Elwood 5566

Update on Han Song Bathhouse (한성) Daegu

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouse Ballads, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu by 노강호 on November 5, 2012

As far as bathhouses go, Han Song, near MacDonald’s, in Song-so, is pretty insignificant. It’s neither large nor impressive and is only a bathhouse and as such is closed after 10.pm.

My only reason for writing about Han-Song Sauna is that it is the only bathhouse in the area that was operating when I first arrived in Korea in the summer of 2000. It is of personal significance because it was the third sauna I visited, the first which I was to visit on a regular basis and it stood right next to my first hagwon. I visited every working day for eight months. In Korea, where businesses come and go so quickly, such staying power is an exception even more so when you consider the two attendants in the Sauna foyer as well as the shoe shine man, were all working here back in 2000.

Han-Song Sauna (한성) in Song-So, Daegu.

Nostalgia is the only thing that brings me back to Han-Song, usually on a yearly basis. I’m amazed it is still open because I don’t think a single won has been spent on its maintenance in 12 years. I imagine its persistence is due to the loyalty, or laziness of the residents of nearby apartment blocks.

My last visit was 13 months ago and I remembered it being grotty. This time however, my visit actually made me feel dirtier rather than cleaner. The hinges on sauna doors are totally rusted and the ceiling, corroded,  is a mass of flaky blisters. Several air vents in the ceiling, totally rusted, are simply dirty brown holes.  There is a stone slab in the steam room under which I used to stick my used chewing gum, five years ago! The slab of seating, a sort of black marble, is still loose and the gum, still visible and still pliant. Notices I used to try to decipher, 11 years ago, now have missing letters or are so faded you can’t read them. The place is grim, dank and worn and yet I still feel comfortable, even with the flaky roof ceiling overhead.

The gutters running alongside the pools are caked in what looks like a yellowy to grey sludge except when you poke it with your big toe, you discover it’s solid and some form of scale.

Han-Song is a about as washed out as you can get and I’d be surprised if such conditions aren’t in breach of some regulations – but maybe not as Korean hygiene tends to throw up some strange anomalies. For example, people will spend a good hour scrubbing themselves clean and will choose to do some in such a nasty ambiance when only five minutes walk down the road is a beautifully luxurious sauna (Hwang-So).

Han-Song needs a makeover. While the pools are still enjoyable the whole experience is spoilt but having to lie looking up at that decaying ceiling and wondering if you can finish your ablutions before it collapses around your ears.

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©Amongst Other Things –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.

For previous review, 12th August, 2010, see here.

Wonderful Spaland – A Little Less Wonderful. Update (1)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu, services and facilities by 노강호 on October 26, 2011

For most of this year, Wonderful Spaland has remained my favourite bathhouse in the west side of Daegu. The allure lay in the heady scents emitted in the Roman Mosaic Steam Room, and the smoky smell of the oak charcoal bath the essences extracted by a process of condensation. Other attractions included a large massage pool, the semi-exposed no-ch’eon (노천) as well as the fact the facilities were impeccably clean and comfortable.

Wonderful Spaland

Last weekend was a bad time to visit. With a major baseball quarter-final in play the baths were packed and at one point I estimated about two hundred people in the pool and shower area. However, most bathers weren’t watching the game but enjoying the massage pool. To compound matters, Saturday had been a ‘play Saturday’ (놀토) and as the majority of students had finished their mid-term exams, there were plenty of kids splashing about and making a noise.

Unfortunately, several changes have occurred in the arrangement of pools which has slightly downgraded my rating of Wonderful Spaland. I know from comments by other readers that the women’s section had the same structure as the men’s area but currently, don’t know if the changes have been applied to one area or both. In my opinion, the changes have removed facilities that gave the establishment  a clear lead over other luxury bathhouses.

The ‘Roman Sauna,’ which formerly had a large structure in the center of the circular room which hissed out the most intoxicating aromas,  has been removed and the floor underneath replaced with mosaic. This was the central feature of the sauna and it felt quite natural to be seated around this, on solid mosaic seats. With the structure removed, and no central focus, it now feels a little odd sitting in a circle. A TV screen now occupies the wall but the circular seating isn’t practical and effectively retires the seating under the TV. I can’t remember if the screen was there before; if it was, its presence was insignificant as one’s interest was dominated by the hissing of the ‘cauldron’ in the center of the room. This sauna has gone from balanced and enjoyable to clumsy and pointless but the mosaic decoration, if any consolation is attractive.

Wonderful Spaland’s luxurious ‘milky bubble tang’

The oak charcoal bath (짬나무/목초탕), the scent of which permeated the entire bathhouse, was formerly in the no’ch’eon area, next to the salt sauna but this has now been replaced by a mud bath. The current charcoal bath is now located in the center of the complex alongside  the ‘event-bath‘ (이벤트탕) and the unique ‘milky bubble bath.’  The charcoal pool is no longer as intense as it was and though its scent is still noticeable as you approach the changing rooms, it no longer lingers on your skin for several days.

