Elwood 5566

Bathhouse 'Zen' (Part 2)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Ballads by 노강호 on December 30, 2010

I’m working through some ideas here and not only have another part to follow this post, but will make amendments here. If you want to add your views, more educated and sociological ones welcomed,  please do so however, I won’t bother publishing the usual offensive crap that this kind of post sometimes generates. (Hence the pumpkin logo) Part one can be accessed here: Bathhouse Zen (Part 1)

 

 

Once you have recognised your own cultural inhibitions and prejudices that prevent you entering bathhouse complexes or get in the way of your fully enjoying the experience, it is time to look at how bathhouse culture can be seen in a broader context.

 

a cave pool

The bathhouse is an environment where social rank and hierarchy either cease operating or do so at a minimal level. In an environment divested of the clothes which we use to mask and manipulate our  personalities, communication  is both more direct and honest. Mutual nudity brings participants into  a closer relationship where friendships and ties are strengthened. The Korean phenomena of  ‘testicle friends’ (불알 친구) or ‘penis friends’ (고추 친구) clearly demonstrate that a relationship enters a deeper level through familiarity with the naked body. This is further consolidated through ‘skinship’  ‘rituals’ such as scrubbing each others backs or bodies. Skinship is an important bonding process  in all human interaction though it needn’t be restricted exclusively to mother-child or sexual relationships. In the Korean context ‘skinship’ has an important function in wide range of platonic relationships and even serve to form a bridge between relationships that are normally unequal. Unlike western culture, in which physical contact might be substantially altered in a naked or semi-naked state, in the bathhouse ‘skinship’ practices do not alter.

 

a cypress chipping bath

Additionally, bathhouse nudity also rekindles our relationship to nature and it is not unusual to see individuals sat in pools or quiet corners meditating or simply contemplating.  Most bathhouses reinforce the connection with nature and rock, wood, salt, soil, sea water, wood chippings, charcoal, bamboo, herbs, jade etc,  are all common features incorporated into bathhouse design.  The artificial worlds we inhabit in our regular lives, often fast paced and technologically dependent, all evaporate in the presence of a bathhouse’s  watery symphony of  splashing, pulsing, lapping, dripping and hissings. Water as water, ice, spray or steam, incorporated with  suitable  lighting and other elements rich in association with nature combine to create and ambience that can lure us into psychological states conducive to meditation or reflection.  A state of nudity fully exposes the body  to various transitions in temperature, textures, aroma and humidity.

 

various aromatic baths

Most bathhouses have something unique to offer and an awareness of the ambience of bathhouses at differing times of the day or week mean that it is possible to bathe in a manner that suits not just differing emotions but physical states.  Some establishments are better suited for taking a sleep, others for relaxing in various types of pool or experiencing various types of hydro-therapy and some more suited for those times of year when the weather is hot, humid or cold.  And if one finishes a session properly they should leave the bathhouse feeling both mentally and physically revitalised.

 

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence

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Goong-Cheon Lavender Jjimjilbang – Daegu 공전 라벤더

Goong-Jeon Lavender

Only the Bats were Missing

First visited September 10th 2010. You might very well walk past without giving it a second glance; save for the fact a Lotteria is nestled in one corner. From the somewhat clumsy building amidst a sprawling melee of hotchpotch architecture, reminiscent of pre-1988 Korea, you might not expect to be impressed.  However, Goong-Jeon Lavender Jjimjilbang, close to Dong Daegu railway station, is not only one of the largest bathhouse I have visited but one of the richest in character and interest.

Goong-Cheon Lavender

When leaving the elevator and entering the changing rooms, Goong-Cheon Lavender certainly spoils the visitor with space and the reception area, with a snack bar fronted by cute, if not  bizarre pink, white and gold baroque imitation tables and chairs, occupies an area the equivalent to that of many other changing rooms. An atmosphere of spaciousness and intrigue is imparted before one has even collected their locker key.

Large and spacious changing facilities

Access between the bathhouse and changing area is via large ramps and on entering the bathing complex you are confronted with a very large showering facility with stand-up showers organised in a multitude of partitions around the periphery, and an army of seated showers relegated to the centre. I usually count shower units but on this occasion there were simply too many and besides, the blue glow emanating from pools beyond the shower area, were demanding my exploration.

the impressive 'cave'

In the distance, at the far end of the complex, I was attracted to the large ‘cave bath’ (동굴), the water of which was shimmering on the cave roof.  On the partitions between the sit-down showers, between which you walk to reach the pools, large crystalline ‘stones,’ appear to be lit from beneath, added to the subterranean atmosphere.  Three pools occupy the area before the ‘cave feature’ with various smaller pools on one side and four saunas on the other. The largest pool is a round warm-water pool but my favourite, located almost in one corner and portioned by glass, is a Dead Sea salt bath (사해소금방). The water is dark blue and the high salt content certainly made my body more buoyant.

one of Lavender's Sauna

Among the four saunas were, a steam sauna, and a salt sauna all constructed from either jade or some other ‘well-being’ material. There is also an ice room. However, the central feature of Goong-Cheon Lavender, are the two pools at the head of the pool complex which are designed like caves. Small windows provided enough light for real ivy to grow from the ‘rock formation’ walls and from the ceiling hang impressive, realistic stalactites. Both pools are cold, more suited for hot weather and one has a number of power showers useful for massaging an aching back.

a jewelry room

the ice sauna

the unique Dead Sea bath

Non-invasive lighting, various scents from the saunas such as rose, pine and mugwort plus beautifully soft and fresh smelling towels all enhance the atmosphere and though there is a television in one sauna, which is piped into other rooms, levels of noise are low.  Numerous pools also use silver ionised water which is subsequently microbe-free.

well worth a visit

Goong-Cheon Lavender also boasts sporting facilities, including general fitness, weight training, yoga and golf as well as a jjimjilbang equipped with various ‘jewellery’ rooms. Similar to the bathhouse saunas, these are rooms constructed out of stone or metal with ‘well-being’ qualities. A roof garden is also accessible from the jjimjilbang.  This is an impeccably clean and exciting complex to which I was welcomed in English. There is much to explore and the size, atmosphere and unique bathing experiences make this a great venue to relax. My only criticism… there were no bats!

