Elwood 5566

Bathhouse Basics 5. A 'Handbag' or 'Shopping Basket?'

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on July 14, 2010

Bathhouse floors are always slippery and a danger to move over quickly unless you’re under 10 years of age and impervious to falling over on hard surfaces. Hence, besides being naked, you’re compelled to walk in a manner looking like you’ve just been buggered; don’t worry, having been forced into wearing open back sandals, bath slippers and flip-flops for most of their lives, the geisha gait, that nancy little shuffle of a walk, is how many Korean men and boys walk both in and out of the bathhouse.

A typical bathhouse bag

To increase your incredulity even more, why not adorn yourself with a bathhouse ‘handbag’ or a bathhouse ‘shopping basket.’ Both are used to hold you shampoo, hair conditioner and shaving kit etc, and are ideal tan ideal accoutrement to take into the bathhouse complex with you.

The bathhouse ‘handbag,’ which is waterproof, comes in various designs and colours, mine is pink and has never raised an eyebrow. The ‘handbag’ can be carried openly, adorning your mincy walk, or carried  discreetly in a larger sports bag. In the monsoon season and summer months the bag can sometimes get moldy so it is necessary to dry it out occasionally and a regular session in the washing machine will give it an additional clean.

A camper version

"Hello Sailor!"

The bathhouse 'basket'

The bathhouse ‘shopping basket’ seems to be more popular among women and is  frequently seen being carried to or from the bathhouse. I can’t recall seeing a man carrying one. Likewise, they are not all that common in the male bathhouse but being open, they are easily aired and if you own a separate small locker in a bathhouse, they will easily fit inside.

I keep deodorant, pumice stone, shampoo, mouthwash, toothbrush, shaving gel and razor in mine and as I hire a small locker in my jjimjilbang-bathhouse, (3000 won a month), I leave this permanently on the premises. Though I’ve rarely seen men using ‘baskets,’ most either having ‘handbags’ or simply carry items individually, no one has paid it any attention. I use a deodorizer in my locker during summer just to remove any damp odours. If I visit another bathhouse I use my pink ‘handbag.’

If you feel self-conscious during the ‘walk-of-shame,’ that is the transition from where you undress to the bathhouse complex,  both ‘baskets’ and ‘handbags’ are ideal to faff about in which helps take your mind off the fact you’re naked and the center of attention.

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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.


6 Responses

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  1. Charles said, on December 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Basket. When I lived in China, I would visit the local bathhouse once a week. This was a true, community bathhouse–no frills, no rest areas, just shower, soak and steam. Also, you had to bring everything you’d need. Soap, shampoo, washcloth and towel.

    In Korea, I’d never noticed people carrying their own supplies and was also quite content to use the soap and towels provided by the bathhouse.

    In China, I discovered the local bathhouse only because I saw lots of people carrying these baskets and one day followed two of them. Later that day, I went out and got my own basket. What I hadn’t noticed, though, was that they all carried their own towels as well (the size of an American hand towel). I thought about this and made the assumption that, as in Korea, the bathhouse provided the towels. Wrong. My first visit went very well until it was time to dry off and I discovered my error. I ended up using my shirt as a towel.

    • Nick said, on December 18, 2010 at 12:55 am

      Thanks for this interesting insight. I didn’t know China had a bathhouse culture so if you want to write any more you are very welcome and I will post it up. Yes, it’s amazing what you can learn from observation. When I first came to Korea, only 10 years ago, the absence of comprehensive information on the internet meant observation was much more important. My first awareness of the existence of bathhouses was when I saw a room filled with small shoe lockers. I had been here 4 months before I even discovered their existence now you can learn a wealth of information about Korea without even leaving you native country. Thanks.

      • Charles said, on December 21, 2010 at 6:16 am

        I’m not sure how I learned about bathhouses in Korea but I definitely knew about them the first time I visited the country in 1992. I actually managed to find one my first day there (I was lucky that at that time many businesses still used hanja on their signs and so my Chinese proved useful). I was very nervous for the first three minutes, but by minute 5 I was having a wonderful time relaxing and being one of the guys.

        Although in the States I’ve often told people how wonderful Korea and China are because of their bathhouse culture, writing this I’m not sure if I really understand the term as it relates to China. They are there and they’re crowded but every Chinese I’ve talked to makes a point of how much they don’t like them. It may be a “modernity” thing–bathhouses are too old fashioned. Anyway, I like them because of the sense of community–one reason I don’t like jimjilbang as much–unlimited hot water to soak in and a good scrubbing.

        If you want a look at a sort-of traditional bathhouse–its not quite like the ones I’m used to (too many towels)–take a look at the movie “Shower” 洗澡 You can see the bathhouse beginning at the 3 minute mark. I have links to other films/documentaries about Chinese bathhouses if you’re interested.


      • Nick said, on December 22, 2010 at 6:37 pm

        I would be interested ina copy of the British Medical Journals special issue as information in either Korean or English on this practice is sparse. I don’t going looking for snoods and they are not common here. The links to bathhouse culture in China would be interesting as I would like to start providing a space relevevant to other culture. I read an interesting post on Bulgarian Bathhouses recently and we do have some specialist spas in the UK,very expensive and more like health farm spas. The space might attract feedback fromh those who have experienced bathhouses further afield. Once againm thanks for your comments.

  2. Charles said, on December 24, 2010 at 2:49 am

    I’d be happy to send it to you, but I’m a little slow and can’t find a way to add an attachment to this. My e-mail is a required field for posting this, so feel free to e-mail me and I’ll send that article to you.

    Also, koreamed.org is an online database of Korean medical journals. You can enter any search term and it’ll show you a list of articles about said topic. The great thing is: if you click through to the article’s main journal many of these articles are free to download. All are in Korean but many have English abstracts.

    • Nick said, on December 25, 2010 at 8:55 am

      Thanks – I will follow up in the New Year.

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