Monday, November 25, 2013

naked in public

I realize that I've basically dropped off the face of the earth when it comes to blog posts, but since I'm back in Korea for a week, I thought it was only appropriate to come back here to let everyone know how it's going.

I set out this morning with a plan to locate the Worldwide Taekwondo Federation Museum. After three hours of wandering hopelessly around a five-block radius, I finally found signs pointing me to where I wanted to be. In my head, it was going to be full of awesome doboks and interactive exhibits where I could fight black belts. In real life, it looked like this.

That's it. One room of old trophies and pictures of people I've never heard of. Oh, and this gem.

That's precisely how I felt about the whole museum experience.

I left the museum and decided that a cold, rainy day was the perfect day to try out my first Korean sauna. I took the subway a half an hour north and promptly got lost again, taking a full hour to find something that is literally visible from the subway exit. If it ever comes down to it, I could start a very lucrative (although admittedly unreliable) taxi business.

Once inside the jimjilbang, I received my sauna clothes, dropped my shoes in the front locker, and headed upstairs to the "women only" floor. As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, I knew I had made a terrible mistake.

In case you're unfamiliar with the concept of Korean saunas, I should interject here with a little background knowledge. The primary purpose of a jimjilbang is as a public bathhouse. As in, bathing. With the public. Lots of naked, everywhere.

When I stepped out of the elevator, the room was filled with old Asian women in various stages of undressing. I clutched my sauna clothes to my chest and stared at the floor as I walked across the locker room, ignoring the fact that I would soon be joining them in nudity.

I spent a full five minutes debating whether I should just cover my eyes and run away, but I had already spent eleven dollars, dammit, and I was going to make it worth it. Besides, once I finished showering, I could put on the t-shirt and shorts I was given at the door, and all would be right in the world again.

The showers turned out to be an entire floor dedicated to bathing. Giant tubs, spigots, waterfalls, and, of course, a whole lot of naked. I ran straight to the first empty shower head and took the fastest (and least efficient) shower of my life. I didn't even have soap with me; I basically just let the water spray me for a second then scurried back out the door, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the room.

I didn't even wait until I was back up the stairs to put the sauna clothes on. I steered away from the changing room and instead chose to go to the "co-ed" floor where everyone would be fully clothed. I quickly discovered that very few, if any, people go to jimjilbangs alone. Every room I went into had pockets of friends dotting the floors and couples snuggling in the corners. I was just the weird foreign girl who walked in and sat for a while by herself, which is not really who anyone wants to be.

I went into every room that didn't explicitly say "No Women!" on the door before finally deciding I had had about enough fun for the day. I wound my way through the locker room again and changed back into my regular clothes as fast as humanly possible then made my way to the door.

So basically, when you break it down, I spent about 80% of my day wandering around lost and the other 20% surrounded by naked old ladies. For the record, that's about 20% more than I'd like to be surrounded by naked old ladies. I did, however, learn how to do this with my towel:

So it was all worth it.

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