Plan

Goong Jeon Lavender bathhouse design (male)

Times – 24 hour jjimjilbang (찜질방) and bathhouse.

Facilities – women’s ‘bathhouse, jjimjilbang, men’s bathhouse, coffee shop, shoe shine, barbers, sports complex, belly dancing, aerobics, screen golf, massage, children’s play room, pc room, roof garden, yoga, etc

Jjimjilbang – (pending)

Bathhouse (men) – an extremely large stand-up and sit-down shower area. Cold pool cave, Dead Sea salt bath, Black Sea bath, silver ionised water, steam room, salt room, and various ‘jewelery rooms.’

Cost – bathhouse 5000 Won.

Others – hairdressers, massage and rub downs, parking, cafe..

Ambiance – very relaxing and friendly.

Waygukin –  None.

Address – Goong-Cheon is located a very short taxi ride from Dong Daegu Station (KTX). (Wikimap)

Goong-Cheon Lavender Homepage

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Bathhouse Basics (11) – Wet Sauna (습식 사우나)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on December 15, 2010

This is simply a sauna in which the air is misted by what resembles a very fine, warm rain.  The temperature in this sauna is less severe than in a steam room.

a wet sauna

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Bathhouse ‘Zen’ (Part 1)

I’m working through some ideas here and not only have another three parts to follow this post, but will make amendments here. If you want to add your views, more educated and sociological ones welcomed,  please do so however, I won’t bother publishing the usual offensive crap that this kind of post sometimes generates. (Hence the pumpkin logo)

Not suitable for pumpkin people

Not too long ago, I joined the social networking site, Skinbook, a site for nudists. I had never considered myself a nudist and of course, in Korea I’m not. But once you head back home on a vacation you realise that bathing, even in a same-sex environment, is a form of nudism.  So,while in Korea I regard myself completely normal and healthy but once I step off the plane in the UK , or even talk to some westerners here in Korea, I have to re-configure one of my pleasures and label it ‘partial nudism’ and of course, this then  includes the slurs and innuendos associated with any form of nudity. What is a completely normal pursuit in one country is almost perversified in another. It is ironic that my home country, like the USA,  has not just one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the world, but one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, children as young as 12 and 13 engage in sex and if they go to the doctor are granted anonymity and, child abuse in one form or another, is clearly a national pastime. Being judged by my own culture, and those who bring  its attitudes to Korea is rather like being judged by the town’s most prolific pox spreading, pimp.

the hanja character for ‘nothing,’ ‘not having,’ (없을-무)

For a waygukin to really enjoy Korean bathhouses one has to divest themselves of the  cultural baggage  that prohibits or hinders one from fully capitalizing on what the experience has to offer. Though our cultural baggage may be similar, as between that of a Canadian and Scotsman, there are naturally differences that shape and  inform the reception we have to going-naked in a same-sex, public environment.  Some cultures are more relaxed than others and within and across cultures there are differing attitudes towards nudity and proxemics;  some may be constrained by religious views, some may have very strong associations between nudity and sex, some may be more liberated due to upbringing.  So, the point at which we each stand in relation to nudity and the various forms it appears in, differ.  Despite the reference to ‘zen,’  (선), there is nothing deep or mystical in the Korean practice of public bathing any more than there is swimming in a public bathhouse in the UK and my use of the term is based on the loosest meaning and simply suggests the ability to enjoy the experience without being hindered by cultural baggage.

spheres of zen

For many, myself included, taking the first step into a bathhouse was a traumatic  experience and certainly one I’ll never forget it! For others, nudity in the company of others is no different to being nude in isolation; many people are quite used to showering in a same-sex environment and if you play rugby in the UK, bathing in a large bathtub with your team, all naked, is a long-standing ritual. However, showering or bathing naked is quite different from other experiences a bathhouse will eventually confront you with, experiences which will test your levels of comfort and possibly expose  the cultural baggage you still carry, but which you thought you’d ditched.

Let me give you a very recent example; I  use bathhouses on a regular basis and my first introduction to them was almost ten years ago. However, while bathing less than three hours ago, I had two interesting reflections. I still do not feel comfortable with a close friend scrubbing my back and after a little analysis decided it was because in my culture such intimacy is more likely to occur as a prelude to sex and also because I am over weight and self-conscious.  The second one occurred while we were in a sauna.  The room is fairly large and is occupied by only my friend and I,  yet when two new men enter the room, independent of each other, they sit on seats on either side of me. Meanwhile, my friend is laying on the floor,  taking a nap. I am sat facing the television but they sit each looking directly at one side of my face, and to compound matters, their heads are less than three feet  from mine and they sit with knees wide apart in a position that in western body language can convey a sexual meaning. Within the parameters of my culture, no only do their body positions establish a hostile or sexual tension between  us, but a corresponding tension between themselves, as they are sat facing each other. And remember, they could have sat in any of three corners but instead chose to sit directly next to me. Even after years of bathing, little alarm bells jangled! Of course, neither are making aggressive or sexual  suggestions  and  probably  sat down without any conscious deliberation at all.

sk

While you might feel very ‘at-home’ naked in the bathhouse shower, or sat on your own in a corner of a pool, if you frequent bathhouses on a regular basis, the day will eventually arrive when:

♦You’re just steeping into a pool when you notice the person at the far end is a co-worker.

