By Jen Lee
A foreigner’s first visit to the 찜질방 (jjimjilbang) usually seems to be an interesting one. For those that may be unfamiliar, a 찜질방 is pretty much a gender segregated bath house that is quite popular with Koreans. For those of us without bathtubs, it’s really nice to have an affordable option to get clean and soak in a gigantic hot tub. The only awkward side of the whole thing is the part when you’re sharing said tub with a bunch of naked strangers. If you can get over that, then you can enjoy all of the other benefits of these awesome places that often include steam rooms, saunas, massages, and even a cheap place to crash for the night.
As a Korean-American, I don’t really get too much attention from anyone whenever the clothes come off. I’ve noticed that it can sometimes be a little uncomfortable for females from different ethnic backgrounds, but they seem to get over it pretty quickly. That being said, the males I know seem to have had very different experiences whenever it came time to get naked. From what I’ve been told, Korean men can get pretty darn curious, which can lead to some awkward, inappropriate staring. I guess this isn’t really a big deal in Korean culture, but I’ve come to learn that American guys don’t really like being exposed in that way, especially when everyone in the room is watching.
I actually know a couple of guys that wear swimming trunks to avoid the unwanted attention (not that it really helps). They know it’s more than likely against the rules, but what’s a shy man in need of a bath to do?