Elwood 5566

Bathhouse Basics (17) – the Hwang-to Bang

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on May 6, 2012

the exterior of a hwangto-bang in a jjimjilbang

My first experience of a hwangto-bang was in 2000 when I visited a traditional Korean makgeolli house, in mid-winter, which had an adjoining sauna. Hwangto-bang can be quite crude constructions consisting simply a small  shell of dry loess clay (yellow mud) which has floor heating and in which you lounge, sometimes, fully clothed – as I did in this one.   The saunas are dry as opposed humid or steamy, however, they can also be very elaborate: Wonderful Spaland, in Wolbae, Daegu, one of my favourite bathhouses, has a two tier hwangto-bang the upper part of which can accommodate about 10 people sleeping while underneath are a number of individual  ‘cells.’

a group of ‘ajummas’ relaxing in a hwangto-bang

The western name for the clay, loess, derives from the German for ‘loose.’ Its specific and most prized characteristic is that when warm, loess emits infra-red rays and a sauna constructed of loess warms the body from inside, unlike other saunas which heat from outside. The loess sauna is believed to be beneficial detoxifying the body and balancing blood pressure and weight.

loess powder

Sometimes the walls of hwangto-bang are simply clay plaster which is highly porous while at other times more resilient glazed tiles form the floor and walls (황석방). Hwangto-bang appear, not just alongside the occasional traditional Korean bar or restaurant, but in both bathhouses (목욕탕) and jjimjilbang (쨤질방).

Apart from its use in soap, face packs, pillows, loess is also used to make a dye which is often used in traditional, causal clothes which have a distinct, yellow colour.

a range of products dyed by loess

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Bathhouse Basics – The No-ch’eon (노천)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on July 2, 2011

a wintry mountain no-ch'eon (노천)

No-ch’eon are one of my favourite types of facility though my experience of the proper type is limited. A real no-ch’eon is a bathing facility fully exposed to the elements and often using a hot spring as a source of water. They are rural and located in scenic settings and though some are male and female together, and require bathing costumes, others involve being au naturel. Usually, no-ch’eon are an external part of a bathhouse or a jjimjilbang so if it is part of the jjimjilbang it will require a costume, and if part of a bathhouse, you go naked.

winter, snow and ice bring an added dimension to the no-ch'eon

I doubt there's any poolside sleeping here

I first experienced a real no-ch’eon in the winter of 2007, while staying in a small island off the west coast. We visited a sea-water bathhouse on several occasion, one of them being 3 am in the morning and from the bathhouse you could go outside and enjoy either a hot or cold pool. Sitting in a hot pool in mid December during a snow storm at 4 am in the morning was an awesome experience and all that was missing was the makalli or champagne.

The appeal of the no-ch’eon is the combination of the elements, scenic settings and nature and to this purpose the ‘furniture’ can only be but natural. You can expect to see plenty of cypress pine (hinokki) with even the water vents being  made of wood. I don’t yet know the name for these but they are a fairly common feature in bathhouses. Hot spring water, a natural source, is commonly used and coastal no-ch’eon will use sea-water.

does anyone know the name or origin of these?

this no-ch'eon (enclosed), is at Na Seong Hawaii, Daegu

For an experience predominantly governed by the whims of the weather, the partially enclosed no-ch’eon falls way short of the real thing however, they too, can be very enjoyable when a cool, or cold wind drifts across your skin. These no-ch’eon tend to have large, milky-glassed windows or even sliding doors beyond which probably lays slatted wooden panels. Usually built on the corner of the building, they are ideal for trapping and directing any breeze.

wish I was there

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Outed by the Makgeolli

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, bathhouse Basics, Comparative, Diary notes, podcasts by 노강호 on April 14, 2011

podcast 79

I’ve had some interesting experiences coming out which isn’t too surprising given I was in the British Army at a time when anything but normal was illegal and stepping out the closet risqué. Despite twice being implicated and subsequently made the subject of inquiry by that branch of British military affairs that investigates crime, notably the SIB (Special Investigation Branch), I was never charged even though I naively admitted my inclinations. In retrospect, this was probably because in my military band of some 25 musicians, quite a few had ‘meddled’  and  the ‘brass’ were always afraid of exposing too much as investigations tended to encourage soldiers to seek a discharge. Then there was the risk of scandal! With a history of 300 years and all the tradition to boot, such noted members as Baden Powell and Lawrence Edward Grace Oates, a famous cavalry regiment didn’t want egg on its face.  My autobiography, All the Queen’s Men, narrating many of the anecdotes of an ‘out’ soldier at a time of repression, was published by GMP in 1999. I think it’s now out of print.

