Monday, May 9, 2011

Naked in a New Land

I think it's true what people say about Americans. We're prudes. You may doubt this, what with the tattoos, and skimpy clothes, and medical marijuana...but it's true. Think about it. How many nude beaches are there in the states? Sorry, naturist beaches. Actually, I just googled this...and there are more than I would have believed, but who really goes to these places other than pervy old men. I guess I wouldn't know since I've never been to one. Maybe I should stop calling America a prude and start pointing at myself.

Either way, Koreans are much more comfortable in their birthday suits than I am. This has been evident to me for a long time as I've actively avoided jimjilbangs since I arrived here. Jimjilbangs are saunas - they're just not saunas like I'm used to. I've been to many different gyms/health clubs in the states that have saunas in them. People wear towels wrapped around their precious parts and let the steam do its thing to purify the skin. That's what I always thought they were, but no. Not here in South Korea. Here they are something different.

They're places of camaraderie. Places you go with friends to hang out...naked. I'm not talking about towel around the privates naked...I'm talking about the whole enchilada naked. Jimjilbangs are huge complexes where you go to cleanse yourself. The hot water flows in tubs and showers. People sit around and talk, scrub themselves, shave their legs, loofa their bodies and just hang out. That's cool. No judgment here, but I'm once again a spectacle at these places. People out and out stare at me. I'm not Pamela Anderson, but you wouldn't know it if you saw the way people stop and open mouth stare when they see me. That has kept me away from most saunas on the peninsula.

However, a group of friends and I went to a hot springs resort recently. The place was swimsuit-required. There were co-ed waiting pools, a lazy river type-thing, and herbal spas touting the benefits of ginseng and rose petals. It was a fun, relaxing sort of vacation destination. Once we went to the changing room though, it was the same all over again. An American friend and I hid behind the rows of lockers to change, since old ladies were sitting on the floor, staring unabashedly at us. We skipped the shower there and hurried back to the hotel room instead. Our friend Eun-ha asked why we weren't going to shower at the resort. When we told her that everyone stares at us, she replied "oh yeah...I would probably stare at a foreigner I didn't know too." That settled it for us.

This situation has been keeping me away from the swimming pools as well. I just don't like to be scrutinized in such a vulnerable state. But! I finally decided to hell with it. I need some exercise and I want to swim. So, I have a membership at a health club that has a pool. It took a little getting used to, but now I can semi-comfortably shower and dress at the club. It's still a bit weird as it's such a naked place. The women seem to want to spend as much time possible airing their wares as they can. They blow-dry their hair, put on make-up, and chat with other folks all while as they're as naked as the day they were born.

I'm still the prude of the place and wear a towel after showering until I get my clothes on. It's taken some time, but now I try not to notice the women staring objectively at my body while I try to hurriedly drop my towel and slip into something more comfortable.

My new health club. The green net thingy off to the right side is a putting green. They're very popular in Korea.

The rest of the photos are from the trip to the hot springs resort. We stayed overnight and barbequed samgyepsol on the back porch of the hotel.

Scissors - I have a different appreciation for their kitchen functions since moving to Korea. They used to cut everything here...meat, vegetables, snacks, you name it.

Carolyn in a box.

The people who owned the hotel, brought out the webber for us. They were very happy that their American grill finally got used.

Eun-ha and Carolyn supervising the vegetables.

It was delicious!

Nathan enjoying the grub.

Thankfully, Fritz has since shaved his Amish beard.


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