Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jjim ddandy

We finally finished the first semester last Friday, and the next day I celebrated by going to a Himalayan restaurant and a jjimjilbang with my friend Ray from the Veggie Group.

Although I have been known to curry favor, I've never really favored curry  :: rimshot ::. Actually I've seldom had Indian-type food; this was really good, with all the different curries, a relish plate and hot bbang (flatbread). I've always been a bread lover, and it was very very nice indeed.

Then Ray took me on what I thought was my first visit to a Korean institution, the jjimjilbang. I was a little disappointed at first; the facilities didn't seem to be any fancier than my ritzy haelseu cleob (health club) back in Daegu. The men head in one direction, the women in another, and there are a great number of whirlpool tubs and saunas at various temperatures (one reading 93.5 Celsius [205.7 Fahrenheit, as in 6.3 more degrees and your eyeballs boil]... I don't want to look like Arnold ten minutes before the end of Total Recall.)

One hot room with a whirlpool had a myriad of colored stones and crystals, perhaps 10,000 of them, on the ceiling and forming murals of nature and rural life on the walls.

What else this jjimjilbang had that I hadn't seen before was one floor below... a huge room, literally 200 feet long, with resting mats, pillars, heat lamps, with a couple hundred people of both sexes, all dressed in the tops-and-shorts terry jammies the establishment provides. People were playing janggi, Korean chess, eating from baskets they'd brought from home, gossiping, and watching soap operas on big HD tv's. Korea is a very social culture, which I love.

There were also "fire rooms" around the perimeter. These are igloo/yurt-shaped chambers, all carpeted, which you crouch and duck-walk to enter and then lie on the floor until you can't stand the heat anymore.

So the fire rooms, the mineral murals, and the gigantic gathering room were new to me, but all in all I thought that a jjimjilbang isn't a whole lot fancier than the gym in Daegu...

I'm posting this from my room at a love motel room back in Daegu, where I'm teaching for two weeks while SPPA's on winter break, and today I looked at the big sign high up on the side of the building that contains both LIKE School and my old health club... it says 찜질방 (jjimjilbang). I'd been there dozens of times and completely taken it for granted.

Boy, was my face red. But I'd gotten used to that in the fire room anyway.

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