Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ninny Takes A Bath (with 75 strangers)

This weekend I did something that I never thought I could do. I stripped down completely naked and sauntered, nay, mosied around a public bathhouse/sauna (girls only) called a jjimjilbang. Don't worry, these pictures are not of MY nudist experience...they're simply stock photos to help you understand the "after" part of jjimjilbang. FIRST, you come in and lock your shoes up in a special shoe locker. SECOND you acquire your jjimjilbang issue pajamas...pepto bismal pink bermuda shorts and T-shirt for the ladies and slightly larger blue version for the men. THIRD you walk into the women only section and try to avert your eyes uncomfortably as you are greeted by the sight of a nekked old saggy boobed korean grandma spread out all over the bench eating. FOURTH you also get naked and try to make the washcloth that they call a towel cover as much of your body as possible. FIFTH you sneak into the hottubs with about 50 other naked women and children and sigh the sweet sigh of relief when you are finally covered up to your neck in hot water.

After the initial shock of nudity, it all becomes rather strangely comfortable...and you forget that not one person you interact with is clothed. Not to be too graphic, but they do this all body scrubbing thing once you've percolated in the hot tub for a while...a korean lady in black bra and underpants puts you on a table, tells you that she's going to wash you like a fish and begins to scrub your body with a little glove that peels your flesh from your bones. Occassionally she will say something in Korean to the other ladies scrubbing next to her and they will all laugh and you will be accutely aware that she is saying your butt is the size of a pumpkin. Immediately after the scrubbing, you feel like a pink, squirmy baby...smooth and slightly traumatized. And then you put your pink outfit on and go meet up with your friends in the communal rooms, trying not to visualize the boys hanging out naked with a bunch of other men and hoping that they don't spend too much time visualizing you.

This is what it looks like when you meet in the common room...big logs (for some inexplicable reason...perhaps to make you feel like you just bathed in hot spring instead of a bathtub?) and people in their outfits playing games and hanging out. We went really late in the evening so a lot of people were asleep. We (and by "we", I mean "everyone but me") wanted to play a rousing hand of Harry Potter UNO, so we snuck downstairs to the golf putting room. The guys had staked it out earlier and found that it was supposed to be closed but they didn't lock the door. Enter the foreigners who could claim ignorance when the authorities discovered them lounging on the couches playing a card game that can barely be called interesting. We did get kicked out, but it was really a disappointment in terms of drama. :( Everyone just sort of passes out on the floor when the time comes for passing out...and you end up drooling on a mat next to a complete stranger. Evidently there is a sort of law of the jjimjilbang about mats...if you leave it for a minute, it will be gone. I fell asleep with instructions to hold down the fort and when Lumi and Jason and Nate came back, a mat, pillow and BLANKET were gone. How did I, of keen observational powers, miss this one? I have concluded that with all that dead skin scrubbed off, already waifish Koreans are about as present as a gust of wind and so can be a bit more stealth than usual. That's obviously the truth.

I woke up the next morning to Nate pondering the question, "At what point does the reality of a nice comfy bed at home outweigh the coolness of matching pajamas and communal sleeping?" I answered quickly and without reservation, "Right Now." We packed up and headed home to sleep our Saturday away in the comfort of our own beds with freshly scrubbed skin and a neckache...That my friends, is jjimjilbang.


Rachel said...

So what I just don't get is why everyone hangs around after the big bath? Perhaps it is not just about getting really clean... Although, it might be a healthy reality check for us Americans to hang out in the big tub with Grandma and friends instead of Vougue and friends.

You should laugh really loud too with the glove-n-scrub ladies whenever they laugh. Just to see what would happen.

Rachel said...


lovestrong said...

pretty much awesome.

Marie said...

Fabulous! Hurray for mind-bending adventures!

I was disappointed that I didn't have time to try the magically curative Roman baths in Bath nor the cruelly exfoliating Turkish baths in Jordan. Any excuse for prolonged non-selfconscious nudity is good with me (naked sunbathing on the floor by the living room window is a poor substitute). However, I think the post-bath naptime is a brilliant concept, and I've not heard of that before. Those Koreans have got it right. Communal pajamas? Not so sure about that one.

Tamara said...

i wanna go!! for some reason, communal baths sound much more cool everywhere OTHER than America. seriously, do you really wanna bathe with people here?

Dainon said...

I'm glad you are there to experience this. I can live the communal bathing through you ... except you're a girl and stuff, so it takes extra imagining ... and that's imagining I'm not gonna do. Not now.

What I'm trying to say is, well, thanks.