Saturday, January 16, 2016

Naked Bonding... Aka. The Jjimjilbang

When in Korea, do as the Koreans do. Ie. Get naked with some of them.

Gongju is full of foreigners (many of my Korean coworkers are always surprised by how many there are here when they visit) and some of the girls decided to visit our local jimjilbang. Many of us had never been, including myself (I have gone to Japanese onsen before though, and it's very similar), and we decided to do the whole shebang – Saunas, baths, scrubs, and of course the traditional baked egg and shikhye. Don't worry, Conan exaggerates about the scrub (or the ajummas went easy on me).
jimjilbang, gongju, korea, korean spa
Eating baked eggs and drinking sikhye. Or you can just sleep.

So, what is a jimjilbang? Well, if you didn't watch the video (and you should, because it's hilarious), it's a Korean bathhouse, and some even offer spa services as well. The baths themselves are segregated by sex, and theres a common lounging area as well. They're usually open 24 hrs, so it's the cheapest way to stay in another city as well. You can find mats, pillows, and usually blankets in the communal area. The one we went to even had secluded alcoves for individuals to sleep in undisturbed. The entrance fee was 6, 000 won ($6 USD) to enter the baths, and another 2, 000 ($2 USD) for the communal area.

The baths are the best part though. There are five in this particular location– a hot bath, an even hotter bath, a cold bath, a scented bath, and a bath with jets. There were also three different saunas – a dry salt sauna, a dry charcoal sauna, and a regular wet, salt sauna. Both the saunas and baths are great for your health and detoxing. Because you will feel detoxed after spending time in the jimjilbang. First, you should rinse off in the showers, because everyone's dirt in the same bath is gross. When you're nice and clean, head to the baths! It's recommended to start off with the warmer baths or saunas first, and then take a plunge into the cold pool. And then you repeat the process. This helps to improve blood circulation. The cold water is also supposed to help firm the skin (albeit temporarily), so you should definitely end with a cold plunge, rather than a hot sauna. 

Now, let's get to the fun part. The scrub. In every jimjilbang, there are some older Korean ladies, usually in the corner. This is where the spa services are. They'll scrub you down, give you a massage, wash your hair and apply a deep conditioning treatment, or even give you a mini facial. These services usually start at around 20, 000 won (about $20 USD) and can go up to 60, 000 won in Gongju ($60 USD) My friends and I all opted to get the traditional scrub (this is the part with Conan screaming). It's not nearly as bad as Conan makes it sound – I found it to be quite relaxing. The ladies water you down and start to move up and down your body rapidly with an abrasive mitt. It takes about 15 minutes for a full body scrub, and you'll be disgusted when you're done. There will be piles (piles!) of dead skin all over the bed and on your body. If you've ever used a Korean or Japanese peeling gel on your face, it looks like that. But larger. Like the size of a fingernail large. Then they apply some wash off lotion, give you a one-minute facial massage with cleanser (or at least I think it was a cleanser), and rinse you off a final time. 

If you want to be even more traditional, you can buy the mitts or a special cloth yourself, and scrub your friends down. They only cost a few dollars, and I use one all the time at home (but not hard enough for piles of dead skin to be scrubbed off). I'd really only recommend the ajumma style of scrubbing once a month, since it takes about 30 days for new skin to form and dead skin to slough off anyways. So no need to scrub so hard everyday, you'll only irritate your skin. 

After your baths, you can change into some pajama like shorts and a t-shirt and head to the communal area. There are usually some snacks for sale, tvs in enclosed rooms showing Korean dramas or k-pop videos, and private sleeping rooms (caves really). We grabbed some baked eggs and sikhye, both common jimjilbang fare. Oh, and baked eggs are way better than hardboiled. Why, I don't know, but they are. Sikhye is a sweet, occasionally fermented rice drink which is really refreshing after the steamy baths, or on a hot day.

So that's the story from last weekend. Naked bonding with a couple of girls I was close to, and a couple of new friends I just met that day. No better way to get close to someone than to strip down with them, right?

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