Elwood 5566

Hwang-So Sauna, Song-So, Daegu (황소)

Posted in bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews by 노강호 on September 9, 2010

Hwang-So Sauna (황소) Mega Town Complex, Song-So

First visited November 2008. Last visited on  November  25th 2010. Hwang-So Sauna is misleading because the establishment is a jjimjilbang which of course means it has an adjacent bathhouse (목욕탕). As yet, I haven’t visited the jjimjilbang and so this review is primarily concerned with the bathhouse (목욕탕).

This bathhouse is impeccably clean and modern and the only reason I prefer Migwang is I find the low ceiling in the changing area claustrophobic. Being 1.95cm tall, my head almost touches the ceiling and the changing area by the lockers lack poofes or benches. The actual relaxation area (휴게실) is more comfortable with a normal ceiling and sofas, television a barbers and shoe shine.

The bathhouse (목욕탕) is on the small side with low-level lighting due to the black marble walls. I like the floor as it is a rough texture and unlike many bathhouses, slipping isn’t such a hazard. The central features are three circular pools, a warm pool, (온탕), hot pool (열탕) and a the ever-present e-bente-tang (이벤트탕). Over the three pools, and matching them in size are enormous circular, low output lights. Beside the three circular pools is a therapy pool. At one end is a large cold pool (냉탕) which is accessed by steps which take you up and into the pool without having to clamber. This is the best designed cold pool I have seen and the steps give it a ‘regal’ appeal and very much make the head of the bathhouse a significant feature. Personally, I like a colder pool in summer.

On the far side of the bathhouse as you enter, are various sauna which I have yet to explore and to the right of these, a traditional wooden pool (히노끼탕), and a tepid, shallow pool. The wooden bath temperature was 36 degrees. The temperature of the other pools was mid range, (the gauges weren’t working) with no pool being very warm or very cold. The e-bente-tang (이벤트탕) contained coloured water, on this occasion red which made it look like a Ribena bath.

The therapy pool was very strange and indeed more of an ‘event’ that the e-bente-tang. The jets of water that were supposed to massage your back were quite weak but the pool made the strangest rumbling noise that resonated in your stomach and made you feel on the verge of releasing an enormous fart. Whether or not this was its purpose or it was just noisy, I am unsure.

The atmosphere of the bathhouse was intimate and I like the subdued lighting. However, I have visited this pool when it has been busy and found it too intimate, personally I prefer a larger complex but on my last visit, a weekday morning, there were only three ‘bathers’ and I really enjoyed it.

Plan

Hwang So, Song So, Bathhouse Design (Male)

Location – 3 minutes walk from the Song-So (성서) industrial Complex subway station, actually  on the same road, and situated in the Mega Town complex which also houses the Lotte Cinema.   (Wiki Map link )

Times – 24 hour jjimjilbang and bathhouse.

Facilities – 8th floor, reception,  women’s bathhouse.  Bathhouse and jjimjilbang

Jjimjilbang – to be reviewed

Bathhouse (men) – fifteen  stand up shower facilities and around thirty sitting down shower units, event pool, (이벤트탕), hot pool (열탕), warm pool with jacuzzi (온탕), large cold pool (냉탕) but no swimming is allowed, small tepid pool,  therapy pool and wooden pool (히노끼 탕), various saunas, relaxation area, no poolside sleeping area. Massage and scrub down available. Large changing room, very comfortable and attractive, with television and sofas.  Shoe shine and barbers. Comfortable, bright  ‘powder room.’

Cost – bathhouse 5000 Won, jjimjilbang – . Monthly all-inclusive -.

Others – Parking. Mega Town complex has numerous restaurants and a large seafood buffet restaurant. There is also the cinema and various sports clubs. Very close to E-Marte and Keimyung University )20 minute walk).

Ambiance – relaxing, and intimate though a little small. Black marble, very clean, very comfortable.

