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Spa sleepover
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승인 2010.05.26  19:25:46
페이스북 트위터

After visiting Korea for more than 10 years now, I’d started to think there were few Korean pastimes I had yet to experience, at least among those that held any interest for me. But last week, while returning through Seoul from a holiday in the United States, I managed to check one more “been there, done that” activity off my list. I have now spent the night sleeping at a jimjilbang, or Korean sauna.

I’ve certainly visited numerous jimjilbang before, although I’m far from a regular user of the communal baths. I must admit that the first few times I went to one, being as then unaccustomed to the frank nature of most Koreans, I found it off-putting to have naked elderly women stare at me openly, as if assessing whether foreign women are made differently to them. (I’ve noticed that younger Korean women, perhaps more Westernized in their manners, tend not to do this.) But as with soju or kimchi, one adapts, and I no longer feel like a zoo exhibit while at the sauna or feel a need to try to hide behind the facecloth-sized towel that is all one is supplied with.

But unlike many of my friends, I’d never considered a jimjilbang as a sleeping option, preferring the familiarity of a friend’s couch or the privacy of a hotel room. My Korean friends, especially, think nothing of repairing to the sauna to grab a few hours sleep before work, particularly after a night out on the town if they live a reasonable commute away. A Canadian colleague, on his return to Jeju earlier this year, spent weeks sleeping in jimjilbang in the city while looking for permanent accommodation and, judging by his appearance and fatigue during that time, sleep was a rarity in the communal lounge. On at least one occasion he was woken in the early hours of the morning by inebriated but friendly locals wanting him to join them for some soju.

The sauna I stayed in overnight is situated at Incheon Airport, how-ever, so sleep seemed the priority for most of those in residence. And, for the reasonable price of 20,000 won (private rooms are available for an extra 12,000 won), it’s an option well worth considering. With my flight arriving after 11 p.m. and my return to Jeju booked for 6:40 the next morning from Gimpo, a hotel room didn’t seem worth the cost or bother but the thought of trying to sleep on airport chairs held no appeal (especially after a full day of travel already). The hot pools, sauna and steam room were welcome after my flight and helped me relax and doze off quickly. I doubt I’ll ever treat them as an accommodation alternative, but I’ll probably return the next time I have hours between flights.





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