Forget Korean Pop, Korean dramas or any other cultural/traditional thing you would find out of Korea. Forget going to the Min Suk Chun (traditional folk village), kimchi museums or war memorials. If you want to know Korea…the real Korea…all you need to do is go to your local jjim-jil-bang (ÂòÁú¹æ) here. This is truly a cultural experience which by far differentiates Korea from any other country out there in the world. Globalization and capitalism may have given Seoul an international face-lift, but jjim-jil-bangs, boohl-gah-mahs, co-ed saunas…call them what you want…they are what keeps this place Korean.
Where else can you find such a phenomenon, where guys and girls basically come together to sweat in the same room. The jjim-jil-bang is basically the third home for Koreans behind their real homes and their offices. It also is a great place to take the family and serves as a good cheap alternative to places like Disney or Everland (Just 7,000 won per visit).
“I take my entire family there. My wife and I relax in the hot room area while my daughters run around from room to room drinking shik-hye (½ÄÇý) with their friends”, Mr. Kim, 44 yo office manager testifies. When he says room to room, he means the many various types of functions or entertainment each and every room provides. There are dozens of rooms, each serving a different purpose.
From my experience, I had a very enjoyable time trying out each room. The area in which you are first exposed to is the common lounge area. Its a huge room where you can relax, lay down and watch TV or just people. Then walking through a corridor comes the first section of saunas. These saunas are sorted by different temperatures, from somewhat hot to extremely hot. They aslo all have different settings like mesh or clay floors…salt rock beddings, where you lay and cover yourself within a bed of hot stones.
Trust me when I say its relaxing. It’s relaxing! Definitly a great place to pull some stress for those who have to wander all day in this city.
There also seems to be a tiny sub-culture within these jjim-jil-bangs where couples lay together in cucumber masks. Young women gather in their sewing-circles, sipping on iced green tea, talking about boys and tying their towels up in their hair like princess leah.
The guys tend not to be so clickish as they get impatient sitting in the same jjim-jil-bang for too long. But why settle in one room when there is a huge variety of rooms to choose from? They also have ice rooms where you can immediately extinguish the heat and cool off. They also have oxygen rooms where they blast o2 should you have that ´ä´äÇØ feeling you get from being in too much of a stuffy place. They have sleeping areas where you can hide away in your own little cave and sleep for as long as you’d like (if i was a tourist with no money, I would seriously stay at one of these places).
There are massaging chairs. They have movie rooms, where you can watch the latest DVDs in stereo surround sound. They have PC bangs in which you can search the internet and check your email. A video game console room where you have your choice between Xbox and PS2 to play from. The one I went to actually had a ³ë·¡¹æ in it where you can sing songs. I can’t think of anything these places don’t have. They had a restaurant where you can eat almost anything. An ice cream parlour where you can pick from various flavors. A cafe, where you can order coffee, tea and other sorts of refreshments. They also have playgrounds for the children to play.
Shall I continue? Back in the men’s bathing rooms they have various tubs to bathe in. You can choose from bathing in a tub of ssook to sitting in a whirlpool full of ginseng water. They also had a tub with ultrasonic rays but I have no idea what that is supposed to do for you. There’s a whole separate mogyohk tang (¸ñ¿åÅÁ) culture too but that I will have to save for another time.
Ahhhhh, the ÂòÁú¹æ. It is now becoming one of my favorite past times. If only I could take it back to America with me….hmmm. Ideas, ideas. How can I return to the States knowing I’d have to leave this all behind?
As Mr. Kim packs his brief case and walks out the door, “But I am curious about the future of our jjim-jil-bang. Because the prosperity of this type of bathing culture could have given birth to the fall of the Roman Empire.”
Day 193 (One more week and it will be 200 days!)