Elwood 5566

Nancying in the Powder Room. Bathhouse Ballads

 

 

A Bathhouse Ballad

In this particular bathhouse (목욕탕) you can sit in the ebente-tang (이벤트탕) and watch the men and boys nancying about in the little ‘powder room’ that are provided in all bathing establishments. This particular ebente-tang doesn’t have any added aromas  or coloured water and you might be forgiven for wondering why indeed it is even called an ‘ebente-tang,’ until the pool starts frothing and chomping quite crazily. The jets of water from inside the pool, should you be unfortunate enough to be sat over  one as it starts and you fart, are powerful enough  to  administer a surprise enema.  As I’m being buffeted by the jacuzzi jets, I’m busily watching  three middle-aged men in the ‘powder room.’  All are stood, independent of each other and two are in straddle stances, or in what martial artists would recognise as a  ‘horse stance.’

 

A 'wushu' version of the 'horse stance'

Traditionally, this stance is used to strengthen the legs and as a position from which to practice  various blocks and strikes. As a combat stance it is redundant as it renders a male a potential gelding should a strike to the groin be forthcoming.  Don’t forget, the men in the ‘powder room’ are totally naked. Rather than blocking and striking, feet rigidly anchored to the ground, both men are drying their  sack and crack with hairdryers. I’m thinking they must have studied at the same school because despite all the variations of horse stance,  both are in identical style, technique and positions. Most likely it’s a taekwondo derived stance as it is much higher than in the Chinese version above yet not as high as the one featuring Bruce Lee (이소룡), below. This version is in-between.

 

이소룡 (Bruce Lee) practicing the sack 'n' crack stance.

The accompanying arm movements are identical: first the dryer is held pointing at the sack ‘n’ tackle before being swung  between the  legs to windy the crack area.  The latest event in the tub, an eruption, has quelled and I’m chuckling to myself as a third man in the  ‘powder room’  demonstrates his technique. Clearly, he has been trained in a totally different school.  After fiddling with one of the big fans on the long dressing table, angling it into the required position, he turns, get into a straddle and bends over, parking his exposed  butt in the fan’s stream.  The technique is very different but the stance is identical to that of the other two men and with head almost touching the floor, the fan is probably capable of drying his sack ‘n’ crack all at the same time.

Jeez, Korean men are such ponces! That’s why I like them. Back in the UK, a room such as this would terrify most westerners not just because you nancy about in it naked, but because the purpose of the room involves preening oneself. Actually, I much prefer the safety of the ebente-tang to watch how different men occupy themselves in this task. I never stay long in the ‘powder room,’ not because I don’t like being naked in front of other men, but because I don’t like being naked in front of myself, and like most ‘powder rooms,’ the walls are covered in mirrors.

All the flaws of being western are magnified in the array of mirrors and bright lights. Our skin tone tends to be more varied; my face is slightly ruddy, my buttocks lily white, my forearms as tanned as any Koreans and my neck brown. The rest of my body is whitey- pink, like a giant maggot. Then there’s the hair; back hair, chest hair, arm hair and leg hair and it’s all different in colour, texture and shape. My arm hair is smooth, my chest hair a little coarser and the hair on my back is somewhat like the hair on the backs of my arms, long and straggly and the sort of hair a neanderthal might have. I can’t stand looking at myself in those mirrors and always find the ‘powder room’ a little stressful.

 

All that hair. Yuk!

I touched on the subject of body hair several months ago, in relation to living in an environment free of carpets. It’s only in this type of environment that you realise just how much hair we shed. I am not especially hairy and I sweep my floor everyday with one of those magical wipes to which hair and fluff adhere. Despite this, I find hair everywhere. I’ve found them in the fridge, freezer and only a few days ago I was eating a slice of water melon when what I thought was a little crack on my plate, was in fact a pubic hair. I’m 54 and have a full head of hair non of which I see anywhere, but pubic hair, chest hair and those unsightly, straggly back of arm and back hairs, get everywhere. Korean bodies are so much nicer, more alike in proportions, colour and apart from having pubes that are long enough to perm and which often seemed to be straight rather than curly, are usually pretty hairless. Hair, its antediluvian and barbaric! As I get older I notice my eyebrows becoming wilder and if I don’t trim them I start to develop antennae. Nasal hair is a bugger but is kept at bay with regular burst from a cigarette lighter. And I dread getting ear hair as that looks especially alien.

 

No hairs in his fridge!

 

In the ‘powder room’ a couple of men and a boy are preening; an old man is methodically combing his hair with a brush from the selection  of brushes and combs which are always available.  I’ve never seen any hairs on brushes and assume they are cleaned regularly and in many ‘power rooms’ are small steam boxes similar to those used in doctors surgeries and dentist, to sanitize such items. A boy is cleaning out his ears with cotton buds (q-tips), an item as standard as towels and soap. On the long dressing tables, there is always a collection of face creams, hair gel and skin brace.   As with everything in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, no two places are exactly alike.

 

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