♦You drop the soap and need to bed over

♦You’re sitting on a bucket seat when a Korean friend begins a conversation, their dick dangling in your face

♦You end up talking to a friend who is sat on a bucket seat, while you are standing, your dick in their face

♦You’re asked to either scrub someone’s back or they offer to scrub yours

♦You enter a pool only to discover a couple of your students are staring at you

♦Your school or work decide to organise a trip to the bathhouse

♦You somehow end up having a full body scrub-down

If any of these scenarios are liable to make you feel uncomfortable, then you have not yet reached the state of ‘zen’ required to ensure your enjoyment is the ultimate possible and in which your reception of the experience is similar to that of a Korean.  The cited examples, and there are others,  highlight the point at which east and west differ and yet it is for this reason many people decide to live in Korea. (Surely it wasn’t just for the money!)  The manner in which we approach this point of separation, or stay cocooned in our safety zone, is dependent the ability to suspend our own cultural mores and subsequently embrace those of Korean society. The fewer of these scenarios which trouble you, the closer you are in approximation to the manner in which a Korean perceives a bathhouse experience. If you can bend over in full view of bathers, poke your backside clean with soaped fingers, use the hair dryer on your pubic hair or do a series of exercises, naked and in front of an audience, you can award yourself a red-belt (the rank prior to a taekwon-do black belt)  in bathhouse familiarity. And not only will you be better able to understand the Korean psyche, but you may also have a deeper understanding of the nature of your own society. Personally, I still have a long way to go but I’m getting there!

A Korean’s behaviour in a bathhouse has nothing to do with zen and with no barriers to overcome such a ‘state’ isn’t necessary. They simply behave in a manner which conforms to their social mores. Being outside this point of references, ‘zen’ is the mental ‘state’, or  ‘attitude ‘we have to aspire to  if we want to truly enjoy the experience and step closer to understanding the Korean psyche. In a ‘state ‘of ‘zen,’ a state of statelessness, you will have abandoned all cultural shackles and have no problem with your bum hole pontificating the heavens should you drop the soap. And when you can rationalize bathhouse culture without suggesting it is perverse, homo-erotic or ‘gay,’ as many westerners do, you will truly be in a state of enlightenment.

There are two parts involved in learning to enjoy the Korean bathhouse experience. The first involves ditching or suspending your own cultural baggage and all the assumptions it makes and judgments it levies. The second lies in embracing Korean attitudes towards same-sex nudity and bathing. Suspending the outrage of your own values is not always easy considering the British, for example, have a very long history of demonizing anything sexual. We have been imbued to perceive genitals as solely sexual and invested with the powers to pervert those who gaze upon them or even talk about them.  Even the genitals of a baby are now perceived as sexual and that you cannot photograph or draw a naked baby, even your own, without the overwhelming realization that you are doing something terribly wrong, is alarming.  And because nudity exposes what is deemed sexual, it has the potential to pervert and hence needs close control.  As for ‘skinship,‘ a problematic enough concept for many westerners when clothed, when nude, it can only be rationalised as sexually motivated. Many young and liberal westerners  like to think they are ‘progressive’ in their attitudes to sex and the body, but many, the moment confronted with the opportunity to be naked, it is revealed that they are not only terrified by it, but conflate it with sex. For many men, the idea of being naked with other men is repugnant. Ditching such silly attitudes, even if temporarily, is wonderfully liberating and frees you from centuries of oppression.

Disengaging your cultural shackles:

Over-coming the fear of your own body – in modern capitalism the body is a battle ground used to manipulate our dreams, aspirations, inadequacies and fears in the attempt, planned and unplanned, to spur us onto the treadmill that sees us seeking remedy in an array of consumer products. Products articulated around diet and exercise are lucrative and a nation riddled with guilt at being overweight or unhealthy, even if you’re not, is a nation ready to chuck money away in pursuing the latest fad. It’s a Machiavellian philosophy of ‘give ’em dreams and sell them shit.’ All too often, the first barrier to getting naked in public is the fear of being seen by others, of being exposed and then judged by the criteria of market forces. Obesity and being overweight are obvious but even our attitude to dick size is influenced by market forces; my spam box is constantly bombarded with adverts claiming to enhance the male appendage. When did you ever see an advert offering to reduce penile proportions? Porn actors are often rumoured to have dicks of Herculean proportions and any actor or celebrity who is discovered to have a little wiener, an average wiener, can expect ridicule. Societies have not all valued a big dick and at the height of Classical Athens, being well hung, and worse, well hung and circumcised, was considered very un-sexy. Among the classical statues and red pottery of the period – not a big cock among them unless it’s owned by a grotesque satyr. If you can find a penis poking from the  loin of a Praxiteles, it probably fits the modern-day parameters of  ‘average’ and this is often a euphemism for ‘small.’

I have frequently heard or read comments by westerner visitors to bathhouses, berating the bodies of everyone who is not minus 20, slim and sexy. Such people are ‘shocked’ or ‘appalled’ by the ugliness of others and see only attractiveness in the same way it is seen by Hollywood. Such attitudes are rooted in the assumption that if nudity is to be tolerated, it should at least be practiced by those who are sexually attractive because, as we all know, sex among fatties and oldies is a turn-off. It there’s one thing you learn in a bathhouse, it’s that we are more alike than unlike, regardless of age, size and condition.  Overcoming a fear of exposing our bodies in a public forum is for many people a big step because of our own negative self images induced in us by our own culture. As a result, to overcome the fear is empowering.

