Elwood 5566

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 'Zen' (Part 2)

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

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

 

 

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

 

a cave pool

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

 

a cypress chipping bath

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

 

various aromatic baths

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

 

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Goong-Cheon Lavender Jjimjilbang – Daegu 공전 라벤더

Goong-Jeon Lavender

Only the Bats were Missing

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

Goong-Cheon Lavender

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

Large and spacious changing facilities

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

the impressive 'cave'

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

one of Lavender's Sauna

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

a jewelry room

the ice sauna

the unique Dead Sea bath

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

well worth a visit

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

Plan

Goong Jeon Lavender bathhouse design (male)

Times – 24 hour jjimjilbang (찜질방) and bathhouse.

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

Jjimjilbang – (pending)

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

Cost – bathhouse 5000 Won.

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

Ambiance – very relaxing and friendly.

Waygukin –  None.

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

Goong-Cheon Lavender Homepage

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

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

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

a wet sauna

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Bathhouse ‘Zen’ (Part 1)

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

Not suitable for pumpkin people

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

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

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

spheres of zen

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

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

sk

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

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

♦You drop the soap and need to bed over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disengaging your cultural shackles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korean ‘skinship’

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

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

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

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

the Hinoki conifer in Japan

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

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

Hinoki (편백) cypress forest in Korea

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

The Impressive Osaka Castle, built from the hinoki cypress

hinoki cypress wood

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

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

hinoki tang with a traditional ‘roof’

a tranquil hinoki tang situated outside and in a beautiful setting

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

a bathhouse hinoki-tang

the same hinoki-tang as above, but empty

the texture and smell of the wood enhances the experience

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

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

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

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

A Bathhouse Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan

Hyu Lim Won, Dasa. Bathhouse design (male)

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

Daegu metro system

Times – 24 hour jjimjilbang (찜질방) and bathhouse.

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

Jjimjilbang – (pending)

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

Cost – bathhouse 5000 Won.

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

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

Waygukin –  None.

Address – Da-sa (다사). Daegu.

Hyu-lim-won Updates


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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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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.

Creative Commons License © 林東哲 2010. This work is licenced under a  Creative Commons Licence.