Waygukin –  Didn’t see any but I don’t frequent here on a regular basis.

Address – (see wikimap link above)

Hwang-So Updates

A Touch of Tranquility.

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Han-Song Bathhouse (한성) Song-So, Daegu

Posted in bathhouse and jjimjilbang culture, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews by 노강호 on August 12, 2010

Han Song Bathhouse, Song-So, Daegu

(First visited in April 2001 – last visited October 27th 2012) Han Song is not the most modern of bathhouses but being the third sauna I ever visited, the other two now closed, it has a special affection for me. It is directly next to the school I worked in when I was in Song-So in 2000 and 2003 and I wallowed in its water every afternoon for a year and from time to time, I still pay it a visit.

It is a smallish sized bathhouse with friendly staff and fresh towels. I have a very sensitive nose and find not all towels smell fresh. I stopped using one gym because its towels smelt of marmite (similar to Australian ‘Vegemite’).  In the bathhouse, the ceiling could do with a clean and some paint here and there and occasionally the drains are a little smelly.  Apart from being a little old, Han-Song  is  clean  and  tidy. One of my favourite amenities here, and one which makes a visit worthwhile, is the salt sauna which has charcoal walls and small logs to sit on though you usually need to drape a towel over them as they can burn your backside.There is also a hot tub usually containing an enormous tea bag of green tea and the temperature is at the hot end for a hot tub.

The changing room, open planned, is bright and clean with large lockers and  central slatted benches. The rest area is again open planned with comfortable sofas and a television. There are also adjacent sleeping rooms. Very close to several apartment blocks, Han Song can get busy and it seems frequented by a clientele that are seriously into cleaning. I see much less lazing here and a lot more serious scrubbing with the Italy Towel.

Plan

Han Song, Song So, Next to a small Home Plus Store

Location – from the Mega Town complex, (Lotte Cinema), down towards Keimyung University, passing McDonalds on your left with Baskin Robbins directly opposite. A few minutes work further and you will see a Tesco, Home Plus store, a small one; if you face Home Plus the bathhouse entrance is on your left with a small flower shop at the top of the stairs on the 1st floor (ground floor). The payment booth is on the third floor, next to the women’s bathhouse while the men’s bathhouse is on floor 4.  (Wiki Map link )

Times – Very early morning, around 5.30 – until 8 or 9 pm.  Double check opening and closing times as they occasionally change. It is closed on Tuesdays.

Facilities – bathhouse.

Jjimjilbang – none.

Bathhouse (men) – around 25 stand up shower facilities and around the same number of sitting down shower units, event pool, (이벤트탕) which is a jacuzzi, hot  green tea pool ( 열탕), large cold pool (냉탕), larger jade bath (옥탕), jade steam room, bamboo sauna, salt room (소금방) with charcoal walls, sleeping area with infra-red heating and jade sauna, heated sleeping area.  A television is located in the dry sauna.

Other Amenities – Large relaxation area room (휴게실) with television and sofas.  Sleeping room with blankets and  wooden head rests.  Hairdresser and shoe shine. A sports complex and bowling alley are in the same building.

Cost – 4500 Won often free tickets given for future visits.

Ambiance – relaxing when not busy. Mid-level lighting, could be cleaner but not unpleasant. Great for the salt room!

Address – next to a Tesco, Home Plus convenience store.

Waygukin – Over a 12-year period, I have only ever seen 2 westerners, an American boy and a Mexican student, both back in 2001.

Han Song Updates

November 2012 – update.

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Bathhouses are Gay!

I frequently hear or see this comment and consider it the dumbest a westerner could make! Anyone who comes to Korea and doesn’t try a bathhouse is denying themselves an experience rich in its uniqueness and in its ability to afford you a very intimate glimpse of Korean culture. I have probably attended a bathhouse 3 times a week for a period of almost 4 years and in all that time I have only seen 3 western people in bathhouse, 2 adults and a boy. Neither have the numerous westerners I worked with over this period attended one with me. I am no bathhouse guru and there will be foreigners living in Korea far more experienced in this pursuit than I, but turning to my own culture, we certainly have a terrifying fear of nudity.