Koreans seem to forget the fact British regiments fought in the Korean War

After the army, I spent 10 years teaching and certainly, for the first five years, had to be careful about providing students or staff too many personal details. I was an out in two schools when most were trembling in the closet and in both schools attitudes were challenged and changed by my presence.  One principal lambasted me for outing myself, claiming I should never have mixed private with professional, meanwhile his wife’s photo is on his desk and that morning he had mentioned his family in assembly. He is still the school’s principal and I often wonder if his attitudes have genuinely changed.

In Korea, for obvious reasons, I am quiet about my past and though civil rights are on their way, along with more insidious western influences, I am defensive when Korean attitudes are criticised. Korea is homophobic in a Korean way but much of that homophobia was instilled by western influences as well as the Choson upper classes.  Korea, like Japan and China, tolerated and even romanticised same sex relationships’ and primary sources from the Silla and Koryo dynasties survive to attest this. In particular, the Hwa Rang provides the best examples of homosexuality in ancient Korea. Naturally, the subject is more complex and convoluted than I make it appear.  Christianity in particular swept the evidence from the history books and turned the subject into a taboo with as much success as is evident in British schools when ancient Greek history is taught senza anything sexual. Christianity’s arcane moral legacy is still influential.

 

the legacy of the Hwa-rang lives on

Coming out in the UK has become boring! It not only used to shock people, which was always amusing, but provided a useful means of measuring a potential friends attitudes and the extent of their conservatism. Today, all the former bigots have been suppressed and though they all claim to be okay with your sexuality, you know they often find it objectionable.  I spent a few years working for an LGBT organisation and regularly attended forums organised by the police which focused on ‘hate crime.’ Not wanting to be left in the cold, the forums were a bizarre mish-mash comprising the most conservative elements of society. The worst, as would be expected, were the religious groups; bastions of institutionalized and established bigotry, against a broad range of people, seeking to protect their bigotry by promoting the idea that any criticism of their practice constitutes a persecution. In particular, Muslims have been quick to advance their agenda by virtue of democratic process they would most likely deny others if they had political power.  Of course such obvious contradictions and machinations can never be voiced and instead have to be shaded behind that sickeningly friendly facade for fear of transgressing the dictates of political correctness. The Jews at such meetings didn’t like the Muslims, the Muslims didn’t like the Jews, and they all hated the gays.  I can only invite your speculation as to how they viewed those present who were transsexual or transgendered.  We are living in volatile times when a change in regime, and a change in ideology could so very quickly reverse attitudes. It will take many years before most people are fundamentally accepting and currently, the apparent acceptance is for many a veneer.

I’ve never felt Koreans have hatred towards ‘alternative lifestyles,’ they just don’t seem to understand them and as a practice is doesn’t fit their family obsessed social order.  I wouldn’t fear being gay bashed here anymore than I’d fear being mugged and I certainly don’t detect the same rabid hatred for gay people as I still witness back home. British school children in particular, are extremely homophobic. Nonetheless, I would imagine being different on the peninsula, totally sucks.

I’ve only ever outed myself to a couple of Korean friends and despite being Christian, they were fine about it. Many foreigners assume Koreans are homophobic and many will be, but ten years ago I randomly met two Korean at random, who became good friends and to whom I subsequently came out. I think it says much about Korean attitudes when one is now my boss and the other would happily employ me in his school.  My boss never initiates a discussion about the issue while  while the  other can do so happily and on occasion makes friendly jokes about the clandestine side of my personality. Nor do I suspect they have gossiped to others though I am not sure this is because of shame or out of loyalty – ironically  ‘faith’ (신) between friends is both one of the five Hwa Rang commandments and one of the five laws of Confucianism. The fear of losing the friendship of other Koreans prevented me broadening my circle of confidants.  Ji-won is one such friend. I hadn’t planned to come out to him but his professed hatred for gays, though he didn’t seem genuinely ‘ hateful,’ as he was narrating a story to me, prompted me to expose my true nature.

