Korean Bathhouses More Welcoming than Expected

D-Bo , Feb. 11, 2014, 12:29 p.m.


One of the most popular services in Korea remains their traditional bathhouses. These bathhouses are typically more popular to the national Korean resident, rather than foreign tourists who are most likely uncomfortable with the thought of communal bathing.

A former editor of the New York Times’ culture and Travel Section, Jodi Kantor, has described to the world her experiences in the jjimjilbang (bathhouse), opening a whole new world to her audience.

Kantor writes, "Spas, bathhouses, saunas and cosmetics stores can be some of the best places to truly see [Korea], a country that is still figuring out how to share itself with foreigners,”, in her article titled “Korea Unmasked.”

"At one point my ajumma [auntie] shook me to open my eyes and pointed with apparent pride to gray lumps, bigger than rice grains, clinging to my arms. I wondered if they were one of the cutting-edge Korean skin care products I had heard so much about. No, they were clusters of my own dead skin cells."

Kantor continues, "I was completely and passively in the care of an older woman, my skin was soft and new, and I was surrounded by a world I was only beginning to understand." Kantor still feels the public nature of the bathhouse made her feel like taking a "bath at a mall." The sight of sleeping patrons struck her as a surprise, indicating a "so overworked that it switched from a six- to a five-day workweek only a decade ago."

"You can buy hand cream that warms your skin when you apply it... 'air cushion' compacts that apply foundation in the thinnest possible layers and face masks that contain ingredients from snake venom to ground-up bits of animal placenta," Kantor stated.

"The same service was available in New York, but it was far cheaper in Korea," she stated. "I woke up endowed with a gift nature had never given me, amazed at what a little money and time could do."

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