When I first got here, I blogged a little bit about the Spa I went to in Daejon with my co-workers Irene, Krystafre and Jenny. However, I never really got in deep about the 찜질방, or the jimjilbang--an experience that is so quintessentially Korean I feel embarrassed having not discussed it yet.
Though "Jimjilbang" could translate to "sauna," this wouldn't really be accurate, as jimjilbangs are nothing like the saunas I've been to in the U.S. "Saunas" bring to mind super-hot rooms, where you sit and sweat profusely--though these are involved, there's so much more to jimjilbang-ing than sweatboxes.
There's a very specific procedure you go through.
1) You pay anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 won at the front desk. The attendant there hands you two towels, a key with a band that goes around your wrist, and a pajama-like set of over sized shorts/matching shirt, usually in a revolting color.
2) You proceed to a small shoe locker anteroom. You take off your shoes. Then, you go through a curtain (usually) to a mondo locker room (these are gender segregated, just like at home), where you stash all of your stuff, strip off every stitch of clothing you are wearing1, and proceed into the "sauna".
3) Depending on how "luxury" your jimjilbang is, there will be a variety of things in the "sauna" room. You have
a) your good 'ole stand up showers (HUMOROUS ASIDE: Last time, in the midst of my shampooing at one of these showers, a middle-aged Korean woman bathing next to me took my loofah, squirted it with some of her own soap, and scrubbed my back for a solid twenty seconds or so. No, I am not making this up)
b) these sit-down bathing stations where mothers usually wash their screaming children (for this reason, I avoid them)
OOO, naked ladies
c)a variety of jacuzzi-style baths, including
i) smelly baths: pine, coffee, tea, ginseng, herbs
ii) cold baths
iii) super hot baths
iv) outdoor baths, if you're lucky
d)several super-hot sweatboxes we think of as "saunas" in the west
e) a station where you can pay extra for a masseuse to scrub the crap of your naked bod...no thanks.
4) After soaking for as long as you can stand, you wander back to your locker. You put on the over sized, revoltingly colored pajamas you were given at the beginning and wander to the co-ed section of the jimjilbang, where there is an overwhelming amount of crap for you to do. You can:
a) hang out on a massive heated floor, where you can
i)talk with friends/family
ii) take a nap on a provided mat
iii) watch TV
iv) do nothing
v) eat snacks, available for purchase at multiple snack bars
b)visit one of several dry saunas if you're in the mood to sweat some more--which look amusingly like little ovens
c)visit a "cold" room and freeze your ass off for a minute or so (HUMOROUS ASIDE: I ran into one of my more annoying students in the cold room once. He looked at me and mumbled hello before whipping out his cell phone and pretending like I didn't exist for the minute or so were in there. Together. Freezing, in matching pajamas, for maybe a minute or so)
d) send an e-mail/play a few games in a computer room
e) run a few laps on the treadmill--most jimjilbangs have at least a tiny gym
f) get a massage/manicure/pedicure/facial (for extra money)
g) get a massage that from an awesomely cheap massaging chair (my favorite)
h) watch a magic show (HUMOROUS ASIDE: I watched one at Yongsan Spa that echoed Job's antics in Arrested Development. Complete with loud techno music featuring the refrain "LET THE BEAT CONTROL YOUR BODY")
i) don a bathing suit and swim in a co-ed pool
and much more. You can stay for as long as you want at these places, as they're open 24 hours a day. Many people stay at jimjilbangs in lieu of hotels in Korea, racking out on the floor for a night. I think they're an awesome way to kill a lazy Sunday--with family, friends, or by yourself.
I'd highly recommend Yongsan Spa in Seoul, but I am lucky enough to have an extremely awesome jimjilbang--called Waterpia--basically three minutes away from where I live^^
1Koreans don't check each other out in the jimjilbang. They grow up with this stuff and aren't cultured to think that being nude around other women/men is something to be weirded out by. That said, as a (naked) foreigner, I am noticed and watched by Koreans, most of whom are Korean children who will ask me questions like "How are you?" and "Why is your hair so long?"