In UK schools, the practice of showering after sports was phased out around 15-20 years ago. Cutting the heating bill was a good way to save cash even if it meant that students, especially boys, spent the day putrefying in their own sweat. No one seemed to mind especially as showering was only ever enforced when one started puberty and felt uncomfortable being naked. And one common feature of many schools was that boys usually had to undress in front of each other while girls were often, but not always, afforded some privacy.  From my own experiences and conversations with other men, there is an agreement that male changing  rooms are often charged with a bizarre juxtaposition of the erotic and aggressive.  When I last taught in an English High School, around 2003, I had to take several classes of boys preparing for swimming lessons. Each boy was equipped with the most enormous towel  of sufficient proportions to cover a single bed.  I have several female friends who told me stories about convent life where, after sport or swimming, girls were required to shower in, and undress, under large smocks designed to hide their bodies. This was exactly the same except this wasn’t a catholic school! It wasn’t even Church of England. Most of the boys were around thirteen or fourteen and their bodies were still puny but hidden from the neck down, the material enveloped them twice and doubly guaranteed that not the slightest naked thigh, knee or even elbow should be inadvertently exposed. All the boys were skilled at holding secure the neck of their towelling  smock from within its confines, while the remaining free hand, buttocks, hips and knees, shimmied their underwear off and then pulled on their swimming shorts – and this in the reverse order when changing back into uniform. Some boys were unfortunate enough to have restrictive, ordinary size towels and if they slipped or were  insufficient to hide their bodies and they were exposed, not only were they mortified but so too was any boy who happened to glimpse what lay under that towel. Then a string of accusations were spat forth declaring the observed and any unfortunate observers,  ‘gay.’  In Britain, certainly among school boys, to either see another boy’s dick or for yours to be seen, implies homosexuality. This juvenile attitude is similar to the ones levied at Korean bathhouses and seems to be a western attitude rather than one confined to British men. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

if you think bathhouses are ‘gay’ you totally misunderstand Korean social practices

To be honest, in Britain, I too find nudity or even semi nudity uncomfortable. We seem adept at criticizing the bodies of others and many of us, myself included, have been imbued with various attitudes towards the body and nudity. Ironically, I feel more human as a naked,  fat foreigner,  in a Korean bathhouse, than I do wearing shorts in a British swimming pool.  In addition to our internalized assumptions about bodies, we conflate both nudity with sex and same-sex nudity with homosexuality. I am sure that something sexual must  occasionally occur in Korean bathhouses,  probably in specific bathhouses, but I have never witnessed anything of a sexual nature.

My first experience of bathhouse culture was in 2001, when I was visiting Masan with friends. I was asked which three things I’d like to do before leaving Korea. I replied: I wanted to try dog stew, silk worm and go to a bathhouse. My stomach almost hit the floor when my friend smiled and told me we’d probably visit a bathhouse that very afternoon. The whole experience terrified me but I swallowed my pride and went through with it and then, when back in Daegu, I made myself go to other establishments. I still feel a little uneasy entering a bathing complex probably as I have a negative image of my own body but I have never been made to feel uncomfortable. Koreans will all peak at you but once they’ve looked you up and down you blend in with the other clientele. As usual, if you should make eye contact with them while they are peaking, they will instantly look away.

