Question from a reader: hygiene at the jimjilbang
great article on jjimjjilbangs! i have been wanting to go for such a long time, and your article just moved it to the top of my list of things to do. the single reason why i have not yet gone, however, is that i am really concerned about hygiene - more specifically, i'm concerned about catching a skin illness such as a foot fungus or even something like an STD....H.,
jjimjjilbangs aren't like dentists' offices where everyone's wearing rubber gloves, and they're not like tattoo parlors where all the items you come into contact with have been sterilized, and they're not like reality TV dating shows where everyone there has been tested. yet, in jjimjjilbangs you have the option of sharing bathwater (in the larger pool-like bath tubs) and some of the floors and benches do constitute as a warm and moist and dark place where bacteria could thrive.
...i would really like to enjoy the jjimjjilbang experience - i'm just a little hesitant.
The simple answer would be that people shower before getting into the baths - it's not just a rule, it's a cultural taboo to not do that. The more complex answer is that the better jimjilbang are constantly cleaning according to their own guidelines. That probably won't mean a lot unless you can read the Korean cleaning schedules, but it is done.
No worries - you're not a debbie downer. Hygiene is one thing Westerners have had more cause to worry about - and thus are usually more careful with it. My first suggestion would be to ask your Korean co-teacher(s) for jimjilbang they know of that they like - presumably they're not going to steer you wrong. Another suggestion would be to avoid going on the weekends when it's busiest. I would also avoid the body scrubbing area - not only does it take off a layer of skin, it's simply rinsed off (not disinfected) between uses. If you're planning to use the bathing areas, consider showering or rinsing between baths. It may not remove the bugs from the water, but it makes it a lot harder for them to make problems. Make sure you don't have any open cuts / sores - while I've yet to see anyone refused for that reason, you might be refused entry if one is seen.
You might even consider bringing in a small disinfectant spray for any of the chairs or floor areas - the sort you might take with you to the gym. What sort of disinfectant? You can find some wet tissue packets that might work; alternatively, consider mixing a cup of vinegar, 1/2 cup baking soda, and 2 cups hot water into a spray bottle. A 10-1 bleach-water mix would also work. You can get a small spray bottle at any Daiso or 1,000 won store. Since you'll be the only person with a bottle in hand, you might get a few stares (what is that foreigner doing?), but a little piece of mind can go a long way.
It's worth noting that this is just one example of living in a communal culture - people eat soup out of the same bowl, finger the same lettuce leaves when it's time to eat galbi. There's a balance between making sure everything is clean and going with the flow of the culture.
© Chris Backe - 2010
This post was originally published on my blog,Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.