Apollo Saurodithonos (Lizard-killer). Possibly a Praxiteles original

Separating the conflation of  sex and nudity – Western social mores conflate sex and nudity and this tradition, one with a long history, is always an obstacle faced by nudists in the west because public sentiment demonize or peversifies nudity on the grounds it is sexual. If you enjoy nudity it implies you do so for sexually motivated reasons and is likely to classify you with terms such as ‘kinky’ or ‘pervert.’  Male same-sex nudity bears the greatest brunt of this conflation especially when it suggests those involved are homosexual. And it is this conflation which informs the opinions of many a westerner opposed or fearful of bathhouse culture. If you start a conversation with many British men about Japanese bathhouses, which often do not segregate the sexes, the tone of the conversation becomes sexually orientated, many western men would love peep through a chink in a wall of a Japanese bathhouse and indeed, you can even download videos of such scenarios. It is therefore predictable that their assumptions about same-sex bathing is going to be articulated around sex and homosexuality. It is the intense conflation of sex and nudity in the western tradition that has given rise to the phenomena of gay bathhouses and in the minds of many people bathhouses are strongly associated with a homosexuality, hedonism and promiscuity. Unfortunately, in the west nudity is often invaded by those assuming it must be sexual and in pursuit of a quick thrill. My local hometown in the UK had to close male only, nude bathing sessions because the tone of the place slipped into seediness.

Overcoming the fear of nude children – On occasion when I have witnessed something interesting in a bathhouse involving non-adults and have dared to write about it, and especially if I have written about it without expressing anything but disgust and loathing, it has provided an opportunity for those with a pumpkin mentality to accuse me of perversion. Many people now recoil in horror at the thought of adults and non-adults sharing the same space especially when semi nudity or nudity is involved. In Britain, public changing rooms, those open planned types where everyone undressed in view of each other, have now disappeared. There are a number of individuals who will fear a bathhouse experience because Korean children use bathhouses and I have met and spoken with individuals who will not go to a bathhouse or jjimjilbang on trips organised by their schools.  I once had to console a western teacher who cried uncontrollably because Korean Kindergarten teachers took kids to the toilet alone and without a second person in tow to ‘Big Brother’ the procedure.  Once again, we are back to the conflation of sex and nudity and of the western obsession of seeking perversion wherever possible.  Shouldn’t we be highly suspicious of societies that are obsessed with categorising non-adult nudity, solely by the label ’sexual’ and which cannot  compel us only to do likewise.

I very often talk to Korean friends, male and female about cute kids I’ve seen in the bathhouse. Last week I was amused by a baby boy who could only just walk and who wore a pair of socks to prevent him slipping on the slippy floor. I can share this observation with Koreans without the need to add interjections to the effect I’m no pervert or that I’m not interested in baby boys. But to raise such issue to a western audience, especially as a man, and you invite the most vitriolic reprisals. I’m here reminded of the comments I saw posted on various sites in response to a Korean advert where baby boys appeared scrubbing each other’s backs in a bathhouse. Most did not see it as cute or amusing imagery but as sexual, perverse and exploitative. And neither were any genitals flashed for them to arrive at such twisted conclusions.

Redefining your proximity zone – Britain is often cited as one of the least tactile cultures. In Germany, for example, people shake hands on every meeting and not simply when meeting someone for the first time. The French of course, kiss each other on both cheeks. Many other cultures are much more tolerant in allowing males physical contact without the slur of them being ‘homosexual’ and in such societies body proxemics are much closer than they are in the UK or USA where between close friends, 1.5-4 feet define comfortable parameters.  Intimate relationships operate between 0-15 inches. Many Koreans friends are quite comfortable operating at a distance of much closer than 15 inches and indeed of operating within a zone that many British people could only tolerate in a sexual relationship. In addition physical contact, ‘skinship,’ occurs not just more often, but for longer periods of time and much closer to the ‘parts’ we have been taught to avoid. It is not in the least unusual to see Korean friends lay down and put their head in their friends lap and I have even seen this in a bathhouse.

Korean ‘skinship’

Fully acknowledging nudity – many westerners are quite happy nude bathing because they manage to blank out the bits they find difficult to deal with or find offensive or repugnant. As long as it’s not in your face, or better still, as long as it’s in the zone of peripheral vision and can be ignored rather than acknowledged, many people can live with same-sex nudity. If you ask most men about the things they see in a changing room, even in locker room showers, and they will aggressively tell you they don’t look and I believe most of them don’t. And if they do the images are purged from their minds. As I have mentioned before, for a man to see a cock in the UK constitutes such a traumatic experience, unless of course you do happen to be gay, that it can potentially convince a man he is homosexual. It is only when a cock holds the same value as someone’s toes, or their nose, that you are free of this puerile conditioning. Learning to accept what nudism involves, the exposure of those parts you’d rather not acknowledge, is very much about confronting a deep-seated homophobia that assumes the penis is at all times a sexual object, which in western culture usually encompasses any penis whether it be flaccid, erect or even the redundant penis of a baby, and therefore, to consciously acknowledge the penis of another male is to engage in homosexual behaviour. I would further suggest, the fear of acknowledgment is both a means of consolidating a heterosexual identity or facade and avoiding either temptation or the revelation that one’s sexuality may not be what it seems.

When one is able to acknowledge those ‘offensive’ areas dispassionately, in a manner unfettered by emotions and obsessions and which no longer sees them as sexual but as parts with functions such as the nose or ears, and with  corresponding qualities and attributes, interesting, quirky, large, etc, one has clearly transcended the myopic conditioning of culture. I would imagine experiencing nude bathing in a non segregated forum, as often practiced in Japan, and to do so with a similar ‘zen’ detachment would be highly enlightening. To achieve this does not mean that no one is appealing or beautiful or sexually attractive, but that this is no longer the primary manner in which you respond to the naked body. Learning to see nudity with ‘zen’ detachment, where the conflation between sex and nudity is separated, and the classification of others in terms of their sexual appeal, minimised, allows you not just to appreciate more fully other human beings, but to feel more human in the process.