On the streets of Korea the novelty of foreigners is rapidly declining and I find my presence attracts far less attention than it did 10 years ago. I find it boring that my presence on the street is almost non eventful though I would imagine in rural areas we are still  a novelty.  Most establishments, bars, restaurants, shops etc, have learned to accommodated foreigners. In many restaurants, menus  are available in Korean and English but ten years ago you were only likely to find this in fast food restaurants. I can even remember Pohang bus terminal’s arrival and departure board only being in Korean. If you want to experience the Korea relatively unchanged  by the presence of westerners then bathhouses are an ideal location. I am still fascinated by this cultural phenomenon as it has afforded me a far deeper insight into Korean life than probably any other experience. Bathhouses expose not just our bodies but the differences between the Korean and western psyche. Most obvious of course, is the attitude to nudity. I would imagine Korean’s have seen every permutation possible in the human body before they even reach their teens and the traumas our teenagers associate with puberty are minimized in Korea. Also exposed is the level of intimacy that Koreans share not just with their immediate family but with friends and strangers. That horrid male macho-ism that is magnified when western males are in changing rooms or semi naked, a mechanism used to assert masculinity as well as heterosexuality, is absent in a Korean context.  To get naked with your friends doesn’t require mitigating the homosexual implications by playing some aggressive sport beforehand. Koreans can sit close to each other, touch each other and even clean each other without any fears of being misunderstood. The most exposed behaviour though, and one that would shock many westerners, is the intimacy shared between fathers and their sons as well as older men and younger people in general. I doubt there are many westerners who would allow their 10-year-old to go to a bathhouse unaccompanied let alone allow them to have an intimate scrub down by  a bathhouse attendant who may very well be a stranger to that child. This situation was highlighted several years ago when a youth taekwondo team visiting from the UK was put in a very awkward position when their hosts took the British kids and instructors to  a bathhouse.  How do you explain to Koreans that in your culture, this activity would be illegal and that  children and adults naked together, even if immediate family, is treated with great suspicion and constitutes one enormous taboo.

Cooling off

The most interesting aspect of a bathhouse experience is that it not only exposes Korean culture to the foreign observer, but also exposes you  to the nature of your own culture and encourages you to reflect on many taken for granted assumptions and practices. Using bathhouses has given me a deeper insight into both Korean and British culture.  On my return to Korea after a holiday, my first task is to take myself into a bathhouse.  I have come to perceive communal bathing  and the intimacy  practiced around it as natural and certainly healthy, both physically and mentally and concurrently, I have come to realise the  unhealthy nature of western attitudes where natural human relationships have been moralised if not perversified. To deem bathhouses ‘gay’ is a moral statement in that it suggests ‘not natural,’ ‘wrong’ and ‘unhealthy.’ In the UK, we have already embarked on a brave new future where the most innocent of associations with a minor is suspect and where even the most checked, verified and scrutinized professionals have to be permanently policed.  In Britain, I do not think we are too distant from a future where any form of communication with a minor, outside that of the  family and school, will be classified as a potential crime and sufficient to call the police.

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Where am I Going? Friday 20th October 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Korean Accounts Part 1, South Korea by 노강호 on October 23, 2000

My flight to Seoul wasn’t too bad, it took around 12 hours and I flew across to the Baltic Sea, then across Russia, over Mongolia where we banked to the south and flew across China towards Beijing. Descending, we flew over the Yellow Sea and down into the sprawling metropolis of Seoul. I was very lucky to get a seat by the emergency exit and though I could stretch out my legs, I could hardly move in my seat as the arm rests were so narrow. The flight arrived at 1650 on the Thursday afternoon. After wandering around the arrivals for ages, I eventually bumped into Mr Young Won Lee and a Korean woman called Christine. Mr Lee introduced himself and using his mobile phone telephoned a driver who is to take Christine ( a Korean Letterland Teacher) and I to a hotel, somewhere in Seoul.  The weather was very mild and not much different to the autumn temperatures I’d left behind in the UK.