The mud bath is nothing to get too excited about and whatever mud is present merely dirties the water.  Perhaps mud baths don’t need to be sloppy and dirty and in all fairness, the only suitable place to locate this facility is by the salt sauna as these also have a shower outside them to hose off excess salt.

In my opinion, while Wonderful Spaland still remains one of the best Saunas in the area though the restructuring knocks it down a notch making it directly comparable to other ‘quality’ bathhouses.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Su-Mok-Won Saeng Hwal On-Ch’eon (수목원 생활온천)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews by 노강호 on July 3, 2011

생활 - 'life, living'

Rating – Luxury

(First visited on 10th June 2011. Last visited on 24th of September 2011) Saeng Hwal instantly became one of my favourite establishments. This is a large complex with numerous facilities though there is no jjimjilbang (찜질방). The reception area on the ground floor is like that of a grand hotel and is large and spacious with sofas and television for relaxation. Grouped around here are numerous shops, manicure, body shop etc, and a pine wood, traditional style café.

Shoes are removed in the reception area, the number for your shoe locker is on your ticket and the key in the shoe locker is the same number for your locker in the changing area. From reception you proceed to your respective areas, women floor 2 and men floor 3.

The men’s changing room is very spacious with sofas and television, the usual snacks and accessories such as ties, socks and toiletries. The fee here is the most expensive I’ve paid, at 6000 Won (£3) but shampoo and shaving foam, as well as the usual toothpaste and soap, are provided in the showering areas. Though there are only around 10 stand up showers, there are 54 sit-down units traversing the left hand wall beyond which is a fairly large jade, ondol (under floor heated) sleeping area with pine walls and wooden head rests (목짐). Beyond this is the no-ch’eon (노천) area which is exposed to outside temperatures.

The Saeng Hwal complex

Traversing the right hand side of the bathing complex are various facilities, a powerful cold shower, a long, two channeled foot bath, each a different temperature. This long, open fronted room has a TV screen at the far end. There then follow a steam room and a dry, pine sauna. The steam sauna was hotter than I usually experience and there were stone benches with a central cold water gully in which to put your feet. TV access was through the central window to the pine sauna. Both saunas were large and lit with subdued lighting.

The massage pooling looking towards the no-ch'eon room

Beyond the saunas lay a decent size cold pool (냉탕) with high Japanese style water-outlet under which you can stand. The head of the bathing complex has a very large massage pool (안마탕) with 8 different types of massage and around 30 individual stations. The pool is interestingly designed and curves around, removing the harshness of angular edges. This format is utilized in some of the central pools and it is interesting to note, stands in direct contrast to the design of the nearby Na-Seong Hawaii. Both establishments are fairly new and whether the opposing features of one bathhouse were transposed into the other, I don’t know but despite their polarised differences, each has its own balance and individual atmosphere.

the roof garden (pool for children open only in summer)

As you enter the bathing complex, a large cold water bath, from which you dash your body with cold water from a small basin, stands in front of you.  Beyond this a  large warm pool (온탕) with cypress wood borders. One of the unfortunate aspects of Saeng Hwal, is the pool ledges are made from a rough granite and though you will not slip on it, it doesn’t do your buttocks any good to swivel! A central TV screen sits in the pool area, as does one in the massage pool. Towards the head of the bathing area, at the far end of the warm pool and on the right, is a semicircular hot pool (열탕). It is fairly small and could fit perhaps three westerners or six Koreans, not because westerners are larger, but because Koreans are not uncomfortable sitting close to each other. Curving around the top edge of this is a  lukewarm bath (미온탕).

a rather interesting herb shop directly next door

There is one area left to describe. In the far left corner, tucked between the far side of the jade sleeping floor, and the left hand side of the massage pool, is no-ch’eon (노천). However, like the no-ch’eon at Wonderful Spa Land and Na Seong Hawaii, it isn’t a proper no-ch’eon, but one exposed to the outside temperature. Real no-ch’eon, found in hot spring resorts, are outside. The Saeng Hwal no-ch’eon however, gave me a real buzz on my first visit when it was empty. To stop heat loss, the entrance is via two doors and inside, volcanic black rock form the lower walls and floor into which two natural hot spring baths are contained. The walls are pine wood or cypress as is a very small sleeping area and a central walk way. Here, in the absence of a TV, you can find real relaxation. There are even some real plants growing in one corner.

large rectangular warm pool, semi-circular hot pool and the lukewarm pool.

I once sat in a real no-ch’eon on my birthday, 30th of December, at something like 4 am in the morning in freezing cold temperatures in a snow storm. I was on a small island on the west coast and the sea water bathhouse was the edge of the sea and with the privacy, it meant you were able to stand up on lean on the wall, and look out at the numerous small islands dotted about. I would imagine that as summer kicks in and the humidity rises, it will possibly be more comfortable in the bathhouse than in the no-ch’eon but I am unsure. Taking opportunity of the recent cool weather, I decided to visit Saeng Hwal at 11 pm. It is quite strange bathing in a pool that is still a  little busy, and where kids are still playing, at not far short of midnight. I ended up sat in one of the hot no-ch’eon pools talking to a 22-year-old lad who is about to go into the army. I transpires he is the bathhouse owner’s grandson and after chatting for half an hour or so, he disappears in order to get me some complimentary tickets. I was rather hot and sat on one of the cypress wood benches which are dotted around the bathhouse and which are a welcome luxury from the usual white plastic bathhouse furniture.  The lighting is perfect lit by one subdued ceiling lamp and one between the plants on the ground. The cool evening air drifted through the enormous slated windows and was quite a fabulous sensation. I think if the building captures the breeze in such a manner throughout the year, the no-ch’eon might be quite refreshing on a balmy summer evening.

