Korean Culture miniclass: the 목욕탕
Since I just came back from the manliest place in all of Korea, I thought I’d write you guys up a short piece to explain what’s up with it. Hopefully, I’ll be writing more of these short items covering small cultural things every now and then.
“So, what is a 목욕탕 (mokjoktang)” you might be wondering.
Well…imagine your bathroom.
Now imagine it’s 20 times as big, instead of one tub there’s three giant ones, instead of one shower there’s dozens and instead of just you using it, it’s dozens of naked Korean dudes. That’s basically a 목욕탕.
Now imagine 3+ stories built around this idea and you’ve got yourself a 찜질방 (jimjilbang).
[Okay so usually it doesn’t look as clean as this but this is the general idea]
목욕탕s are the manliest place there is.
Basically you just go there, get rid of all those pesky clothes and do whatever the fuck you want.
You can sit around in a (always uncomfortably hot, because forcing your body to deal with it is MANLY AS HELL) bath, take a one hour shower, go for a little swim in an ice cold bath (because forcing your body to deal with it is MANLY AS HELL), scratch your butt while laying on the divider between two baths (yes, some dude was doing this today) while watching baseball, read a plasticized newspaper while soaking in some green tea water or go out of the bathing area, sit your naked ass down on a sofa and watch some terrible drama on KBS and no one even gives a shit.
[Ask your bro to scrub you down, or pay a dude that could be your grandpa to do it for you; why not!?]
Obviously it’s a bit of a weird experience for foreigners since:
1. We generally don’t have public baths in our countries
2. The public baths here are full of naked Koreans
3. Most of those naked Koreans are either way skinnier than you, or uncomfortably fat
4. All of them are staring at you because you’re white
5. And sometimes they’re not even trying to hide that they’re staring at what’s between your legs
Because yeah, what you heard about Korean men is true (Sorry ladies, I know you secretly wished your G Dragon and Hyun Bin would be loaded down there but…fat chance) and that leads to some hilarious…shall we say…cultural exchanges?
Unfortunately I can’t see shit without my glasses so I’ve probably missed dozens of instances of these things, but there has been this one time when an old guy walked by me super slowly while I was showering and even though I wasn’t wearing my glasses I could still see his head slowly turning as he walked by, keeping his eyes firmly rooted on my private parts.
Another time a young dude seriously walked up to me outside of the bathing room as I was drying off, stared at my junk for a while, extended a thumb and said ‘Very Good!’ before walking away casually.
However, apart from those curiosities a visit to the 목욕탕 is incredibly relaxing and comfortable. You pay 5,000 won (about 4 euros) and you can stay as long as you want. In the case of a 찜질방 you pay a little bit more and you can literally stay as long as you want, even sleeping there, using the larger sauna rooms, rec rooms, exercise rooms and even gaming and karaoke rooms. Of course you’ll be sleeping on the floor using an actual block of wood as a pillow but beggars can’t be choosers, can they?
[To Koreans, this looks like a perfectly valid way to spend the night]