan Station. (As in 500 meters to the left of it!)

FLOW: After you enter, you’re going to pay your fee. When I first went, there were a lot of us. We split into two groups by sex (gender).

They will give you a wrist fob or a locker key and cotton shorts/shirt set (MAKE SURE YOU GET THE RIGHT SIZE TO FIT YOUR FRAME!). Then move into the shoe locker area where there are small lockers to match your wrist key/fob. Put your shoes in the locker and then move to the area that is specific to your biological design.

As mentioned before, I did not take pictures of the gender specific areas. Use your imagination.

Once in your locker rooms, strip down! (scary thing for this self conscious westerner), shower up, scrub down…and when you think you are clean enough, repeat! There are standing showers and sitting showers. I found the photos below that can illustrate what the sit down showers looks like:

Imagine the gents above…but without clothes on. That image? …is more likely what you will see in the “wet area of the jimjilbang.” One friend helping another. That’s not uncommon for this culture. Helping each other scrub off dead skin is an activity of bonding, respect, and platonic intimacy between friends. It in no way is meant to be interpreted as sexually intimate, as we may assume from a western perspective. There are also hot tubs to soak. At Dragon Spa there were three different temp hot tubs and a cold tub. And Yes, this is a family friendly environment. Meaning you will see kids running around as if they were playing around a pool in someone’s back yard or so you may see older people (and people of various body types) going about their bathing ritual. While soaking in one of the hot tubs (43 degrees Celsius) I was feeling the heat penetrate into my muscles and I looked around. An hour before I was dreading and mentally preparing for being naked in public, something I am NOT comfortable with. However, while in the shower, and looking around, I felt that anxiety evaporate with the stress of the week. Seeing the boys run around and the grandfather across the way clear his ears just made a complete picture. Everything seems, well, natural. It was one of those defining moments for me when I chalked this one up as an advantage over western society. I will note, however, the comedy that played in my mind when I looked over to the sitting shower area and saw this younger boy (7 or 8?) scrubbing his father’s (or uncle’s) back. The father looked ahead and patiently let his son scrub away, he looked quite calm. In contrast, his son had this contorted face on with one lip wrinkled up and his brow furrowed. He looked like he was putting all his strength into it, and was scrubbing mercilessly. Was he drawing blood? The cloths that are used are like the dark side of the dish sponges in our western kitchens…almost like brillo pads. In my mind, I was drafting a scene of what happened earlier that day to draw such ire from this boy. Did he get grounded? Was he yelled at and given a strict punishment? …clearly, this time was payback…not that the father minded. I would like to imagine the ladies had a more serene experience, as the photo below would imply. According to my female friends though – the opposite is more likely as for the most part, the kids go with the moms and aunts. I find that more kids = more shrill laughter and more kids running around. I come to relax, so I hope that is not the case for my female counterparts.

After you shower, soak, enjoy the cold tubs, the heated stone slabs (to lay down on), and maybe drift to the steam rooms and the dry sauna rooms, you can elect to get a massage. I opted NOT to get a massage. I prefer for my massages to be in quite rooms with subdued lighting. This was NOT that environment. Anyway, after your explore the wet areas, you dry off, and put on the cotton clothes and are free to explore the rest of the jimjilbang (that is not gender restricted).

That is where you may find arcades, large living rooms, cold rooms, coal rooms, etc. Here are some pictures I DID feel safe to capture:

Me in the Cold room (around 9 degrees Celsius) sporting the jimjilbang fashion!

And then I came across a group of people from Taiwan… Isn’t that nice?

Then they adopted me…I think they wanted to take me back to Taiwan with them as their pet Westerner…I would not have minded at all.

After all that, you can go back to another round of “wet area soaking”, go to the restaurant at the top of the facility (I ate chicken with friends) or change back into your clothes and head back home.

How I feel now…

This was one of my goals coming to Korea. I had heard about these mythical (to me) places to go with friends and family, or alone, to relax. This is an indulgent (yet not expensive at all) way to spend an evening. The dorm beds are not that comfortable and I find that I prefer a good soak for less than $12 for a few hours a better buy than $60 for an hour massage. The cultural aspects of this experience is EXACTLY what I was looking for too. I find myself wondering why we do not have this more frequently available in America. Is it because so much advertising is spent on having the perfect body and individualism that being naked in front of others is so ghastly? I will be left to ponder this more. Maybe I should think about it this cold (36 F/ 2 C) evening (colder tonight) as I soak in a nice hot tub?

Here are a few other links to much blogs than what I have provided here, please visit them (they did a GREAT job!) and enjoy the read:

Other Jimjilbang Blog 1

Other Jimjilbang Blog 2

Other Jimjilbang Blog 3

My time here in Korea is entering its “sunset.” I am really missing home. I know though that I am already feeling conflicted. I will miss my time here in Korea and for a while will have a torn heart; missing the best parts of each culture. I still would like to return to Korea to teach English. I have a month left though…so I will make the most of this time!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Busan,… a nice try, but still an EPIC Fail! Part 2 | wanderingwebb

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