The Butt Naked Truth About Busan

I got naked this weekend. And I wasn’t alone. Myself, a co-worker and about 200 other women took off all our clothes to get in another state of mind: relaxed.

Korean culture is well-known for it’s bathhouses or jimjilbangs; spas where you can spend hours in hot (or frigid) pools with healing properties, or sweat out your body weight in saunas and specialized rooms.

The lesson I learned and my mantra:


The day began with Annie, Carrie and I catching the KTX from Daegu to Busan, about a 45 minute train ride for $15. Since this was just a day trip for Carrie and I, it was worth it to arrive around 10:30am. We met Annie’s past college roommate, and exited the metro to enter the Shinsegae Department store: by Guiness Records, the largest in the world.

On the 1st floor of Shinsegae, we navigated around the outlets for luxury goods–Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Givenchy–none of us could afford to walk on those tiles. We entered “Spaland,” where our rest began.

Being that this was my first jimjilbang experience, I learned that after paying the $15 entrance fee, you remove your shoes and put them in a locker. You then take the key and continue to a desk, where they give you 2 hand towels and a uniform. Next, you go to a locker room, and it’s time to get personal. You take off all your clothes, putting them in a second locker and can either go in the buff to the baths or put on your uniform and enter the specialized rooms.

A note about nudity: I thought I was fine with it. I have no qualms walking around naked at home, in my room, and was ok with the idea of naked. I had no. idea. what I was in for. There’s a special breed of trust between co-workers when you go to a jimjilbang together: you agree to never speak of the naked, you try not to look at the other person’s naked, and most of all, try not to touch their naked.


Anyways, Carrie and I decided to start with the baths; we walked out fresh as newborns into the baths, and straight into the judgemental stares of every ajuma (older lady) ever born in Korea. EVER. It’s like walking into a meat factory. The best thing is, though, everyone is naked. There’s no hiding it–you just gotta own every jiggle and mole and zit and strut it.


The pools are labeled with their properties and temperatures, so we floated through a couple, deciding on a balmy 37C one and sat, letting our muscles relax. An ajuma wandered over to let me know that I needed to put my hair back up; it’s rude to have it just floating in the pool. All that was communicated through hand gestures and head shakes and shaming sounds–making great impressions! After this, we decided to wander (this place is massive, by the way) and discovered a sauna–we chose the “cooler” 76C one. I think I maybe made it 5 minutes before I said, “uh uh,” and pulled the bucket of 18C water over my head and dashed out.

The outdoor (covered) area was my favorite–we sat buck nekkid on lawn chairs and talked about life for 20 minutes, just feeling the breeze ruffle our bits and cool off from Hades/sauna life. Then it was back in the baths, and I saw a sign for a “scrub.” Intrigued, I peeked my head around the corner and saw a woman curled up in the fetal position, being ravaged by a ajuma in mittens, clad only in black panties and bra in what really seemed like a prisoner of war situation. Confused, I turned to Carrie, who assured me it was actually pretty great. So we signed up for one (do not worry. I’ll get back to this.)

Next, we clothed ourselves and visited the public areas, where men and women together can sit in various specialized rooms, like the Yellow Ocher Room (good for “women’s illness”) and the Pyramid Room (shaped at 52 degree angles, and hot as blazes).


Roman Baths Room


Salt Room: Yes, I licked one, yes, it’s real salt


The walkways of Spaland.

We checked out about 95% of the rooms–theres about 20 of them and then it was time for the scrub.

Step 1: An old ajuma comes and collects you by hand and pulls you over to a hospital-esque bed. Remember, you’re buck naked and she’s in just black bra and panties. There’s about 7 other stations in the low-ceilinged, poorly-lit bat cave you’ve voluntarily entered where other naked women are in various stages of scrub/hazardous waste detox.

Step 2: Ajuma gestures in broken English for you to lie facing “sky” and shut your eyes. You feel vulnerable, but do as your told, remembering your “be cool be cool BE COOL” mantra. She then rubs some weird stuff on your face and pours a bucket of warm water over your body.

