because it’s not a real weekend until you’ve paraded around naked with the locals…

So.

If you’ve been following me, you probably have noticed that I’ve been absent for nearly two weeks. I have a really good explanation for that: I’m terribly lazy.

So, let’s catch up.

Last weekend, my new, dear friend, Kaylee D., came to town to go shopping and have an adventure. Kaylee’s my new South African BFF in SK. Why?? We’re both coffee freaks, we get along stupendously, and our initials are the same. (I discovered this last weekend and immediately was overcome with glee. I perhaps should mention that, on occasion, I am easily entertained.)

Kaylee and I went to Seomun Market across town – one of the LARGEST and oldest outdoor markets in Daegu. I went a few weeks ago alone to check it out, and after four hours of wandering around in a fog of sheer amazement and walking in circles a few times (the place is HUGE and every corner looks the same), I was lost and completely enamored. I immediately decided that the next time my girl, KD, came to town, we were going. And go we did!

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Perhaps my favorite part about this little jaunt is that we were cornered by a group of Korean girls who told us, in pretty good English, that they were doing a project for school and needed to film one of us singing an English song with them. And who got picked for the song bit? Uh, ME. (Thanks, KD!) The girls were adorable and we sang the chorus of whatever that annoying “Oh Baby” song was that Bieber (whom I lovingly refer to as “Biebs”) had on his first album. Annoying American pop song or not, the girls were super sweet and I totally enjoyed swaying like an idiot while singing with them. And now, not only am I a part of a very prestigious after-school program, but I’ve also now made my way in to some public school classroom. How nice.

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After a long day of shopping and drinking coffee and chatting like old friends, KD and I decided we would take the plunge and experience one of the more intimidating Korean establishments for Westerners: the jjimjilbang. Now, for those of you who are unaware, jjimjilbangs are basically like public bathhouses. They’ve been a part of Korean culture for centuries. And after this experience, I’ve decided they’re pretty much AWESOME. Let me explain how it works:

For a fee (anywhere from about $5-9 US, depending on where you go), you get to lock up your valuables and strip down to your birthday suit in order to get into large hot tub-like baths with water of varying temperatures. You sit. You relax. Or, you bring a basket of goodies, sit in a separate area, and go to town grooming, scrubbing, exfoliating, or whatever your little heart desires. Again, the most important part to remember about this whole thing is that EVERYONE IS NAKED. As in no clothes. Now, the men are separated from the women, but this doesn’t make it a whole lot less intimidating when it’s your first time… I mean, look: you’re probably going to be the only white person in there, thus making it more likely that you’ll be stared at.

Maybe.

Also, I’m not sure how much I’ve harped about how IMPORTANT image is here… Women will literally not eat to maintain their thinness. It’s like a whole culture of women are advocating for eating disorders here. Now, I’ve put on some poundage since last June when I ran a MARATHON (that’s right – you read correctly – I completed a marathon!!), but I haven’t exactly ballooned up, either. However, this does NOT put me at ease when considering jjimjilbang. Was I really going to subject myself to public judgement by visiting a Korean bathhouse full of potentially rail thin, perfectly chiseled, well-groomed Korean women? In my current state, I’m flabby. I did take it upon myself to shave my legs before this excursion, but in the whole body image area, I had a feeling that I would be feeling inadequate. Oh, and I was pretty sure that I’d be unintentional entertainment for other jjimjilbangers. So, was I going to go? Uh, yeah. Just not alone!

So, Kaylee and I decided to be big girls and suck it up, and entered after a laughing agreement of “I won’t look at yours if you don’t look at mine.” And there we were, new friends with few secrets, unsure about what to expect at the local jjimjilbang… We giggled as we waltzed across the lobby wearing nothing but Westerner pride and pushed through the glass doors that housed a cave-themed naked party. I swear I heard the songs of angels the moment we crossed the threshold. As a longtime bath lover, being without a tub in my apartment has been a tad painful… Even if only half of me fit in the tub (which is pretty typical, as I’m too long for most traditional tubs), I’d be happy. So as soon as I was able to submerge myself in a bath big enough to be a kick-ass kiddie pool, I knew I’d be back.

I should also mention that while I was worried that I’d be judged as an all-American Patty McFatty, I was relieved to see that most of the visitors to the jjimjilbang we chose were older, less self conscious women. And they were flabby. And they jiggled. And they WEREN’T stick thin. Suddenly, I felt less concerned with how I might appear to the women around me and just strutted my stuff like I belonged in there. I felt so liberated!! It was a great evening.

Oh, and the other small detail I might add is that your jjimjilbang fee also includes renting a rather small “jjimjilbang uniform” (that oddly resembled a prison outfit, in our case) should you choose to spend the night. Kaylee probably would have fit into it, but I would have been lucky to get one leg in… Regardless, we had no plans to spend the night and didn’t.

Shortly thereafter, I dropped Kaylee back off at the train station and headed home, coffee in hand. I was feeling pretty wonderful having spent a fantastic, sunny day with a friend shopping and embracing semi-public nudity.

And that, my friends, is why I’ve decided the following: it’s truly not a full and successful weekend until you’ve spent a few minutes relaxing “nakie” with non-English speakers. It’s pretty much awesome. I’ll be visiting again.

3 Comments

  1. Julie Lyons says:

    I seriously love reading every one of your blogs. I’m so glad you’re having so much fun! Thanks for making me giggle and putting a smile on my face. :)

  2. Lacie says:

    Sounds like a fabulous time! Minus the naked part. ;) I love that you have embraced the new (and somewhat odd) things of your new found home! I always love reading your blogs! I can’t wait to see how a hair experience will be! ;) muah!! Miss you here in our currently warm spring Oregon!!!

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