the reception area

Are there any downsides? Well, Saeng Hwal lacks the olfactory orgasm of Wonderful Spa Land and its incredible aromas, and it’s a little short on saunas, with only two, but the no-ch’eon is an experience and the bathhouse has a very relaxing atmosphere.

Getting there –  (Wiki Map link ) (Google Map link). On the 604, Dalseo 1 and Dalseo 4,  bus routes. A short distance, perhaps 15 minutes, from Jinch’eon (진청) subway. Taxi from Song-So Lotte Cinema Complex around 5000 Won.

Daegook and Chin-ch'eon subways (circled L-R) with 'X' marking Saeng Hwal. The green dot to the right is nearby Na-Seong Hawaii Sauna

The distance between sauna is a few minutes and indeed you can see one from the other

Times – 24 hour for the bathhouse.

Facilities – parking, fitness, climbing wall, basement ‘chambers,’ health related shops, traditional style café.

Bathhouse (men) – 12 stand up showers and 54 sit down units.  A large and deep warm pool (온탕) with cypress wood sides, hot pool (열탕) and lukewarm bath (미온탕), cold pool (냉탕), and a large massage pool. Pine sauna and steam sauna and jade sleeping floor. Enclosed are exposed to the outside temperature (노천) with two hot spring pools. A separate foot bath.

Cost – 6000 Won (bathhouse)

Others

B1 – 불가마 – kiln rooms yellow earth sauna (황토방). Oriental medicine chamber, Loess chamber, snow room, DVD room, snack room,      Korean food bar and internet corner.

1st Floor – reception, shoe shine, beauty shop, nail and manicure, body shop, sofas, TV and relaxation area.

2nd Floor – Women’s sauna

3rd Floor – Men’s sauna

4th Floor – climbing wall, aerobics, weight training, fitness room

5th Floor – roof garden, children’s pool (summer), general relaxation (노천)

Various interesting shops in the immediate vicinity including a large coffee shop and a very attractive shop, the ‘Herb Store.’

reception and information

Ambiance – very relaxing.

Waygukin – one so far (not friendly)

Address – 대구광역시 달서구 진천동 446  (Google map link) Tel: 053-641-0100

Websitewww.lifespa.kr

Layout (coming)

Updates

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

The Secret World of Bathhouse Interiors

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews by 노강호 on June 19, 2011

It’s always difficult finding photos of bathhouse interiors; the reasons being obvious. However, I have recently discovered how to capture photographs and render them into the correct format. The photographs have been placed in their respective locations but I thought it useful to post them here as they provide a much clearer insight into bathhouse interiors. The additions are for Goong Cheon Lavender, Migwang Spolex and Wonderful Spa Land.

the unique Dead Sea bath at Goong Cheon Lavender

the ice sauna (Goong Cheon Lavender)

Lavender’s cold water cave

Large and spacious changing facilities (Lavender)

Migwang’s sit down shower units

The warm pool with the pine, steam and ice room in the background. A large TV sits above the central circular window (Migwang Spolex)

Wonderful Spaland’s luxurious ‘milky bubble tang’ with two ‘event’ pools in the background

The tiered yellow clay room – for sleeping (Wonderful Spaland)

Wonderful Spaland’s warm pool

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Wonderful Spaland – Where Heaven Comes Cheap (원드풀 스파낸드)

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Daegu, Sport by 노강호 on June 12, 2011

on the opposite side of the roof are the large golfing nets – visible from quite a distance

 (First visited on May 20th 2011. Last visited on 15th September 2012) You know  a bathhouse can be designated ‘luxury’ when you visit on consecutive days,  even when you are impeccably clean, and during your stay spend substantially more time in the pools and saunas than engaged in ablutive processes.  It’s my opinion, but currently,  I consider Wonderful Spaland,  Wol-Seong-Dong, as one of the best bathhouses in Daegu, and certainly what I would rank as a’ luxury bathhouse’ where one goes to relax, spend time with friends and do more than simply get clean. It’s failing are few and trivial. First, it isn’t a 24 hour establishment and second, it has no jjimjilbang. I can live with that! However, it does have several floors dedicated to golf, a large fitness center and besides being impeccably clean, is fairly new.

entrance

I often joke about how bathhouse ‘event pools’ are event-less. Personally, pretty coloured water, even with a few bubbles gurgled through it, doesn’t constitute much of an event. And so often, the added aromas  are scent-free. In Wonderful Spaland you can expect a surprise and on my last visit the scent of one pool lingered on my skin for a few days.

