I am doomed to not be able to sleep past 5AM while on this vacation. The problem that arises is that nothing here opens until 8AM at the earliest. Unless it’s open 24hours. Which, thankfully, the jjimjilbang are.
Ever since my first experience at Sauvie Island’s nude beach I have become a huge proponent of public nudity. It is the great equalizer. You think our current culture is into body shaming? Go to a nude beach. No one there is perfect – with stomach pooches, or skin flaws or saggy bits and bobs – yet everyone there is perfect. I have never felt so comfortable in my own skin. As such, I don’t mind the World Naked Bike Ride (if it’s not too cold), I love going to Sauvie on a warm day, and I often frequent Common Ground for a soak in NE Portland.
The jjimjilbang are community hot tubs (gender separated). Depending on which one you go to they may offer other amenities as well. Some people when traveling here use the jjimjilbang as a well priced hostel. Andrew and I went to Siloam, a five story jjimjilbang and fomentation center it was 10,000₩ ($8.80) per person.
When you enter the locker room, you put your shoes in a locker and bring that key to the attendant who gives you a locker key for your clothes, a couple of towels, and a pair of shorts and a shirt for the community areas. I stripped down, took a shower and went to the baths. There were four different types: Jade, wormwood, charcoal and ice – after all four dips you eat an eye of newt and you are transported into a Shakespearean drama.
I soaked a bit and then took an ice shower then soaked a bit more. I was feeling pretty calm and was about to wander the fomentation center when I saw there was a corner where a sign said something along the lines of “We’ll pamper you more and more.” I went in and learned that the word for massage in Korean is massaji. I decided to go for the VIP treatment which includes a skin buff and a massage.
The woman taking care of me cleaned off the vinyl covered table, told me to lay on it and then put on her bra and undies. She then donned a pair of gloves that can best be described as “40-grit” and started planing me like I was the SS Minnow. There were no worries about any language barrier because she was moving me around like a marionette – I may have smacked myself a few times during this process. She started me on my back then on each side and finally my stomach – and she didn’t miss an inch, twice. At one point I noticed what looked like pumice bits all around my body, then I realized that it was the skin she had sanded off of me.
Fully skinned, it was time for the massaji – it was a healthy mix of massage, chiroprachty and child abuse – slap, knead knead, adjust, knead, slap, slap, knead. All of this was mixed with moments of pausing to get the towel that was draped over me scalding hot again. This massage was very thorough and included a facial massage the likes of which I have never experienced. It was like my face was a piano and she Franz Liszt. The facial massage ended with a strawberry yogurt and cucumber wrap – I was a summer salad.
While my face macerated, it was baby oil time for my new skin. In my life I have probably used baby oil 4 or 5 times for a total usage amount of one tablespoon – a little goes a long way. Yesterday an entire bottle of baby oil was used on me – again, not a spot was missed. At this point I would like to remind you that I was on a vinyl table with a thorough masseuse – it was an odd combination of slip-and-slide meets tug-of-war with my main concern being not to get cucumber-yogurt juice in my ear.
By the end of this I was exhausted and completely blissed out. I met Andrew on the second floor (after another shower to remove the baby oil that would make walking and sitting dangerous), we wandered around the five floors of the complex, sat in a freezer and then ate some lunch.
That evening we enjoyed a cooking class with Jomin Jun at CooKoreanclass.com. She taught us how to make kimchi stew, glass noodles with pork, and pork and cabbage stir fry. Andrew impressed us all with his knife skills and we had a lovely time learning about Korean culture and food and walking through Mangwon Market.
We learned that Koreans eat live octopus and that they like feeling it moving in their mouth as they eat it. And we learned that eel soup can rejuvenate your power after having a baby. Combined, we mostly learned that Andrew and I have our limits in willingness to experiment. I, for example, will never be able to bring myself to eating a live octopus, and Andrew will never have a baby.