Friday, January 6, 2012

You Encounter: Another Lady at the Jjimjilbang!

I patronize one of the local jjimjilbangs more often than any real Korean ever would (probably).  My apartment has a tiny water heater and I am a lazy and indolent piece of crap.  I like lazing about in my bathing and enjoying myself, rather than a panicked flight to wash as much of myself as quickly as possible before the hot water runs out.  Thus, I allow myself a seven thousand won indulgence a few days a week to have a really nice shower, with bonus sauna and gym/"health room" time (if that seems ridiculous, it's honestly cheaper than any gym prices I've seen, plus if I don't go on any given day, then at least I'm not wasting money on a gym membership).

Most of the time I pad around in the sauna/bathing area without having to deal with anyone or anything.  Once in a great, great while, I get someone having a conversation with me.  It's always really interesting and I kind of wish it happened more often.

 Last week, for example, I had a lovely chat with a woman who called herself Mrs. Hong, conducted in equal parts Korean and English. Mrs. Hong had lived in Germany for some number of years, and she remarked that people in Germany were so much friendlier and happier than Koreans.  "I was walking, and people said, 'Hello!'  Korean not."

Unfortunately, I didn't learn why or for how long she had lived in Germany.  I never to think to ask these questions in the moment because I'm too busy panicking about what I'm going to say (in English or in Korean) and making sure I don't look pissed off.  I kind of suffer  from Chronic Bitchface:

Fortunately Mrs. Hong was cheery and energetic enough to keep the conversation going.  She asked me if I liked Korea (of course!), what I liked about Korea (the food, the culture, the people), and if we have saunas in America (not like it is here).  She even asked about the bum ankle I was stretching (too much soju in the noraebang) and offered to scrub down/dry off my back when we were finished in the bath.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Hong had found me right when I was winding down my visit; I had already been thinking about leaving before our conversation even started, because I needed to catch the bus to work.  I explained that I had to leave and apologized.

If this were anywhere else in Korea—the subway, for example, or waiting for a bus—this would have been a moment of exchanging business cards, possibly cell phone numbers.  When you're naked in a 40* C hot tub, however, that's understandably not going to happen.  Kind of a bummer, because I would have loved to talk to Mrs. Hong some more.  So I simply introduced myself, shook hands, and wished her a nice day (and apologized profusely about having to leave).

One of a myriad of sentences you could use to describe teaching in Korea: "You will have conversations with naked strangers, and it won't be weird at all."

1 comment:

  1. Catherine,

    Are you interested in having this piece in the book "The New Korea Files?" You can see what that is here:

    Or, perhaps you've made a significant friend in Korea (our other section that needs another article)?

    You can reach me at Charles AT KTLIT . com