Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting naked in Korea - yes me!

I know the title of this post sounds very scandalous. And precisely because of that I know this post is going to get more hits than any of my other posts. But nobody knows who's reading so go ahead and read on.

Public bath houses are part of the unique culture of Korea. For your and my edification, I Googled the history of Korean public bath houses. The first Korean public bath house was built in 1924 after the model of Japanese bath houses. Since it was built while Japan occupied Korea, and most likely under the direction of the Japanese leaders, there were far more Japanese customers than Korean. But as time went on, and after the Japanese left Korea in the mid-forties, Koreans continued and developed the bath house culture from a mere place of washing to a place of relaxation, entertainment, and grooming. You can now experience saunas in different temperature,watch TV, sing karaoke, get a facial, a massage, pedicure, manicure, eyelash extensions and other aesthetic services.

Today, the facility is usually divided into two major rooms: the sauna room and the actual bath house. The sauna room is co-ed because you are clothed and has a main space that has karaoke, TV, restaurants and different sauna rooms of different temperature. Some people go there to spend the night because it's open 24 hours and it's so cheap (only $5-8). It's a good place for backpackers to crash to save money.





The bath house is gender-specific and is also equipped with pools of different temperature. It also has showers and little sit-down places to scrub the dead skin off of your body. (Exfoliation is big in Korea)



I have always wanted to experience this new Korean bathhouse but didn't know if I could brave wearing just my birthday suit in public. (I am even shy about wearing my swim suit!)But today I decided that I could. So, my 6-feet-tall American friend Corinna and I went to the bath house this morning. The sauna part was great because we were clothed. Corinna didn't want to stay for the bath part because she didn't want to be stared at. (She is a head, shoulder, chest, and stomach taller than most Koreans.)

So, Corinna went home and I stayed and went into the bath house. I even lay on a table to get my dead skin exfoliated (not just our faces as we normally do but the whole shebang). Needless to say, I felt extremely vulnerable and exposed. So, no more body exfoliation by a stranger. But the whole bath part was doable and I would do it again.

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