|Via Wishbone Clever|
Yes, I finally did it! I went to the public bath house (the jimjilbang), and I'm just going to jump in and tell you what it was like!
The baths were not coed, but I was still quite unsettled with idea of being in the buff around others. Call me crazy and sheltered, but the last time someone saw me naked was when my sister and I stopped taking baths together when we were really young. Even in the high school and college locker rooms, most of us were pretty private with our bodies. To say that I was uncomfortable with the idea of this bath house is an understatement, still, I knew that I wanted to go, and I knew that it would be best to go with my girlfriends Holly and Marie. They are the most accepting ladies I've ever met, and I figured they wouldn't make me feel too awkward. One of Marie's couch surfers joined us at the last minute, but once I saw her huge smile and her auburn dreds, I felt like I'd still be safe.
The first room we came through on the way to the baths was a shoe locker room. That's pretty self-explanatory, I think, so I'll skip ahead to the counter where we got a $3 discount because we came before 9 pm. We passed the large open room where people sleep on mats for the night, and we slipped behind the curtain that closed off the ladies only area. There was a large square section with a few low square benches, counters and mirrors with coin activated hair dryers, and a small counter store where you can buy soaps, scrubbie pads, toothpaste, and other toiletries. Off this section were three short hallways full of large lockers.
I was the only one from my group whose locker was in the second hallway, so I scuttled down by myself and inched out of my clothes while keeping an eye on the opening of the hallway. I took my bag with me to hold my shampoo (and, let's face it, I wanted to use it as a shield for a while), but when I opened the foggy door to the bath room, Holly told me she just put her soaps and things in one of the wide shallow bowls kept in the locker room. Foiled, I headed back to my locker, replaced the bag, and snatched up a bowl before heading back into the bath room.
To my left there was a line of shower heads against the wall where Holly, Marie, and our other friend were rinsing off already. Ahead of me were three circular pools each with a different temperature of water flowing into them from a central fountain system. Beyond those pools were two other frigid ones. To my right were short counters and stools where some of the Korean women were sitting with their soaps and loofahs. Back in the far left corner were doors to heated saunas, and in the close left corner were skinny tables set up for massages and scrubs which you could buy.
I was at least a little self conscious for the majority of my time there, and rinsing off in the shower was the worst part for me. After coming away from the water and seeing how everyone else was comfortable with their skin and also with everyone else's skin, I started to feel a little more relaxed. I headed into the hot pool with the other girls and sank into the soothing water. With the distortion of the water's surface my nerves loosened, and I finally came to some freedom. And how freeing it was! Let me be terribly frank for a moment. It's quite common for girls who've grown up in conservative homes to have some deeply rooted fears and inhibitions about nakedness, sex, and sexuality. I'm one of those girls, and I know that I've got a long way to go before I've got a perfect relationship with this area of my identity, but sitting there in the nude and not only being okay with it but eventually becoming comfortable with it, man!, it was amazing! As strange as it may be, I was secretly and seriously celebrating this milestone in reconciliation and redemption in my sexuality right there in a Korean bath house. Asa!
We foreign girls talked a good amount about whatever we thought of. We touched on religion, travel, and the jimjilbang itself. Seems like it's a great hang out place for all ages. Holly told me she was in the sauna one time and saw two teenage girls chatting it up over smoothies when one of their mothers came over and started massaging their shoulders. I feel like the jimjilbang is a sacred place of sorts. Amidst all the judgement and pressures of society and in the face of all those plastic surgery ads and gym memberships, here girls are allowed and encouraged to be themselves and just themselves. They are safe here. They are welcomed. It was very special being let into this place, and I hope to go back soon.