Step 3: The Scrub. Ajuma has on what amounts to sandpaper mitts, and goes over your body like a chef seasoning a dry rub on a chicken. She is…very thorough. It’s pretty much everything but the Pap Smear. I swear to you, she could tell me if I had a lump in my breast, she went over them so many times. You turn on one side, and then another, and then on your front. She went over the v-lines, the inner thigh and I know the dark side of my moon wasn’t spared because I had to actively think “DON’T CLENCH” in that moment. I opened my eyes a few times, but the sight of more naked and the social stigma of “looking” got me to stop real quick.

Step 4: Ajuma pours a few buckets of water over you, then a loofah with the softest, angel wish light as a feather caresses something over you. You are a cloud. You are a baby just being birthed. You have no skin and it feels wonderful. Then the buckets, then, she slaps each butt cheek once and pronounces, “feeeeeneeeeshed!”

You stand, slowly as she gestures towards the door. You walk out, wincing like a mole into the brightness of the baths, and sink your lobster-red body into a cooling pool while wrestling with the fact that you just paid money to be sanded down by a mostly naked old woman who’s name you don’t know due to language barriers.

Then, you prison shower next to 20 other nude ladies and go put your clothes on, emerging back into the world without making eye contact, and go in search of sustenance and 3 gallons of water.

A note about jimjilbangs: they are amazing. I paid $15 to get in, and opted to pay $20 for the scrub/facial and that’s it. $35 wouldn’t get you past the front desk in the US. Sure I sacrificed some dignity (and probably some basic human rights afforded me by the UN), but it was a great cultural experience, and I’m glad I did it (and that Carrie was there to guide me). I believe they provide a valuable service that we don’t get in the US: the opportunity to be open about bodies. Nudity is so scandalous in the states. And while I’m all for modesty and appropriateness, it’s refreshing to see so many “who cares?” looks on women’s faces in the spa. Everyone has something–a mole, hair in normal and not normal places, sagging somethings, scars, bruises, zits, baldness–and I think it would really help girls and other women to see that. So often we’re alone with our bodies, wondering “is this normal?” and that shouldn’t be. Korea is an extremely image-conscious society, but once you’re in the sanctity of the jimjilbang, there’s no secrets. It gives you a certain confidence to just shimmy around in nothing but what God (and all those Diet Cokes and Sonic runs) gave me and I actually found it really empowering.


That said: I was not ready for all that jelly. Everyone is looking at everyone, and I was no exception. At one point, I wondered where I was supposed to look. Everything is stone and rocks and oh-my-god-is-that-your-vagina-near-my-face-BE-COOL-BE-COOL-BE-COOL. So it was an experience, to say the least.

We spent the rest of the day shopping at H&M and roaming the over-populated Haeundae Beach, which was littered with the detritus of thousands of beachgoers and seagulls. We headed back to the train station, where I got to try my first Japanese beef bowl:


Relaxed, sated and happy, we caught the KTX to Dongdaegu, the train to Waegwan, a cab to the village, and the smooth-as-newborn-baby butt to bed.

