Unlike many apartments, where the toilet is conveniently located under the shower head, jjimjilbangs (Korean bathhouses) are huge and offer multiple shower stations, saunas, and even beds to lie upon while someone vigorously exfoliates your birthday suit. I had never mustered up the courage to go on my own, so as I entered the steamy bathing area armed with two friends sometime after 2 AM, I felt a bit more brazen. That was until we turned the corner on a row of waist-high shower stations and I caught my first glimpse of middle-aged nude women. Seated on small plastic stools, they looked up at me while I looked down at their tidbits and I had no choice but to retreat.
After changing into the designated spa outfit, we headed upstairs to the communal quarters. The large hall we entered was dark and littered with bodies. We quietly tiptoed around the snorers to try out the different saunas. The cold room resembled the interior of a freezer in need of defrosting. Every other room had varying levels of heat- the hottest of them all felt like a brick oven that singed the lining of my nose every time I breathed.
The next morning we bypassed the reading room, computer station and restaurant to visit the gym. When we finished, we headed back down to the dressing room to change. The morning rush was in full swing with naked women of all ages preening in front of mirrors or eating snacks with their naked children. I dressed in my dark corner of the locker room and sat down at a mirror to apply makeup. As we drank shikhye (a sweet rice drink) and covertly studied the environment around us, I realized how nice it was to feel so relaxed in your own skin. Maybe I will give it a try next time.