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Bathhouse Basics (10): The Hinoki Tang (히노끼탕)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics, plants and trees by 노강호 on December 1, 2010

the Hinoki conifer in Japan

All bathhouses have their own individual character which is why it is always good to be familiar with a range of establishments that you can use when you feel the need. Some places are more suited to nursing a hangover or the flu while others offer particular experiences, perhaps an ice-room which is particularly welcome in summer or has water therapy pool should you have back or neck ache, etc. And the temperatures of various pools tend to differ between establishments. Temperatures can differ in cold pools between one bathhouse and another though I am not sure whether or not this is by design or coincidence.  There is an excitement in visiting a new bathhouse in the anticipation of what will be experienced. I have only visited one bathhouse that I never felt compelled to return to and indeed have found that most bathhouses offer something unique.

The scent of nature lingers in bathhouses; fragrances such as mugwort, ginseng, pine, rose, or lavender drift over the e-bente-tangs (이벤트탕) and saunas are often rich in the primeval aroma. One of my local bathhouses articulates its atmosphere by the subtle use of rock, wood and pine and one of its central features is the Japanese hinoki tang (히노끼탕). Initially, I found this pool quite boring. A wooden bath is hardly very motivating especially as I like temperatures at the extreme rather than simply comfortable and approaching body temperature. But once again, as with so many aspects of bathhouse culture, something calls you back and I’m beginning to realise the bath’s appeal lies both the pools natural materials  and its texture, which at first is quite strange.

Hinoki (편백) cypress forest in Korea

The hinoki tang, is a Japanese style bath and is made from the conifer, Chamaecyparis and in particular the Chamaecyparis Obtusa. The tree is also known as the Japanese Cypress, Hinoki Cypress or simply, Hinoki, (편백나무) and are common throughout Asia and especially Japan and Korea. The wood, hard and almost white in colour, has been traditionally used for buildings, a good example being Osaka Castle, in Japan but also has uses in crafting beds, floors and even the wooden pillow, mok ch’im (목침)  used in bathhouses.

The Impressive Osaka Castle, built from the hinoki cypress

hinoki cypress wood

The first time you bathe in a wooden bath is quite strange. Most of us have spent our entire lives bathing in baths or pools made from enamel or some form of porcelain and the feel of wood against the skin is odd especially as it has a slightly slimy texture. However, in the right atmosphere, a wooden pool enhances a bathing experience, helps produce a more natural ambiance and certainly feels pleasant against the skin.

A hinoki tang in the full traditional Japanese style, with a  roof  and a constant flow of water into the pool by way of what looks like a wooden box,  is a pleasing sight.

hinoki tang with a traditional ‘roof’

a tranquil hinoki tang situated outside and in a beautiful setting

an hinoki tang with the addition of a roof, a frequent feature based on the traditional Japanese model

a bathhouse hinoki-tang

the same hinoki-tang as above, but empty

the texture and smell of the wood enhances the experience

who needs a partner to spoil the ambiance. The beauty of an hinoki-tang in a truly awesome setting

The Hwang-So Sauna in Song-So, Daegu, has a hinoki tang (히노끼탕).

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Suneung Thursday 18th of November 2010 ‘D Day’

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, Daegu, Diary notes, Education, video clips by 노강호 on November 20, 2010

On Thursday 18th of November, suneung (수능),  I set off at 6.45 am to watch the arrival of students at Song-So High School. By the time I arrived, around 7.30, most of the students had passed through the gates but a large ground of parents and supporters, plus a lot of police, were still in place and students were still arriving. I hadn’t even stopped to watch when a cup of grapefruit tea was thrust in my hands and a few moments later a woman police-officer handed me some chocolate gold coins.

Song-So Boys High School

plenty of hot and sticky drinks

The event was a little disappointing as even by seven am many students have entered their schools and nothing special was happening outside the Song-So High School other than there being lots of police and plenty of people taking photographs.

Students arriving

celebrity treatment

'Junior students rallying the third year candidates

Paying respects to exam candidates

a mother prays

sticking toffee on wall in the hope of success

I bought some chocolates for an old student resitting suneung but I couldn't get hold of him on the phone to get his address. He's currently doing his military service. So, 박진영, if your reading this I hope you did well.  As for the chocolates? They were truly  gross and greasy ersatz chocolate  the type of which predominates in the USA (eg, Hershey) '왝' But I still ate it!

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A Touch of Tranquility – Update (1)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu by 노강호 on November 5, 2010

This article was originally published in Daegu Pockets in October 2010

All bathhouses have their own unique ambiances created by a combination of lighting, décor and design. Additionally, they differ in terms of what they offer. Bathhouses all have common features but every bathhouse provides something that differentiates it from other establishments in the vicinity.

Poolside

Situated in the very heart of Song-So, in the Mega Town Complex, which not only dominates the area physically, but in terms of facilities, boasting a large cinema complex, buffet and pizza restaurant and numerous other amenities, Hwang-so has gradually grown on me. My first visit was on a cold, dark November morning when I arrived to find the premises packed with a class of school boys – not the kind of atmosphere you want at 5 am and on your visit to a bathhouse in a number of years. I found it small, noisy and claustrophobic and didn’t go back.

I have since learnt that if you want peace and tranquility it can be found in the center of this bustling building and that school-boy invasion a blip that can temporarily blight any bathhouse.

Song-So's 'Mega Town' Complex - I minute from my front door

The reception to both the male and female bathhouses are on the eighth floor and once you have stripped to your birthday suit it’s only a couple of paces into the bathing complex. Here you will find a very intimate atmosphere with black marble tiling, low lighting and even some slightly darkened areas. Hwang-so is certainly not a large bathhouse. Four central baths, all internally lit, provide a water massage pool, warm and hot pool, and a bubbling Jacuzzi with herb additives. A large cold pool occupies one end and completes the facilities found in every bathhouse. As for the complex’s specialties, you can enjoy a Japanese style cypress bath (히노끼탕) and my favourite, a humidity sauna  (습식 사우나) where water sprays from the ceiling like the finest, warm rain and is so fine it hangs, caught in subdued lighting, like heavy mist.  A massive rock bowl sits in one corner and is filled with cold water which you can throw over yourself when you get too warm. Additionally, the seats in this sauna are cut from tree trunks and their woody aroma scents the air. Adjacent, is a Swedish style pine sauna with very low lighting. I have come to really enjoy the tasteful complimentary additions such as, water features, rock, and chunks of pine tree, which occupy various nooks and crannies.