Ji-won

So, in a bar on a Saturday evening,  surrounded by a growing battery of empty makgeolli bottles, he is telling me about his travel in Australia. On a visit to Sydney, some guy had run up to him and declaring undying love, kissed him on the cheek and as quickly as appearing, disappeared. Knowing Ji-won’s luck he’d probably arrived in Sydney during the Mardi Gras and in that typical Korean innocence, one of the world’s great gay events would have been perceived as anything but gay.  I can understand his confusion; with all the same-sex, hand-holding, shoulder clasping and general skinship-fondling coupled with the fashions of skinny camp pretty boys, it is easy to see the similarity between every day experiences on the streets of Korea and a gay Mardi Gras. On my fist day in Korea I thought I was in gay heaven until I discovered they were all straight, from then it was all downhill.

Though I tried to pacify him and help him perceive the experience from a different perspective, because I certainly wasn’t planning to come out, he remained adamant.  Ji-won is almost on a rant, which demanding passion is unique for a Korean. ‘But he kissed me! I wanted to punch him!’ He threw what looked like a punch to add emphasis but it wasn’t very nasty. He is one of the gentlest men I know and his punch wouldn’t have knocked the wind out of a school girl.

‘Do you love me!’ he asked but quickly pre-empting my response added, do you want to sex me?’ Of course not, I told him but meanwhile I was thinking how I’d love to if it weren’t for the disappointing fact he’s straight and I’m 25 years his senior – actually, I’m the same age as his dad. Poor Ji-won claims he’s never met any gay men so I tell him that one of my friends whom he’d met ten years ago, and with whom we’d gone to a bathhouse, was gay. ‘Really!?’ he inquires. ‘And do you remember Nick who you met in 2004?’ And with whom we also went to a bathhouse. ‘He was too!’  For any westerner, the coin would have dropped but Ji-won’s Korean psyche prevents him reaching the conclusion my revelation is supposed to prompt.

The makgeollii, and we’d drunk five bottles between us, was taking effect but so was the nature of the conversation and I could feel myself trembling.  ‘What if I was?’ I asked. ‘Would you want to hit me?’  Ji-won tells me this is a stupid idea because he knows me so well and besides, it’s just not true. ‘After all,’ he continues. ‘You once told me you weren’t married because you preferred being single.’ I laughed heartily. ‘Yes, and you believed me! But what if I was? Would you hate me, too?’

Ji-won and I: the usual Saturday evening English lesson. 2001

I’ve known Ji-won for over 10 years and taught him every Saturday for a year during his final year of high school. Both he and his father, Jun-hee refer to me as their ‘dick friend’ (고추 친구) and I’ve often heard them on their mobiles telling friends they’re with their ‘English go-chu chin-gu.’ Back in 2000 Jun-hee ran a large restaurant and every Saturday evening my evening meal was on the house. His wife, Sun-hee made the most delicious mandu, great big fat ones stuffed with minced meat and there was always a vat of home brewed dong-dong-ju sitting in the fridge. Leaving Korea in 2001 was a nightmare and my last visit to their restaurant, like a funeral. Ji-won had bought a new suit  in which to say goodbye and we were all crying. He gave me a present of his high school name badge and it remains one of my most treasured possessions and Hyun-chun, his younger sister gave me a beautiful little picture frame.  Meanwhile, Jun-hee and Sun-hee gave me a large box of kimchi in which lies another story!

Saying goodbye in late summer of 2001

One the eve of my departure back to England, late summer 2001

I’d always regretted the fact they didn’t know the real me especially as I’d already come out to two other  Koreans. My friendship with Jun-hee and his family was always more important than my sexuality and the rewards my silence provided outweighed the potential risks of  revealing it. I always wanted to let Jun-hee and Ji-won into my little secret as much as I’ve wanted to tell them that the box of kimchi they’d given me ten years ago, had to be thrown in the bin at Daegu railway station; it was simply too big and cumbersome to carry back to England and it would never have passed as hand baggage. Putting it into a bin was as heart wrenching as saying goodbye to them.

