Friday, July 22, 2011

Our Night at a Jjimjilbahng

We're on the bus to a stopover city on our way to the Mud Festival. We're talking about places to stay the night and Spencer and I aren't saying anything because we know squat about Korean lodgings. We are just doing whatever the two guys who have been in Korea the longest are doing. 

"How about a jjimjilbahng?" one guy asks. "Ok." says the other, smiling. 

Me: "What's a ja-jim-bong?" 

The guys basically say, "Oh, it's a place where you can go for up to 24 hours and there are big common rooms to sleep on the floor in. It's only like 5,000 Won ($5) and there are saunas and hot spring water baths. It's the cheapest place to sleep."

At this point, Spencer and I are planning on going to Hong Kong soon and we haven't gotten paid yet so we are down with saving a little cash. We automatically say, "yes. Sure, why not?" We might as well try it out. It's all part of the Korean experience!

Someone asks for directions and we start walking. Me: "What are we looking for?" Guy one: "We are looking for the Korean writing for jjimjilbahng." Okay, I have no idea what that is so I keep walking while looking at all the pretty flashing lights. They find it and we walk an empty lobby with an elevator. Ok, this is fine. Lots of things are on the top stories of buildings in biggie. We get to the right floor and see this:

Alllll right....this is okay. We all pay and she hands us shorts and a t-shirt to wear. Then she points for me to go into the girls locker room and the boys to upstairs to their locker room. At this point I realize there are 4 guys and one girl....I will be alone.

I hesitantly walk in the door to the locker room. I take off my sandals and wear their green plastic sandals into the room--here is my first mistake. You only wear the shoes outside of the room, not in it! Even worse, I wore them in the shower....I thought the women were staring at me because I was white. Nope, they were staring at me because I was wearing outdoor shoes in the shower.

The showers were along one wall (no curtains, very GI Jane), there was a hot spring pool in the middle, a bigger cold pool along one wall, and a door to the sauna. There also looked to be a massage table in one corner.

After I got cleaned up, I went to try and meet up with the guys. I walk out into the "lobby" of the jjimjilbahng which is basically a 5'x10' space with the lady behind plexiglass (pictured above). It's then that I realize that I have no way of contacting them. I don't have a cell phone. I can't go into the boys locker room. I can't find the common areas.

Thankfully, the lady saw the confusion and panic in my eyes and after some gestures and hand signals, I went to the 11th floor. I walk into the double doors directly in front of the elevator and put my green plastic sandals on one of the many shelves in the entryway along with countless identical pairs. The room is dark except for a big screen TV playing a movie with the sound on low. There are men sleeping on mats with tiny square pillows. There are doors around the big room, some open, some closed, with Korean signs above them. I don't go in any of the rooms since I don't know what the signs say.
I look around for the guys. I don't see them. 

I get back in the elevator and push every floor on the way down. I see no one and every floor is dark and deserted. I go back to the lobby and sit in the one chair they have available. I sit for a while and think crazy thoughts. "What if this place is huge and I never find them!?" See? Crazy.

After a while, I head back up to the 11th floor. I might have missed them when I was stopping at every floor since there are two elevators. That's probably where they will go because the lady will tell them the same thing she told me, right? Sounds logical enough. I ride up to the 11th floor, the elevator doors open and there is Spencer, waiting for me outside the double doors of the common area! I smiled so big. I was so happy to see him!!  

The rest of the night was spent trying to find a comfortable position on the hardwood floor with only a thin mat and a tiny square "pillow." I saw "pillow" because I'm pretty sure it was foam wrapped in pleather (yuck). It wasn't a good night's sleep but it was cheap and an experience I will never forget.

1 comment:

  1. Haha I love this! My first time in a jjimjilbang was after a drunken night out - I went there with a couple of Korean old-timers, so I was pretty safe. Being a bit tipsy, I wasn't phased by the nakedness.

    Although the whole being lost with no way of contacting anybody sounds pretty scary!

    Now, going to the jjimjilbang is one of my favourite things to do here in Korea if I need to relax (just the sauna part - I prefer my own bed to the wooden floors!)