Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Kuh-lee-suh-mas-suh in Seoul

We spent Christmas naked with strangers. Not a Korean tradition! Well, the naked with strangers part is...

Eemo and Eemoboo took us to a public bath. Awesome. The men went their way and we went ours. After 30 minutes of scrubbing, soaping and soaking with the ajummahs, all four of us met up in the jjimjilbang, which was a first for me.

It's a subterranean hang-out for people old, young and in between. There are jute mats in the main, broad room and you just kind of loll around, having a snack if you feel like, watching the flat-screen TV, too. The main area is surrounded by doors that lead into rooms, dry saunas really, that are hot, hotter, hottest and death-hot, the latter being where Eemoboo liked to hang out most, staying in for at least 30 minutes (I started to become concerned but I guess he's just super-Korean that way).

We were all wearing our cute jailhouse outfits, i.e., they give you shorts and t-shirt to wear, pink for women and blue for men.

In the dry saunas, there are TVs. Why not?

I couldn't take too much of the intense heat. The "chill-out room," as we called it, was my favourite, the walls covered in frost inside, heated bodies cooling off in what is essentially a giant fridge. You perch on little wooden stumps. When there's nothing to do but sit there, your mind wanders, re-calling movies where characters get trapped in meat lockers. Isaac and I tried to guess how long it would take before we would die in there, if for some reason we got stuck. Don't worry - it wouldn't happen - jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours, which is one of the reasons why they're popular. If you're out for a night of drinking and miss the last subway (easy to do since they stop around midnight), you just go into a jjimjilbang for like $5 - $10 and hang out all night, sleeping on the jute mat. Korean slumber party! Just don't get too close to people who are too drunk. Ick.

No drunkenness in the afternoon, just families hanging out on the mats with their babies, like an indoor sauna picnic. After starting in the public bath, then sweating it out in the saunas in the jjimjilbang, you go back to the bath to soak and rinse a bit. We emerged 3 hours later, thoroughly relaxed to the bone.

I caught myself thinking, "I wish we had public baths at home," then thought of what it would be like to run into all of Queen Street, naked. Nightmare. So uh, I guess being naked in public doesn't work unless it's part of the culture.

As for Christmas, if you want to know what Christmas is like for Koreans, it doesn't have the nesting, family-time importance here. That's reserved for New Year's, as well as other occasions. On Christmas, it's about partying with your friends and going on a romantic date. Everyone buys fancy cakes in boxes and carts them around, to bring home, or to a noraebang or a coffee shop or wherever you're having your date. Presents aren't that big a deal except between girl and boyfriends. As for the Christmas mall rush, you can't avoid it because that's basically EVERY DAY IN SEOUL, so, you know.

Isaac and I spent Boxing Day morning packing up our apartment in Yeomchang (sad!) and have schlepped all our stuff to my cousin's house in Ilsan where everyone will get together for dinner tonight. Then my cousin will drive us to the airport for Thailand tomorrow. Sorry no photos - one day I'll have an ethernet umbilical cord through which to upload. Until then, just words.



Anonymous jose said...

James says you only run into like half of Queen Street?

12:42 AM  

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