ESL South Korea

Jjimjilbang

So what’s your idea of a fun Saturday after a week of gruelling English classes?

(1) Stay home and watch movies on your laptop
(2) Go to the park and hire bicycles
(3) Go to the Jjimjilbang and sit in a hot tub with a bunch of naked people

Now don’t let number three put you off ’cause you’re a shy foreigner.  Don’t throw it out the window, simply because you come from a country where people believe in personal space! 😉

I’ll admit that when I first heard about the mysterious recluses called Jjimjilbang’s I was confused: What can possibly be relaxing about sitting around in a heated room and taking a communal bath? But, as usual, I was wrong about Korea and Korea surprised me.

Jjimjilbangs are usually made out of many floors or sections – two of which are gender specific while the rest is communal.  The all male/female floors consist of sauna’s with big tubs or pools.  These are filled with flavoured water (don’t drink it though!) of different temperatures.

The communal floors consists of a variety of rooms each heated to different temperatures and filled with different stones, crystals or emeralds.  By ‘filled’ I mean that the walls and roof of the room is made out of these materials.  While this may sound mystical, there’s actually nothing new-agey about these places, they’re simply heated rooms, filled with soothing aroma’s, where Koreans (and brave foreigners) go to unwind and socialize.  Room temperatures usually run around 30-50 degrees, with one or two really hot or really cold rooms.  Each Jjimjilbang usually has at least one freeze room (-15 Celsius) and one fire room (90 Celsius).  It’s quite fun to run between the two!

Each room, its temperature, smell and inlaid materials are supposed to procure unique healing characteristics.  The 35 Degree Amethyst room will apparently improve blood circulation while the 40 degree jade tiled room will increase your metabolism.  Bigger Jjimjilbangs include all sorts of extra perks like restaurants, massaging services, PC Bangs, movie theatres and even indoor golfing ranges.

Jjimjilbangs provide a unique peek into Korean culture since it provides everything Koreans love under one roof.  The relaxing atmosphere of these rooms and sauna’s provide an amazing contrast to the hustle and bustle of the overcrowded Asian cities (The cities are not really overcrowded, it might just seem that way to a Westerner).  Imagine working for 12 hours a day, never being alone and always living in smallish enclosed spaces five days a week and then coming to a Jjimjilbang where the very air you breathe helps you relax and unwind.