Friday 20 July 2012

Getting close and personal

**There are not many picture in this post as it concerns getting naked, and I wasn't about the post a picture of that!**

Last time we got so close was on the subway
A couple of weeks ago Chelsea and I decided before we left Korea we had to finally have a truly Korean experience. Going to a jimjilbang. Jimjilbang literally means 'steaming room', which we would know as a sauna or spa. They are all over Korea and they are extremely popular. Usually they have one section full of sauna rooms, and another full of pools of water at varying temperatures. The thing about jimjilbangs is you have to get naked to enjoy them. Chelsea and I decided to go to the most popular one in Seoul - Dragon Hill. Here the sauna rooms are mixed and you get a drab looking uniform to wear inside. The bathing rooms however are separated into male and female and it's here that you have to get naked. 

Now is time for a confession. Since coming to Korea I've changed. I'm now pretty much ok with being naked in front of other women. When I first arrived here, and I joined my gym, I was like most other foreigners: Terrified of the changing rooms. Korean woman just don't care about letting it all hang out in front of other women. The gym provides some incredibly small towels (think hand towel size) to use in the shower, which even if you wanted to, wouldn't cover much. You pretty much have to choose - the front or the back. My first couple of months at the gym I'd walk in from working out, literally rip my clothes off, hang the towel infront of me and scuttle to the shower. I'd jump under whatever shower was free (in the open plan shower room), regardless of whether the water was scalding hot, or freezing cold. I would then have the world's fastest shower and scuttle out again. Usually throw my clothes on whilst I was still damp and then be out the door. It probably took me no longer than 10 minutes to complete this whole process. But after a while this became so much work. Everyone around me was taking their time, combing their hair, using the hairdryers, scrubbing the life out of their skin. I decided that I couldn't keep this showering regime up, and so I started to take my time and wander around like everyone else. A few of the old women at the gym used to look and see how my body was different, especially when I came back from Bali sunburnt, but now I'm ignored as much as anyone else. I'm definitely not going to start the Korean habit of drying 'down there' with a hairdryer (seriously, they do this). I'm still a foreigner deep down.

The thing is, I'm totally ok with being naked with Korean woman, that I don't know. If a western woman is at the gym I freak out and usually go home sweaty (not too bad now that I live only 3 minutes from the gym). Going to Dragon Hill meant that Chelsea and I would have to be naked together. We wanted to experience the spa, but this part was pretty nerve racking. Not that we're suddenly going to start pervving on each other, but it's not really a regular occurance to see your friends naked. So after we'd enjoyed our time in the saunas, it came time to get naked and head to the baths. After a few '1, 2.... ahh I can't do it' moments we eventually stripped off and headed for the baths. Both holding our towels to shield the front. Hopping in and out of the pools we slowly became more and more open and after a while sorting out our towels became such a hassle that we just embraced naked-ness. 

Dragon Hill Saunas
Dragon Hill is probably one of the more 'posh' jimjilbangs in Korea and as such offers all sorts of treatment packages. These are all quite expensive however so we decided to simply use the included facilities. That is until, naked in the pool rooms, I saw a section offering body scrubs for a fraction of the price of the packages (25,000won). I was sold! and after some cajolling Chelsea was too. 

Next came the weirdest experience of. my. life. There I am, starkers, having an old, overweight Korean woman wearing only bra and knickers scrubbing away at my dead skin. And boy was she going for it! I was scrubbed to within an inch of my life! She loofahed, scrubbed and soaped me from top to toe (not missing a centimetre). The lady who was scrubbing me was ready before Chelsea's, so I hopped on the bed. As she began to scrub, I could hear Chelsea laughing, and as I glanced over at her, the woman leaned over and boom~ our boobs are touching. It was one of those 'is this really happening' moments that seem to happen in Asia. I spent the next 5 minutes laughing as the scrubber lady gave me some dissapproving looks.

The language barrier was at one point rather funny. She was telling me which position she wanted me to move to, I had no real idea, so she just grabbed my arm and slid me along the soapy bed to the correct place. Then neither of us could stifle our giggles.

This was one of the cold pools.
At the end of it all she washed my hair, and then I  was good to go. I've never really felt that clean! My skin is quite sensitive so I walked away with red patches all over me. Afterwards I didn't feel like getting back into the pools and dirty again so we rinsed ourselves and headed out to get fully clothed and back to reality.

A truly strange and quite liberating experience. 

*Dragon Hill is easily accessed from with sinyongsan (line 4) or yonsan (line 1) stations*
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1 comment:

  1. I used to go to Dragon Hill all the time!! LOVED it there!!! And yea it's awkward to go with your close friends at first, but you get over it quickly. Oh man I miss that place!