Monday, May 9, 2011

Adventures in Showering

The modern Korean bathroom is surprisingly different from the typical American bathroom. I suppose when you think about it, this point should not come as a shock. Nearly everything in Korea is very different from the typical equivalent in the US. The food is quite different, the landscape, the language, the history; why should I expect my shower to be any more familiar to me?

I've "showered" using a small plastic bowl to pour water on my head from a five gallon bucket when visiting a friend in Nicaragua, so by no means do I consider a Korean shower an unpleasant experience. Warm water comes from pipes above my head, and I did not have any concerns that some of that water might contain any bugs or vermin doing the backstroke, so  I truly was a happy camper even if my showering thoughts were not the soothing non-thoughts I experience at home in own shower.

My shower thoughts in Korea consisted of "Huh, guess no one ever knocks on the door desperately needing to use the toilet while you shower or boy would that be super awkward," "I've never squeegeed naked before," and "Wearing shoes in the shower is the most dressed I've ever been while showering, and yet I've never felt more naked."

This is pretty typical, though not exactly like one we had.
Why, you ask? Korean showers are really just shower heads above a drain. You don't really have walls or shower curtains around your shower area. You are basically standing in the middle of the bathroom, possibly directly in front of a toilet, while your shower water ricochets all over the room coming dangerously close to your very small loincloth towel and puddling just under it so that if you have managed to miss the towel with the water luge off your shoulders, you can be sure it will be good and wet when you accidentally knock it off the hook before squeegeeing the floor. Also, you are likely wearing the bathroom sandals that were sitting at the entrance to the bathroom and occasionally being goosed by the squeegee as you back away too far from the toilet. But you do have a lovely warm toilet seat and a refreshing (though somewhat initially startling) rear spritz and blow dry from the bidet toilets to look forward to in the morning.

Oh yeah, and that's not even mentioning the jimjillbang (gin-ja-bong). Remember the Turkish bath? Well, if you take away my underwear and add in a substantial amount of pointing and discussion by little old naked Korean ladies then you've got the typical Korean bath house, which I experienced with my two lovely sisters-in-law. Thankfully, I was feverish from my sinus infection so I didn't particularly mind the commentary from the peanut gallery; I willfully avoided thinking about the fact that I was naked; and I did actually enjoy the painfully vigorous full body exfoliation scrub.

My favorite part was steaming in the various rooms before the naked part (we were given pink shorts and tees because that part is coed). Each one was slightly hotter than the last and had grass mats, salt rocks, or very smooth round rocks (that we called Cocoa Pebbles) to lie on and burrow into. There were also refrigerated and frozen rooms and an extremely hot room that we ducked into briefly. Amazingly, I felt a thousand times better after the jimjillbang, infection-wise, and only minutely demoralized about having gotten naked in front of my husband's family. "I'm practically European now," my inner pep talk went, "and I was way skinnier than those Korean ladies."

photo via 


  1. Why would standing in front of Sus and I naked be demoralizing!? I, personally, felt exponentially uplifted after spending quality time with you in the buff.

  2. Well, it is a bit demoralizing for most 30-year-old women to be naked with 25-year-olds who are in very good shape (especially one who dislikes working out as much as I do). It was definitely quality time though. I had a great time, and I'm glad we did it!

  3. The gingabong sounds interesting. I have mental pictures of Korean women pointing at you and its making me a little angry, so I have to stop thinking about it. The shower situation is interesting too. Is it one bathroom per house? What if someone has to pee while you are in the shower? And why are the towels so small?

  4. I don't even know where to start...this whole post is hilarious! :) I can slightly relate to the insecurity you spoke of in the steam room - it sounds a bit like when my 24 yr old SIL puts on a bathing suit. Somehow my "mom of 3" body doesn't really measure up! :) Thanks for sharing your Korean shower experience!

  5. Oh, Hanna!! This is very amusing!