Wonderful Spaland’s luxurious ‘milky bubble tang’ – the yellow clay sauna is on the left and the Roman mosaic sauna to the right

The tiered yellow clay room – for sleeping

The Wonderful complex is slightly on the edge of the built up area of Wol-Seong-Dong and noticeable by the green golfing nets on its roof. A large foyer on the ground floor, next to a Paris Baguette, welcomes visitors. The changing area (male) is bright and very spacious with decent size lockers, barbers and shoe shine. This is probably one of the largest bathhouses I’ve been to and there are plenty of areas to enjoy. The event pool was a ruby-red brew of intense red ginseng opposite which was ‘milky bubble bath’ with beautifully silky soft water. The bath really does look like a vat of milk. Other pools included hot (열), warm (온) and a second event pool, which on various visits has included lavender and mugwort additives.  The largest pool (안마) comprises about 25 massage facilities with 6 different types of massage. Next is the cold pool (냉), significantly colder than many other establishments and very bracing. In another corner is a partitioned area where slatted wooden panels provide privacy so that large sliding doors can be opened reducing the temperature to that of the outside. Though not strictly a no-ch’eon (노천), which is usually fully outside, this is what it is often called.  Nearby is a salt sauna (소금 사우나), small sleeping area and a fantastically intense oak charcoal bath (짬나무 / 목초탕).

The warm pool with a large overhead TV screen beyond which is the milky bubble tang (left) and two ‘event’ pool on the right

information brochure side 1

Alongside the pools are 4 large saunas: a three leveled yellow mud sleeping sauna (황토), a steam sauna (안개) and a pine sauna (핀란드). However, the most enjoyable was the Roman sauna (로만 사우나), a large circular room with a conical ceiling. The entire room, a large mosaic at the center of which is a boxed-in steam vent. The entire room and conical ceiling where either covered in mosaic or various ‘jewels.’ However, the crowning feature was the heady scent of cinnamon and what might possibly have been aniseed. The humid aroma, blasted intermittently out of the large steam chamber seemed to shift and shade between the two key notes with spells when they seemed to blend equally.

information Brochure side 2

the massage benches, one of a battery of 6 different massages facilities with 26 individual massage stations

I have to say, I have a sensitive nose and there was something almost ‘trippy’ in the Wonderful Spa Land olfactory experience so much so that I feel disappointed by its absence in other bathhouses. If you’re only going to visit one bathhouse during your stay in Daegu, this is at the top of my recommendations and while you body relaxes, you can guarantee your nose will be subject to a comprehensive and pleasurable workout.

warm pool, milky bubble tang (left) and ‘event’ pool (right) The fourth pool, of which only the edge is in sight

The warm pool with the Roman (mosaic) sauna on the left and the pine (Finland) sauna on the right

Location – Daegu, Wol-Seong-Dong (Wikimapia  link ) near Wolbae Subway. It is within easy walking distance of Wolbae subway and by taxi from Lotte Cinema in Song-so, it is 5000 Won. A taxi from Wolbae subway will be little more than 2500 Won. It is also on the route of the 655 bus (Daegu Metropolitan City Bus Guide). (The brochure  above  has a small map).

click to enlarge. Wolbae – line 1

Rating – Luxury

Times – 0500=2300

Facilities – car parking, screen golf, golf driving area, fitness training, first floor Paris Baguette, coffee shop, small restaurant.

Jjimjilbang – No jjimjilbang

Bathhouse (men) – around 65 sitting down and twenty standing up

Cost – Bathhouse  – 5500 Won

Others – hairdressers, shoe shine, massage and rub downs, various seasonal discounts, numerous televisions.  About a five minute walk  from the ‘meat fest’ barbecued buffet restaurant, Gong-Ryong (공룡 – ‘Dinosaur.).

Ambiance – new, impeccably clean, busy at peak times, wonderful aromas permeating the whole complex, comfortably bright but with darkened yellow mud sauna and quieter, exposed to outside, no-ch’eon (노천)

Waygukin – none

Address – Wol-Seong-Dong, Tel: 053-565-7000

WebsiteWonderful Spaland Website Link

Layout (Male Bathhouse)

Coming!

Updates

Wonderful Spaland – a Little Less Wonderful. Update 1 (October 2011. Bathhouse Ballads)

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Pray it’s a Foreigner Serving Your High Tea

chocolate fingers – as British as high tea

(Originally published March 15th 2011) Here’s something to ponder. You’re going to be forced to stick your nose up someone’s butt. They might be clothed, they might not. The only choice you have in the matter is what nationality they will be.

Podcast 75

When I used to train and teach taekwondo in the UK, sweaty sessions often produced brown watery stains on the butts of students’ white suits. I used to refer to it as ‘bum lick’ and basically, after rubbing shit around your arse  smearing it clean, residue remains which when mingled with sweat produces shitty water which then stains your pants. Despite the hideously hot summers in Korea, I have never seen ‘bum lick’ on kids taekwondo pants probably because their diet is substantially different. The moment you convert to loading up on pizza, big mac, bread and pastries plus a churn load of milk, cheese, butter and cream and it takes five minutes and half a roll of toilet paper to smear yourself clean.

