Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Things You Gotta Do: JjimjilBANG It!!!

I am DEAD SERIOUS about this one, people, if you are one of the many people about to leave Korea, possibly for good, and you haven't experienced the complete joy and wonder of a jjimjilbang (or 찜질방) then you have truly been missing out on one of the most uniquely Korean and wholly amazing parts of living here.

Jjimjilbangs, the nice ones at least, are like enormous spas where you can waste away a day or night pampering yourself to the MAX. The larger jjimjilbangs will have multiple saunas, jacuzzis, hot tubs, steam rooms, and pretty much any other spa amenity your little heart could possibly desire. The bad jjimjilbangs are still an efficient way to scrape off the filth of a night partying in the city that truly doesn't sleep.

To find a jjimjilbang, just look for this symbol:
These are EVERYWHERE, so try to be a little discerning when selecting one to go to
Whenever I invite anyone to go to a jjimjilbang with me their first reaction (if they've never been) is almost always no. Why, do you ask? Well, because of the EXCESSIVE NUDITY!
Picture of naked old Korean men and women not included for the safety of your REM cycles.
It is true, half of your jjimjilbang experience will be spent in only your birthday suit. However, the nakey parts of jjbs are always segregated by gender (except for very young boys and girls, who are allowed to accompany their parents). And, seriously, look at what you're doing while naked:
Hello heaven, my name is Margaret
The nudity is only for the parts of the jjb that involve water such as jacuzzis or steam rooms, as well as the group showers. When you head to the saunas and the sleeping rooms it is 100% clothed, and you get to wear the super sexy outfits that the jjb gives you (don't wear underwear under these, you'll feel better, trust me)
And hey, at least everyone looks as dorky as you do...
If not MORE dorky!
After the birthday suit bit the next thing that deters many of my waygookin friends from visiting a jjb is that they are nervous they'll do something wrong so, for all you Nervous Nellies out there, here's a run down of do's and don'ts and how to conduct yourself in a jjb:

1. When you get there, pay first. The receptionist may not speak English, but they know what you're there for, they don't sell much else other than entrance to the jjb. This is sometimes also where you get you jjb outfit and towel, but if they don't give them to you here that means they'll probably be in the locker room. KEEP YOUR LOCKER KEY/WRIST BRACELET WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES! Sometimes it will also serve as a credit card for everything you buy inside.

2. Put your shoes in the shoe lockers. You will either be provided with a key at the front desk to a specific shoe locker, or allowed to choose one at random, it'll be pretty clear which is the way you're supposed to go.

3. At this point, wave farewell to any opposite-sex people you came with, you'll have to split up to go to the male or female locker rooms. In the rare instance that they are not more clearly marked female is "" and male is "."

4. Find your assigned locker and STRIP DOWN. Seriously, take off everything. There will be countless Koreans around you walking around with zero shame, so why should you? If you're waygookin don't be surprised by how much of the Korean Stare you're going to get. They're just curious, they don't think there's something wrong with you and they're not coming on to you (I mean, in some of the bicurious-catering ones in Itaewon they might be) so just relax and think of how curious you are to see a bunch of naked Koreans in all shapes and sizes. They'll only be curious for a while and then they'll go about their business.

5. Here's where you can change things up a bit. You can either put on the little outfit and head to the common area for a good sweat, or you can stay naked and head to the baths, I always go with the latter.

6. Bring any toiletries you've brought with you (it's VERY rare that they will provide any, but there will be some for sale) and ONE of the towels they provided you with. As soon as you walk into the bathing area there will be a bunch of standing showers. TAKE A SHOWER. It's super rude if you don't, and make sure you are well rinsed at the end. Also, PUT YOUR HAIR UP after you have finished showering. Sometimes there will be a rack for you to put your toiletries on while you enjoy the baths, if there isn't just stick them in a plastic basin and set them down by one of the seated showers, there's no need to carry everything around.

7. Whenever you transfer from one tub to another RINSE YOURSELF OFF. Do this with either the hoses from the seated showers, the showers, or rinse yourself with a bucket of water from the bath you are about to enter before getting in.

8. These are just personal preference, but do not underestimate the power of the cold tub! Nothing feels better after a long soak in super hot water than shocking your system back into gear. Trust me, the cold tubs give new meaning to the word "invigorating." Also, don't skip the ajummas! There will be a group of ajummas (middle-ages women) or ajussis (middle-aged men) around massage tables. These will be the only people who are clothes, but they will be VERY scantly so. For a fee, these wonderful people will either scrape every last bit of dead skin from every square inch of your body or give you a nice massage. I do the scrub almost every time I go to a jjb, it feels like you're wearing a new skin because, technically, you are!

9. After you've had enough of the water head back into the locker room and change into your lounging clothes. If your hair is wet, make sure you wrap it up so it's at least not dripping everywhere. There's a traditional method Koreans use for wrapping their heads in jjb that makes an awesome "Princess Leia" effect, if you wanna play native, this is the best way to do it.
I can never make it work because I have an extra large head.
10. Once in the common area there will be snacks and meals for purchase. Traditionally Koreans eat hardboiled eggs and drink sikhye (iced, sweetened, rice juice) but other foods will be available. You can either lounge in the tv area where you will, normally, see a LOT of couples, or head into the saunas and get a good sweat going. Some jjbs will have multiple saunas with different properties, some will have just one huge one (normally a clay sauna), and some will also have an ice room. Same with the ice baths, don't underestimate the power this thing has to make you feel good.

11. The one thing you should remember in the saunas is DON'T BE SUPER RUDE AND LOUD! Quiet chatting is fine, but don't have a party. People come to jjbs to relax, don't ruin it for them! Also, I highly recommend you do some stretching and/or yoga in the sauna, it feels amazing and you'll really get a good stretch on those relaxed muscles.

12. Once you've had your fill of sweating go back to the locker room and strip down again. Head back into the bathing area and grab a seat at one of the seated showers. This is the best way to get a deep clean on yourself and just kinda feels luxurious, slowly bathing yourself in front of a mirror.

13. At the end toss your outfit and towel into the hampers (sometimes separate, sometimes not, sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious), make use of the complimentary brushes and hairdryers, and don't forget the complimentary cotton swabs!

14. When you're leaving you'll pass in your wrist bracelet and they'll let you know if you owe them anything for items or services purchased inside.

Though there is never such a thing as a bad time to visit a jjb, they feel exceptionally refreshing in the winter months, where you can warm your completely frozen bones. Some jjbs even have outdoor baths and that, my friends, is super fun in the frigid days of an intense Korean winter!

So get to it, get naked, get clean, and get Korean!


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  2. Really helpful article !! There are things I would like to know.

    1. How big is the towel they provide you with,?
    2. Can we bring over a towel of ours to the JJB ? I want to wear the towel around my body to hide a little at first, before getting used to it. Coz I'm a light brown skinned girl and I'm sure I'll be stared at even more than if I was white and it freaks me out...
    3. When we wash, do we need to wash our hair too ? I mean, I have curly hair and I straighten it with iron and water will ruin it. My hair is sooo long that it takes me 2h to straighten them. So, I would like to avoid to mess my hair up.

    Thanks in advance for your reply !