The changing area is fairly spacious with central slatted benches and sofas plus the usual television and a resident barber. From this area, the jjimjilbang, the clothed, mixed sex communal area, on the seventh floor, can be accessed.

Unless you simply want to shower, you should never frequent just one bathhouse anymore than you should eat one type of food. Different establishments provide different experiences and to capitalise on this you need to a few alternative which can be matched with your appropriate moods. Hwang-so has no poolside television or piped music and swimming or playing in the cold pool is not allowed. If you find yourself in Song-so with a hangover or simply want to relax, this is a great sanctuary. My only criticism, there is no sleeping area within the pool area.

Link for information and details on Hwang-So Sauna

 

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Who Really 'Worships' the Wang?

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Ballads, Blogging, Comparative by 노강호 on October 18, 2010

Not Suitable for pumpkin people

When I started working on this blog in earnest, I wrote in the ‘About’ page, that ‘you cannot immerse yourself in another culture without it altering how you perceive your own.’ Trying to comprehend facets of another culture is a dialogue between both your experiences and those presented by a new culture in much the same way as history is a ‘dialogue between past and present.’  Of course, I was wrong!  A pumpkin lacks perception of its own environment, so to do some of the visitors that come here – often only for the briefest of visits.

Pumpkin people

Although I have had few nasty comments, on other blogs there has been some ‘discussion’ about the nature of Bathhouse Ballads. I doubt any of these ‘pumpkins’ took the time to read its content and drew their swords based solely on snippets gleamed from other bloggers.  All it took was for one blogger to highlight my sexuality, and to do that he had to read a considerable amount of text because I have only clearly and unambiguously outed myself on a few occasions, and the peripheral pumpkins started making assumptions. When I accidentally read a couple of  pumpkins’ posters, I actually thought they were referring to another blog. They describe this blog about ‘boys dropping their trousers,’ a blog about ‘kiddies,’ and a ‘gay blog’ and it wasn’t until I read the title they were referring to, that I realised it was Bathhouse Ballads. Worse, a forty-five year old friend I mention becomes a ‘boy’ and one reference to ‘skinny teenagers having the biggest dicks,’ labeled me a ‘perv.’  Only a ‘pumpkin’ could read Bathhouse Ballads, sweeping aside the many other topics covered, ignoring so much in the process to enable them to bend what remains to fit the predetermined judgment, to arrive at such erroneous conclusions.  Being reminded that societies are populated predominantly by pumpkins, that those pumpkins are often the voice of the majority, and that individuals with the capacity to think for themselves are rare, is never very nice but more enlightened comments were present in my defence.

Clueless

Part of the pumpkin analysis was that Bathhouse Ballads is ‘into’ Korean ‘wang-worship’ and describes Korea men as ‘wang-flashers’. ‘I assume this refers to communal bathing because I have only once mentioned anything that could be construed as ‘flashing.’  It seems that ‘skinship’ and ‘concepts such as ‘dick friends’ (고추친구), a phenomena I haven’t yet written about, and same-sex bathing in general, provokes  some hostility. I initially assumed that you cannot immerse yourself in another culture without reasserting your own. Well, a pumpkin can! So, in what way has my understanding of British culture, and specifically male gender, been reconfigured in the light of a Korean experience?

The voice of the majority

It is only westerners, and certainly not all, that perceive ‘skinship’ as ‘closeted homosexuality’ and are correspondingly fearful or suspicious of same-sex bathing, the relaxed Korean attitude to nudity and physical proximity. Of course, there will be ‘gay Koreans who use such a culture for some form of ‘sexual pleasure’ but to most men the penises of other males are of little more significance than are noses. If a Korean boy sees the penis of another male he is not ravaged with guilt or accused by friends of being ‘gay,’ as I have witnessed as a teacher  in the UK.  I regularly meet and read about westerners who will not go bathhouses and others who while not necessarily hostile to skinship, perceive it as something that must be banished from a classroom. Why? Korean teachers themselves use it and I’ve seen this on many occasions. Isn’t it rather insensitive of waygukin teachers to cast out the cultural norms of their host society and then impose their own?  This is Korea, not back water wherever and there should be no need to impose foreign cultural values on  Koreans.

Ironically, it is not Korean men who  are ‘wang-obsessed,’ but the westerner.  Western men, myself included, are burdened with an obsession of the penis, of what is truly  ‘wang-obsession.’ When westerners, and especially western pumpkins, berate this aspect of Korean culture, they do so because of the values of their culture, they do so because they have been inculcated with obsessions about the ‘penis’  which derive from a deep-seated ‘fear of ‘sex’ as demonic and chaotic.’ The most glaring manifestation of this ‘obsession’ is when westerners conflate nudity with sex, and male nudity with homosexuality.  Koreans find this conflation quite bizarre, as do other cultures. And the moment you accuse Korean men of being ‘wang-worshippers’ you highlight how totally you misunderstand the nature of your very own culture, let alone that of another! If communal bathing is ‘wang-flashing,’ then it is also ‘toe-flashing’ or ‘hip-flashing’ but why the focus on the ‘penis’ unless you yourself give it more importance than it’s worth.

anthropology - not an academic pursuit for pumpkins

We westerners are so obsessed with the penis and its association with the disruptive potential of sex to the extent that men will hide them from each other. Naturally, many males shower together after sports but far more are either embarrassed by it or avoid it. We judge other men on the size of their penis and assume that a bigger penis is a sign of greater masculinity or sexual prowess and while I suspect size has some significance in Korean society, it is tempered by communal bathing where you realise that between most men there is little difference. I imagine only a very small number of Korean boys angst over dick proportions in comparisons to British boys. And if we have a problem with our dicks we would generally find it very embarrassing to confide in a friend and personally, despite close male friends back in the UK, I would find it easier to discuss such things with my Korean friends and indeed have done. Only a penis obsessed westerner could perversify this admission.