Now, I’m not into backsides but if I were forced to stick my nose up someone’s crack, but could choose the nationality of the backside, it would most definitely be Korean. I base my choice on two reasons, firstly: a Korean diet leaves less mess and secondly, Koreans are simply more fastidious about personal hygiene.

guess where they’ve been?

With a culinary repository heavily based on soupy type recipes, Korean food never hangs about in the gut too long and when it is expelled it is ejected with such force that suction drags out any loitering debris.  Typical British food however, loiters in the intestines and has to be squeezed out of the body like toothpaste.  It passes through the body at such a slow pace that the entire intestinal track contains one enormous fecal sausage, a gigantic colonic conga which congests the entire gut like an enormous traffic jam as it slowly worms its way downward. Kimchi jjim, or a bowl of bean curd soup however, is ingested and processed at such speed that by the time it is blown out not only is the consistency unchanged but so too is its temperature.  With such force is it ejected from the body that it cleans your backside as it departs.   And I have to say, cleaning-up up after a Korean meal is not much different to dabbing your mouth after a drink of water whereas a British diet can only be compared with trying to smear-up a muddy hole.

despite what you might hear, most Koreans do shower before getting in a pool

And you know most Koreans wash their backsides thoroughly because  you can watch them doing it in a bathhouse. Many people in the UK still use bathtubs as a primary source of personal hygiene but how can you wash your arse in a little swaddling tub that binds your knees together and prevents easy access. Worse, the same water than cleans your body, that contains dead skin cells, hair, and other scud, the same water that rinsed out your backside and crotch, is then wallowed in. Yew! What a filthy habit and one almost as revolting as fitted carpets or cotton handkerchiefs. British showers aren’t much better being taken standing in restrictive bathtubs or in shower cubicles that provide as much freedom of movement as would a coffin.  Have you ever seen a westerner clean their backside?  And how do western kids learn how to clean themselves in that area? Are they just left to learn for themselves or do they simply let their underwear soak it up? I assume most westerners clean out their arses but I’ve never seen them doing it.

Nothing annoys me more than those who condemn Korean bathhouses, especially if they’ve only been a few times, and consider them places of moral and physical corruption or seething with rampant contagious infections; or those who like to bash Koreans because they use chopsticks in communal bowls of food or because they once had to use a crappy toilet.  Yes, of course somethings in Korea seem ‘dirtier than they do back home but traveling shouldn’t just spotlight the inadequacies in your host country but should also expose ones you hadn’t considered back home. Last year I came across a commentary by a westerner who complained:

And my 02. worth. Korean bathhouses? Dirty. Think about this for a minute.
The hot and cold pools. The water is NOT filtered. You have people who scrub their body and DON’T rinse off and still jump into the pools. I’ve seen it and I’m sure you have also. Leave the sauna, sweat pouring off you and hop into the cold pool! I have never seen a sauna in Korea that filters the water. It gets changed once or twice a day. Japan? Yes the water is filtered and cleaned. Not Korea. I know a few people who caught the crabs in these saunas. The blankets in the sleeping rooms are not washed daily. The towels that the saunas give you to dry off usually are not washed in hot water. I’m not bad mouthing Korea saunas, I have been to a few but most are dirty. Even the fancy looking saunas that are expensive to enter do not filter the hot/cold pool water. People are peeing in them also. I’d think twice. The saunas are good things but many are lacking customers who use good hygiene. If you are lucky enough, you might have been using one when it was being cleaned. I was and never did return.

Actually, I don’t totally disagree! People, me included, go from the various saunas into one of the pools, bodies sweating, and occasionally I see kids get straight in a pool without showering and some bathhouses are cleaner than others. I’m sure some people must pee in the water and I’ve certainly seen people pee in the showers. Is the water filtered? Well, I know water is sucked in through vents and in other places blown out. Is this filtration? I’m no more aware of filtration systems than I would be in British swimming pools where people often swim without showering, and if they do it’s only in a cursory manner, and in which they do urinate. I’ve even seen a turd floating in a British swimming pool but most of us aren’t too bothered about pool hygiene because chlorine sanitizes not just the watery environment but mentally as it leads us to believe the environment is biologically sanitized.  British pools might be bug free, but are they clean? Would you wallow in a cesspit if it were purged with a bottle of chlorine?

with a chlorinated pool one can wash their muck off in the water

Without doubt some infections are passed in bathhouses, ‘red eye’ (conjunctivitis) being one and possibly a nasty infection of the testicles but even a mild infection of the bollocks is nasty as it results in them needing to be groped by your GP.  Personally, such risks I consider small and I’m happy to gamble infection for the pleasures bathhouses provide.  In years of using bathhouses I only ever had one infection and it’s debatable where it would have been contracted. I can identify a number of practices I consider unsavoury in Korea, some examples being how individuals might dump garbage at collection points which isn’t bagged, or dipping odeng (오댕 -fish cake snacks) into communal soy sauce bowls, a habit which I think might actually have almost phased out.  Then there is the habit many kids have of coughing in your face without covering their mouth with a hand.

