While they are experts at filtering their selfie-sticked snapshots on Instagram, they are amateurs at filtering just about everything else.
Besides the tiniest flaws that show up in their photos, (most) Koreans have nothing to hide. Hell they’ve been walking around naked and cleaning their butts in front of each other their whole lives. What I’m referring to here is what takes place at a jimjilbang, which gives you a little peak into Korea’s cultural “openness”.
Some travelers put jimjilbangs on their list of things to try in the RoK, but they are definitely not “touristy”. I’d say 99% of jimjilbangers are Korean, and they fill up these bathhouses regularly. Individuals of all ages, shapes and sizes attend to relax, detox, bathe, and enjoy each other’s sweaty nakedness.
Strangely enough, many (non-Koreans) aren’t thrilled with the idea of publicly baring it all. Cripes, some people don’t even enjoy letting it all hang out in private. The first time I went, I couldn’t believe I was stripping down in front of two girlfriends I had only known for a few weeks. Little did I know I’d be doing the same thing with my boss a few months down the road.
The truth about jimjilbanging is that the initial disrobing is the worst part. Once you’ve accomplished taking off your clothes, you’ve made it. You are naked and there is no going back. But don’t panic, because you are not alone. Everyone else is naked, even the workers! So take a few deep breaths and strut your stuff like a true Korean.
It may seem like an unnecessary feat to cross jimjilbanging off your list, but I’ve come to realize that putting yourself in such a vulnerable state is worthwhile. What better place to be vulnerable, in fact, than in a place where everyone is equally as vulnerable. I truly believe that these self-loving safe havens can help to lessen body insecurities, can make you realize we’ve all got the same parts so there is really nothing to be ashamed of, and in-turn can build a stronger connection to your fellow women or men.
And for those who can completely throw boundaries out the window, jimjilbangs also present the option of getting a full body scrub – meaning a very strong woman puts a sand paper like glove on her hand and rubs you down, shedding you of all your dead skin. I did this for the first time last month, and my skin feels like butter now, but let me tell you those women do not miss a spot on your body. They flip you around, spread you out, and ensure that everything. is. scrubbed….
So anyways, when my coworker and I had the chance to go to one of the most famous hot springs in Korea, we were intrigued. Like the jimjilbang, nudity is necessary – no biggie, we’re use to it by now. How could we refuse an offer to enjoy the gifts of natural hot spring water? Even if it was made by our bosses and their children. Yep. Our (female) boss, our front office lady and two of our students saw us naked. And us them.
The weirdest part?
Was that it was not even weird. Not inside, not on the way home, not even the following days at school.
Say what now??
Well DUH!! They have been doing this their whole lives! If anything, I feel closer and more comfortable to my superiors at work. Trust me, I NEVER thought I’d cross this line with colleagues, but now that I was some how convinced (or maybe even brainwashed) to do so, I’m thinkin’ their might be something to this immodest lifestyle.
The up-front-ness doesn’t cease at the bathhouse, either. It’s actually shocking how many times I’ve been approached in conversation by random people. And although this usually leads to exchanging phone numbers, Facebook and Instagram info to ensure us new best friends can stay connected, I am not being hit on. Many of these people are women, in fact. Koreans just love to talk, and they’ll find any excuse to do so! It can be a little strange, but I admire their bravery and complete disregard for stranger danger.
Making friends while hiking is easy too. As long as you have a bottle of Korean rice liquor with you, people will approach you with their empty hiking cups in hand. Fill up their cup and you’ll most likely get some snacks and smiles in return.
The RoK’s unfiltered, exposed ways seem intimidating at first glance, but after several months experience, I have grown an honest appreciation for them. As raw humans we are all the same, so why be so afraid of each other? Simply being more approachable and straight-forward can bond us, and a stronger connection with each other equals a stronger love for each other. So let’s get naked and see where it takes us 😉