Jjimjilbang for the First Time

Going to a jjimjilbang 찜질방 for the first time was a little fun, strange, nerve-wracking, and interesting to say the least. It was an experience. And while I was a little disappointed that J wouldn’t be there, especially since she’s been talking about wanting to go for so long now – I have to admit, it was sort of relieving to not have to reveal myself yet to her. Not that there’s anything to hide – nor would there be any way to hide in there – but it’d definitely not something that I’m accustomed to.

J, M, K, and I made plans to go to Ilsan Lake Park to see the flower festivals, in particular the cherry blossoms (more on that in the next blog post). But as it’s far away (in a city north of Seoul), we decided that it was the perfect opportunity to stay in a jjimjilbang. M found Tamra Land, which was right by the park and we met up on Friday night to stay there. It was 7,000 won a person, which is amazing for overnight stay. And after paying, we all went in separate directions into the gender segregated areas.

I have to admit, I felt a little uncomfortable and nervous when I walked in. And while I have … undressed.. before at a spa in Thailand, it’s quite a different thing when there’s multiple women of all ages just walking about, completely naked. Then there’s the women who work there, who are fully clothed and make it a little intimidating. After I allowed myself a minute to figure out where the showers, hot tubs, and saunas were – I oriented myself in the location – I thought, “Whatever.” Everyone else is already naked, surely another unclothed Asian woman in there is not going to make a difference. And it didn’t. The beauty of being Asian is that I do blend in – and I didn’t have to experience being a foreigner in the jjimjilbang where my body becomes an object of curiousity for the locals.

I made my way into the hot tubs area and took a nice shower. But unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared with shampoo and the like, since I thought that they’d provide this. Even so, I made sure to clean as best as I can and then I decided to venture to the hot tubs. It was definitely relaxing and I had forgotten how nice hot tubs could be. I don’t do too well in extreme heat – and after my allergy reactions to the sauna back home, I decided to stay clear of the saunas. So, I only ventured and rotated between the hot tubs, a warmer tub, cold pool, and ice pool. Although I made sure to not stay in a pool for too long, after awhile, I did find that the steam and heat was getting to my head and made the wise decision to leave the tubs before I lost consciousness.

I met up with the boys in the unisex area where there was a television, sleeping mats, pillows, and the Korean traditional kiln saunas. There was also an ice room. M was keen to try the iced sikhye and bought a bottle – but quickly passed it over to me since he didn’t like it. I think next time, we’ll need to try the boiled eggs as well. The other cultural part of the night we participated in was making the sheep head with the towels. Even though this is usually seen in dramas and on television, there were actually no one else in the place with it. No one but the foreigners, as strange as that is.

Sleeping here actually wasn’t that bad. But I do have an ability to adapt easily to new sleeping accommodations. And it was fine for the most part – with the exception of waking up to a stranger kicking me in the head in his sleep. I made sure to stay away from him – not even sure when he started sleeping there. But aside from that, I was lucky enough to get some sleep, which I can’t say the same for M and K.

As you can imagine, I didn’t even consider taking photos inside the female area. But there were a few snapshots from the sleeping area. Overall, it was a good jjimjilbang experience. Even if I’m not sure I did everything I’m supposed to do. Next time, I’ll be sure to be more prepared.

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