I’m an advocate of nudity.
Something about the idea of being in the buff appeals to me, maybe because I’m an exhibitionist (and, no, not for any narcissistic reason. I’m aware that my downstairs looks like the-last-chicken-in-the-shop but I dont care.)
Korean culture places a great emphasis on hygiene and personal well-being; everything claims to be healthy in some way or another, even the beer has blurbs that say “sound of vitality”. While this doesn’t always get me of the hook with Ashley (“But, look: The label clearly states that Soju is ‘fresh’, I can have another, can’t I?”) it gives you an idea as to how full-on Koreans are about their health.
One facet of the culture that I’ve fallen totally in love with is the Jimjilbang: a Korean bath-house and sauna, open 24 hours a day.
The bath-house is pretty impressive and generic wherever you go: a large room with hot pools, cold pools, saunas, steam-rooms, warm pools, cool pools, showers and heat-lamps is all there in open-plan.
Old men sit in the 44 degree pool, bobbing up and down with all the colour and animation of stewed radish. Meanwhile, men of all ages lather up soap to such a degree that you struggle to make out the person washing themselves in the shower. Theres no-holds-barred on hygiene: got a problem? Sweat it out in the steam room, shower, throw yourself in the cold pool (the temperature usually makes me start speaking in tongues) and then stew in the hot-tub again.
The public nudity is something that took a bit of getting used to. Even now, there are guys in our party who won’t do it. I’ve never been too self-conscious in the company of other guys (showering after Rugby, Volleyball etc.) Thankfully I have always had a bath-house buddy in Dan, who is equally not bothered about Korean guys seeing his willy, and it sometimes helps to have someone else to egg you on to take the plunge in the ultra-cold pool.
These bath-house rock sessions sometimes have interesting outcomes: my apartment is located a short walk from a basic, but functional one and I have been there maybe twice. The last time I went was a Sunday afternoon, having said bye to Ashley for the week and stuck for something constructive to do.
Whilst standing in the cold-tub (the water-line is at, for want of a better term, groin-height) with my hands on my head I hear a splashing sound.
“Hello Mr. Riley!”
Snapping out of my zen-meditation, I see Eric, my first-grade student bobbing in the water about three feet away with a large and silly grin on his face.
“Hey.” I mutter, whilst sinking further into the pool to try and distort his vision of my male-chicken, all the time thinking of the cultural differences that mean that this is all, weirdly, legitimate. I also kept thinking how Daily Mail readers would have a field-day with this kind of behaviour, I could see the headlines:
Teacher and student’s cold-pool liason. And a footnote to say English Teacher busts myth about Westerners being better endowed than Koreans.
In the same instant I kept wondering how best to explain to the Police my actions:
“Cooling down in the bath-house were you, son? Of course you were, now get in here with all the other nonces. By the way, you’ve got a small cock.”
“It was COLD!” The imaginary me shrieked as the cell-door slides shut behind me.
Eric’s Dad gives me a wave, bringing me back to the present, I unthinkingly bow, whilst being totally bollock-naked.
I’m an advocate of nudity.