Why I think I should work for Mindy Kaling

I sat down to write this week’s blog and this is what came out. #priorities

  • We both look equally cute in glasses. Proof: ImageImage
  • I can add to any cultural experience by yelling “Hajima!” (stop that) at any Korean fans, or the more frightening, “Juculay?!” (do you want to die?!)
    • I have yelled the latter more often than I would care to admit at the gremlins I teach.
  • I will definitely be taller than her, thereby allowing her to be the tiny and cuter friend. 
  • I’m really good at sticking to my guns when a coffee shop makes an error on my coffee–and by that, I mean my mom’s usual Venti no-foam 2% latte. Mistakes are not tolerated and will be dealt with under the tree next Christmas. 
  • I will laugh at all her jokes. But not the donkey braying laugh of some over-exuberant women or the bad guy “hiss hiss hiss” laugh, but rather the occasional not-so-ladylike snort or a deep guffaw (despite my lack of beard, I CAN pull this off).
  • I promise to overlook my vow to marry Anderson Cooper and allow her to have a go.
  • I will be the one to order pizza and make eye contact, alone, in a gray hoodie to my knees and black leggings, with the delivery guy, despite what I know he thinks.
  • I will use my debit card to pay for things under $3 so she doesn’t have to. 
  • When (not if) we watch romcoms, I will bring the tissues. Or chocolate. Or nail polish. Or Anderson Cooper.
  • I will rock my inner Burt Macklin and guard her room trying on clothes in one of those boho boutiques where they have cloth as a door. To boho boutiques: no one is fooled. We’re all looking to see who’s bra is cuter.
  • I can get places on tiiiiime. I’ll be like a terrible, on-time personal trainer for on-time things.
  • After this year in Korea, I’m really, really going to wear skirts, heels and dresses like a model. A limping, wincing, smiling-through-the-pain model, but still.
  • I always carry gum, making sure she’s making a great first impression or prepping for a kissing scene. 
    • Also, floss. Because ain’t no one got time for that.
  • I can type like 124 words per minute on my iPhone. And thanks to iCloud, I’ll keep an eye on her schedule on all the devices!
  • Due to my past in sports, I’m able to use my butt to block out any unnecessary paparazzi, old boyfriends, or the occasional Tobey.
  • My super strong calves and butt will carry all of her stuff: phone, tablet, laptop, makeup, extra shoes, Lisa Frank journal, plethora of pencils and milky pens, 2 pairs of sunglasses, socks, nail polish, 27 hair ties, roughly a legion of bobby pins, sharpie for signing people’s napkins and shirts, tampons, fingernail clippers for the inevitable hangnail and of course, a spare Diet Coke or two. 


Survival of the Fitter.


Not too much to report from this week, it was pretty quiet and I like it like that (now you know how I feeeeeel. Can you handle my love? Are you for reeeeal?) However, this next week is going to be by far my toughest yet.

Monday: Teach all day.

Tuesday: Teach ADULTS all day.

Wednesday: rinse & repeat Tuesday

Thursday: same, but add a Night Activity 6:15-7:40.

Friday: teach a 1-day middle school field trip–usually we only teach 3 periods on Fridays, and end with lunch and a quick “wave tunnel” as students leave by 1:30. INSTEAD a few of us “lucky” ones get to teach a 4, 5 and 6th period and then a wave tunnel. So I get to work until 4 on Friday.

Friday, part 2

: move to new dorms, hopefully (if furniture has showed). So, I’ll work Thursday and Thursnight, Friday, and have to be done moving all of the things by Friday night. Not that I have a ton, but it doesn’t feel like much time to pack or move things across campus and up a hill.

Saturday: OH JOY, I DONE SIGNED UP FOR OVERTIME. Seriously, this paycheck better be a fatty. So I’ll teach 5 periods today as well.

Saturday at 5pm: pass out on new floor and sleep 24 hours. Pray that wifi is set up there.

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So that’s the word on the street. I’m currently working on a “these things are SUPER DIFFERENT, Y’ALL, post which will explore showering and movie theater etiquette.

PS: Beard, you know the Spice Girls reference was just for you.

PPS: I have ONE Diet Coke left. And I think we all know that I’m drinking it this week.

PPPS: I ran 3k yesterday! Without stopping or slowing down! Fitness, you are getting owned. And then I weighed in for the first time since last Sunday and gained a pound. Dang it.


In Which Forever 21 Declares War On My Butt: A First-Time Trip to Seoul

As promised, the saga of Seoul in all of it’s glory! Roy-Gene and I hopped in a cab at DGEV with a dream and a cardigan around 6:15 with our coworker Casey. We went first to Waegwan, where we caught a quick 15-minute train to Dongdaegu, the big train hub for Daegu. There we boarded the KTX, the super duper fast train to Seoul–it takes just shy of 2 hours and you get in at Seoul station, the heart of the city. Image

We got in around 10, and then began to wander and wander and wander as we looked for the way to Hongik University, our stop for the hostel we were staying at. I had downloaded an awesome subway app, but my smaller-town brain and the pretty much million subway colors and lines of Seoul weren’t working late at night. We began to ask Koreans to direct us the right direction, and they were amazing. Actually, all weekend Seoulites were the most gracious people ever, going above and beyond time after time. They made me love Seoul.