Humour is used to defuse the fear and unease caused by both a real penis and anything resembling it and this was the subject of my post, Sausages and Shit – a Comparisons in Smut Humour. Give a class of British boys anything phallic, a banana or sausage, and you can guarantee someone will connect it to  with a penis and begin making jokes with it.  We even pass e-mail poster jokes about  taxing different length penises – a tacit acknowledgment that a big dick means you are better off and hence need penalising.

and some have a university education

And then there’s our historical legacy, often one of the medical control of the penis: the association of mental weakness and instability with masturbation helped give rise to both the Boy Scouts and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. All were all attempts to divert boys away their penis  not because they were necessarily fixated on them, but because western ideology has a long and established fear of sex and anything associated with it. A ream of illnesses, some terminal, were associated with masturbation for which Kellogg himself advocated circumcision without anesthetic, as a cure. Neither did women escape the paranoia with the vagina and uterus often identified as the source of maladies and illness, most notably hysteria which was treated by hysterectomy.  The penis,  as the visible manifestation of sex and all the depravity to which indulgence could drag you  was naturally the greatest offender and capable, especially in youth of perverting an individuals moral character and by extension the morality of the nation.  From cod-pieces to Freud and beyond, western culture has a history of inflating the worth of that little appendage. In western history and ideology, the ‘penis’ is far from unimportant, and the fear of  its potential continues to obsess us sparking one witch-hunt after another.

The problem is some people are tourists in their own culture

Same sex communal bathing liberates one from all that cultural baggage and to experience mixed sex bathing, as  in Japan, takes it a step further. I would go as far as to say that not only does communal nudity provide a sense of liberation from the legacy of history as well as other negative baggage we carry about our bodies, but it is also a political statement. In Britain, if not indeed western society, masculinity and what comprises being male, expressed by traits such as: not showing emotion,  heterosexuality, avoiding  same-sex physical contact,  revulsion at  male nudity, aggression,  etc, all focus on the penis and its capabilities and the fear that relaxing any constraints may entice engagement or may reveal more about us than we want to know.  And with the  taboos unnoticed, invisible and perceived as natural, they become a springboard from which pumpkins judge the world around them.

In future I will mark such posts with a logo warning readers that the content is not suitable for pumpkin people.

 

Not suitable for pumpkin people

 

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Hyu-Lim-Won Sauna. Da-sa – 휴림원 사우나. 다사

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu by 노강호 on October 15, 2010

A Bathhouse Review

First visited October 9th 2010. Most recent visit, 19th May, 2012. This bathhouse and jjimjilbang is an absolute must in terms of a visit. It is situated in the rapidly developing area of Da-sa (다사), Daegu. I got to know Da-sa ten years ago when it was noted for being an up and coming area to live. Since then, it has exploded into a small town on the edge of west Daegu and it is still expanding. Impressive high rises dominate its approach and though it is separated from the main part of the city by the river, giving it a sense of being outside Daegu, the new buildings and their size are very much ‘big town.’ It’s a short ride from Song-so, perhaps 5000 Won (£2.50) in a taxi and on the metro system. Da-sa lies at the back of Keimyung University campus. From the area of Song-So E-Mart, several buses go to Dasa, including the 527. The facility is directly opposite bus stops.

Hyu-lim-won Sauna in Da-sa, Daegu

Hyu-lim-won is a very new complex which I need to explore more, so this is a cursory ‘report.’ My first visit was to the bathhouse (목욕탕). Being a ‘play Saturday’ (놀토- when kids have  no State school)- at a time when many students have finished their mid-term exams, it was busy. The changing area was very comfortable, though a little small after the spacious Migwang  Spolex (미광) in which you can get lost. A large decked seating area occupies the center of this area with numerous facilities, a snack machine, barbers etc, on the periphery.

The Bathhouse pool complex (male ): As you enter you notice the layout is on two levels with the back pools being accessed by a large inclined walk-way. There are about twenty stand up showers directly on your right and beyond these perhaps 30 sit down showers. On the left is the massage and scrub down area and various saunas: a dry sauna, very hot steam room and a salt sauna (소금방). Between the sit down showers and the saunas are three pools: a large warm  pool (온탕), which at 42 degrees makes it as warm as many hot pools. Beyond this pool are two smaller pools one of which is the hot pool (열탕) which was 48 degrees. Beyond these and to the right is a large cold pool (냉탕), at 17 degrees. Access to the cold pool is via the inclined walk-way, to the left of which are a few lido deck chairs and a sleeping area (수면실) with floor heating (온돌), and at the head of which are steps into the cold pool, on the right. Standing at the peak of the inclined ramp walk-way, are steps into the furthest pool, a large therapy pool at 33 degrees. The therapy pool was very interesting with lots of facilities I’ve not seen before. On the far side are seven ‘pods,’ slightly sunken and  in which you stand using handrails and after pressing the activation button are treated to a hydro massage, on your back. The jets are powerful, and if you maneuver yourself, you can give your butt a deep clean but you should have cleaned this area before entering any pools. On the right side is a glass pod in which you stand and again, after activating the button, a very powerful shower blasts your shoulders or back. Next to this is a similar shower, but not as powerful, and then three ‘pods’ which blasts jets of water onto the soles of your feet. On the left hand side are four sunken stone beds on which you lie for an alternative back and leg hydro therapy.