Jun-hee, Sun-hee, Hyun-chon, Ji-won in 2001

Our session continues, this time with a bottle of schizandra berry makgeollii (oh-mi-ja – 오미자) which as a ‘well being’ makgeolli, can be guzzled without guilt. Ji-won is still insisting I couldn’t be gay and suddenly I hear myself announcing…‘I am.’ I had every intention of retracting my confession but when I try to I suddenly realise I’d left it too late and that to do so would just leave him with a niggling suspicion. Ji-won is stunned and for a few moments is silent. ‘You are?’ Then, after realizing the truth, thirty seconds of utterly bewildered head shaking; the typical Korean type of dumbfounded head-shaking accompanied by one hand rubbing the head. All he can mutter is, ‘Oh my God!’

More makgeolli and several hours later and we pick up a few cans of beer in the local GS 25. I’m concerned that after the buzz of alcohol has worn off he might not talk to me again but the fact he wants to come back to my one room is consoling. That he wants a few sausages for a snack would have added to the consolation in a British context but for Koreans the point at which a cock and a sausage mentally exist before they collide into fnarr-fnarr humour, is infinitely greater. Maybe it was the makkalli or the fact we’d discussed gay stuff all evening, but on this occasion they collide. ‘Do you want your sausages hot or cold?’ he asks. ‘Why, hot of course! Don’t you like your sausages hot?’ I hold one before his mouth like a microphone; it’s sheathed in plastic and a stick has been viciously rammed into its center so you don’t have to get your hands messy. With a laugh he adds, ”I like hot sausage for eating, but not sexing.’  Yea! Me too! A voice inside my head regretfully sighs.

The following week I give him a call and we meet up. Our friendship has not changed and if anything, is probably deeper. Sat in a coffee shop he apologised for not having any secrets he can tell me but claims to know lots of local gossip. And meanwhile, he intends testing out his father’s reactions so I can eventually come out to him. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait another ten years.

 

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Bathhouse Basics (14) The Massage Pool (안마탕)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse Basics, Health care by 노강호 on March 20, 2011

one variety of massage pool (안마탕)

The an-ma-tang (안마탕 – massage pool) appears in various guises. In some bathhouses this can be a large pool with a wide variety of hydrotherapy ‘stations.’ In such bathhouses large massage-baths will provide water massage to every part of the body including the soles of your feet. Usually they consist of some form of cubicle in which you stand or lay and after activating a button, are subject to powerful jets of water which will massage a particular area. Smaller pools produce massage jets at a lower intensity and over which you have to maneuver whatever part of your body is in need of treatment.  Sometimes the pool has only one activation button and so the experience is shared while other pools have a number of individual births in which you lay and your own activation button.

power showers, ideal for relieving tense back and neck muscles

These pools are great for treating muscular problems though for spinal related aches and pains, cold pools often have a very powerful shower that once activated you can move under to allow your spine and back to be thoroughly pummeled. There is a great variety in the nature of massage pools ranging from ones that are little other than jacuzzi, to ones that seem to vibrate intensely and rumble you internal organs producing an effect that feels like your are about to produce an enormous fart, to others which are powerful enough to give you an enema should you inadvertently put your backside in the line of fire.

individual massage ‘births’

In Song-So, West Daegu, Migwang  (미광) has a small massage pool but an excellent power shower in the cold pool. Hwang-So (황소) has a small  ‘rumble’ type pool with 4 individual ‘berths.’ Meanwhile, the new jjimjilbang in Dasa (다사), Hyu-Rim-Won (휴림원), which is a short taxi or subway ride from Song-So Industrial Complex, has a very large and complex massage pool.

relaxing

an-ma-tang (안마탕)

and with a window view

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Bathhouse Basics (13) – The Ice Room (어름방)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics, Daegu by 노강호 on March 11, 2011

chill!

I don’t use the ice room (어름방 or 어름굴) much during the winter but in summer it is a heavenly sanctuary. An  ice room, which can appear in both a jjimjilbang (찜질방) or in a bathhouse (목욕탕), is a bit of a specialty and many do not have them. However, the chances are that one exists in your area. In the Song-So area of Daegu, Migwang (미광) has ice rooms in both the jjimjilbang and bathhouse (mogyoktang).