ANYWAYS, we made it to the hostel–at every turn I didn’t know what we would do, but it just. kept. working out! Pencil Hostel/Guesthouse in Hongdae is seriously great. We walked in to bedding, towels, shampoo, soap, A/C, TV and a refrigerator and slept like the dead until morning.

Friday morning dawned fair and bright and we headed out in search of breakfast: Image

Now that we were experienced in all things subway, we went to Myeongdong on the reference of a co-worker to check out H&M, Forever 21, and a host of Western brands. We met a lovely older Korean man, who helped me as I struggled with how to use my subway card in the reader. He then asked if he could help us find anything and recommended a breakfast place to us. We then explored H&M and I felt super thrifty as I picked up a $70 (aka 70,000 KRW) navy blazer for only $30, and a purse $13 instead of $35.

Then came Forever 21. It had FOUR FLOORS. It was magical. Escalators everywhere, men, women, kids, accessories, and I found two cute shirts and some leggings that I figured I should try on. I got to the dressing room and the girl took my items, turned to me and said, “these 2 ok, this (points to leggings) not ok, you will stretch out the shape,” and walks me to a dressing room. I try on the shirts, trying to shake it off. Having worked in retail, I cannot come up with a good reason for what she did. I tried all the “be flexible, this is a different culture” ideas I could think of. And even though I liked one of the shirts I tried on, I left, handing her the items without a word.

I mean…they were leggings. $16 leggings. Was it really vital to not let me try them on? Obviously your brand is doing well for itself; do you really want to…I mean, c’mon. I realize I have a butt. It’s big. It’s out there. It’s also pretty strong. It’s taken a lot of stairs and lunges and hours on a stone floor of an Apple Store. Lately it’s also worn a lot of heels. And you know, as much as I’m trying to eat well and work out and drop some weight, the butt is still gonna be there. It doesn’t need your $16 leggings to feel good about itself. So you, Forever 21, can shove them up your ass.

Meanwhile, back in happy-about-my-life world… ImageRoy-Gene and I continued exploring with a trip up to the US Embassy, where this exchange occurred:

Me: I can’t wait to go in and be all ‘AMURICA!’

RG: You know it’s like the heaviest fortified embassy ever…you can’t just walk in.

Me: Don’t you just run up to the front gate and scream “I’m an American!” and they have to, like, contractually let you in under asylum?

RG: (jaw drops, shakes head)

So, I didn’t. We ended up walking by, and visited a former palace instead. We then rested up a bit before retrieving the David Brown from the KTX. We traversed back to the hostel to make David think we were pros, and went to sleep to prep for Saturday. Well, tried to sleep. DB got the giggles so bad, I’m not sure he ever slept.

We woke up and headed out around 9, and went to Itaewon, the foreigner district, to find David some clothes, and me some Diet Coke, Roy-Gene some proper coffee, and breakfast for all of us. On Leslie’s (another coworker) recommendation, we went to the Flying Pan-Blue, which was expensive, but good. ImageAfter that, DB and I trundled around, searching for clothes. I found an appropriately touristy t-shirt that said “I ❤ Korea!” and some leggings at a store for Big and Tall women, where I got to meet 2 South Africans and an Italian expat, all of whom teach English for EPIK, the government program for teaching. We all commiserated about the Forever 21 experience, which is apparently common for those of us lucky enough to be voluptuous in Korea. Dave found the button ups that he was looking for, and I found what made my trip worthwhile: Image

After that, we went back to our hostel to pick up our bags (and for me to repack to accomodate the plethora of Diet Coke), and headed home on the KTX. All in all, a great trip, and we got to rest and recharge today to prepare for the week.

It was interesting how the vibe and feel of Seoul was very different to Daegu. Everyone was gracious and kind and intentional about helping us. We had people carry bags, ask questions, and race up an escalator to make sure they gave us the right directions. We met expats from all over the world and shopped at a foreign market. I think I understand the feeling people get about New York–it’s huge, it’s overwhelming, it’s fun, but when it boils down to it, it’s about people. I loved every minute.