To the left of the central sleeping area, beyond the salt sauna, is the event pool (이벤트탕), and of all the event pools I’ve used, this was the most eventful. The pool was 36 degrees and had a powerful continual jacuzzi, while the water, scented with lemon, mint, lavender and rose, was bright yellow. Tucked into the corner behind this, and next to the therapy pool, is a sleeping area (수면실) with unheated flooring.

Like the changing area, the ‘powder room’ felt a little small but as mentioned earlier, this is because I use Migwang Spolex, in Song-so, on a regular basis and it’s very spacious.

Plan

Hyu Lim Won, Dasa. Bathhouse design (male)

Location – (Wiki Map link ) Fifteen minutes by taxi or bus from Song-so. As you enter Da-sa, it is on the left and easily seen. Alternatively,  you can use the metro underground from Song-so but it is easier to get to from Daeshil Subway rather than Dasa.

Daegu metro system

Times – 24 hour jjimjilbang (찜질방) and bathhouse.

Facilities – (in process of being researched) 1st floor reception,  women’s bathhouse, jjimjilbang, men’s bathhouse, coffee shop, shoe shine, barbers.

Jjimjilbang – (pending)

Bathhouse (men) – around 20 stand up shower facilities and 30-40 seated. Event pool with jacuzzi, (이벤트탕), hot pool (열탕), large warm pool, another unknown pool, large cold pool (냉탕), large therapy pool, steam room, dry sauna, salt sauna, 2 pool room relaxation areas, heated and unheated, changing room.

Cost – bathhouse 5000 Won.

Others – hairdressers, massage and rub downs, parking, cafe. Opposite impressive new development.

Ambiance – not my favourite, I prefer a  little more subdued, but impeccably clean, new and bright. I didn’t notice any televisions. Friendly, but I would imagine one of the busier saunas.

Waygukin –  None.

Address – Da-sa (다사). Daegu.

Hyu-lim-won Updates


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Kayasan Hotel Bathhouse – 가야산 관광호텔

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu by 노강호 on October 11, 2010

 

Kayasan Hotel (가야산 관광호텔), near Daegu

Before I give an account of the bathhouse, I want to review the hotel because this a truly impressive location and well worth a visit, either for an overnight break or simply for coffee. Kayasan Hotel (가야산), Kyongsangbukdo Province,  is around an hours drive from Daegu and is situated in the heart of the Kaya Mountains. This hotel truly impressed me as my first glimpse of it was on an early morning , after substantial snow.

 

Kayasan Hotel in snow

 

View from the hotel entrance

Kayasan Hotel entrance

The hotel has a restaurant and cafe, as well as an open-air  bar/cafe, situated next to a small cascading waterfall-feature, which is open in good weather. A couple of smaller restaurants, including an adjoining traditional Korean restaurant, are close-by. The hotel sits right by the entrance to a nature park next to which is a natural history museum containing some very interesting displays.

 

invigorating

 

Dining room

The hotel is large and spacious and the emphasis on white marble and white tiles, both in the facilities and hotels rooms, gives an airy, if not slightly clinical atmosphere. I found the bedrooms a little strange but pleasant. The one we’d booked was simply, a tiled white room with all the facilities you’d expect but an absence of anything soft either in texture or shape – other that is, than the bedding. Looking  thorough the brochure, rooms with western style beds and sofas are available.

 

a western style bedroom (photo from hotel website)

However, at times I was unsure whether or not I was in a hospital, space ship or heaven and had an angel, nurse, or spaceman appeared, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The lounge, restaurant and cafe maintained the white theme, contrasting it occasionally with black tiling, but were tastefully and luxuriously decorated. The hotel design made maximum use of the panoramic views of the mountains both in the lounge, bathhouse and the more expensive bedrooms.

 

The grand lounge and bar

panoramic view similar to the ones provided in the bathhouse

open air cafe/bar

Family room korean style (photo from hotel website) Costing about 143.000 Won per night (70 pounds)

I was eager to use the bathhouse as this was a central feature in the hotels advertising and it looked very inviting. If staying in the hotel, entrance is free and the facility is open from 6 am. Once again, pure white tiling pervaded on floors, walls and ceilings. The changing area was very relaxing and spacious though there was an absence of  relaxation area with the usual TV screen and snacks. In the bathhouse, the most alluring feature were large arched windows that looked out onto the adjacent mountains and the various pools were designed so you could lounge and admire the view. A number of monks were busy scrubbing each other or shaving their heads and given the Heinsa Temple is close-by, monks are regular visitors. Stereotypically, one doesn’t associate a monk’s lifestyle with opulent bathhouses and grand hotels but I would imagine the hotel bathhouse is a wonderful place in which to meditate.

 

The bathhouse (photo from Hotel's brochure)

a large geode in one of the saunas

All the standard  showers and pools were available, as were saunas. Particularly impressive was a jewel sauna (보석 사우나) which contained an enormous geode which I managed to photograph. I’m also sure there was a salt sauna but I actually can’t remember as, so far, I have only visited the bathhouse on one occasion. However, the panoramic views, monks and secluded mountain location, provided a relaxing and invigorating atmosphere.

 

the lounge

one of the crystal displays in the lounge

Location

Kayasan Hotel and surrounding area

Facilities – hotel, bathhouse, restaurants, bar, lounge, out door cafe/bar, sport facility, arranged tours, nearby nature park and museum, numerous restaurants, panoramic views and lots more.

Hotel website – http://www.gayasanhotel.co.kr/ Actually, the photos here are limited and do not do the place justice.

Address – 경북 성주군 수륜면 백운리 1282-4. Tel. (0540) 931-3500 Fax. (054) 931-7771

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