In the summer months ice rooms are usually iced up and scrapping off the ‘snow’ and rubbing it over your face is an exhilarating experience more so when you appreciate that outside the temperature is that of a muggy sauna.

a large jjimjilbang ice room

chilly

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Bathhouse Basics (12) – The Salt Sauna 소금방

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on February 8, 2011

purging the skin

Salt saunas can be found in both bathhouse and jjimjilbang and they are one of my favourite destinations. They tend to be a slightly specialist facility which means you won’t find them in every establishment. You will find the salt experience differs between that offered in a bathhouse and that in a jjimjilbang. Jjimjilbang salt saunas often have walls and or ceilings made from rock salt or they have a large area filled with coarse rock salt in which you can submerse your limbs and body and enjoy the radiant warmth. In a bathhouse, a salt sauna usually has large pot of salt which you rub over your body allowing the salt to  both scrub and purge you skin clean. The bathhouse salt room is often combined with other properties as it may, for example, have jade or bamboo charcoal walls walls.

these salt saunas contain rock salt walls and large grain, pebble size salt on which you lay

a salt sauna with walls made of rock salt

a typical jjimjilbang salt sauna

The bathhouse salt sauna is one of my favourite places and you really do feel clean after rubbing your body with salt and then allowing it to dissolve as you sweat. I usually take a small bowl of water in with me as this helps to make the salt cling to your body and don’t forget to take a towel or large scrubbing cloth in with you as often the seats are wooden and they can burn your backside.

a bathhouse style salt sauna

As a point of interest, salt is very useful at removing smells and in a Korean market you can buy fresh mackerel which has been sprinkled in salt which you then wash off before cooking – it reduces the smell of the fish as it cooks. I’m not sure however, how well this works on body odours!

 

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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 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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Bathhouse Basics (9): – The Hot bath (열탕)

Posted in bathhouse Basics, Daegu by 노강호 on September 29, 2010

 

A typical yeol-tang (열탕)

The yeol-tang, (열탕) is the hottest bath in a bathhouse with temperatures somewhere between 38-48 degrees. As always with pools that are at the extremes, bathhouses often keep them at around specific temperatures and these may vary depending on the season. Hence the hottest and coldest pools vary between establishments. If you have aching muscles, for example, you might prefer the hotter end of the scale.

 

Having fun in a yeol tang

Sometimes yeol-tang are built with health inducing stone and in some cases plated with gold or silver, in which case they will be small. The most common stone is probably jade. Sometimes they may also have a jacuzzi or contain medicinal herbs in which case they may be called a han-yak-tang (한약탕), but this may not necessarily be the hottest pool.

 

a hot pool in a golfing complex

Among the various bathhouses in Song-So, Daegu,  Migwang (미광) has one of the hottest yeol-tang which is usually between 48-50 degrees, whereas Hwang-So (황소) is usually much cooler but recently the temperature gauges have not been working. Han -Seong (한성) for many years had a very hot han-yak-tang but in the last few months the temperature has been lowered and the largest pool, with an intermittent jacuzzi, has been designated the hottest pool. I don’t know if it is intentional, but Samjeong Oasis (삼정 오아시스), at Yong-San-Dong,  has a yeol-tang which seems to operate between  between two temperatures and when the pool cools to a certain temperature, it suddenly heats up.

 

relaxing

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Bathhouse Basics (8): The ‘Special Event Pool’ (이벤트탕)

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouse Basics by 노강호 on September 19, 2010

a ‘special event pool’ (이벤트탕)

I’ve always found e-bente-tangs to be the biggest disappointment in bathhouses and always a tongue-in-cheek anti-climax. I can remember sitting in e-bente-tangs in the past, waiting for something to happen and rarely anything did. Most often, the ‘event’ I anticipated was already in play. Don’t let the title mislead you, e-bente-tang are much like the ‘Korean holiday,’ or ‘final exam,’ by which I mean they are usually the opposite of what they claim to be.

Special event pools outside

E-bente-tang are smaller sized pools which are usually mid range in terms of temperature and which  have some added feature  such as: coloured or scented water or coloured lighting radiating from within the pool. They may also uses a combination of features or have  the capabilities of a jacuzzi.The most frequent colours are green, red or blue and the most common scents are ginseng, lavender, berry, herb, mugwort (쑥) and pine.

Coloured water ‘event’ pools’

Despite being less eventful than the name suggests, e-bente-tang are great places to relax and are often one  of the pools in which you can languish for long periods without getting too hot or cold. The addition of coloured water or aromas adds  a touch of pampering to the experience.

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