After a long week of teaching, my preferred way to wind down and relax is going to the jjimjilbang. A jjimjilbang is a Korean bathhouse. If you've ever watched a Korean drama, then you must know what I'm talking about already. It is a must add on your to do list while teaching in Korea!
When you first go to a jjimjilbang you leave your shoes in a shoe locker. Afterwards you go to the front desk where you pay the admission fee (typically about 9,000-14,000 won). The front desk will keep your shoe locker key and in exchange hand you the key to your locker in the changing room. This key is on a stretchy bracelet. which is what you show employees around the bathhouse to get food or services. They put the fee on your tab which is paid for at the end of your stay once you go to the front desk to exchange your locker room key back for your shoe locker key. It’s a nicely designed system.
The bathhouses are mainly segregated by sex. Thus, after paying at the front desk, one goes to their corresponding area to change, shower and enjoy the baths. The segregated areas usually have several hot baths and a few cold baths. There are sauna rooms, too. Towards the back there are older Korean women who, for an additional price, will scrub your body until the top layer of your skin is completely scrubbed off. Yeah, it isn’t a gentle process, but the baby soft skin one has afterwards is arguably worth it. I believe everyone needs to at least try it once for the experience. The baths are my favorite part. So relaxing!
But if the bathhouses are segregated, then should we only go with friends of the same sex? Nope! There are communal areas, too. There just aren’t baths in these areas and everyone must be clothed. The communal areas are where the restaurants, nail salons, massage chairs and additional sauna rooms are located. Depending on the bathhouse one goes to there may be more or less to do.
I typically go with one or two friends to the jjimjilbang. I fully enjoy the baths and endure a full, old lady scrub down. Then, I skip my renewed baby soft self over to the communal area to enjoy a refreshing bowl of old noodles, or nengmyeon, with some sweet sikhye. Sikhye is a traditional fermented rice drink that is popular in bathhouses. I enjoy having good conversations with good company in the sauna rooms. Then, I play a few board games, too.
Bath houses are a great way to relieve some stress after a tough week of teaching classes in Korea. I get to hang out with my friends and relax my body and mind in the saunas and baths. What will your jjimjilbang routine be like?
Giselle Moreno is from California, USA where she attended the University of California, Riverside. While a student, she always worked with international students and she decided to teach English abroad upon graduating during her third year of university. It was through the experiences of being an English tutor for international students that she felt really fulfilled. She found it particularly easy to get along with Korean students which is why she decided to pursue a teaching opportunity in Korea. She even attended Yonsei University in Seoul for a semester as a study abroad student and fell in love with the city. She is currently working at ChungDahm Learning’s April Daechi branch located in Gangnam, Seoul.