On the Friday, suffering from jetlag, I ate breakfast which consisted of rice and fish and then had to carry my heavy baggage some distance to the Letterland school. Even though it was early in the morning, perhaps 8.00am, the humidity was uncomfortable and I could feel sweat trickling down my spine. The pavements were uneven and curled up and down small hills and all around me the city was busily gearing up for a days work.  Once we arrived at the school, I spent the entire day being ferried by car to four English language schools that the Letterland people were trying to coax to work with their system. I think I was used as a native English speaker to make their credentials look good. On several occasions, while sat in front of school bosses, I nodded asleep. In one school I had to read to a class of 6 or 7 year olds and was asked to pronounce certain words to them. I could hardly keep my eyes open. It was all very confusing as no one had welcomed me or told me what I was supposed to be doing and no one seemed competent or willing to answer my questions.  I had been told back in the UK, I was to teach in Ilsan but could find little or no information about where this was but was most disconcerting was none of the Koreans seemed sure was I was going. As the proverbial mushroom, kept in the dark and fed on shit, I was ferried between one school and another with no idea of the purpose of visits. Finally, at almost seven in the evening, exhausted, I was taken to Kimpo International Airport. Christine, who spoke very little English and yet was, at least I assumed, an English language teacher, was unable to answer my questions and I only knew I was arriving at an airport by seeing airport traffic. Suddenly, her mobile phone rang and after a brief conversation I was told I am to fly to Daegu where I will find my school. At first I thought this was in another part of Seoul; I’d never heard of Daegu and was totally bewildered considering I thought I was to be teaching in Ilsan. It is only when I am being pushed into the departure lounge, Chrstine stood waving  goodbye, that I realise my 35 minute flight is to take me way beyond Seoul.

Daegu from the top of E-Mart. November 2000

Daegu is the third largest city in South Korea and lies in the central southern part of the peninsula, above Pusan and Masan. That much I gleaned from the in-flight magazine. It was already dark as we flew into Daegu and the small town I had envisaged was a sprawling city.  At Daegu I was met by a young Korean man called Tony who drove me to the Shane English School where I met my new boss, Mr Jo. I looked around the school and then went for dinner with him to a bulgogi restaurant. Luckily, we didn’t sit on the floor as I had done for the last two meals. Afterwards, Tony drove me the short distance to my house which I am sharing with a man called Nana who though from Canada, is Ghanese. Nana was away for the weekend and so I had time to get used to the apartment and to familiarise myself with this part of the town.

Today (October 23) is my first attempt at writing my diary. On the way to work today I called in at a Taekwon do school which I might join. I think it’s a World Taekwondo (WTF) Federation school rather than an International Taekwon-do (ITF) Federation school but this is okay as I would quite like to learn this system. I hope they will be able to get me a dobok (suit) suit though they will probably have to have it made specially.

I spent this first morning of my new life in Korea, a Saturday morning wandering around the area known as Song-So, and totally in awe I was. Though I’m sure poverty exists here, as it does everywhere, so far I haven’t witnessed any and there are no horrid smells at all. The toilets are very clean as are the roads and pavements and apart from some crappy sidewalks and the odd bit of construction work, it is very comparable with the UK. In fact my flat is of a better quality than my house in the UK. My immediate area is primarily high rise buildings all with enormous neon hordings or banners emblazoned with bold Korean characters. I very quickly got lost and later discovered I had been walking around a one large block of buildings. It was very difficult to get my bearings.

My apartment consists of two fairly large bedrooms, a kitchen come dining room a washroom and utility room and a balcony. The balcony runs all the way around the apartment, there is also a small hall. It is a very clean place though it lacks any windows in my bedroom which look onto the outside world. The flat is only five minutes walk from my school and is close to a KFC and MacDonald’s.

My boots have been smelly and I’m pleased I put some odour eaters in them before I left the UK. I’ve eaten very well and so far all my meals have been paid for by one person or another. The only inconvenience has to sit cross-legged on the floor. The food is excellent and consists of all sorts of condiments and pickles such as kimchi a sort of pickled cabbage leaf. Koreans eat garlic raw and dip it into a sort of chilli sauce and everyone’s breath stinks so I don’t feel out of place.

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.
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