beware the communal soy sauce dip – great for herpes

Some restaurants, especially small ones, have dubious cooking areas but once again I’ve seen just as bad in the UK where kitchens are usually hidden from public view.  Several years ago I attended a course which was hosted in a prestigious yacht club. When the caterer didn’t turn up, we took it upon ourselves to use the kitchen to make tea and coffee and what we found was alarming; filthy fridges containing curdled milk and atrophied onions, meat placed above vegetables and shelves tacky with sugary residue on which cups were stored upside down. I made a complaint to the local authorities which resulted in the restaurant being fined several thousand pounds. The head chef, who was subsequently sacked, had previously owned a swanky sea food restaurant in the same village.  Though lots of westerners will bemoan the state of many public toilets, I’ve seen far worse examples in the UK. I taught in one school where kids would deliberately urinate on the toilet floor, and even, on occasion, defecate beside the toilet rather than in it. There’s good and bad in all cultures but I will admit to being more lenient in terms of standards when I am eating something that costs next to nothing than I am when confronted with bad practices in an expensive, pretentious eatery. When eating out is expensive and an exception rather than the rule, as it is in the UK, I don’t expect Faecal Fingers or dirty anything.

an ultra-violet sanitizer in my last Korean high school

Generally, I do not think standards differ too much between Britain and Korea except in terms of personal hygiene, which unfortunately is one of the most important criteria. It’s great having no rubbish lying in your streets or chlorine in public bathing water but it makes little odds if the community around you are filthy fuckers. Several years ago, research by a British University revealed that between 6 and 53% of city commuters had faecal matter on their hands. (BBC News 2008) Apparently, the further north you go in Britain, the higher the rates of contamination.  This is especially alarming when you consider British people will usually fully unwrap a burger before eating it and are much more likely to put things like fingers and pens in their mouths. I’m the first to admit I unwrap my burger fully in order to consume it and find comfort in fingering the bun but Koreans always eat it from the wrapper even after washing their hands.

my students find this a dirty habit

A person’s hands are the prime tools of first contact, they touch people, open doors, activate buttons and knobs, finger and prepare food and much more; they are the tools which, with an opposing thumb, not only define us as primates, but facilitate and make possible our interaction with the physical world.  You can have all the brains in the world but without thumbs – you’re screwed! At the other end of the scale, your bum-hole does very little and generally spends a large proportion of the day sitting on its arse. If a person fails to sanitize their hands after a dump , if they can’t even be bothered to keep clean such an important tools, what horrendous microscopic offenses are lurking in that dark and humid crevice. And then there are the peanuts in bars which in the UK are usually contaminated with multiple traces of urine.   My Koreans students often call me ‘dirty’ if I stir my coffee with a pen or put a pen end in my mouth and they are unaware that so many Brits have faecal fingers.  Now I know why a number of British confections focus on ‘fingers.’ I have rarely met a dirty Korean student and the pissy urine smell that I’ve noted in numerous infant schools in Britain certainly never existed in the Korean kindergartens in which I taught.

I suspect much of the animosity towards bathhouses is simply the result of nudity; some westerners clearly perceive bathhouses physically ‘dirty’ because they consider nudity morally dirty. As one commentator wrote: I’ve also been here since 2001 and have never gone to a bathhouse. I’m not into sausage fests. I work out every day and shower at home. The room of soapy Koreans just doesn’t appeal to me. For some westerners, all it takes for a clean environment is a piece of cloth over a cock and buttock and suddenly the environment is clean; splash a bit of chlorine around and we will happily swim in each other’s neutralized dirt. In 2008, when I first read how widespread faecal matter was on the hands a large chunk of its population, I made a resolution to be extra vigilant in terms of personal hygiene and not only do I wash my hands after using the toilet, but I sanitize them with a spray or anti-bacterial hand cream. I have not once broken this resolution!

 

there are times when nudity is undoubtedly preferable (Borat)

It’s pointless getting defensive about our lack of hygiene, for years the British have been the butt of jokes about bad teeth. I once meet an Australian who told me he’d been taught Brits changed their trousers once every few weeks and I’ve seen the skid marks in changing rooms and smelt the effects of using underwear as blotting paper, in British schools. If you’re British at least, observing how fastidious Koreans are about personal hygiene should prompt you to realise your own cultural failings. What’s important is that you learn from such observations and of course, the process goes both ways. Koreans are also fastidious about dental hygiene and I recently read that brushing teeth three times a day over decades can lead to receding gums. A number of sources now suggest only cleaning teeth with a brush, twice a day.  As I said, there are good and bad practices in all cultures.

to contract -E-coli!

Okay, so now you’re going to be forced to stick your nose up someones butt. It’s time to choose. What nationality are you going to pick?

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Collected Bathhouse Designs

Posted in bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews, Uncategorized by 노강호 on May 29, 2011

(Originally published in September 2010) A collection of bathhouse designs that can be used for contrasting design and facility. Some plans are being added to and they are not to scale – they are very rudimentary but will give those with no knowledge of bathhouses an idea of their layout, approximate dimensions and the amenities available. Click plans for establishment reviews.

