Sunday, November 16, 2008

NaNoWriMo and my first jimjilbang

So I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month this month, or NaNoWriMo. It's become an international event and is in its 10th year. The idea is that you write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Why? To prove you can do it. Being I can't remember the last time I wrote anything that wasn't school related, let alone fiction, I thought it would be a good thing to try. It turns out there are a bunch of foreigners here that are doing it, so I've been able to make some new friends as well. You can view my progress with the little meter on the left side - at the time of this writing I'm doing good at 31,969 words, though I really hate my novel at the moment and have gone a few days without writing. Oops.

Anyway, on Saturday, which was the midpoint, we had a writer's retreat at a jimjilbang (sounds like jim-juh-bong). It's a sauna type substance that is pretty popular over here. We went to the Dragon Hill Spa, which is seven floors and kind of crazy.

You pay to get in ($10 for the time I got there), and they give you clothed and this bracelet with a key and barcode on it. You then take your shoes off and lock them in a locker with your key number right by the entrance, and then go to your gender's locker room - the women were on the third floor, the men on the fifth. You then see a lot of naked Asian women. A lot. And not all 90 year old women like when you go to the gym. (Or maybe I was just always that lucky?) Anyway, then you have a locker where you change into the t-shirt and shorts they gave you, or in my case, go back and exchange them because the waist of the shorts, while it stretches, is as wide as the length of my foot. I'm not exaggerating - I should have taken a picture. Anyway, then you roam about.
We wrote for a while in the cafeteria area on the first floor, then I ate dinner and tried some of the co-ed stuff on that floor - a rock salt sauna, a wood-fired kiln. The rock salt sauna was 55˚C (131˚F), which felt like a hot day in August to me (on right - not my picture). The kiln ones didn't have temperatures, but I wished they did. They had a low, medium, and hot kiln, and by hot they mean the surface of the sun. I was barley glistening in the first sauna, but the hot sauna it was pouring off of me. Inside the floor was wood and there were wooden blocks to sit in, and I still had to sit on my towel on the wooden block before I didn't feel like my butt was burning. Actually, I have a little burn on my knee from where I knelt on the floor for 15 seconds to reach for a wooden block someone had just gotten up from in hopes it would be cooler. The first time I think we lasted two minutes, and I went in a second time, since the other saunas really didn't do anything for me after that, and I think I lasted a whole four minutes. When I pushed my glasses up it felt like the metal burned my nose, and as you may recall, I have a lot of pieces of metal attached to my body. My entire body was also red for a while after that. It was interesting.

I also tried the ice room, which was 10˚C (50˚F), which surprisingly felt really good. This was after the uber hot sauna - well, after adjusting to what felt like an icy temperature of the general room for a couple minutes, and then going into the ice room.

Then I checked out the women's only sections. I didn't have a lot of time for this, as I didn't find out until 8:30 that they charge the overnight rate of another $12 at 9pm, so I was trying to get out before that. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention - you can sleep in them. There are lots of open spaces and people just pass out all over the floor. It's an odd experience.

As for the women only section, which was a little bit of the rest of the third floor and the entire second floor, there was a lot of nakedness. Actually, I didn't see a stitch of clothing on the second floor at all - there may have been signs saying as much for all I know. Luckily, I am surprisingly comfortable being naked when other people I don't know are naked, and I think me walking around was educational for the toothpick Korean women, especially since tattoos are illegal to get here. ;)

There were open shower stalls, or sit down versions with handheld shower heads, all over the place. There were pools of varying temperatures, some with salt water (on left, also not my picture). There was a nice jacuzzi pool as well with jet streams. I didn't see the whole thing, but I believe there are saunas down there too, and there was also supposedly an outdoor women's only pool...which I would assume would also be naked. I may have to try that at some point.

There were also additional services you could pay for - for anything you did extra, you just swiped your bracelet and paid the balance on the way out. Even the restaurants and vending machines worked that way, which was cool. Anyway, they had massages available (I wish I had had the time!), some scary thing called string hair removal, and body scrubbing. I saw some of the body scrubbing, and it consisted of a woman scrubbing down your entire body while you were on a massage table, using a loofah and some kind of scrub. The women scrubbing you were not naked, of course. They are at work, after all. No, they were wearing black bra and underwear! They were all probably in their 40s, but still.

So yes, I've decided that a gay heaven probably includes a jimjilbang. The funny thing is that a lot of Koreans go with friends. I don't know how I'd feel walking around and doing a bunch of stuff naked with my friends. I guess it happened with showering at the gym and all, but this would be hours of hanging out together, naked. What do you think?

Anyway, so that was my cultural experience this weekend. I'll have to try again when I'm not worrying about the time. That's a pretty good deal for $10, although I hear most of them are only $5 but are also a lot smaller.

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