Life in Korea: enjoying the jimjilbang to the fullest
Author’s note: ‘Life in Korea’ posts are dedicated to the newer expats among us. If you have a more experienced perspective to offer, the comments are wide open!
Ask the average foreigner what they think of the 찜질방 (jjim-jil-bang, or Korean’s public baths / spas), and you’ll get a polarized response. Some foreigners (like myself) love them, while others have either avoided them or had a bad experience in the few times they’ve gone. I’ve already written about how to get around the jimjilbang – if you’ve never been to one, read that article first. If you’ve gone a few times and are wondering what ELSE there might be to do, read on.
How to enjoy the jimjilbang to the fullest
1. Figure out whether that massage chair is a ‘knocker’ or a ‘kneader’. These expensive chairs are usually black, covered in leather, and you’ll probably prefer one or the other. Personally, I like the ‘kneaders’, while others like the ‘knockers’. How to tell the difference? Feel inside the back of the chair. If there’s a part that flexes or moves around when you touch it, it’s almost certainly a ‘kneader’. If there’s a bunch of solid, mostly unmoving parts, it’s almost certainly a ‘knocker’.
2. Those showers aren’t just there for getting clean. Take your time. They’re not going to run out of hot water like your apartment will – it’s definitely a pleasure, especially in the cooler months.
3. If staying overnight, find the best place to sleep. Some jimjilbang have gender-segregated rooms just for sleeping – they’re dark and usually quiet, save for the inevitable snorer. They’re definitely not hotels, but they’re cheap and they work. If they don’t have one of these, anywhere that’s dark and quiet counts. Behind the TV, in the middle of the playground equipment, etc. etc. – any place that’s big enough to lay down a mat and fall asleep is fair game.
4. Get out of your normal routine. After you’ve gone a few times, it’s easy to get in a comfortable routine. Now it’s time to break out of it. If you’ve avoided the cold bath, dare yourself to try it. If you’ve seen other people getting a body scrub, go grab some money and give it a try. These are excellent places to reward yourself in some way.
5. Embrace the power of human hands – get a massage. Not only is it cheaper than back home, it’s also a great way to relax.
6. Get some fresh air – most jimjilbang have an outdoor or external area to complement their indoors stuff. Usually it’s nothing fancy, but during warmer weather they come alive.
Readers, what’s your favorite part of the jimjilbang?
© Chris Backe – 2011
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