DAEGU

Daegu subway map (click for legible resolution)

LINE 1

WOLBAE 월배 SUBWAY, LINE 1,

BANWOLDANG (반월당) LINE 1 AND 2.  WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF SUBWAY

Greenvill Sauna in the Greenvill Apartments, Banwoldang

Greenvill Sauna bathhouse design. Male

DONG DAEGU STATION (동대구) LINE 1. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF MAIN RAILWAY STATION

GOONG JEONG LAVENDER

Goong Jeong Lavender bathhouse design (male)

LINE 2

DASA (다사) LINE 2.  WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF DAESHIL OR DASA SUBWAYS

Hyu Lim Won JJimjilbang. Dasa (Closest subway Daeshil)

Hyu Lim Won, Dasa. Bathhouse design (male)

SONG SEO (성서) LINE 2. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF SEONGSEO INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX SUBWAY

Migwang, Song So, Close to E Mart

Migwang Spolex. Bathhouse Design (male)

Hwang So. Next to Mega Town and Lotte Cinema Complex

Hwang So, Song So, Bathhouse Design (Male)

Han Song Bathhouse, Song-So. Near MacDonalds

Han Song, Song So. Bathhouse Design (male)


YONGSANDONG (용산동) LINE 2.  WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF YONGSAN SUBWAY

Dream Sauna, next to Home Plus

Dream Sauna. Bathhouse design (male)

Sam Jeong Oasis Sauna. Behind Lotte Castle

Sam Jeong Oasis. Yong San Dong.Bathhouse design. May 2011

Jade Sauna in Yongsandong

Jade Sauna bathhouse design. Male


WOLBAE (월배) LINE 1. WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF WOLBAE SUBWAY.

Wonderful Spa Land. Wolbae - awesome!

Wonderful Spa Land. Bathhouse design (male)

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Bathhouse Intimacy – Fathers and Sons

Podcast 82

I never really enjoy writing about some of the intimate moments I observe in bathhouses or even in everyday life as many western readers have a real problem with both the authors of such texts, whom they perceive as a perverts, and with the nature of its content, which they categorise, as ‘gay’ and ‘sickening’.

When fathers and sons are mutually washing each other I don’t like to sit and stare but over the last six months and through discussions with Korean friends I have managed to piece together how this process, which might possibly be defined as a ‘ritual,’ functions. At times of the week, usually the weekend, many fathers and sons visit the bathhouse and while for some the cleaning process is the prime function of the visit, for others it is simply for relaxation. I regularly see fathers and sons who will spend as much time cleaning each other, as I might in the pools and it is not in the least unusual for some to spend well over an hour cleaning either cleaning themselves or, in the case of a father, their son.

The process begins with showering under the stand-up showers and entails much the same as a standard ablution – washing the body, shampooing, shaving and brushing teeth. We have now reached the point at which most westerners would consider themselves clean but which for the majority of Koreans is only the preamble to a meticulous ablution. After the stand up shower some visitors go straight to the sit down shower units while others will spend some time enjoying the various pools and saunas. For younger children, this often means playing while older boys are content to sit with their fathers. Most of my Korean friends will soak and sweat in the various facilities for anything up to several hours, at which point dead skin cells and callouses have absorbed water and are easily removed.

the bathhouse, where ‘skinship’ is taken to the extreme

Between friends, scrubbing each others’ backs is an accepted intimacy and it is not unusual to see peer groups, especially school boys, university students or even monks sat in a line each scrubbing the person in front. Several years ago an advert depicted young boys doing exactly this and attracted some  negative and hostile comments from foreigners living in Korea. Unless you opt for a scrub down by a bathhouse attendant, the scrubbing of backs is probably the most intimate extent to which friendships, even between the closest friends, goes and seems much the same as from son to father. However, from father to son, the level of intimacy is much greater and certainly, into middle adolescence, a boy is often totally passive in this procedure. Indeed, there isn’t much difference between how some fathers clean their sons, and how you might wash a car, care for a baby or invalided person.

The cleaning process reflects a close bond between fathers and sons

The procedure often takes place in silence and begins with the boy bending over and supporting themselves on the ledge that runs under the mirrors so that their father can vigorously scrub their back with an Italy towel progressing down their buttocks, backs of thighs and calves. For anyone who has visited a bathhouse and seen for themselves this type of ritualistic cleaning, the process isn’t brief or cursory. The Italy towel is used with only the smallest amount of soap, not enough to even produce a lather and in a rough enough manner to produce a visible line of dead skins cells. Once an area has been ex-foliated, it is showered after which the Italy towel is again used, this time with a generous amount of soap.

