The Last Taboo
Recently, I changed my routine so I often go to my favourite bathhouse (목욕탕) after I finish work, around 8.pm, rather than in the morning. However, I prefer the morning as it is quieter and unless it’s a holiday or a weekend there are rarely any kids or university students. As I lay in the ‘special event bath,’ this week scented with lavender, another westerner entered. In four years of fairly daily bathing, this is only the second time I have seen a westerner in a bath house. He probably saw me but as usual, didn’t acknowledge my presence. Most westerners will walk straight passed you even on an early Sunday morning when the streets are empty. I’ve given up being friendly as a cold shoulder is the usual treatment if you are polite. There are exceptions, of course, but this has been my experience. I didn’t particularly want him talking to me anyway; I don’t mind being naked in front of Koreans but have never relished the idea of bumping into a westerner when nude as we tend to be critical and judgmental about nudity and the bodies of others as well as our own. In reality, the westerners who do use bathhouses, especially if alone, probably have healthier attitudes to bodies than those who avoid them. I don’t think he felt particularly comfortable in my presence as he left after only a few minutes which was a shame as, my apprehension aside, it would have been a good opportunity to exchange experiences.
I don’t think he was a bathhouse novice, either. From the lavender bath in which I was relaxing, I could see him drying off in the area immediately beyond the bathhouse exit. He had no problem bending over to dry his feet and calves and did so without maneuvering his backside into a corner, thus censoring that most private place from public view. One of my remaining inhibitions, though not as acute as it was, is exposing or touching this area in public. Perhaps I need to set myself the task of prostrating myself 5 times a session and soaping my backside in a position where my neighbours can see, as a therapy to neutralise this remaining inhibition. I would like to squat right down, Korean fashion, and give my entire undercarriage a thorough scrubbing, if it were not for the fact that I find deep squatting both easy to topple over in and difficult to stand up from. I have enough problems standing after sitting on the bucket sized seat from which you wash yourself as often it remains stuck to my arse as I stand. Then, if it clangs to the floor, it attracts unwanted attention. I have a similar, though quieter problem, if I sit on a towel as this too will remain in the grip of my buttocks, as I stand. The term, ‘taking in washing’, which is used to describe the backside’s ability to grip things, usually underwear, comes to mind, but bathhouse furniture and towels is taking it too far! Maybe it’s my arse, I don’t know and I’ve never paid much attention to what Koreans do after sitting on a towel. I have a niggling suspicion that the propensity for my buttocks to grip towels and seats, even the large plastic type, similar to the ones we use in gardens in the UK in summer and which are often found in the steam rooms and saunas, have more to do with my dimensions than my ethnicity; I have a large arse to put it mildly. Of course, I don’t know how other westerners conduct themselves in a bathhouse as I’ve never observed any but I would imagine that many would find it disconcerting to drop the soap and have to pick it up. This chap was quite at ease, as at ease as the Koreans around him, at prostrating himself right in front of the glass doors to the bathhouse and in full view of everyone lounging in the baths. Whoever he was, he left the bathhouse with my admiration.
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.