Wednesday, November 10, 2010

South Korea: Don't Confuse the Nuri-Bang With the Jimjibang or You'll Be Doing Karaoke in a Sauna

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Guest Blogger: Dani Bacon 
South Korea is the unknown gem of northern Asia. While little is known to most outsiders about its people and culture, and even less about its history, it is now an Asian giant that can no longer be ignored. When people consider Asia they generally move straight from China to Japan, skipping the little Korean peninsula in between--sometimes referred to as a shrimp between whales. But Koreans are bound to change that. They are on a path to become a world powerhouse to be reckoned with. They have leaped into English education with barely a look back. Their language is being saturated with Konglish (English words written in Korean and spoken with a Korean pronunciation such as 오렌지 oh-len-gee or “orange”).
One such cultural staple is what is known as a jimjilbang, or a Korean bath house/hostel.
Besides their newly found lust for learning English, Korea is a culture full of ideas that any foreigner could come to appreciate. The jimjilbang bath house/hostel ranges anywhere from $4-8 per person for a 24-hour stay. The size may differ but the amenities are generally the same. Once you check in you are distributed pajamas. You then walk into changing rooms segregated by gender where the bath pools, showers, and saunas are located. This is a clothing free zone and you are expected to participate. Koreans are incredibly less sensitive to nudity than in Western culture and jimjilbangs are family environments where mother and daughter bathe each other as well as father and son. It is also not uncommon for friends to bathe each other--and this includes boys. Once you have put on your pajamas you enter the co-ed communal rooms where there is everything from hot rooms to salt rooms and, of course, cold rooms. There is also a snack bar, pc café, exercise room, etc. Here you can find a mat and a brick pillow to settle down on the floor anywhere you choose, alongside other patrons, for a night’s rest. In the morning you exit back through the bath house where you can rejuvenate for your day. Overall, it is a cheap and fantastic experience. The jimjilbangs are always exceptionally clean in order to meet the high sanitation standards of Koreans.
Ahhhh ... the sauna provides rest and relaxation.

Karaoke could be more fun and less intimidating if you had a private room.
Other cultural icons include nuri-bangs (private karaoke rooms) and, of course, the controversial DMZ. A tripto the DMZ (where you will learn some history about Korea and its people and also about sad historic events such as the Axe-murder incident followed by Operation Paul Bunyan) is a must and of course nuri-bangs and jimjilbangs. I could go on about many aspects of Korea but the bottom line is, it is worth a visit. Even a trip into a Korean grocery store will remind you that you are not in Kansas anymore.

Guest blogger Dani Bacon is living in Cheonan, South Korea and she works at Sangmyung University (Cheonan campus) as a Professor of English.  I still remember meeting Dani many years ago when she first started figure skating with my daughter Angie.  Since then we've shared many happy times on the ice and off with Dani and her family.  Last year, she made way to South Korea to teach English and periodically shares her adventures with friends and family back home. 

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