Next, the boy sits down facing his father and puts each leg, in turn, on his father’s thigh and the same process is repeated from the soles of the feet to the thighs. Then the boy sits with his back,  neck or shoulders supported over his father’s knee so that his chest and stomach can be scrubbed. It is not in the least unusual for boys or even their fathers, to hold their genitals to one side while scrubbing the groin. Finally, with head resting on their dad’s thigh, their face is scrubbed even to the extent of cleaning noses and ears. The meticulous process ends with a session under the stand up shower. Sometimes the procedure is organised slightly differently, for example if the boy is not very tall, he might stand for much of the ablution. What is most bizarre for the westerner is the proximity between the face and genitals or backside of another person. Even between friends, if someone is standing and someone sitting, as for example might sometimes be the case when one person is scrubbing another’s back, there is no concern about the distance between the face of one and the genitals of another.

the Italy towel in action

Often the process is performed by a bathhouse attendant and every bathhouse has an area with one or several couches on which you lay for this purpose. I rarely see young children receiving a scrub down but older boys, sometimes unaccompanied and at other times with their fathers, will subject themselves to this ritual. A scrub down from an attendant is every bit as intimate, and for the westerner, invasive, as the one between fathers and sons. Koreans are so used to the cleaning ritual, they subconsciously place their limbs in the required position or require only the briefest prompt, for westerners however, the process is awkward and the body, unaccustomed to the procedure, is antagonistic to the attendant’s manipulation. And yes! They do hold your ‘bits’ to one side as they’re scrubbing. However, the experience is invigorating as well as liberating.

Clearly, father-son, as well as mother-daughter bathhouse rituals are an integral expression of ‘skinship’ and undoubtedly provide the most extreme example of intimacy between individuals in a platonic setting. On several occasions I have witnessed a father bathing his severely mentally and physically disabled son and much that was sad and tragic in the procedure was nullified by the close bond they clearly shared. But it is also possible to see such parent-child intimacy as one aspect of a broader cycle and sons can often be seen tending their aged fathers in the exact reversal of the father-son ritual.

Koreans do not carry the same cultural baggage as regards the body as many westerners either in terms of prudery or propriety and appear much less  judgmental about the bodies’ of other people. I recently read a very interesting article by a Korean grandfather who was approached by  a little girl in a bathhouse who wanted lifting into a hot pool, because she was cold (link). In many other cultures, racked with obsessions which perversify any contact between minor and adult, such intimacy, and many other intimacies observed in a bathhouse setting, are taboo. It would also seem that what is observed between those of the same gender remains private. To discuss or gossip about the body of another person would be highly inappropriate and improper and certainly, between males and females, would constitute a cultural taboo. And one of the greatest Korean attributes, especially when you’re naked and vulnerable, is that they are excellent at complimenting those parts of your body you don’t like. I wouldn’t wish my body on anyone but even naked many Koreans are able to make you feel very good about yourself.

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Ok Dol Mogyoktang (옥돌) Yong San Dong, Daegu

Posted in Bathhouse, bathhouses and jjimjilbang reviews by 노강호 on May 19, 2011

intimate and functional

First visited on May 13th 2011. Not my favourite of bathhouses as it is simply too small and geared more to cleaning than relaxing but it is worth a visit, probably at off-peak hours. I visited on Friday lunchtime and it was almost empty. The staff were friendly

Ok Dol (‘Jade Stone’) Bathhouse lies in a small square of bars and restaurants so I would imagine it is busy on certain evenings as it is a twenty four hour establishment. It has the usual peripheral businesses of barber and  shoe shine and a television in the changing area. The bathing facilities are quite small and there are only three baths, a warm pool (온탕), hot pool (열탕) and a cold pool (냉탕). The hot pool isn’t too hot and the cold pool not too cold. Around these are about 12 stand up and about twenty sit down showers. There is also a small jade ondol (heated) sleeping area but it will probably only accommodate about 3 people. As for saunas, there is a steam room (습식 사우나), salt room (소금방) and a pine sauna (소나무방).

The decor is pleasant with plenty of jade and dark brown tiling with sunken gold patterns running through it. The sauna rooms, pine, salt and steam are small but comfortable with  ‘jeweled’ walls and ceiling containing plenty of jade and inlaid with slices of impressive geodes. The pine sauna contains a three foot, free standing ‘cathedral’ amethyst  geode.

The ‘powder room,’ my term for the room you dry and preen yourself in prior to dressing, was very small and I had to step over a number of used towels to enter the locker area but this is my only criticism. Most notable however, throughout my entire visit, was the fact an attendant continual cleaned, wiping down tiles, rinsing soap of mirrors and polishing the taps. The entire bathhouse gleamed.

Plan

Jade Sauna (옥돌) bathhouse design. Male

Location – five minutes from Song-So ‘Mega-Town Complex’ and a few minutes from Yong-San-Dong, Tesco’s Home Plus. It actually lies at the back of the Lotte Castle Apartments area.  (Wiki Map link this is the approx area, I need to pinpoint it exactly)

Times – 24 hour.

Facilities – Tickets on the second floor.

Jjimjilbang – none.

Bathhouse (men) – smallish with an event pool, (이벤트탕), small warm pool (온탕), and medium sized cold pool (냉탕), ‘jeweled’ steam room, salt room (소금방)and pine saina (소나무방) and a  very small jade, ondol heated sleeping area. Changing room with television and benches.

Cost – bathhouse 4500 Won.

Others –  shoe shine, barber. Many nearby restaurants and bars.

Ambiance – more functional than relaxing, very clean.

Waygukin –  No foreigners.

Address –

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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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