Friday, October 21, 2011

Andong Maskdance Festival, Part 2: The jimjilbang of which I have no pictures

Via Wishbone Clever

The is the second installment of a three part retelling of our Andong adventure.  Unfortunately, this part won't have much  for pictures, but there's an excellent reason.  See, this part takes place in a jimjilbang.

This was my first time in the Korean public bath house. Holly loves them.  Kyla isn't too keen on them.  I have mixed feelings.  On our way to the jimjilbang, Holly was talking about the soaking and the scrubbing she was looking forward to.  I had to start explaining why I wasn't going to get naked that night, and I clung to the excuse that I haven't shaved my legs in over a week.

So, no bath sharing for me, but here's what did happen.

We signed in in the ritzy lobby after we locked our shoes in a cabinet by the door.  The receptionist gave us each a set of loose pajamas, and we set off to explore the 5 storied building.  We needed to put our things away, but neither of us are particularly good at reading Korea.  We gingerly krept to the door we hoped would lead to the women's floor.  Thankfully, we chose right.

We first walked into an open area with a small store, two large rectangular benches, a TV, and a large mirror.  The store sold underwear, sandals, candies, and small things like this.  A few yards away from the story (and its cranky tender) began the rows of lockers on one side, and the bath-prep area on the other.  Going into the bath-prep side, which was just an open area covered in astro turf, you could choose to enter the bathing room or head to the post-bath room.  This area had blow dryers, fans, Q-tips, and counters.  Beyond that was the bathroom.  Throughout these rooms, yes, I'm going to say it, there were naked Korea women.  "Everywhere" sounds extreme, but, you'd have to close your eyes not to see any.  After the first 10 seconds, though, it wasn't awkward at all.  It's quite easy to keep your eyes averted, and Holly, Kyla, and I didn't have much business in this room anyway.

We headed up to the large open room where people slept on mats and block shaped pillows. There was a small restaurant off the side, and there was a small food shop inside the room.  There was also a large TV which didn't seem to bother those already sleeping.  I was quite tired after the festival, and I felt like I could have gone to sleep at 10, but we brought out the Dutch Blitz cards and got the energy flowing.

A few Korean men stopped by to watch us play, and one small girl asked in a very good American accent, "Is this a card game?"  After about 10 minutes, an American guy showed up and asked how the game was played.  We invited him and the three girls he was with to join us, and we went on for probably 45 minutes before we decided to get some sleep along with the rest of the 100+ people in the room.

Kyla, Holly, and I went to another floor where there were smaller, darker rooms.  We settled in the DVD room with probably 10 other Koreans.  I had brought a sweater to cuddle and my headphones so I could use the white noise app on my iPod.  Even with these niceties, I got only one blink of sleep by the time 3 am crept up.

You see, when Korean men fall asleep, they turn into dragons.  They snore incredibly loudly, the jabber in their sleep, they roll onto your mat, and they kick.  Even with my iPod turned as loud as I could stand, I heard their breathing and their snoring.  It also got very hot in the room.  I was miserable.  I did everything I could to calm my mind.  I prayed a lot.  But still, I was awake.

I gave up.  I pulled my mat out of the room and into the cool, quiet hallway where I set up camp.  Then, two Korean men walked into the hallway using their outside voices and making me groan.  No sleeping was to be had for me.  I got up, offered my spot to a man who had been looking around for a place to sleep, and went down to the women's room.

I hunkered down in the post-bath area with my journal and wrote about the day until a Korean lady started speaking to me.  I couldn't understand her, but I had been taking Korean lessons, so I threw out the only phrases I knew.
"I am an English teacher."
"I am American."

We shared our ages and our names and then she motioned to another lady who had just come in.  (Both of these women were wearing clothes, by the way.  I was extremely thankful.)  This second lady knew very much English, so we were able to communicate a substantial amount.  Besides sharing personal information, she gave me an hour long Korean lesson.  She taught me the parts of the body, how to count, and some other words.  "Sun" is "Heh" in Korean.  I'm not sure why, but that makes perfect sense to me, and I'll never forget it.

The time was around 6 or 7 am when this new friend left my company.  I wrote a bit more before I felt sleepy all over again.  I knew it would have been a hopeless cause to try to get some shut eye, though, so I picked up Wuthering Heights and read almost 100 pages before Holly came down to say she was ready to begin the day after a good soak.


They say the baths are luxurious and the scrubs are divine.  It's going to take a lot of gumption, but I think I want to put the full jimjilbang experience on my Korean bucket list. 

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