Friday, June 18, 2010

Dragon Hill in Yongsan

The jimjilbang in Korea is a unique experience not to be missed. A jimjilbang is a public bathhouse in which women and men separate into their respective bath-rooms to soak in a variety of pools and rooms ranging from cool to HOT. It is comparable to a sauna or a spa, offering a variety of services and a variety of options for washing/relaxing except that instead of wearing a bathing suite, the only attire required or allowed really is your birthday suite. And Koreans, unlike Westerners have no rule in the official unwritten handbook of rules guidelines about staring. Koreans like to stare, and for them, it is absolutely acceptable. "Yes, I am from America, and no I don't have three breasts. Please stop staring!" is what I want to say when they stare at me like a purple alien with horns and a tail. It is already shocking enough to be stark naked in front of strangers, but to have them blatantly stare at you inch by inch is another story. For the most part is the older generation who behaves this way. The younger generations are less obvious. The nakedness shock wears away after ten minutes, and once it does, it is a wonderfully relaxing atomosphere.

It is strange to think of bathing together as a familial event, but in Korea, it is a regular family outing. Koreans use the jimjilbang to clean and scrub enthusiasticly every inch of their body until every organism, bacteria, or speck of dirt on their bodies has either abandoned ship or been bludgeoned to death. I use it mostly as a means to relax. Recently, however, we went to a jimjilbang for the sole purpose of sleeping. Jimjilbangs are not hotels, but they do allow guests to sleep the night away if they so choose for cheap. There are rooms set aside with mats lining the floor and square, rock like pillows for sleeping. The heat is kept at such a temperature, that even I, who ALWAYS eternally must have a blanket, even in the death-throws of summer, didn't want for any extra material, be it as thin as a butterfly's wing, to touch my sweat speckled body.

The first time we tried to sleep at a jimjilbang, we weren't sure how it worked. We thought maybe we could drop off our bags and come back but they kept insisting that we couldn't leave so we didn't stay there. But a few weekends ago, we went on our deserted island beach trip, and we had planned on meeting the group at a jimjilbang near the ferry that we were to take at the crack of dawn, but because of a series of unfortunate events that will be discussed at a later time, we didn't make it, and had to find an alternative. We landed in Yongsan station and were directed to Dragon Hill, the mecca of all jimjilbangs. This jimjilbang is like Schlitterban (the largest water park in Texas) to the baby pool at your local neighborhood pool. In fact, it is so unlike other jimjilbang, it is almost on par with a mini-amusement park. Boasting 7 floors, this jimjilbang offers entertainment, food, spa treatment, and snuggle room for those couples who have no where else to be "alone" all in one. We were handed clothes, informed of which floors were designated for males, females and mixed floors and instructed to change into our hideous uniforms.
( I didn't take any of these pictures. I found them all online, but this is the ballroom like room I was talking about. This angle isn't very ballroom-esque but it was very grand and gold.)

The first floor was a playground/ arcade/ PC room. I am not joking. I am still referring to the sauna. Also attached, in case you got hungry, a restaurant with fried, processed, greasy, calorie maniacal goodness all waiting to be devoured. I don't know about you, but that's not exactly the image I conjur up when I imagine a spa. The next room looked like at one time it might have been an Asian ballroom, except for the big screen TV and the people lounging on the floor watching the movie dance across it's screen. I lost track of what was on what floor and I am doubtful that I saw the entirity of the mamoth-like sauna, but of what I saw, there were also several swimming pools, a fitness center, and a roof-top terrace with another restaurant serving $6 french fries (a steal of a price in Korea). We cut into our sleep time just exploring each floor, but not partaking in the funess to be had. Already, we only would be able to sleep five hours, and although we were enticed we decided the responsible thing to do would be sleep. If you get the chance, visit this jimjilbang. We definitely have plans to return!

(I have never been in a jimjilbang so crowded before, but this picture is a great example of how they use these outings as recreational)


Leslie said...

That is so interesting ... i've never heard of jimjilbangs. Yes, it must be unnerving to be stared at so blatantly! The Korean culture is so intriguing! I look forward to learning more about it.

Smocha said...

Wow. I can't believe everyone is just lounging around on the hard floor. Sure doesn't look very comfortable. I don't think I could handle the naked scrutiny. :)